T minus 0:40 seconds
The screen flashes.
My view of Moria has been obscured. Instead of the pure crystalline view of god-rays and water, I see a series of landscape paintings, interspersed one after another with frames of black.
"What's up?" asks Shawn, on the other end of the headset.
"My screen went stroby on me. I'm guessing it's my SLI dying."
Shawn says something consoling. I miss it. Black. White. Black. White. I'm overwhelmed with a sense of time dilation. It's not deja-vu. It's an oncoming freight train I know all too well. There's a lightning storm in the left temporal lobe of my brain. Again.
My palms burst with sweat. I feel vaguely nauseous.
T minus 0:35
"I, um," I mutter, knowing that my words are starting to slur. "Gotta go."
I push back from the desk. Time slows down. Moria. Black. Moria. Black. I'm still staring at the flickering screen. My hand moves slowly. I watch my right index finger press the glowing orange power switch on the lower right-hand corner of the offending black frame. It occurs to me, at a remove, that I could have turned my head instead.
T minus 0:30
Time speeds up. Everything is edges and flat planes. The white walls are supersaturated with the orange glow of the single incandescent bulb illuminating the basement. I stand up, steadying myself against the soft, soft wall.
But that's not right, I think. Concrete walls. Drywall floors. Ouch. I move for the stairwell.
T minus 0:20
"Jesnnn ..." I mumble, as the stairs roll underneath my legs and I float into the kitchen. Couch. Pillows. Carpets.
The couch is blue. Very, very blue. It's so blue that it's exactly like the sky in Utah where Jess and I retired to ski last year.
No, that's not right. I'm only 42.
T minus 0:15
Crimson Skies. I remember standing outside the loft in Boston 9 years ago. I pulled over the pickup truck and stared at the rooftops. Nathan Zachary was doing combat with heavily armed Zeppelins. I can hear the gunfire. I can smell the AvGas.
The sense of place is an ache. If I just think hard enough I can be in the plane. I can be Zachary, and there will be no game. There will only be me, and my plane, and the open air.
Jess is sitting on the too-blue couch with me. She's painfully beautiful. Her hands are calm. She rests her hand on my knee. Orange moves from her fingertips into my leg. Time slows down again.
"Sorry," I say.
The world fades.
T plus 1:00 minute
Black turns gray turns blinding white turns blue. The plain blue of the couch. There is no orange climbing up my leg. There's no longing for that day in Boston which never actually happened. Time steps forward, the way I assume it does for everyone most of the time. I can't be sure, of course. I've long since given up any hope of understanding my sand-like perception of time.
"That was a good one, eh?"
I nod. "First time I've had the strobe thing happen."
T plus 10:00
I'm still sitting on the couch. Every muscle in my body limply hurts.
I return to the basement. Shawn is still in vent.
"I'm OK, but I think I'm done with LOTRO for a while."
T plus everything
The warning in front of virtually every video game has struck me as something of a dare these last 10 years. Temporal Lobe Epilepsy is usually characterized by long wind up periods (called aura), and fairly simple, nonviolent seizures. I rarely fall down, much less flop around on the floor and knock over wine glasses. As far as the outside world goes, I'm much more in the "cheap date" category of social misfits than the medieval "demonic possession" camp.
In other words, I've got the very best kind of epilepsy you can have.
My auras are intense. They're crazy dream-states of time-alteration, sense-intensity and quite often hallucinations so real it hurts when they leave. Most often, my auras (and I use the possessive with profound intent, I've come to cherish them despite their destructive capacity on my otherwise sedate life) contain imagery, scenes and stories from games. It's unsurprising, really. The experience of a game is far more intense, visual and engaging than that of most books or movies, and better fodder for a good hallucination than real life.
These alternate realities -- the game ones -- provide stimulation that is often nearly as intense as my auras. That sense of truly being a different person, in a different place, and perhaps most poignantly in a different time, is when games are at their best. Games can create an intense dream state. So it should be no surprise that my two dream worlds collide when the neurons misfire.
At my most peaceful and accepting, I tell myself that my auras are a gift. I can run the roll-call of hypergraphic writers and demented visionaries with my kind of epilepsy. I can think back on the stories that have been told in these 1-minute bursts over the last decade and be thankful for unique and compelling experiences.
But these are ultimately lies. Justifications I use to fund silver-lining expeditions into what will be, for the foreseeable future, a lurking cave of dream and doubt.