You either a ‘gamer’ or you aren’t. Possibly, by the end of reading this, you may ponder this a little more deeply.
When I was a kid my dad used to fly, in many ways other than just planes. He flew the coup as well. So, the advantage of the split parenting and a flying father was that I was rather spoilt by his routes to Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, London and Paris.
My father has always been a bit of a nerd at heart. He likes buying gadgets, electronics and computers, so on his return, I always received ‘cool stuff’. Stuff that no one else had. The best thing he brought back was the original all in one, now so retro, Apple Mac. I’m referencing, around the year 1984, when I was eight years old.
With this Mac came the giant floppy disks with the game, Apple Panic. On the first push of the I, J, K, and M keys on the clunky Mac keyboard, I became a fan and devoted so many of my childhood weekends escaping into, what I now can identify as, an alternate reality. I spent every ‘dad’ weekend playing Apple Panic. My dad would bring me tea and sandwiches and place it on the desk alongside the Mac, as I never got up from behind that built-in screen. I would play from the time I arrived, till the time I needed to get in the car and go back to my mom on a Sunday evening.
The aim of the game was to dig holes and get the apples to fall in. You then had to run back to pound the apples through the holes. As you progressed in the game, the levels got more complicated, and more challenging. You had to dig more holes, for more horizontal moving apples within a shorter time. Rather simple in its gaming premise but probably the starting point of my weird psychological connection between computer games and real life.
As I entered my confusing latter teenage years, I replaced gaming with art, gardening, and as teenage boys do, playing with myself. Gasp! I didn’t play games in my twenties. I got married at twenty-four, to my then wife, had two beautiful daughters and we were running a very successful business from home. Simply no time.
In my early thirties I needed an alternate reality again. I started playing games, X-Files, Spore, and with my eldest daughter, hours of Wii Tennis. This was all in an effort to distract myself from my then reality – parenthood, marriage, owning and operating a business and a deeper identity crisis that was brewing inside me. At thirty-five I came out, got divorced and for the last decade I have been dabbling in another game, that I like to call, ‘what the fuck, is this really my life?’
It was only when I turned 42 that I started gaming again. It was my ex who reintroduced the gaming bug. He’s a bit of a gamer, not the die-hard extreme gamer, but a reclusive survivalist gamer. Soon after we met, he purchased an Xbox. He was pretty fresh from being a global nomad for a few years, and one of the first things he acquired when he settled back in Johannesburg was this Xbox.
At first, I wasn’t that interested in getting back to playing games, but, after lying on the couch next to him and watching him play, my desire peaked, and I decided to pick up the controller and start. He couldn’t watch, I made him nauseas with my terrible attempts at navigating my way around the game’s landscape, my axis all wrong, been constantly attacked by wild animals that I couldn’t see. Thrashing about and being mashed to death because I didn’t know what I was doing. Regardless of his amused, nauseated frustration, I was getting hooked and found my way, going deeper into these escapist virtual worlds.
I played for hours, and as any gamer would know, time just disappears, and before you know, the birds are chirping, and the sun is rising. Time is inconsequential as you live in this game world, not your real one. Pure distraction, diversion and escapism. Avoidance of reality actually!
I enjoy games like; Assassin’s Creed, Witcher, Wolfenstein, Sekiro, Tom Clancey’s, The Division and Metal Gear Solid. The premise of these games, simply put, is to ‘take out’ the bad guys any which way you can, success is based on the skills and weaponry you have at the particular level you’re on. As you progress, you acquire more skills, artillery and armour and the ‘bad guys’ get meaner, more resilient and more violent. You continue playing to reach the epic final ‘boss’ battle to ‘beat’ the game. You die 3000 times, but hey, you eventually do it, and you feel like you conquered the world.
My ex, on the other hand likes strategy and survivalist games; Ark: Survival Evolved, Valheim, Civilization series, Oxygen Not Included and Crusader Kings III. Games, where the basis is about surviving, securing, governing and expanding your realm. Games where you either gather resources, fortify yourself or form strategic alliances to ‘expand’ and ‘protect’ yourself or empire, until you crack the game as you are too powerful or resilient to any outside threats.
Mmm, the games we play. I realise now, and as my best friend commented about my current metaphorical 4am biting bed bugs, that what my ex and I were doing in playing our games, was escaping into a virtual world that mimicked subconsciously our real world, emotionally, physically and psychologically.
I have spent my life metaphorically trying to kill, shoot, blow-up and destroy any potential ‘enemy’ that comes into my space – whether they are in fact an enemy is a conundrum I need to explore – and in each decade trying to be more resilient, stronger, more perfect, but ultimately, I’m just defiant, destructive and often just shooting at whatever lies in my path. My ex has spent years trying to purposefully gather emotional resources, fortify himself and create an internal kingdom that is strong and safe with his acquired survivalist and strategic wisdom that offers a probability to predict and protect from any potential external threats. He fortifies, he protects, and within his fortress is able to preserve and survive.
Despite the differences in our game play, the one thing we shared was the need for self-protection and self-preservation. In any game, real or not, you got to protect, protect, protect! Protect yourself from any threat! It doesn’t matter if it’s a gun-wielding, mechanical Nazi Panzerhund, or the Spanish threatening to advance on one of your territories and steal resources from your weakened ports.
You see, my ex and I were too smart in our protective game play and too stupid with our vulnerability. And that’s life really. We spend so much time protecting ourselves that we have lost the confidence to be vulnerable, as vulnerability is too threatening and requires too much of a surrender. If you are vulnerable, how the hell are you going to survive? Well, in an Xbox world, you don’t! And in the real world, we don’t permit ourselves to be vulnerable, as the console of life tells us otherwise. We are labelled weak!
We have also lost the skills to handle or accommodate someone else’s vulnerability and this makes us pretty fucked as a species as we march on forth in our evolutionary coupling path. Everyone is playing their own game. Self-protecting and playing to win. Foolishly convincing, that at each level of life we are stronger, more powerful, more resistant to any challenge or threat that stands in our way, and we are completely detached from any self-growth that develops our skills to accept or provide compassion, empathy and kindness, because that’s what surrendering into a vulnerable state contributes.
So, whilst my ex and I were self-convincing and voicing to each other how awesome it was that we had found someone that was also into games, and that it was so cool that we could sit together on the couch and immerse ourselves in our individual games for an entire weekend, we were in truth completely avoiding our relationship. The virtual games we were playing was the reality of what was happening in us, to us.
The bizarre thing about games and life is that when you stop playing the game and reboot the life console, you realize you actually had no game strategy. You were simply just avoiding. My ex and I both have a deep capacity for empathy, compassion and kindness, which we somehow did not select as a gameplay mode in the last two years. Instead of communicating and expressing our feelings, we turned to the virtual world to claim our power, our security and safety. There we were, sitting so close, his feet always against my body whilst he lay stretched out on the couch with his computer on his lap. Spending so much time together, apart! So cleverly avoiding life. Avoiding each other.
When we saw each other for the last time, the day we officially ended our relationship journey, we had in the trauma of it, ironically, both rebooted and reselected our vulnerability skill, to both surrender, receive and accept for the other.
It was the saddest day of my life, but the most honest day of my life! It was an epic encounter in intimacy, vulnerability, compassion and empathy. As hard as it was, and still is, the game is over, but I will be eternally grateful for that moment of truth and reality of life we shared above all others.
This was the day I also decided to stop playing games.
I find writing more aligned to my new mantra… Be faithful to yourself.
I made my bed again today!