The Constant Chasm: Video Games and Memory

Teresa at The Haunted Wordsmith today (or, erm, yesterday) offers a writing prompt of the nonfiction variety in the form of a question: What is your favorite game or memory involving a game? Imma lazy man so I’m only going to answer one part of the question, the second one. And I’m also indecisive so instead of one memory, I’m going to list a few and hope one of them is interesting.

Okay, so here ‘tis, in beautiful bullet point form:

  • Beating the final boss of Jak & Daxter only to be met with an ancient vault that can only be unlocked by finding more “power cells” found throughout the game world
  • The beginning of Baldur’s Gate II where you awake in some mad wizard’s prison and subsequently tortured
  • Watching your horse and only companion in Shadow of the Colossus disappear into a chasm below
  • The voices that end Fallout New Vegas: Dead Money like a choir of ghosts

Alright, that’s all of them. Thank you for reading. Bye.

…Okay. Maybe I should offer at least some context because, well, the memories I’ve listed are a bit odd. So, maybe this will help explain things: the reason why these are my favorite memories is because, when playing, they made me feel powerless…okay thanks for reading!

Alright, more context. See, I’m not very original. As a kid, I played video games for largely the same reasons as many other kids.

As a child I didn’t have a lot of choice. I grew-up in the suburbs and while I was allowed to go outside unattended I wasn’t permitted to leave our tiny neighborhood. At school, I couldn’t choose my classes. I couldn’t choose my peers. And I was often punished for not completing homework assignments. I didn’t understand the point of homework or most “busy work” as I saw it.

But, things were pushed onto me, and I didn’t understand why. No one would explain things to me; I was just expected to do. This frustrated me, but I also saw what happened to those who acted out. Overall, my life growing-up was better than 99% of the world’s, but it was sheltered and confining. And even as a kid I was aware of this, that I was expected to be “good,” and I couldn’t complain because of how lucky I was. But I didn’t have much of an outlet. There were just two things: writing and video games.

While games had consequences, the consequences were often short-lived. Shoot the wrong person or fail to escape the exploding ship in time? It’s all good, because after a couple of tries you could still be the hero. And those failures? Forgotten. Because you are an interstellar badass, not some twerpy kid who could barely jump rope and had math problems left to solve.

As a result, I’ve wasted countless sections of my life trying to wash away the world. But out of all these lost hours, not much remains, except for a few memories like the ones above. And over the years, these memories would sometimes pop into my skull for no apparent reason and then disappear. And these memories weren’t necessarily the ones where I was having the most fun, but rather, the ones where I was feeling something else.

I was feeling powerless. But I wasn’t frustrated. In the real world, I felt powerless all the time and I hated it. But when this feeling presented itself in video games, unexpectedly, it was different, and wasn’t sure why at the time. Now, I think I have an idea.

In Shadow of the Colossus, you are nearly alone. It’s just you, your horse and the great emptiness of the land. Until, toward the end, your horse disappears into a chasm below. After the brief cinematic the camera positions back to you. The only companion you’ve had the entire game is gone in an instant and all your left is with the silence staring back. There is nothing you can do. You have nothing left, except for your mission.

Unfortunately, rewatching that moment on Youtube, I realize it was a bit more cinematic than I had remembered, lessening some of the impact, but the way the game moves quickly away from the “cinematic mode” back onto your character, expecting you to continue playing, is still effective in its overall abruptness, and it’s a type of moment that only a video game can really offer. It gives you a sense of powerlessness as the game strips a part of you away and you’re forced to continue playing without it. Life moves to its own accord.

I’ve played tons of video games where, towards the end, you are nigh-powerful and you defeat the bad guy. But in Shadow of the Colossus, this isn’t so, and the powerlessness I felt, especially at the very end, has had a greater impact on me than any happy ending which may have been more “satisfying,” in the short-term, but only provided a temporary fix for whatever I was feeling at the time.

This, as well as the other memories, on the other hand, actually commented on something. These were moments that provided more than mere entertainment and escapism. And, whether or not I was conscious of it, they helped make the powerlessness that I felt daily make sense. It contextualized the real world. And that’s what good art does. It provides a framework in which to better understand reality, and make it bearable.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on longer than intended. And I didn’t really touch on the other memories, but I probably don’t need to. You get the gist. And they probably don’t mean much, in of themselves anyway, but they’re there, making themselves known every once in a while, reminding.

Denial – Fiction

My name is irrelevant, but, yes, I’m a spin doctor. Most in my occupation shy away from such a term…Not me…I know who I am, and I’m proud of it. I don’t deny reality, but make the most of it…

People think we lie. Twist the truth for the benefit of our clients. What people don’t realize is that they’re lied to, on a constant basis. Your world is twisted by the media. By those in power. We just level the play–oh, is that all I get? Fine. Next question.


A response to the Weekend Writing Prompt #107 – Spin.

wk-107-spin

Movement – Fiction

Look at her. Here she comes, again. I swear, everyday she gets just a little bit slower, and slower. Bucket gets a little heavier. All that water, just for me. The other day she almost dropped it, almost had it tumbling down those steps. God, how much of a disaster would that have been? All that tasty, tasty water…But she managed to catch it. Despite her age, she can still be agile. Gotta give her that. But what about today? Would she be able to catch that bucket again if it fell from her?

