“You know, if you’re working full-time,” my boss/friend said, “Infinite Lives is probably going to turn into a toy blog! Ha, ha!”
She wasn’t very wrong. Since I started my new job (and unpacking! And assembling furniture!) last month,
- I can tell you each of the Kidrobot toy releases, in order
- I am daily asked, “What does it do” (to which I invariably, gaily answer, “Nothing!”)
- I’ve started walking to work
- I’ve started watching TV
- I’ve started waking up at 9am
- I’ve been playing a shit ton of Soul Calibur
- which you’d never know, because my Xbox Live Gold account expired
- I was booted from two Second Life groups (that I really liked!) because I haven’t logged in
- I picked up Street Fighter IV and, frankly, could not understand the appeal (sorry)
- I sleuthed out which PC game Bart was describing—it was Ultima VII
- I reread a book
- I stopped reading the Internet
- Also, I realized that, if I saw it first on Apartment Therapy, I probably definitely missed it on Offworld two weeks prior
- I reorganized my board games
- I moved my 2600, RetroDuo, PS2, and Dreamcast to the “nightmare room”
Well, no: I’m not sure what I’m getting at, either. Last night, in my stupor, I named this very file as “tryagain.txt”—I think because it needed a rewrite—but now it feels different, like maybe I meant something else when I called it that.
Here are the un-re-written histrionics:
It isn’t that my gaming-life is dead, exactly. That isn’t what I’m trying to say. I think it’s this: games, for me, have returned to being something blissfully extracurricular. In some ways, that’s sad. It’s regrettable that I haven’t maintained much of a schedule or presence here—and I’d apologize if that weren’t such a relief. Why had I worked so hard to read industry news each day, or to play games on their launch dates? Who, exactly, am I competing with?
In short, this blog will no longer receive regular updates.
Then, of course, there’s the long of it.
Out here, in the real world, games are not my career. Family and friends are. I have discovered that it is very different to play games like they are for work, as opposed to playing games for work.
I sat down with an old friend for the first time since I’d left Chicago. “Did you do any writing?” he asked me. “Could I just sit down and read something and sort of catch up on three years of your life?”
I said to him, “Oh, sure. You could catch up on a couple years of what I think about video games.” And he just balked. And I think maybe he meant that look on his face to be funny, but it was horrible. I wished I had something meaningful to tell him, but if I did, I couldn’t think of it or, possibly, it had long since become impossible for me to express. The thought of only trying made me feel tired, so I changed the subject.
The reality was, I hadn’t really documented any other parts of my life, and I couldn’t remember them, because there really wasn’t anything left to document. Except, maybe probably of course, the abrupt, ongoing, and tremendous decay of my adoptive father’s zombie brain.
And—probably this is for my friend, so he can find something meaningful here—yes, that has affected work, money, love, and geography. And my reputation! Like if you were to google my name (don’t), Google invariably, inexplicably presents a recommended search in the drop-down: my name plus the word “fired,” which is just, Jesus, is there no way to fix that? No? Because my dead real-dad’s brother is going to see that, and that has only come about because the weird thing about games and trying to talk about them is, if all you are is what you’ve been assigned to review and what you’ve played and what you are pretending to talk about, you’re not a person anymore. And you’re therefore not permitted to walk out one day to tend to real-person things like zombie brain. And zombie brain is a total threadkiller, forcing you to wonder, at 25, where your life is supposed to go after, and whether you might have developed a zombie brain and heart yourself.
At this point, I don’t understand how people are able to reasonably talk about games at least once a day, every day. Maybe the occupation itself can lend a perpetual respite, a getaway from awful, real-life things. But you have to acknowledge those things eventually. So: I’ve sort of stopped talking about games at least once a day, and I’m only sort of sorry.
I am not maligning games or the people who play them daily, or make them. There’s nothing more important than art, no doubt. You have only a handful of chances in this life to make a real and lasting impression on another human brain and heart, and video games are no different (they can be better!) than paintings and music and the Joffrey Ballet. Video games have the capacity to urge the heart forward in a way no other medium has or can.
But I recently relearned, in the course of observing my father’s real and seemingly untreatable dementia, what it is like to have a zombie brain. A zombie brain is a perfectly exhausted organ, upon which nothing else can be impressed. It can realize nothing new, and eventually, it realizes nothing old. It stops recognizing you. It is crippled because nothing new happens: it can only revert. So, guiltily, you pray for death.
Dementia can be delayed. One way to delay dementia’s onset, as neuroscientists have proven, is by playing video games. It is difficult for neurons to die when they are lighting up with electricity.
But when the brain becomes exhausted—whether chemically or by repetition—what I’m saying is, when nothing more can be impressed upon your brain, you might as well carve it out. If the procedural of your daily zombie routine has come to define you, you need to try something new, if you can. And if you can’t, well, this is where some people, like my biological dad, give up.
Now. I’ve always insisted that Play is a Creative Act. What, please, is a Creative Act? Creative acts are defined, literally—and I read this somewhere, so I am not making this up—as moving from “intention” to “realization.” Realization of intention is invoked repeatedly in cognitive neuroscience research documents. My friend Tim, whose father died following a long bout with Alzheimer’s, moved to NYC to begin work on his doctorate in neuroscience at Columbia University.
“Is this about your dad?” I asked him.
“It’s about everything,” he said simply. And it is.
Caregiving, or caretaking, is a creative act, because it begins with intention and, if it goes well, is filled with realizations, as I learned somewhere within the eight months I did it. Actively caring about anything is a creative act. Or, this one: “Play” encompasses all of the steps between intent and realization, so it, too, is a creative act. Painting, drawing, and building with LEGOs are creative acts. Hammering nails, that’s a creative act. Moving a sofa from one end of the apartment to another, that is a creative act, too. With enough artfulness and intention, doing the dishes can be a marvelously creative act. Sitting and thinking, and drawing conclusions, is a creative act.
My father, adoptive, spends the entire day wondering how to tie his shoes. His zombie brain is full of intent, but it is unfairly shortchanged of realization. There is, for his brain, no real crackle of electricity. On very good days, perhaps, he will realize how much he loves my adoptive mom, his wife, for helping him tie his shoes. On the bad days, observers might learn the difference between creation and destruction. On the worst days, he hates us: we are, according to his flitting brain, out to kill him, and worse. What other possible reason could we have for following, hovering, and advising? Why would we try to teach him how to tie his shoes? He punches the wall, narrowly missing our faces.
If you’ve stopped loving games—that is, if you are exhausted and you are filled with fantastic intentions but realizing nothing new—it’s time to start over. It’s time to take a breath.
One day, I told exactly one person that I’d worn out my usefulness, and that I was going to go somewhere to be useful. I was zombie tired, and visibly careless by then, and the problem with visible carelessness is that it comes long after the heart and brain’s dying, because even any dementia patient can fake it, for awhile. But once it becomes noticeable, it is nearly impossible to repair or cure it.
This sounds crazy. I apologize. This is not a meltdown—I am simply revisiting an old one.
Play is a creative act, and so is Work. But there’s something in the middle—or maybe there’s nothing in the middle, a gap—where both stop, or where nothing connects, and that’s carelessness, mindlessness, and heartlessness.
Video games will not rot your brain, no. But—if your intentions are wrong, and no realizations come of them—they will wear you out. They will wear you out. They will wear you out. They will wear you out.