The more you love a memory, the stronger and stranger it is.
--Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions
The longer I reside in New York, the thicker and more aggressive my Southern accent has become, congealing into a soupy, lazy drawl, punctuated by the occasional "y'all" and "ain't." I listen to bluegrass now and wave to complete strangers, and I lust after collard greens with primal urgency. King of the Hill makes me giggle. William Faulkner makes me cry. And when the nights get sticky and hot, and the frogs sing just outside our windowpanes, I become so desperately, achingly homesick I fear my heart will burst.
Of course, when I actually lived below the Mason-Dixon, I sneered at fiddles and considered collards to be vestigially racist, like blackface and the word "colored." Never would I ever have been caught dead dropping the word "ain't" in polite conversation.
But the longer I'm away from home and the culture I grew up with, the more I've come to embrace it, even—especially—its most minute or once embarrassing characteristics. I've taken my memories and inflated them to staggering proportions, with the subconscious hope that if I exaggerate them just enough, maybe, just maybe, I won't forget the South—and the South won't forget me.
Lately, I find myself doing the same thing with videogames.
Taxicab confession: I haven't played a videogame—a real game, not Rock Band at a party, or a little Wii tidbit in a crowd—in almost three months. Partly that's from simple lack of time. Between getting hitched, buying my first house and building my business, leisure has begun to seem like a lot like hoop skirts: a historical artifact that only people in black and white photos possess.
But as I realized this past weekend, after I spent a lazy Sunday morning marathoning music videos and DVR'd Big Bang Theory, I've also fallen out of the habit of gaming as well. When I need to relax, I no longer reach for my DS or an Xbox controller, but some knitting or the TV remote. Gaming has fallen away of my consciousness, becoming an option whose existence I've ignored for so long that I continue do so out of simple inertia.
Certainly it's not that I've stopped enjoying videogames. I often watch over G.'s shoulder as he fumbles through Henry Hatsworth or Retro Game Challenge, and together, we've been working our way through the original Paper Mario on the Wii (he drives, I watch). But the impetus to work the controller on my own has completely stalled, and I wonder—fear—whether I'll ever resume my favorite past-time again.
In the meantime, I've become exceedingly attached to the culture of gaming, listening to podcasts, poring over screenshots, and trolling forums and Twitter for news on the latest releases. Overclocked Remixes dominate my iTunes playlist, and the last several books I've read were all about the history of videogames. I've even begun to geek out in craft: A few months ago, I completed an epic 10x14 Mario-themed cross stitch for our new home. (I could have spent some of those hours gaming. I didn't.)
And yet, it's all a superficial denial of the fact that I haven't really picked up a controller since snow was still on the ground. The new releases whose development I so carefully track whiz by me unremarked, untouched.
In some ways, I feel like a gaming ex-pat: By clinging to the outward culture, I can stay connected to the community and the games I love without actually participating. But it's all very contrived. I can rejoin the community any time I want: Just pick up a controller, and play.
But I don't.
I tell myself it's okay, that people's gaming habits change as they get older, and it's the natural order of things not to devote seven hours in a sitting to one Final Fantasy XII dungeon, as I did not so long ago. But it's not just the epic sessions I've given up: In my office I have a list of links to ten-minute time wasters that Rabbit has IM'ed me, all of which I've always meant to play. (The list is now three Post-Its long.)
It worries me, as I've considered myself a gamer for so long now that I can't conceive of the alternative. Gaming is how I bonded with my husband, friends, and family; I even built a career on it. If I am not "gamer," then who am I?
This isn't a resignation letter but a coping mechanism; a shout into the darkness with the hope of catching an echo. Are we still "gamers," those of us who love games but do not or cannot play? And if so, how do we reconnect, after the habit has left us, maybe for good?
Perhaps gaming is like running or speaking a foreign language: Once you fall out of your usual habits, the neurons cease to fire, and atrophy sets in startlingly fast. Which gives me hope. Because with those pursuits, you can always re-learn what you once knew; the muscles will retain their memories, the brain will remember the mechanics, and the pleasure once so deeply felt can always be recaptured. Maybe, when it comes to gaming, you can indeed go home again. It just takes a little effort.
Which reminds me, I've got some Dragon Quest that needs some playing. Y'all.