“This mansion is gigantic. We could get into trouble if we get lost. We should start from the first floor, ok? And…Jill, here’s a lock pick. It might be handy if you, the master of unlocking, take it with you.” —Barry Burton, Resident Evil
It’s Christmas Eve in someone else’s house. My parents never go anywhere on Christmas Eve, so this impromptu visit seems otherworldly, magical. A little frightening. While they laugh in the parlor—with a friend whose death decades later still feels abrupt and impossible—the teenage son leads me by the hand through the hall to his bedroom. I can see his spring-loaded grip strengtheners on his dresser drawer, and I feel his power idling around me.
As a boy not yet in double digits, this distance from my parents is another thrill, another fright. It’s knocking against a trembling freedom. And to be in a teenager’s room…all these impossible things at once. The worldly weight of every mystery. The posters on the walls, characters with large swords and capes, black masks and red eyes. The gelatinous lamp bleating on his nightstand. All of it only deepens the enigma. I might very well be a time traveler to some steampunk future, where on the floor, beneath a television that seems bigger than our living room, is what looks like a slab of wood paneled radio from my dad’s mail car with, quite possibly, an 8-track slammed into the middle of it. The wires coil seductively behind the TV and attach to a small black box like a cartoon detonator.
The boy—my friend? could I dare speak of him that way to my peers at school without betraying a blush? —sits cross-legged on the floor and hands me the controller. So purely built, the swiveling stick, the red button; I need little in the way of instruction. Pitfall, Pong—the less-creatively titled Basketball. Somewhere I must still be playing these games (I hope so), strong as that lingering euphoria remains.
On the ride home, shocked into silence by my experience, drowsiness setting in, I hope that Santa might still be at his home packing up and can add one more item to his inventory. Then again, I think before drifting forever into the haze of Christmas dreams, maybe such wondrous devices are reserved for the teenage species alone. There are so many questions to ask of the boy. Why, for instance, would you ever stop playing?
Junior and Pac-Man
Even when I tried to mimic Dad’s every move, the ghosts were still quick to find me. “It’s just practice, buddy. You’ll get it,” he said—he, who had never touched this controller before and would never touch it again. I thought practice had little to do with it. But I thanked him for playing and smiled as he kneaded my shoulder in his reticent, shyly masculine way and walked out back to mow the lawn, trace that same familiar pattern. From the window, I moved the joystick in sync. We gobbled the grass. Every smooth row a victory. For now, haunted no more.
Ballad of Ghostbusters
Nothing would work. The title screen stared at me in petulant black-and-white, and I began to weep. I knew that the looping, phantasmagorical noise would follow me to an early, boy-shaped grave.
Then she appeared in the doorway. Her crinkled mauve robe, a handful of tissues slipped from its sleeve. I noticed the difference between angels and ghosts.
“I knew I heard music,” she said. She bent down and smiled at me, wiped my eyes, and pulled me to my feet. Then she led me around the small space in front of the TV, circling and twirling, creating a vertiginous portal I step through from time to time, to visit all those memories that came after—my boyhood life just beginning—but often simply to watch us dance, the bitter screen having no choice but to play for us. Game over.
Look at all I’d won, gliding along with her. Saturdays, now forever synonymous with spontaneous joys, a mother’s magic. To know it’s not the song, but how you dance to it.
It wasn’t only on Christmas Eve when we were heroes, but those were the longest treks through the desert. Shoulder to shoulder, we steered our tiny mud and snot-colored tanks to the hostage camps, dodging blips of bullets.
Did we ever converse on these nights, beyond tactics and shouts of vitriol or victory? Or did the incomparable thrill of advancement distract us from our individual concerns, the vast unknowability of each other, two brothers two years apart? For him, like me, there must’ve been unspoken pains, volatile hurt we swallowed like little pixelated bombs.
Perhaps as years pass everyone continues to pile an armory of unsaid things in our guts. Silence warns us not to make any sudden movements. Before the weight of our weapons kept us from each other—even on holidays—what joy it was to play all night, safe in the absence of expectations; never tiring of death.