I would be fine. I’ve been at the top of my tower longer than she’s been alive. But, if she fails in her duty to water me, she’s gonna freak. I’ve seen it happen. Not with her, but with previous Guardians. But me without water? Think I can tolerate it. Either I will get my water eventually, or they would simply replace her. But she wouldn’t be able to tolerate it. She would flip out. Call herself a failure. But I wouldn’t think of her as a failure. Of course, she would never know.

Yep…still coming up. You know, once she’s gone, she will be quickly replaced as if she never happened. In a way, I’m kind of looking forward to it. A nice young lass, but I’ll miss my current Guardian as well. She used to tell me things (not that I had much of a choice.) I remember when she was young and pretty-looking many years ago, she spoke about her family and how they lived. Guardians had spoken to me about their lives. I’ve never seen the world below, but from their secret words I’ve been able to piece the below world together. So when she first told me about how her family lived in a small cottage I thought of some dismal little shack with dozens of dirty children running about. But when she spoke about her home, she made it seem like a cozy piece of heaven. One that she was thankful for despite her hardships.

She also told me about her husband who had been gone for a few years in a distant land. I don’t remember his name, but I still hear the mix of pain and pride in her voice whenever she said it. I sometimes think about how he died, tried to piece together a scene. She never said how, specifically, it happened, only that he died fighting for their land. And for years she would recount memories they had together, but soon those memories fell into silence. As she’s gotten older, her voice trembles and barely speaks. It makes me sad.

I never had a lot of choice in my life, but it’s interesting how humans never really move, either. I mean, what was stopping her from abandoning her duty and going off to find her husband? That’s what I’ve never been able to understand. The only information I have are the whispers of poor, prideful souls that will continue to haunt the steps of my tower. Which, I guess, is more their tower than mine. Those Guardians. Marching up those steps, bucket in hand and tales in their throats. Falling into the same, replaceable march. They’re all part of me now, but I still don’t know what it means.

I can hear her. She’s getting close…storm’s coming. Funny, she probably didn’t even need to be up here today with the bringing rains. But it’s nice to hear her steps, knowing those are her’s, and pretending that they aren’t the same as the others’.

tower


A response to What Do You See? MAY 14/2019 writing prompt.

Are They Out There? A Small Animal Opines

Today, we’re going to do something different. Instead of posting a weird poem or story, I’m simply going to be answering a couple of questions provided by Fandango. They are:

“Are we alone in this vast and expanding universe? Do you believe that intelligent, alien life exists? Defend your answer.”

As you can probably tell from my posts I’m no scientist, philosopher, nor have I ever had an “extraterrestrial experience.” So, I’m probably incredibly under-qualified to answer this. So, here we go.

“Are we alone in this vast and expanding universe?” Well, no one really knows, of course, but if the universe is vast and expanding, then surely there has to be some form of life elsewhere, beyond our solar system. So, statistically, it’s very likely. However, the second question is a bit trickier:

“Do you believe that intelligent, alien life exists?” This goes back to the point I just made, which is that, statistically, it’s very likely that there is life beyond what is known; it’s also likely that at least some of that life might be “intelligent.” However, such lifeforms might be trillions of miles from us, and it make take millennia for contact to be made.

But, the fact that we ask such questions is interesting, and the ways that we answer them are revealing.

Brian Cox is an English physicist and well-known television personality who once tried to answer a similar question to the ones above, which is, “if intelligent alien life exists, how come we haven’t had contact yet?” His answer:

“It may be that the growth of science and engineering inevitably outstrips the development of political expertise, leading to disaster…”

Basically, the reason we haven’t heard from alien civilizations is because they have destroyed themselves, and that we could be, according to Cox, “approaching that position.” This makes sense. Human life, despite all of its technological and cultural progress, remains self-destructive. And maybe life, as it becomes more intelligent and complex, inevitably leads to its own censor.

But, isn’t it possible that we haven’t seen aliens yet not because they self-destructed, but because space travel is extremely difficult and resource-heavy? Perhaps, there are some civilizations that have managed to crack the code, but we are simply in too far a quadrant for them to reach. Or, alien lifeforms are already here, but merely exist on a different plane from us. It is possible that extraterrestrial life could be non-corporeal, non-carbon based. Perhaps, we simply could not perceive them, and they cannot perceive us; two universes, maybe even more, in overlap.

But Cox isn’t the only physicist to opine on this. Stephen Hawking once speculated on the nature of intelligent alien lifeforms and what the scenario might be if we ever crossed paths:

“Meeting an advanced civilization could be like Native Americans encountering Columbus. That didn’t turn out so well.”

If extraterrestrials are advanced enough to traverse whole galaxies, it could be akin to Europe colonizing distant lands. This also makes sense. Humans, once we became advanced enough, used those advancements to oppress and use each other. Progress, like a parasite, feeding itself to growth.

