Or: How I’ve learned that there are none…
Video games are not real.
Even those single-player, story-driven, character-heavy games. Games with beautifully rendered, story-filling cutscenes, that bring the uncanny valley of reality and fiction ever closer each year. Games with a great supporting cast, where you’re mostly living ego-centric stories; stories where you (the player) are the most important thing that has happened, is happening, and will happen.
In these adventures, we almost always have control over our lives, and our deaths. Even in those instances where you feel like the game cheated you, or you blame it on the lag, or blame it on the filthy screen-watchers. Ultimately, you – the one holding the controller – are the one in control.
In video games you have checkpoints. Cheat codes. Auto saves. Manual saves. Even rage quitting when things don’t go as planned (c’mon, you’ve all done it at some point – I’m looking at you Dead Space 2).
In most story driven video games you also typically have some kind of difficulty selection. How do you want to experience this story? Do you want a story? Choose “Give Me A Story” in the latest God of War, or “Can I Play, Daddy?” in Wolfenstein. Do you want a challenge? Choose “Give Me A Challenge” or “I Am Death Incarnate!” in each of those respective games.
There’s one major caveat though – it’s not real. They’re meant to tell a story. They’re meant to entertain. It doesn’t really matter. At the end of the chapter, you turn it off and get back to real life.
How nice would it be to actually have that kind of customization in real life? Go back to the character creation screen and shave off a few of those pounds, make that jaw line a little stronger. Go ahead and put a few more points into that charisma category while you’re at it.
Made a wrong decision in your skill tree or story arc? Just revert back to your old checkpoint or previous save file and start over.
Difficulty level set too high? Pull a Zack Morris (“time out”) and talk it over with yourself, and maybe lower that difficulty level down a little… or a lot.
I know if I had a choice of my own difficulty settings, I would rather choose the Story mode. Give me a good story. Give me a good cast of supporting characters that will help me throughout the campaign when it’s needed, be truly grateful for my help when it’s provided, and further the plot points in meaningful ways that lead a gratifying and unforgettable campaign. And when the story is done? All of the loose ends have been tied. All the plot points filled. And the story, my story, is completed.
“I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
Except when we’re not.
A friend of mine recently passed away very unexpectedly. A good man who had no business dying, died. It hurts to think about his story arc that was left very much unfinished. But what hurts more, to me, are the new branching story arcs for his kids and young, widowed wife that have suddenly been created.
“I am the master of my fate.”
We also have friends that recently lost their baby. Something that no parent should have to experience. The 11 hours of sleep that I want my kids to have every night, is just shy of the total amount of time they had with their little boy.
“I am the captain of my soul.”
Invictus. Unconquered. In name, the very definition of how to remain stoic in the face of adversity. Keep a stiff-upper-lip chap, and all that.
I write all this as my own way to grieve and process what was simply unthinkable, until it became reality. I mourn the loss of a friend, and I’ll grieve for the unexpected. But more importantly, I’ll grieve for the experiences that are lost, for now. I’ll grieve that these beautiful kids will not yet know their Father as we knew him, and that our friend won’t have her best friend and husband. I’ll grieve that my friends won’t yet see their child grow, and learn, and become one of these beautiful little people that are such huge parts of my life.
It hurts. It’s real. It matters.
It hurts that a part of me, very selfishly, is happy. Happy that I, we, us, are all still here. Happy that I have more time to entertain my wife with my stellar jokes. (Those eye rolls means she loves me, thinks my jokes are funny, and will never get old.) Happy that a large part of my cast of supporting characters is sound asleep just feet away and I will tuck them in more than once for the next little while, just because I can. I might accidentally wake them up to get a perfect sleepy hug, just because I can.
While my wife is away to be there for our friend, who, on the same day as she was celebrating the 1st birthday of their youngest child, also had to prepare funeral arrangements for his father; I will be home attending a memorial service in support of our friends in their time of loss.
Life is kind of like
a box of chocolates that old story about driving… You know the one.
An older woman is driving with her middle-aged daughter in the car’s passenger seat. As they’re driving along, the mother goes right through a red light without any sort of hesitation or acknowledgement, and continues on down the road. The daughter glances over at her mother, but hesitates to say anything that makes it sound like “You’re too old to drive!” and so she doesn’t say anything. And then the mother goes through a second red light. The daughter, as tactfully as possible, looks at her mom and says, “Are you aware that you just went through two red lights?” The mother looks over at her daughter and says, surprisedly, “Oh, am I driving?”
Everyone likes to think that we are the driver of our own car (unless you’ve taken The Beatles up on their offer and now you’re driving theirs. Beep beep, Yeah!). That’s how we make the big boy decisions of career, home, spouse, kids, life. I’m the master of my fate. I make the decisions here.
There’s no way that we can know everything, do everything, and be in control of everything. There is no reset button, and no save points. No hard resets or reboots when we encounter an unforeseen glitch or bug in our campaign.
What we do have, is each other, now. And so the best we can do, is be like the old woman, “driving” the car. Enjoy the ride and help others do so along the way.
So I close this messy post about messy life with a plea that you sincerely look around and appreciate the amazing campaign that we have to explore, regardless of difficulty level. The graphics are way better in person. The supporting cast is amazing and helpful and deserves praise for all the things they do to further our quests daily. Go out of your way to find those side quests.
They usually have the best loot.
And that echoes the wise words of one of Bill & Ted’s favorite dudes when he said;
“Be excellent to each other.”Abraham Lincoln
Addendum: I add this final paragraph one year later and will further quote the Beatles and say “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Life goes on. A lot can happen in a year.
The “Desmond’s” and “Molly’s” of our story have found their own “happy
never ever after in the market place” that is their story. There have been several pauses and time outs. Several continues when we really wished that the difficulty level could be tweaked dramatically. I’m sure there will be several more time outs, and broken controllers, and swearing at the screen when there’s no possible way the game could throw another impossible challenge at you while you’re currently in the midst of one already impossible challenge.
(Pro-tip: It will)
And while it has not been, nor will it always be, sunshines and lollipops; Life goes on.
Let’s find ways to all be singers in the band.