Walking across the hall to my brother’s room was like stepping into the future. His face, that large but seldom-shown grin, reflected the television’s colorful glow as if he were some new evolution of boy, stories playing across his face like Bradbury’s Illustrated Man. I felt a guilty pang at leaving my Atari behind like this, a deep pity for its inadequacy. I looked longingly at the flat, rectangular multi-buttoned controller snug in my brother’s hand and wondered what aliens had entered here. An orange long-barreled gun lay at his side, as if my brother were prepared to defend this incomprehensible technological discovery before us.
He needn’t worry about heavy artillery for defense, I saw, because he was a ninja, sticking to walls and whipping shurikens into foes hovering above blue clouds. In between the stages, there were cut-scenes more brilliant than any movie I’d ever seen.
What new wonders awaited? Was I prepared for this magnitude of immersion? I could only slide silently—stealthily, I thought proudly—beside my brother and watch, the plastic gun clinched between my legs.
Thanks to Slalom, my parents thought I’d been kidnapped. I blame it on the monotony, the trance-like state the game enacted upon me. I didn’t even pause it when the phone rang; didn’t hang up the phone, even, but let it drop to the ground and walked mindlessly across the yard to the neighbor girl’s house, where cookies awaited, offered, over the phone, by the neighbor girl’s mom (who was also technically my neighbor, but adults and childhood crushes lived in my head in completely different realms, and my obsession held sway. Everyone else was merely a relative of my neighbor, the only neighbor that there was room for in my hormonal head). My boy belly was on autopilot.
In the kitchen, the neighbor’s mom snapped me out of my Nintendo trance into another one with the roundabout curious questions that lull you into thinking there’s no ulterior motive (“Are girls your age kissing a lot?” “I know you’ve seen cigarettes, of course, but joints, do you know what joints are?”) until it’s too late and the reconnaissance work is done, and she has gathered too many secrets about our adolescent lives.
We heard the front door open. I whispered to my neighbor’s mom with a finger to my lips that I would hide behind the kitchen counter. Oh, I think, the look on their faces. The look on my neighbor’s face, frightened at first but then shaking her head in delight, when she sees how sly, how utterly cool, I am.
The burly boom of the neighbor’s father’s voice reached us first. Almost time. Almost. He asked his wife, with an odd intensity, if she had seen me. How perfect, how serendipitous. I leaped from behind the counter now, shouting, “A snake woulda bit ya!” What a line! What a performance! I searched their faces for that perfect look of shock—but no. The wilting in me took place at the moment I met the neighbor’s dad’s stern gaze. She stood behind him, an odd smirk on her face. She looked and then slowly turned with a wince to stare out the window. I felt her embarrassment for me, a unique, indescribable, compounded humiliation.
“Son!” the dad said. “You need to get your butt home right now. Your parents are worried to death. And you’re in here acting foolish.”
My mother dropped the phone when I entered the living room, another neighbor’s panicked voice calling her name. She hugged me tightly, the anger and fear combined in her short reprimand. For a moment, their lives paused, my mom and dad had thought the worst.
I tried to play myself into another hypnotic forgetfulness, but I kept tumbling down the mountain, never finding another good rhythm. Her face floated before me with that glint of pity. If only I could disappear, I thought. How much better to be lost.
Your brother’s friends never let you play, their burgeoning teenage bodies packed in his room and shouting at the screen that bleats in front of them like a technicolor prophet. You have your small black-and-white secret, your loneliness-fixer encased in gray and able to fit in your Starter Jacket pocket.
In that dull green square, you are The Terminator, The Flash, a Pitfighter. You are the god that is Kevin McAllister, Home Alone, brave and clever. You giggle to yourself (who else?) whenever those goons across the hall bellow in victory. You are Batman, you thrive in solitude—don’t they realize that you are the hero of this story?
I was in a Wal-Mart lobby the first time I ripped the head off a Taoist monk. Spine dangling from my fist, the gory glory all mine—even teenagers congratulated me in their alien ways. A victory earned by standing on tiptoes to watch the pattern of the joysticks, the blood red buttons they popped with an indecent fury.
