As we plunge inexorably towards becoming one with the machine, here are some vignettes of how games make us recall our bodies.
Hands and fingers – Voez
You didn’t know that your fingers could make these shapes. They glide across the surface of your Switch and make impossible gestures. As each beat slides towards you, your eyes have less than a second to tell your brain, to tell your fingers, to touch them in sequence. Each must be touched at precisely the right moment. Sometimes those touches are swipes. As you swipe, your wrist bends thirty degrees. Some incoming notes ask you to press down on your screen, sliding to the right or left as the sustained note waves left or right. You begin to feel the perspiration build on your finger tips. In a brief respite between passages you roll your fingertips against your palms in an attempt to dry them before the song continues into its crescendo.
As the song resumes and bombards you with saw waves, your movements become more radical. Your hands shuffle and struggle to keep up with the incoming information. The Switch you play on begins to dance across your hardwood table and you miss a few beats. You use your right hand to realign your console in between two long drills of 16th notes.
The song concludes. You inhale deeply. You stretch your fingers in and out. They’re beginning to become sore – they’re not used to you using them like that. You rub the dryness from your eyes. A light airy rhythm replaces the 140bpm dance track that had been your accompaniment to help cool down your mind. You earned a “B.” I guess that stands for “better luck next time.”
Brain and Mind – NieR: Automata
This portion contains spoilers for one of NieR: Automata’s main endings. Spoilers end after this segment.
This game follows two humanoid Androids, 2B and 9S, gendered female and male respectively. Their minds are connected to a network.
9S’s eyes begin to glow red and a rusty blight starts to creep up his body towards his throat. His internal data has been corrupted by a malicious presence. He will now soon be host to that presence. He begs 2B to end his life before the corruption spreads to the network. After all, he is an Android, and the Bunker keeps a backup consciousness of every Android in service. If 2B takes his life, 9S will wake up the next morning in his bunk bed. He won’t remember anything. Not because he’s forgotten, but because his base consciousness has never experienced anything that has happened. He will be the same as the day he was “born.” He won’t really be the same 9S, but a rough facsimile that has not accrued the same experiences. Fought the same battles. Made the same friends. Without his memory and mind, despite having a fresh brain, he may as well be a new “person.”
But they have no choice. 2B clenches 9S’s throat and extinguishes his life. She begins to weep Android tears over his small, fallen body as her friend, as she knows him, is no longer.
As she rises, the eyes of a nearby machine begin to blink to life. Slowly all of the nearby fallen machines do the same. By some miracle 9S had managed to copy his consciousness to the general network. Now 9S is all machines. His body has become irrelevant. He possesses a nearby Goliath. He reaches out clumsily with his colossal new hand to 2B and begins to cradle her small humanoid body. 2B is glad she hasn’t lost her friend despite his new appearance.
Ears and Nose – Bloodborne
It’s been a long hunt this time around. Your boots press into the light layer of soil that coats the cobblestone below you, sticking slightly in your up-step. The scent of decay wafts past – there must have been killing here. You turn to one of the many adjacent doors in the alley and rap your knuckles against its wood, slightly soft from the omnipresent rain and blood. It dulls the sound of your knock. A tiny voice responds – a wounded bird of a girl requests you find her father. He hasn’t been back for days. And she certainly can’t go out during the hunt. She gives you a miniature music box to show her father. It tinkles small notes.
You decide to return to the sewer and work your way back to the town square. Your gloves squeak as they wrap around a ladder’s handholds, your boots thok. When you reach the bottom an abyssal caw echoes down the tunnel you now face. There is something there. You pull your neckerchief over your nose to cover the smell of waste, beast and human alike.
The caws turn into shrieks as the beasts see you and approach. Their forms become clear in the darkness. Your saw cleaver presses through their rags and flesh. Blood slaps against the tunnel’s wall. An errant claw finds your rib cage and pulls flesh away. Your saw cleaver lets out a rusty clank as you unfold it in one neat flick.
As the beasts lay dying, their heavy breath perfumes the air with a necrotic steam. You jab a syringe of the old blood into your thigh, depress the plunger, and pull it out cleanly. An unscholarly force begins to mend your wounds. It looks like the moon has not claimed you tonight, hunter.
Abdomen and Lungs – Earthbound
I was maybe 19 when I played Earthbound. I played a ROM on an old Macbook. Keyboard input and all. My best friend, Garrett, who is an NCG co-founder and editor recommended it to me highly, though at the time, I hadn’t seen him much since going to college. I was in Mexico visiting my family who had moved there from the states a year prior. I’d been there for about a week and was starting to feel homesick but Earthbound kept me in relatively high spirits. Until I received an email from a college friend.
His roommate, let’s call him George, had been walking home late at night and was mugged. The mugger emptied an entire revolver at George. Some missed, but most struck different parts of his body. He held up one hand to instinctively to block his face. One of the bullets passed through that hand, slowed down in the process, apparently, and stopped in his eye. It missed his brain by millimeters. He would live, but be blind in that eye for the rest of his life.
I sat in awe for a few moments. Not sure how to process. I continued to play Earthbound. 30 minutes later I reached a Sound Stone sanctuary. A place of rest. Pleasant music began to play, narration scrolled up the screen telling me, if my memory serves me correctly, that “You think about all of the fun times you’ve had with your friends, how much they matter to you.” I began to feel my chest tighten and my guts turn inside out. It became hard to breathe and I began to cry.
I thought about George and the pain he and his family must feel. I thought about how I hadn’t been the best friend to Garrett since I went to college. I thought about all of the crazy, dumb things I’d done with my life thus far. I thought about how far away I was from all of my friends back home. Then I called them all to say hello.