So I woke up and looked at myself in the mirror the other day and I realized a couple of things. First, I look a lot like Paul Giamatti. Younger. Less facial hair, but the resemblance is there.
"Hi Paul," I said. "Loved you in Truman Show. Glad you're getting more work."
Second, aside from looking like Paul Giamatti, I also looked like crap. Seriously. Eyes blood-shot and sunken-in with great big circles underneath them. Hair akimbo. The start of a break-out maybe. Better keep an eye on that. I looked like I'd been on a bender. Or perhaps several benders simultaneously, which was good, because I had. So that meant that the universe was actually working the way it should. On the other hand, it was bad because "… well, I looked like crap. Keep up!
I hadn't left the house in more than three days. I'd been doing some hard-core gaming, drinking, and trolling of the forum. A lot of trolling, in fact.
(CUT TO): Camera shot from inside of the monitor as Paul Giamatti stares blearily at the words scrolling up the screen. Time dilates. Paul is leaning so close, staring so hard, that we can see the lines of pixels refreshing over his face *voomp* he continues to stare *voomp* one eye, perhaps, twitching slightly *voomp* and then his eyes widen and his mouth opens, *voomp* emitting an almost silent gasp as he realizes *voomp* that he's sinking deeper into some, as yet unnamed, abyss "…
PAUL GIAMATTI: Gamers with jobs "… shhhhhizzle.
My apartment looked like a bomb had gone off. You know, one of those bombs filled with sweaty t-shirts, empty bourbon glasses and cornbread crumbs. I'd been stewing in my own juices since word came down that I had no money in the bank. How had I come to this? I'm young, able-bodied and "… (well, I can't quite say "handsome" with a straight face, but I can do that special thing with my tongue) "… Anyway, what back alley had I mistakenly turned into that led to this place of slovenliness, despair and all-night gaming sessions? No money means no meals out, no movies, no trips to "… anywhere, but I still have my games. My games. My salvation and my curse.
This should be a time to rejoice. I should be feeling as if the great time of game-playing has finally come. There should be a relief of sorts that all of the games I have put off playing will now, finally, get played, but it isn't like that. Instead of reveling in the feast, I find the pressure of having so many ways to pass the time overpowering. Each game session leads to another, leads to another. Yet the pressure never ceases. Instead of playing games to pass the time, I am now sacrificing time to play the games.
I used to get up around seven, get out of bed around nine. Now I'm not even in bed by seven. The sun sets and rises while I'm still playing games. I often realize that I've gone from freshly-showered to pungently-ripe without ever having moved more than ten feet from my couch. What kind of life is this? I used to do things. Make things. Now I twitch my thumbs and chase cheese around a maze. Can the slightly sour sweat born of game-produced anxiety even compare to the hearty stench of a good days work? When did forcing myself to sleep in a booze and game-induced haze replace falling into a much-needed slumber after a day of honest toil? When did I begin living my life through the actions of a digital avatar? Why am I asking so many questions? Why? Why?
Were I alone in this miasma I would quietly deal, but I know that I am not. We are a generation of cave-dwellers. For every one of us who sees the sun regularly, there are at least four more that have blankets over our windows. We swap recipes for finger foods, communicate with the outside world through in-game chat servers (if at all), and know more about the citizenry of Azeroth than we do about the people living next door.
Video gaming is the alcoholism of the twenty-first century. How different are we from our grand-fathers who once dreamt of being something special only to take two steps forward and then slide all the way back down into that job at the mill? We greet each other in chat lobbies like dock workers meeting after work at the bar. This is where we spend our nights trying to shrug off the emptiness of a life misspent. This is the poison with which we anesthetize our minds. This is how our dreams end. Not with a bang, but with the effortless murder of precious time.
This is what I call Living in the Box.
I realize that I've been living in the box for some weeks now. Inside of the box, in games, in the forums, I feel as powerful as a god. Outside of the box it's like I'm not even alive. I'm bleary-eyed and hazy at work. I have to slap myself while driving to stay awake. (Maybe if I add rocket launchers to the truck "…?) Conversations with actual people may as well have a [skip] button attached, for all the attention I pay to them. I'm planning my evenings with my girlfriend around get-togethers with people whom I have never met. I play until my eyes bleed and sleep only when I can no longer sit without drowsing. And for what? Nothing is accomplished, nothing is gained.
As I look into that mirror and see Paul's haggard, tortured face staring back at me, I suddenly realize that this is not the life I'm meant to live. It's no kind of life at all. Stasis, really. Digital. Chemical. An entertainment coma that I've entered into willingly. Now I'm having trouble finding the light.
"It's safe in the light," says the voice. Who the hell is that anyway? Screw it. She's right. Walk towards the light. It's safe in the light. As long as it isn't slightly blue and flickering.
It's finally spring in New England, which means that one can now safely spend more than five minutes out of doors without losing a nose. For six months we've been crammed indoors, bathing in artificial heat and dreaming of a world without ice storms and the ever-present taste of salt. Perhaps that's it then. Perhaps this is the trailing edge of the world's worst cabin fever. It would be comforting to think that. As a gamer, that is. As a denizen of this community we've made. Then again, what if I really do have a problem? What then? Dear Vishnu, what then?
I suppose I don't have to answer that question just yet. After all, my new Gamefly came today. Maybe it's Resident Evil 4. I've been waiting for that one. Not sure why though. I hated the first one. Still, somebody said I'd like it, so I might as well play for a bit and think on this tomorrow. After all, it's already late. I'll deal with everything tomorrow. I promise. Tomorrow. What was I thinking about again?[skip]