Back home, my Game Boy wasn’t going to suffice. Not anymore. My bloodlust needed spurts of color, not these gray drops on my tiny screen. And an arcade was out of the question. A boy my brother went to school with had a basement full of arcades, leftovers from his parents’ laundromat, but that seemed a fantasy, like being the cousin of Bruce Wayne, only ever rich-adjacent.
My own cousin did, however, have a Sega. It was a splurge for my aunt and uncle after he suffered a compound fracture in a Pee Wee football game and had to be laid up with the entire bottom half of his body casted. I tried not to sound too eager to visit, a twinge of guilt if I pretended that my excitement didn’t have more to do with Mortal Kombat than seeing family.
It was a particular type of glory to dispose of your foes in such grotesquerie. The crunch and snap, the viscera leaking on the temple floors. Every now and then my cousin’s physical discomfort would become too much for him to keep quiet about, his pain too real. Since he was still growing at the time, the fracture was particularly troublesome. He knew that he would never play football again. He’ll never be completely healed from that, even if his limp were to disappear in old age. His life even then had already begun a significantly different path than the one he’d planned, with teams and trophies and trips for pizza to celebrate after a great win or soothe a heartbreaking loss.
Here we were, crushing skulls with abandon, piercing throats with harpoons and reeling them in like guppies, as our Paw Paw had shown us. All these grand, hyper-violent fantasies we enacted with pure immunity, while out of sight a little split in the bone decimated a gulf of possibilities.
One time, my cousin said to me, as he lay there smiling sweetly at a particularly brutal demise on the screen, how he wished he was like them. “What, a ninja?” I asked. He laughed, that one still unbreakable thing. “Well, that, too,” he said. “But I mean, I wish after all that pain someone could pick me up again and I’d start the game whole once more.”
I think about those words often, and how even though he couldn’t start again, made new, like all of us he’s continued to play the game; refused to let it finish him.
Discs are the Future
There was a seamless cool to it: popping Weezer in the Discman and Crash Bandicoot in the PlayStation. Cartridges comparable now in my mind to a child’s toy blocks. The laser precision and digital wonder of the disc—that was teenage-caliber cool. We’d stare in awe at the promos on the posters in the mall. Some naysayer would inevitably mention the old rumors of the Sega CD system, but we never knew anyone firsthand who actually had one. A friend of my brother’s claimed to have an older cousin who had played it once at a birthday party, but we had our doubts. Even if it did exist, I thought of the Sega CD like I thought of Zack Morris’s big brick of a cell phone: cool, but borderline absurd and no use to me in any event. The PlayStation was accessible, tangible. Best Buy even had playable demos.
I don’t remember, after all the hype, when I got my PlayStation. Or perhaps it’s because the overwhelming slickness and futuristic heft of such a machine sucked me into a portal of gamedom, like an alien abduction, and I lost all memory of my first encounter. Then, suddenly, I was sitting in front of my fourteen-inch screen, a gang of violent cars chasing me, holding a gray controller in my hands, buttons absent of earthly letters and instead shapes with no cipher. This unearthly mechanism that I must learn to maneuver if I were to ever survive.
I pulled my Mortal Kombat: The Movie soundtrack from my fat sleeve of CDs. This needed a little something special. I’m a teenager now, I thought with glassy-eyed glee. I must be one of the coolest people I know. I pulled the headphones over my ears and, since I was alone, challenged the A.I. opponents to another match.
It was a purgatorial summer. Not yet possessing a driver’s license, yet wanting to be everywhere my bike couldn’t take me. My friends, who were they? It appeared I’d lost them when school ended, in this heated layover. I became the anti-explorer, belly on the bed, playing the same tired games.
Then there was a boy at my doorstep. A new addition to the Nowhere Club, having just moved from a state so far away his bike was as useless as mine. In his hands, though, he held a disc full of Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and a million-dollar McLaren F1.
