The rage for having grown to fast
When adults have stolen your childhood ...
The rage to be lashed at by societies norms
The rage for having the rage since we were a child
- La Rage, Keny Arkana
Just this once, I wish for a real phone.
The conversation had not been pleasant. The source of my anger is unimportant. The source is rarely as important as that horrible, shaky, bile-fueled feeling. That rude sense that my kidneys will eject themselves and black coagulated blood will eject from my torso burning holes into the asphalt as they land.
I long to slam the phone into the cradle, to create the rattle and crack of breaking plastic. As it is, I can only reach vigorously with the cursor and press harder than necessary on the left mouse-button, banishing skype into a shaking demon's hell.
My computer, oblivious to my state of mind, responds with a lollipop-guild “boing.” A dialog pops up, asking me to rate the call quality. There is no button for "hydrochloric."
The rage deepens. I launch a game.
I’m not naturally an angry person - not any more. I’m not prone to fits of rage, mania, or depression. I’m even-tempered. I wasn’t always this way. In my teens I was introverted and emotional. In my twenties I was aggressive and assertive and angry. In my thirties I was stressed and anxious under the burden of finally being a grown up. But so far my forties have been characterized by a level of calm and centeredness that I feel very protective of.
In each phase of my life, I’ve been a gamer. In each phase of my life, the games have acted as my exorcist, helping burn out that which blocked me and restore balance to my life.
As teen Julesy, I longed to live in other worlds. On the surface, I found no place for myself. It was unclear to me how the topside world actually worked. But I discovered logic, grace and majesty in the books of Robert E. Howard and J.R.R. Tolkien. I tried my hand at godhood sitting across the table from the rare friend rolling 20 sided dice, navigating the Tomb of Horrors. But mostly, I explored worlds of words inside inside the Apple II, the TRS-80 and the Commodore 64.
I balanced those thoughtful, painstaking explorations in interactive fiction with a different kind of discovery – competition. Holding the black-rubber phallus of an Atari 2600 Joystick, I became a violent, vicious, conscienceless killer. I destroyed wave after wave of my companions’ 8-bit Combat tanks. I burned down the walls of their castles in Warlords.
By my 20s, I had cast aside my shyness and replaced it with hubris and peacock-tail. I fancied myself kicking ass and taking names, and I let the demon run in Doom. The dawn of the first person shooter was possibly the most important moment in my emotional life to that point. Trapped in a too-quick and stillborn marriage, I was able to purge the testosterone rage night after night without shedding real blood, without ending up face down in back alleys, without being mortified in the morning.
And in the still and quiet moments, I was able to engage the part of my brain that would prove more important – the intellectual parts not governed by crude chemical messengers but by firing synapses. I discovered the languorous pace of strategy in Dune 2 and Warcraft. They created a place for me to tell my own stories, where I was the hero, but a less bloody one. A leader of men, sitting in the dark at 2AM.
In my 30s, my capacity for rage had faded, and the weight of being an adult was heavy and often unwelcome. Sitting in the dark, I would often long to simply be something different – someone else. Ultima Online, Quake, and Age of Empires taught me I could go online and be anyone, any age, any place. Games become less pure escape, and more a true alternate life. On the other side of multi-player, I was no longer just pretending to be someone else, I was engaged in a collective therapeutic delusion of deep power and real significance.
For each person who I am and have been, the virtual worlds I inhabit have molded around me, being both what I wanted and what it turned out I needed.
It is this omniform nature of games that is most misunderstood. Gamers have come so far, and yet we are still facing a battle of perception. Somehow, the word “game” has a mock specificity beyond that of the word “book” or “film.” And yet games have had a much more pervasive effect on my day-to-day life then either paper or celluloid. Games haven't encouraged me to be a bad person. Frogger did not convince me to jump into oncoming traffic. Games have allowed me to both forget and explore myself.
Tonight, the rage from a bad day at the end of a bad week is a tumor. I could, if the weather was better, run it off, burning it through with lactic acid. I could, with just a touch more self-hate, bury it under soft sad pillows of gin. But I have another outlet – I can excoriate this scaly mass with a rake of fake bullets and a salve of ersatz blood. And when the rage has worn off, I can build back up from the exposed skin, not only with the wound dressed, but possibly even stronger.