I have a sign on my bathroom wall. It's not a picture of a sailboat with my name next to it, nor is it one of those cutesy depictions of a cherubic boy and girl asking visitors to not pee in the pool. It's a street sign. One of those Neighborhood Watch signs with the giant blue eye admonishing passersby that their every move is being watched.
The exact wording of the sign is as follows: "Neighborhood Crime Watch! We immediately report all suspicions persons and activities to our Sheriff's department."
I have occasionally considered finding whoever originally hung that sign and suing them for false advertising. Because not once in the fifteen years or so since my friend Adam and I parked my Honda Civic behind a bush, grabbed a folding chair and a socket wrench from the trunk, sprinted towards the pole upon which this sign was hung and spent ten minutes removing it, have either of us received a visit from the Bexar County Sheriff. This would seem to indicate that either A) our activities on that night were not deemed "suspicious," or that B) nobody was really watching after all.
I keep this sign hung above my toilet for two reasons. The first of which is that I am amused when people emerge from the bathroom looking abashed and ashamed at having had to do their business under the accusing gaze of my big, blue eye. In addition, I find that it helps to dissuade people from digging through my medicine cabinet, which is always a good thing.
The second reason I keep this sign around is that it reminds me of that wonderful time in my life when I felt as invincible as a god. The time when I was young, adventurous and adept at, among other things, stealing street signs.
There was a gang of us, about six or eight strong. We were about as close to being trouble-makers as smart kids ever get. Yeah, by day we were top-of-the class brainiac doo-gooders, but by night we got drunk, destroyed municipal property and raced cars. Not anything fancy, mind you, just the four-bangers we had been given by our folks or had bought with the money from our summer jobs.
We raced on the newly-paved streets of a soon-to-be housing subdivision. I usually won, but only because I had less fear than my companions. I knew, for example, that if I charged at them, they would swerve out of self-preservation and slow down giving me a chance to pull ahead. I knew this because it always worked in the video games. Nothing more serious than the occasional tire or U-joint was ever damaged during these races, but I understand now that this was very fortunate, and improbable.
I also drove quickly when not racing. I thought that it was fun, and still do. One of the cars I owned at the time had been modified by someone of absolutely no conscience and a considerable amount of skill. It was a four-cylinder Honda that had been outfitted with a racing carb and a few other enhancements and had had all of the emissions controls removed. I had to be selective about where I tried to get it inspected, but damn, it was speedy.
I almost completely ignored the speedometer in that car, primarily because it pegged out at 85 MPH, but also because I just didn't care to know how fast I was going. This attitude began to change the day I was stopped outside of Fort Worth doing 125 in a 60. To say that the experience was a costly one, would be an understatement.
Several more run-ins with the law and a few minor accidents later I discovered that my success at eluding capture or injury in my youth had had more to do with luck than with skill, and like countless men before me my attitude towards life began to slowly adjust. I started to drive more responsibly, stopped stealing street signs, took fewer chances and on the whole began having far less fun.
It was no coincidence that at about this same time I began gaming with a vengeance. During the day I would do things I didn't want to do for people I didn't like in order to pay other people who didn't even know my name. Then, after driving home in an ant line of law-abiding traffic, I'd plug in a game and become a god once more.
I think that we often, as gamers, ask ourselves the question "Why do we game?" Or if we don't, we probably should. The simplest, most universal answer would be "Because it's fun." But a lot of things are fun, and many of them require far less significant investments of time and/or money than gaming. Others of us, if attempting to pinpoint an exact sociological impulse, would reference the above tale citing it as evidence that some gamers, if not most, game in order to share in experiences which are outside of the norm, beyond the possible or for which we are ill-suited in real life. I'll never be an elite commando, for example, yet I play one on my TV. Video games, viewed in this light, would appear to be an escape. From reality, from the drudgery of daily life and the lawfulness which, like the weight of the world, settles upon one in adulthood.
Our shared pastime sounds sad and slightly pathetic when viewed in this light, and perhaps it truly is. I still game, though and am not ashamed of it. I've been gaming for more than twenty-five years and if my recent gaming tendencies are any indication, I am not likely to stop any time soon. Partly because it is fun. Partly because when I lay my controller down, turn off the lights and go to sleep in my warm, soft bed, I am reminded that in spite of how little danger I face in my daily life, how few quests I am able to undertake and how noticeably free of vast piles of loot my apartment may be I've made a lot of good decisions in life, and am sincerely happy with who I am and with what I am doing.
As the years have gone by I've taken to looking upon the big, blue eye hanging on my bathroom wall, and telling the story of its origin, with far more fondness than regret. It, in return, still stares accusingly at me, admonishing me for removing it from its perch so many years ago. I think that maybe some day I'll take it back to that intersection and see if I can find someone to whom to return it. Yeah, I think I'll actually do that.
In the mean time however, I've got lots of normal, everyday things to do and, if there's time, a new game that I'd rather be playing more than doing anything else.