"For I have known them all already, known them all:--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
--T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
FILE ONE: Final Fantasy X. 48:15. 2 A.M., the day after final exams. A rainforest's worth of Kleenex at our feet, beer bottles sprouting on the end table. My closest friend and I muscling through the last hour of the game, sharing an intoxicated catharsis: noses red, glasses fogged, sniffling about unfairness and tragic love and how, after that ending, clearly all joy has been sucked from our worlds and we'll never, ever be happy again. (Even though I've never actually played the game - she's been accidentally saving to my memory card all this time - and those last 60 minutes are all I'll ever see.)
FILE TWO: Katamari Damacy. 837.5 m. The Big Ice Storm of 2003. Fallen trees have cut the power to our apartment, so rather than risk frostbite and/or a citation for burning candles against the rules, my college roommate and I and our illegal cat are squatting in my boyfriend's living room. (His roommate is not amused.) We've created a nest of bean bags and torn blankets, lounging on a couch stained by some force best left unexplained, and we pass the time by rolling a giant ball across a cartoon world, giggling at the terrified screams of children and the mooing of irritable cows, debating the morality of codpieces. I smile, wishing our homelessness could last forever.
FILE THREE: Final Fantasy 6. 11:03. The exact moment I realized I was falling in love with my future husband, sinking lightly, sweetly, like a leaf to the ground. I see this save file and in my head, I hear the tinny, garbled Aria di Mezzo Carattere, I see Celes three-stepping across a moonlit, stone tower in her white crinoline gown. I'm back in his arms, inhaling that grassy, warm scent as if for the first time; I'm uncoiled, happy. And all at once I relive a thousand box steps waltzed across our living room floor, some hesitant, some confident, each an unspoken reenactment of that first dance we took together on the Playstation.
Scanning through my memory cards is like flipping through a photo album. I see the save states and immediately fill with ghostly smells, laughter, tastes dancing on the tip of the tongue. Each file has its story, each game its own network of memories. I remember the happy days and sad ones, arguments, silly jokes, conversations, friendship, love.
J. Alfred Prufrock may have measured out his life in coffee spoons, but I use a different metric: mine is divided by save states and memory cards, cartridges blown into and discs scratched from wear. My memories are organized by console, game folder. An entire life etched out by videogames.
Some would argue - and have - that in using something as trivial as videogames to define my life, I must be as dull and trite as Prufrock - that I am a love song to unfulfilled potential, failure and waste.
But it's not about the games. It never has been.
What is the measure of a life? Is it in the company you keep, or the things you accomplish? Is it in the memories you collect, the stories, the regrets? The goals left unachieved?
Or is it in the relationships you cultivate, the people you love and who guide you?
My relationships inevitably, unconsciously trace back to these digital pursuits. I counsel my girlfriends on their Harvest Moon strategies. I teach my cousins Super Mario Brothers tricks. My grandfather still boasts of when he and I beat The Legend of Zelda, and for 15 years, my grandmother has squirreled away Metroid maps I unsteadily scrawled in crayon and marker pen. My stepbrother and I bond over the latest Castlevania; friends from high school send me Roarios in Viva Pinata; even my mother gives me stock tips about the game industry. Every meaningful connection I have or have ever had is threaded by videogames.
And it's telling, I think, that when I'm depressed and want to retreat from life, the screen goes black, the consoles gather dust. My darkest periods have no games to remember them by.
Look, Prufrock; it's not about the games but about playing them - experiencing them with others, sharing a common story to create my own. Bibliophiles, movie buffs, sports fans - they all understand. Even if the games that unite us disappear tomorrow, I will still have these relationships, I will still have my friends and family.
And in the meantime, as long as I have my memories - even if they revolve around videogames - I'll always be laughing with friends, wherever they are, always falling in love one more time, sweeping the gray flagstones in my white crinoline.