Even though they were just 1s and 0s, I was sure they hated me.
June 25, 2013 8:16 AM   Subscribe

Save Points is an essay about gaming after the loss of a friend.
posted by roomthreeseventeen (8 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
It's okay, I needed a good cry during my lunch break.
posted by dinty_moore at 9:40 AM on June 25, 2013

I really liked that. Thanks for posting it.
posted by likeatoaster at 10:06 AM on June 25, 2013

Man, the Border House posts some difficult but worthwhile stuff. Thanks, roomthreeseventeen - I would probably have missed this.
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:27 AM on June 25, 2013

Powerful story, thanks for posting.
posted by meta87 at 1:05 PM on June 25, 2013

I'm losing my mom. It's been six months since the diagnosis, and the cancer (fuck cancer) has spread well beyond her pancreas now, and it won't be long. I'm being there whenever she'll let me; she's a loner, like her kids, and she'd rather be by herself when things are bad.

She's taking a lot of solace in wiping out the Earth's population. She plays Plague, Inc on her tablet, and she's really good at it; she's wiped us all out with a fungus on Brutal difficulty. She's also developed a taste for disaster movies. I think, in a narrow sort of way, I get that.

I've been trying to keep my shit together, meanwhile, by gaming. It's what I'd usually do; escape into Skyrim or X-COM, or Torchlight II, and forget the world for a while. Do a little violence, feel better, then cope. But it isn't working.

I keep thinking about the bandits I kill in Skyrim; I know they're fictions, tiny little AI routines, not worth troubling myself over. But there's this guy, with my arrow in him, and he's lying there still, and I wonder if he had a lover, a child, a parent who'd be waiting for him to turn up with a coin purse he'd purloined from some helpless traveler. I'd think about what might have driven him to take up a life of crime; it wasn't like he was in the Thieve's Guild, so he was risking all sorts of retribution from all over in order to just eke out a living. What choices had he made that wound up with him by this road, sword at the ready, waiting for a victim; had he ever thought that he'd be a criminal, so despised that he could be killed without consequence?

I know, there is no him, no life was lost, no real people were harmed in the making of this game. But we suspend our disbelief to be in the game; in order to fear for our own lives in the dark dwemer catacombs, we have to believe, to a tiny degree, that this is all real. The civilian casualties in X-Com haunt me; I can't save them all, and they're standing there hoping I get to them before the aliens do horrible things to them. Torchlight is easier, because they're just waves of things trying to kill you, but then I see a werewolf leap gracefully from a roof, and I think that they were human once, and might be again, and they didn't ask to be a werewolf, and then they try to kill me. In the game I defend myself, but to really play, you have to kind of, a little bit, on some level, believe.

In war, governments have to roll out huge propaganda campaigns that make it possible for the troops to believe that the people they're shooting aren't really people; that them being on the wrong side means that shooting them is okay. The events of the past few months have rubbed me so raw that I can't even dehumanize the inhuman; even in a collection of pixels and lines of code, I see a tiny glint of humanity, enough to make me mourn them when they die.

I believe that games can heal; I've seen a broken friend dive into World of Warcraft like it was a hermit's cave, and come out a year later whole and happy, ready to resume his life. I've whittled away loss and disappointment and frustration with head-shots and gear grinds; my in-game armor works just as well, sometimes, in real life. When something like this hits you, though, the escape just doesn't work; the pain works its way into everything, and all the worlds, both real and fictional, serve as illustrations of the awfulness of loss.

In her grief, my mom finds it therapeutic to wipe out a fictional world, over and over again, to see the planet die along with her. ln mine, I grieve for the trolls in Torchlight II. There's a conversation that needs to be had about gaming and grief, gaming and coping, and the border where healing becomes destructive. As with any escape, there's a point where the mechanism you're using to cope begins to consume you; where the solution becomes just another problem. These fictional worlds have been created for us, and they interact with all of the baggage we bring into them, and the results can be profoundly affecting, both for good and ill.

I've given up on gaming for a while. I can't handle the carnage, or games that would simply destroy me emotionally (imagine playing To The Moon or Dear Esther in this state). I think I'll try to find a game where I can just save everyone; where nothing horrible happens, and no-one dies.
posted by MrVisible at 2:36 PM on June 25, 2013 [20 favorites]

Wonderful post, thanks.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:41 PM on June 25, 2013

This is an amazing essay.

I've been playing through Spec Ops: The Line in the past few days, mostly so I can read things like Killing is Harmless and the large body of critisim about it. I haven't yet encountered much that's stunned me, though there are a few scenes where I really hated Captain Walker and myself as a player, which I know is the pint.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:57 PM on July 2, 2013

I finished Spec Ops: The Line last night. I liked it, though I felt like it wasn't as groundbreaking as people said, the environments and surreal atmosphere were amazing and I did feel enough guilt to make it worthwhile. It did seem to engage more with the Vietnam War/Apocolypse Now aesthetic than with our current wars.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:26 PM on July 3, 2013

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