But, due to the near-infinite variables granted by a vast and expanding universe, isn’t it also possible that aliens may not even know the concept of slavery or property? Perhaps, such things could be so distant and, well, “alien” to them that they could barely comprehend it? Maybe, if aliens ever meet us, we may not even register a second look. We could be merely a worm writhing in the mud and aliens, a child who may give us a gander for a minute, but has more important things to do.

So, you’ve probably noticed the thing that girds their speculations. Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking are far more intelligent and accomplished than I; however, while their answers make sense, they are also based in the assumption that all intelligent life is/would be like us–human. They are reading the unknown through a human lens, projecting upon the universe thousands of years of human progress and suffering. But this shows that the only universe we know so far is the one caged in our skulls. 

Though I might be being too harsh on Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking. They may have been using the question of alien life to reflect on/warn of ourselves. They knew that there is simply not enough evidence yet to answer the question of intelligent life without speculation. So, they tried offering something practical. Something that we can use in the meantime so that we might actually be around when alien life ever decides to show. Though, this could speculation as well.

You know, I just realized that I didn’t really answer that second question myself. “Do you believe that intelligent, alien life exists?” Well, yes…I guess so. Again, I’m no expert, on anything really. So I don’t know there is intelligent life (then again, who does?) but I do believe that there is, out there; it’s just hard for me to speculate on its nature. Despite one of my counter argument against Cox, I doubt that intelligent life would come in a non-corporeal form, but…it’s always possible that at least some entities might be. After all, while there is much we know of the universe, there is a lot that we likely don’t. As advanced as we are, I sometimes feel like we’re just getting started. 100,000 years from now, historians may lump the current Internet Age with the Hunter and Gatherers in terms of advancement/progress. As far as we’ve come, we’re still animals clinging to our humble speck, with our eyes occasionally gazing upward at slightly more distant specks, and dreaming.

Another Moment – Fiction

“PULL IT!”

“PULL WHAT?”

“YOUR ‘CHUTE!”

Oh right, my para…and that’s when I realized it. I forgot to equip my parachute. I looked back at the skydiving instructor, but all he did was shrug and pull his parachute, disappearing in a flash above me.

I looked down and saw the ground rushing toward me like a rabid dog. The air yowled and my body felt so small and vulnerable. I was so, so screwed.

I closed my eyes and tried to take control of the situation. Tried to slow down time and fill the remaining seconds I had with a montage of life’s greatest moments. My mind sped through random images and faces and tried hone-in on specific ones.

The image of a lake came up. I was standing before it, watching the sun glimmer off of it. And there was a girl. Her name was Penelope and she was the first love of my life. She had long, auburn hair and eyeglasses. We dated for a whole month before she decided that I was too “boring” and “weird.” I opened my eyes and only felt sadness as the earth grew and grew.

I turned back to my mind and away from death, recalling life. This time, I remembered the telegram I received from my mother, informing me of my father’s passing. Well, that’s not what I wanted exactly. Maybe the good times I had with ol’ papa…

Ol’ papa was a great man. A country music star by the name of Harry Gilbert. You may have heard of him. Anyway, the memory that I pulled-up was when, after one of his shows, I decided to sneak back to the green room to surprise him. I opened the door and saw him with another woman on his lap. “Oh. Um. Hi son. Sonny boy.”

“D-dad? What’s-who’s–?”

“Ummmm. We’ll talk later.” And he shut the door with his foot. Behind the closed door I heard the two of them giggling. Their giggles clung to my ears as I fell through the sky. I felt the tears rolling, quickly evaporating into air.

But as my body was about to smack against the earth, two arms wrapped around me. “DON’T WORRY, I GOT–”

I woke-up in the hospital, my head throbbing. Everything was tied to wires and bleeping machines. “Hello there, daredevil.” The woman rolled over to me in a wheelchair, both of her legs in cast.

“Heyyy…” was all I could say. My mind swayed underneath the fluorescence. “Am I dead?”

“No. Far from it. You just experienced your first skydive.” She smiled as she explained how she managed to save me mere seconds before plunging into the earth. Apparently my head was bashed against the rock on the landing while she shattered her legs.

“So, you ever gonna do it again?”

“Uhhhhh. Maybe…” But the answer was no. Everything was discombobulated, but things were starting to cohere, slowly. Weeks passed before I left the hospital and I remembered the moment before leaping out of that plane. I was thinking about how this was the first genuinely great, exciting moment of my life. And then I plunged into the vast blue, and was filled with excitement that was, of course, short-lived.

So, what’s the takeaway from this tale? Well, that’s the thing…I’m not sure you can take away anything from life. Okay, that’s not true. You obviously can. But it’s all dependent on how you form things. Life is life, and we all seem to sculpt it for our own needs. And maybe one day, that descent can be turned into something that I can be proud of. A poem. A movie. Maybe even a song. Something greater than me and you. I close my eyes and watch my body fall again, and take on a strange kind of peace.


Another literary and highfalutin response to Stream of Consciousness Saturday and Three Things Challenge: PL79.

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com