Video Games as a Coping Mechanism
Video games are a powerful thing. I don’t really care what is or isn’t a game, nor if a game should make you feel. Let’s face it, is Call of Duty really that much more of a game than Tetris or Papers, Please? Does the budget or the story or the platform truly make that big of a difference if you end up enjoying it at the end of the day? But I digress. No, today I want to tell you about what some games mean to me, and what some games can mean to others, especially during times of loss.
Today I want to talk about games and that inescapable monster, death.
About two and a half years ago, I lost my only sibling, my younger brother. And to this day, my family and I have so many questions that will never be answered. Small things still remind me of him, and I find myself on the verge of tears. Some people turn to religion during times like these, others to drugs and alcohol. I poured myself into video games for a while. Maybe as a means of escape. Maybe, more likely, because it was one of the few things him and I were so passionate about. A game of Team Fortress 2 here, a couple songs on Rock Band there, a few hours of Final Fantasy… These were some of the few things I had left. And I still don’t want to let them go.
The game Journey came out in the spring following his death. Being a big fan of thatgamecompany, and having been excited at the thought of what they wanted to achieve in the game, I got it, and I played it. I knew it would be a emotional experience, but I don’t think I grasped just how much it would affect me. Perhaps you’ve seen bits about how Jenova Chen got a letter from a young girl after she played Journey and how it helped her come to terms with her father’s impending death. Well… it was a similar and cathartic experience for me. The entire ending sequence floored me with thoughts of my brother, overwhelmed me with how much I missed him, and yet… made me feel as thought I could accept what had happened and let the sadness go. That even though our journey together was short lived, perhaps there’s something more waiting for us together. Heaven? Another life? Who knows. But the release of pent up sadness and anger and hurt all came to the forefront, and I was able to let it go. I can’t help but wonder if my dad felt similar feelings watching me play the game.
The fall of that year, I attended a Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert. I couldn’t help but think how much my brother would have loved it, given his love of music and the games. His favorite entry in the series was Final Fantasy X, and they played a full orchestrated version of To Zanarkand that night. Accompanying the piece was footage of Yuna’s first sending, sending me back into tears. It’s a hard sequence to watch, especially coupled with the music. That night, I lied in my hotel room, wondering if I could perform a sending, and if even the thought would make my brother smile. I wonder if he’d be excited about the remake, or if he’d give me shit about how bad I just want to play blitzball in high def.
To this day, when I listen to things like Maps by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I sometimes just hear him, trying to 100% the song on expert on his little drum kit. When I play littleBIGplanet, I think of him dumping hours upon hours into the level creator. I think of his disappointment at some of the new Pokemon from X and Y. His rage at the thoughts of his TF2 hat collection now worth a shell of its former self. I wonder these things, the debate putting him in the Sims, so I can, in some crazed little way, watch him grow up. I play the games he liked, and enjoy the memories, even if they make me tear up.
A game idea I’ve been toying around with for years centers on a lead character going on a search for their younger brother, taken to places unknown for reasons unanswered. I’d like to make that game a reality one day, and dedicate it to him. I think he’d like that. And I think it’d help me honor him in a way that I can be truly proud of. In a way, I imagine making a game about my feelings about his death would be similar to what Ryan Green is trying to do with That Dragon, Cancer, but not to the emotional extent. If you haven’t looked into That Dragon, Cancer, I highly recommend you do. It’s an upcoming autobiographical Ouya game about Ryan and his family trying to cope with their son having cancer. Unfortunately, Ryan’s real life son Joel passed away last week at the age of 5, finally succumbing to that dragon. I can only kinda relate to his loss, and I can only imagine the heartache he’s going through. And even knowing that the game probably won’t have a happy ending, I still want to play it. I can only hope that in sharing his story like this, Ryan can get some sort of closure and peace with the loss of his son; and that players feel something… anything. Feeling something from a video game isn’t bad; and those feelings can be truly powerful when linked to happier thoughts of someone whose gone.
Video games have taken on a new meaning to me since my brother’s passing. And I’m okay with that. I think it’s good that something that I enjoy so much can also have such an emotional impact, especially in relation to him. I like that they’re something I can still share with him, in a sense. I like that I can replay a level in Katamari and hear my brother’s whines and cheers. I don’t mind weeping while I play through games he enjoyed. It might not be much, but it’s part of what I have left of him. It’s nice that something as simple as an hour playing Super Smash Brothers can fill me with such feelings, even if it makes me a little sad.
I can only imagine how angry he’d be at the lack of a proper Subspace Emissary in the upcoming Smash game.