That summer we drove toward an impossible friendship. Impossible, I say, because, years later, I seek him out and come up lost. I can travel anywhere now—there are no reins, vehicular or otherwise, to my worldly freedom; no limit on the friends I gain with the flash of a card, a small introduction to excitement. But often, on sweltering days in particular, I’ll yearn for a small room in a small town, and two bellies on the bed.
The First Frightening Thing
The local video store finally had PlayStation games for rent, and I had just snatched the last “in-stock” card from beneath a ghoulish box when a large sweaty man appeared behind me. He looked and, with barely suppressed wheezes, sounded like what my mom had warned me about. Not in regard to abduction, but to what my own future might hold should I continue to suck down Chilly Willies in front of the TV all summer.
“That’s a good one,” the man said. He scratched at his oily head and looked wildly around at the other boxes. “The best one.”
If he was indeed a kidnapper, then Guinness could log me as the quickest case of Stockholm Syndrome. I stretched my cardholding hand out to him obligingly. It was obvious to me that he needed the game way more than I did. And I thought how if, instead of this man, it had been one of the meaty-grinned jocks I’d see sauntering through the aisles on Friday nights, those falsely appealing young men my mother had more in mind when picturing my popsicle-less ambitions. I could imagine them jerking the card from my hand, if they hadn’t already shoved me aside with a well-tread homophobic joke before grabbing it for themselves.
This guy, though. This guy waved his hands in front of his chest like a frantic umpire. He straightened up and a shimmer of confidence caught the halogen lights. “Here’s what you’re gonna do…” He proceeded to walk me through the first section of the game, enough to get me past the point, “Where everyone dies their first go ‘round. But not you, kid, right? Not you!” I’d had a full-blown Zombie bootcamp by the time I was at home and navigating through the dark mansion in the misty forest of Racoon City.
In my room, I was terrified. When Dad called me for dinner, I scrambled down the stairs lest slow death peak from the shadows of my brother’s vacant bedroom.
He was at basketball practice. “Given any thought to what sport you might be playing next year?” my dad asked. “Your brother’s got him a good set of friends. ‘Specially that Alexander. Sweet boy.” Alexander had most recently kicked me in the ribs when I beat him in a game of H.O.R.S.E., that familiar grin dripping from his face.
“Not sure just yet,” I said. I wondered how I could track down the man from the store and thank him. I bet he, too, liked Chilly Willies. Perhaps I could sneak him one under the cover of darkness, when only the brave venture out.
Medal of Honor
My mom’s kitchen table always looked like a disaster zone after they had grabbed the snacks, sliced the pound cake, and sloshed sweet tea into dented squirt bottles, their tips gnawed to pebbled stumps. In practices and study halls and now here at my house pre-game, the closest place to the school gym, we found haven with a great mom, good food, and a PlayStation.
It was in my room where things really got crowded. Gargantuan team members squeezed onto my bed, the two rotating gamers in chairs in front of the TV. The course map in the top corner had made it too easy to track your opponent, so we taped my fresh new driver’s license over it. The danger, now, of the unseen at the end of every alley. Spectators giddy for the kill. No basketball game would be more exciting than this that day. Any of those days. Those of us stuck on the bench would talk about the battles. Players on the court would become tactical points only, soldiers in the virtual battlefield.
They left me for college next season. A successful season, by all external accounts. An undefeated record, an MVP and All-Conference trophy to place beside my broken CD jewels and empty Mentos’ wrappers lying wrinkled like snakeskin on my dresser. But the kitchen table was always clean, and the steps never creaked, only ever supporting the weight of one.
Without my faithful platoon, who was I? And where were they, out there in the world? Sometimes I have a certain sense of anticipation; turning the corner on a darkening street, I wait with a quickened heart. Maybe they are searching for me, too. Our map is, after all, much larger than it used to be. It might take some time. Best to stop counting decades.
I hope, one day, we’ll find one another, and, in some small way, they’ll still want to play again.
