It’s a lot of fun being able to envision the vistas from Skyrim or Breath of the Wild when you close your eyes, and even better having practical reasons to revisit these worlds in daily life.
With the ancient memory palace technique, also known as the “method of loci,” you’ll be able to improve your recollection while exploring your favorite worlds.
The memory palace method dates back to Ancient Greece where it was developed as a way to remember information without writing things down. The technique is still used by memory champions today, who are notorious for feats like memorizing 1,949 random digits in one hour.
Building even a small memory palace awakens your inner senses and exercises the imagination. It can also make locations in your favorite fantasy games more immersive and memorable.
If you want to build your own memory palace, you’ll need the following things:
- A list of things to memorize
- A fantasy location, either in a tabletop or video game
Step 1: Find a list to memorize
First, grab a list you’d like to remember. You might choose fun trivia to cement those nerd credentials or something more practical like the timeline of a nonfiction book.
Whatever you decide to memorize, try for an inventory of 5-10 items.
For example, maybe I need to memorize a setlist for a performance. I want to open with the following songs in this order:
- “Step Outside the Campfire Glow”
- “I Want to Be Your Mercy”
- “In Your Eyes”
Step 2: Choose a fantasy location
For your first memory palace, choose a fantasy locale that you already love so it’s easier to recall. The starting town in a fantasy RPG, maybe, or your farm in Stardew Valley.
I’ll be using the first area in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind—the Imperial prison ship.
Step 3: Find your first locus
Once you’ve launched your game, take a look around.
What’s the first thing that draws your attention? That’s going to be your first “locus.” A locus is a person, place or thing you’ll visualize to jog your memory about a list item.
Walk through the chosen area in your game, taking time to immerse yourself in the environment. I know you’ve got an adventurous spirit, dear reader, so here’s your chance to explore!
The first locus I encounter in Morrowind is my fellow prisoner aboard the ship: a dark elf named Jiub. This fellow’s interesting to look at, so there are two things about Jiub I’m going to focus on: his scar and his piercings.
Step 4: Link your list items to your loci
To link information to your memory palace’s loci, you’ll need to imagine outlandish imagery or stories that tie the two things together. Let’s look at some examples from my set list.
The first song I need to remember is “Heroes” by David Bowie. Jiub’s scar reminds me of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust makeup, so this one’s easy! I’ll imagine Jiub and some friends were trying to be “heroes” and rescue a robbery victim, but the frightened victim mistook Jiub for an attacker and gouged the poor elf’s face with a flint knife.
When I picture Jiub’s face and see his badass scar, I’ll remember “Heroes” by David Bowie.
The second song is “Step Outside the Campfire Glow.” For this one I’m going to imagine that Jiub scratched a tiny campfire symbol—two crossed sticks and a flame—into the earring in his right lobe. The candle light glints on the brass ring, making the etching flicker like fire.
The third locus will be the guard that arrives to lead me to the ship’s deck for release. The song to remember here is “I Want to Be Your Mercy.” Releasing a prisoner is an act of mercy, so that helps me link the song to the guard. He also gets bonus points for looking saucily back over his shoulder.
The fourth item is “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel. As I follow the guard, I’ll look behind several crates we pass. A skull and other bones lie there, the candlelight not quite illuminating the shadows behind the skull’s eye sockets. I’m going to imagine that a warm light begins to radiate from the skull’s sockets and I take a moment to warm my hands before them.
The fifth and final song is “Lifeboat” by Lovage. The song’s lyrics happens to be about two people driven into each other’s arms because their partners were lost at sea. Perhaps the bones we passed were those of two grieving lovers in a lost lifeboat on our way to Seyda Neen, and the Imperials hauled the tangled skeletons aboard for a land burial.
There! Five memory loci, five things to remember. Now when I need to remember my setlist, I’ve got a mental journey to reference. When somebody asks, “What songs will you be playing tonight?” I won’t be caught stammering.
So… what are you going to remember?
Once you’ve assigned every item on your list to a locus, step away from the game and visualize the trail of loci in your mind again, stopping to examine each locus and remember its connection.
Maybe instead of a list of songs, you’ve left a trail of grocery store items through the prison ship. Smoosh handfuls of ice cream into poor Jiub’s face! Maybe there’s Sriracha dripping from the skull’s eye sockets or red curry streams from the prison ship’s kegs.
Don’t be afraid to create imagery weird and vivid enough to stick with you. The more “out there” it is, the easier it’ll be to remember. Conjuring strange ideas like this takes some effort at first, but the more you create memory palaces, the easier it gets.
Go ahead and take a trip through an imaginary place you love. Your memory will give it new life.
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