In these dark times, it’s hard to look away from the awful shit going on in America.
I’ve never really considered myself very patriotic, or really cared about the state of our country to a great degree, simply because the needle between order and chaos never deviated much. However, in the face of what has happened to our country through the past week, I feel more patriotic than I ever have and I am so proud of those that protest, donate, and resist.
Video games can be incredibly important to us in times of duress. Be it a way to block out the pain, vent frustration, or engage in political discourse. While I think it’s important to stay aware and angry at what’s happening in our country, I think it’s also important to stay mentally healthy. I’ve personally spent my time this week playing through Resident Evil 7 (which we’ll have a review up for shortly) and writing pieces like this for the site. Using a game like Resident Evil to keep me centered makes me recall other times I’ve used video games to cope with my life being fucked up in one manner or other.
I was in my early twenties and living with co-founder of NCG, Garrett and his then-girlfriend in a run-down apartment in Midtown, Kansas City. You’ve probably never been to Kansas City, let alone its Midtown, or the Westport area, but there is an ineffable sadness to it. It’s a neighborhood that’s populated in part by recent college grads who never made much of their degree, and the rest are the 30, 40, and 50 year old versions of those same people. Nobody owns a home, and people turn over their apartments after just one year of renting them. There is an ever-present sense of weariness, and with that weariness comes a lot of drinking and getting higher than necessary.
Garrett and I both happened to work at the same place in Kansas City (as you do in your early twenties) and as we were walking out the door we heard the sound of running water. We were both puzzled–it had stormed all night, but stopped by dawn. We traced the sound to my bedroom, which was no more than a mattress, a pile of clothes and empty beer bottles, to see a waterfall of brackish liquid gushing from the ceiling. We both stood there for a moment, then grabbed whatever we could to catch the water, though it had already partially flooded the room.
A week later, my broke ass had certainly not purchased a new mattress or done anything to recover my room.
Instead I created a shanty-town of my own–I laid some bedding down on the hardwood floor underneath our “dining room” table, and draped a sheet over the sides so I could still masturbate at night without bothering my roommates. It was cold and seemed to rain every day. I spent what little money I had on a big bag of weed, some beer, and a copy of Dead Island for PS3.
If you’ve never played Techland’s Dead Island, it’s an open world, first person, survival horror game. You’re trapped on a zombie infested resort with little means to protect yourself. You would mash together different crafting materials to create ad-hoc melee weapons, and swing them by flicking the right analog stick in different directions, if my memory serves. It was unique for 2011, but deeply flawed, and was panned at the time. Since then Techland improved on the formula in 2015’s Dying Light, which was quite good.
Dead Island was pretty bad, but it was exactly what I needed at the time. The fate of whatever nameless protagonist felt similar to my own. Sleeping in a shithole, putting together whatever I could find to make weapons, barely scraping by. Garrett would sit on the couch and pass me a beer while I whacked dead dudes and we’d laugh. I must have dumped 40+ hours into Dead Island. It wasn’t just a way to cope, but a lens through which I could see my own life, objectively.
It gave me a reason to get my shit together.
I would never go back to that part of my life. I’m gainfully employed. I live in a nice apartment in Chicago with my loving girlfriend. I don’t smoke weed (regularly) anymore. I play better games than Dead Island. But some part of those memories are so tasty to me. I appreciate how dire those circumstances were, that every day felt like an achievement in that I simply made it through. It kept me awake, and it made me fight for myself.
I can’t help but instinctively link my memories of sleeping under that table to watching the progressively more horrible executive orders that Mr. Trump doles out. In some ways I feel like a slightly better person now, a better citizen now because of how dire things have become. I actually care about our circumstances. I donate, I vote, I share important information over social media. If I get a day off of work when a protest is happening, I’ll be there. We can’t just sweep it under the rug anymore, now that racism, fascism, and bigotry has a name, a face, and a combover.