There was Andy, with moves he kept hidden lest anyone should challenge him on equal footing; William in the third grade never missed a fatality, each transition a masterclass in patience and timing; Bobby tells the story of a college roommate too stoned to open his eyes who finished the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles water stage flawlessly, electrified coral untouched; Sheila, the neighbor girl, obliterated all our well-endowed vehicles with twisted efficiency; Kevin would draw up strategies on the back of Eastbay Catalogs, shoes, sports, the future, forgotten in an instant. Too many to name, Hall-of-Famers all. Maybe this is why some of us keep playing, keep trying—we have a latent hope of finding that one game where we excel, at least one trick we can pull to make an impression. The poet scribbling verse after verse, hoping for at least a memorable epitaph.
I can’t pinpoint what caused my reticence to engage with others, or when exactly I became more audience than participant; why, for instance, I could watch my neighbors play Goldeneye for hours without once grabbing the controller. I’d even walk in loops through the Wal-Mart lobby and raucous Best Buy corrals, staring over shoulders and nodding solemnly to myself.
Overwhelmed one evening with a sense of camaraderie, however, I decided to jump into a Halo melee—but found that I no longer stood a chance. My friends had surpassed me in skill, in savvy, in the new slang they employed to laugh about my lack of skill and savvy.
A vast paradox: a boom in the multiplayer market had left me in complete solitude. As silly as it felt, I was terribly lonely. Depression slid in. The reprieve I might have once found in my old games wasn’t there, either.
Things were changing, though, I told myself. I was heading off to college after this lonely summer, and my job as a janitor at the post office had allowed me to save enough money for the golden grail: that slick black box in the window of KB Toys, its formerly alien symbols so familiar to me now they might as well have been tattooed in a blurry row across my thumb.
A new start—new machine, new games, new life.
I hoisted my purchase on my shoulder, strutting down the mall alone. I imagined the credits rolling, the audience gasping at my inordinate coolness, anticipating the sequel. My world was expanding beyond imagination, I just knew it.
More than a Feeling
I was the hero of our college apartment that year. A unifier of neo-punk heads and former cheerleaders, drug dealers and youth group leaders.
There was the semester Appalachian State beat Michigan, and we threw a football across Buffalo Wild Wings, the bar in an uproar. No one would believe that the most exciting part of that day was when I convinced a PhD in classical guitar to come back with me and stand on a dirty futon above an adoring crowd and click and clack a plastic toy.
Was I a great bard? I traveled home, instrument in my satchel, itching for competition. There, in the center of rurality, a challenger. An old friend. With Little League long perished, and our siblings no longer running the high school court while we screamed from the stands for an hour of euphoria, where were we to ever find another point of joy close to as bright? When would we connect again?
Here, night after night, when, like before, our future was uncertain. Again, a zero on the board. We listened to those same songs, but now we played them, too. In between, we remembered. I love to remember all the ways we once remembered.
Tell me you don’t hear those same songs and feel your fingers reach for a fret of colorful buttons. Whether or not you admit it, you were a hero once, too.
Kindle, Kart, Kafka
It was my final winter on the coast, and I spent my days spinning out of control. I’d taken a job as a community college English instructor because I’d failed The Burger Shack’s personality test. For some reason, that rejection stands out more than some of the others.
As for teaching, the only thing I really knew or cared about was Kafka, so I found a way to pad each Expository Writing seminar with incongruous stories of desert torture chambers and beautiful chiasms that I would attribute to a variety of writers. I doubted any of my students would check behind me. And if one of them had happened to shout at me, “Wait, Teach, I believe that’s from ‘Up in the Gallery,’ not ‘Up in Michigan.’ Easy mistake, Teach,” I would’ve been pleased beyond repair.
But since that was not so, I stumbled home from post-class nightcaps at the Wincing Dime and played my Wii, my e-reader between my feet so I could glance between games at those same stories I had spoken to my class about, just to see in which ways the booze would change them this time.
Rainbow Road, Moo Moo Meadow, Koopa Cape…all the courses on the screen would take on a Kafkan dimension, looping and contorting in twisted harmony with his words. At times I felt that this would be an infinite intertwining, like I was melting into the tracks, or the tracks were melting with me into the Kindle’s matrix. Donkey Kong became Red Peter, King Boo the Hunter Gracchus, Metal Mario the tragic K, inching closer and closer to Bowser’s Castle, boiling inside its fetid heat, but never reaching its gates. And to think that I believed this was the ritual that was keeping me sane!
Soon, when morning came, and then came again, I realized it would continue to come in that same way, in the same place, with me doing the same thing. I knew I had to give up teaching and this town. The Wii I left with my roommate. The Kindle had its own dark aura and I left it to corrode in a box in the basement.
I drove back the way I’d come, all those years ago. Beside me on the passenger seat was a stack of new books, dozens bought for less than half the price of a new generation console. I’d leave the new generations to the new generation, I thought. Maybe one day, once the spinning stopped, I’d play again.
Here’s how I saw it at the end of it all: two friends, reunited, uncertain for how long—though not as long as I ever would’ve guessed, would’ve hoped—in my brother’s house. In a pocket of time obsessed with neo-noir movies and graphic novels, and someone to feed me all the Bildungsroman literature I’d been devouring. Grown men trying to gobble up those cool things we somehow missed along the way and now asked to make a living by day. So, we waited until dark on Fridays when my brother—with a job that required rest and cerebral activity that couldn’t cope with deadened senses even on a weekend—went to sleep. Then, we’d turn the volume low and navigate Jimmy through the ranks of his insufferable high school.
Here was my first year of college inverted—GTA was the game we played then, kids enacting a macho, hyper-violent fantasy, hookers on the corner and rocket launchers dangling largely from helicopters. Ending the nights with Salinger in bed. Now, here we were, men enacting a lost fantasy of youth, protecting the weak from the burly bullies, making deals with townies, rising in the social sphere using cunning and integrity—a crush stealing a quick peck between classes. Riding bikes through the coastal town, finding a hideout with a closet full of clothes—a trench coat and hunter’s cap the go-to attire. In the hideout, there were functional arcades, so I could play Jimmy playing Pac-Man, a childhood doubling that, for a moment, made the open worlds and slingshot missions and investigative narratives only a blip on the tiny radar at the corner of the screen.
What if we were to stay here, just like this, I thought, passing the controller between us, never leaving the game within the game? Often now, I remember those nights with a wish to return to this Plato’s Cave so entrancing one might lovingly accept its shackles.
Sometimes the only thing you have to hang on to is a tight corner. The days and nights are uncertain concepts; always racing toward or away from them. All to end up at this cobbled-together rental in your hometown on a road you never knew existed.
Aspects of your current situation are almost fascinating in their contrast with childhood predictions. The fact that you spend your days in a security booth in an abandoned parking lot for 10 dollars an hour and have not dated anyone in over half a decade—that might have come as a slight shock to your younger self. You are back here again; in that town you knew you’d only ever see as a dissolving image in your Honda’s rear view.
Some things, though, you wouldn’t have doubted for a moment in that shimmering, hopeful youth. You now live with your best friend. Every night—or day—is a party. You basically get paid to read. In the blurry montage of it all, the two of you sit in front of a screen larger than anything you could’ve imagined owning and race in circles together.
If that’s all you knew, you would’ve believed it all worked out in the end, despite those creeping fears that often kept you up past bedtime, about a dark life filled with sadness.
Not here. No, never here.
How often did Drew and I play? In total, the entire year, that volatile and in equal measure dream-like and nightmarish time that is your first year of college, maybe a few hours at most. Five-to-ten-minute clips at a time, Drew always on the move, flitting in and out of our dorm. Never the sense of rushing anywhere, but more like a surfer riding a particularly large wave, gliding in the barrel. In contrast, there I was in the loftily labeled “suite” area of our dorm room, staring back at myself in the tiny black screen of the TV/VCR combo, waiting for some type of inspiration to strike; something that would induce creativity, unblock the wretchedness of my recent poems, or, more hopefully perhaps, an idea for an activity that would give me an excuse to escape my own useless introspective trap.
Where are you now, Drew? Where are you with that cool, unabashed excitement of being young, at having this moment—this near-stranger in front of you that you asked in the thrilling way a childhood friend might ask to have a sleepover: “Quick clash of Souls, brother?” Do you know how many times, Drew, that blackness was gnawing at me, devouring me, before you burst in, brightening this unreplicable space in our lives?
Sometimes, across the world now and no longer young, I think I’d be OK again, for a few minutes, at least, if you would walk through my door and ask for one more game.
I often stare out the window on dark days, measuring certain notions, and dream of it.
Switching Things Up
I store it away when company comes over. I will not play it while listening to music; I have a noise machine so no particular bird’s chirp can embed itself in my mind. I close windows and use scent-free wipes, let the fan blow away any particles that could attempt to settle in my mind.
I’m starting from scratch—new mattress on the floor, armless futon, a room with nothing but my books, and even those have their spines turned toward the wall.
The downsizing includes, as well, my gaming. I only play this small, banana-yellow Switch Lite in my hand in a self-administered vacuum. Though portable in the extreme, it stays in here with me. It cannot—will not—become again what they all have in the past: vectors of memories.
I know it’s a whole mood right now, a smaller symptom of my depression, but I can hardly step foot in a GameStop without almost bursting into tears. The old games behind their glass cases, the old recollections, the old friends no longer around. The old me. This man too old for video games, as I’ve been told numerous times by numerous types—family, friends, potential lovers. Yet still.
There is a neighbor in the apartment I’ve become quite fond of. I do not place our relationship in a certain category. It simply feels nice to speak with this person. I’m excited when I think I might be seeing them on a certain day. I make sure the Switch is in the drawer, out of sight, out of mind. Then one day, when my neighbor knocks on the door unexpectedly, and I’m too excited to remember to stash the handheld away, and it’s lying right there on the futon, and before I can interfere and remove it from this aura of wonderful, this new life, my neighbor snatches it up and lets out a shout. “You have one of these! Oh, do you have Mario Kart? All the old games are downloadable, too. Oh, man, we are going to have so much fun.”
So here it is, I think, with a thrilling panic. It has begun.
Someday, this good great thing, the moments about to occur, will leave me, like all the rest. One day I will write about this, too. But for now, I will laugh and feel the jolt down my spine of a new friend, making an old game new.
We sit, hovering over the tiny screen like kids on Christmas Eve.
Coda: Writerly Text
David Foster Wallace famously said that the main purpose of literature is to make us feel less alone. We interact, on some level, with the author when we read. There’s someone out there that we float along with, across time and corporeal existence itself, on a higher wavelength. Even our family and friends might not ever reach that particular sacred space like that certain stirring sentence created by a writer possibly—probably—long dead. It is a form of time travel like no other: literature.
Video games also make us feel less alone, but in a different way. Perhaps we are never more present than when we play. Our bodies slip outside and around us, become an extension of every pixel. Who’s to say where we begin? Friends can help augment this. Not that they are always necessary. You have to be prepared for when they are no longer there. But if you are ever in a crowded room and pick up a lonely controller, someone will come along. That’s your friend for that small moment in time, at least.
What wonders, these little boxes of memories. The games, they are only the catalyst to it all. What we do with that game, where it takes us, what swirl of life happens while playing—the interruptions, the celebrations, the unexpressed love—that’s what we take with us and hold closely in our solitude. Always play with this in mind.
about From the Archives: Sick Day
Featured • Fiction
From the Archives: Sick Day
"I am usually the one in control, the one working, the one in charge of someone else’s life, their body, and appearance. But here at Singapore Electric, Cheng is taking charge of my body, my appearance, my life."
Featured • Fictionabout From the Archives: Sick Day
Featured • Fiction
From the Archives: Sick Day
From the Archives: Sick Day
"I am usually the one in control, the one working, the one in charge of someone else’s life, their body, and appearance. But here at Singapore Electric, Cheng is taking charge of my body, my appearance, my life."
Featured • Poetry