“I just realized that I don’t care about this f*cking thing.”
The expletive was not said in anger, but rather in a mild surprise, as if my wife had been eating strawberry marmalade and suddenly realized that she was utterly indifferent to that flavor of jelly. But we had not been eating sweet fruit jam for the past five hours. Rather we had been spending that time messing with thermal compound and trying to reflow the solder on my fat model PS3.
Normally electronic repair was something I would be as likely to attempt as auto-brain surgery. If a piece of my gaming ephemera breaks, I usually sigh, throw it away, and then within ten seconds become distracted by some new shiny bauble. But after wanting to play Red Dead Redemption for six years, my PS3 gave me the Yellow Light of Death as I was three-fourths through the game.
When that happened I had a vivid glimpse into my own future, and it was not a fate I wished to embrace. I was pre-actively wincing every time future-me encountered anything about Red Dead Redemption.
It wouldn’t be an aching sadness. Future-me would never cry over it. But just as I had experienced a six-year-long itch of wanting to play Red Dead Redemption, so would future-me always think back to the unfinished game with just enough regret to get mildly irritated about the whole experience. Future-me would know how silly it was to feel disappointment and even anger about not being able to finish a game. Future-me would have far more important stuff in his life and plenty of other games to play. Future-me would watch the ending of the game on YouTube, and so he really shouldn’t care.
But we are not the complete and utter masters of our souls. Every time future-me saw some mention of Red Dead Redemption in a web comic, article or VH1’s “I Love the 2010’s” special, future-me's anger, regret and/or resentment would flow, whether future-me willed it or not. As real as any memory, I could see future-me sign as he (embarrassedly) mourned never finishing the game. He’d feel that twinge for years and years.
If it annoyed future-me enough, he could buy a new PS3, right? Barring catastrophe, future-me would be able to afford some monetary splurge like that in the near-term. The true problem was that I didn’t think he’d be able to afford the time-splurge for a decade or two.
I bought the PS3 three months ago, and in the 43.2 hours of gaming time I managed to squeeze in, 43.2 of them went to RDR. That 12.4 hours of gaming per month was me pushing hard against life to make time for one of my hobbies. Life is about balance, and everyone needs their downtime, but as I was fighting for every hour of playtime I was aware – oh boy was I aware – that every moment I was spending on gaming was time that I wasn’t spending on the big things in my life.
While I could imagine future-me spending the money to buy a PS3 again, I could not picture future-me ever spending such a huge amount of precious free time on re-playing a game for the sole purpose of finishing the final quarter. Future-me wouldn’t think that was a wise use of his free time like. Future-me would instead play one of the literally 200 other new games he was meaning to “get around to” playing, leaving RDR as a permanent Road Not Taken.
But what could I do to shield future-me from that doom? The PS3 was broken and transferring the save file to a new system was impossible. I thought I should just give up – and that anyone looking to take inspiration from my story should, too, because life is a big nothing.
My issue was the infamous Yellow Light of Death which happens when the thermo wears out. This causes the system to register even refrigerator levels of temperature as over-heating, causing it to perform an automatic shut-down.
But, well ... huh.
According to all-knowing Google, my PS3 might not be broken beyond repair. Possibly. Maybe.
I printed out instructions on how to fix my PS3 in fifty easy steps.
Fifty. “Easy.” Steps.
Be sure you are prying up on the retaining flap, not the socket itself.
While lightly pulling the rear cover away from the logic board assembly, use the flat end of a spudger to release the clips along the top and bottom edges of the rear cover.
De-route the fan cables from the plastic finger molded into the heat sink.
The PRAM socket is delicate and has the potential to break off the motherboard. If possible, hold down the socket as you disconnect the PRAM battery cable.
After applying brushable coating to the panels, you'll need a corrosion-resistant metal stucco lath. If you can't find metal stucco lath, use carbon-fiber stucco lath.
Actually that last one is from Troy McLure’s “Half-Assed Approach to Foundation Repair,” watched with mounting dread by one Homer J. Simpson. It’s easy to mock Homer (fun too!), but if you are not technically inclined, following instructions like the above can be a genuinely daunting experience. I am not technically inclined. But with future-me firmly in my mind, I got to work.
By which I mean I mean I asked my wonderful wife to help me. It didn’t require begging, or at least not much, as she’s often eager to fix things when they break. For her, fixing a broken object is not quite as enjoyable as doing, say a jigsaw puzzle, but it’s not like eating a grapefruit either.
She was a huge help. For example, whereas I would have just started doing step one and then, once that was done, I would have gone onto step 2, she thought we should actually read all the instructions first to better plan our course of action. This turned out to be a wise move, as we needed to both buy a special heater and order a silver paste before we could get started.
For the next week, my broken PS3 sat in my office, a looming presence of doom. Every time I saw it, a little decision loop would start in my mind:
Do I really want to try and fix this?
Can we fix this?
I don’t know.
Then is it really worth the attempt?
That's when I'd pause. I don’t have a lot a free time. Just attempting to fix the PS3 was going to eat up a huge amount of that free time – a weekend’s worth of free time, at least. If it was guaranteed to work, that would be one thing, but I was planning to spend a sizable chunk of down time doing something I found unpleasant for the mere possibility of finishing a game.
And every time I came to the very precipice of quitting, I thought about future-me. I thought about his twinge. I thought about his wistful sigh. I thought about how he’d feel every time he was reminded of the what might have been if his past-self had just made more of an effort. And when I had him firmly in my mind, I said “yes" and got ready to embrace the suck.
I’d like to say that, because I was working on a project with my wife, the repair was a joy. I’d like to say that I discovered the almost Lego-like pleasure of disassembling and reassembling a complex electronic device. I’d like to say that the experience wasn’t that bad. I’d like to say all those things.
It was boring.
It was frustrating.
I did it anyway. And as hour after hour passed with no end in sight, even my wife, with her tremendous perseverance, began to grow tried. After we had finished argument #33a (over what direction #33a meant) did she stop and say, “I just realized that I don’t care about this f*cking thing.”
Again, it wasn’t said in anger. But outside of Candy Crush or Words with Friends, my wife isn’t a gamer. Her at a party playing a game of Wii Sports is the last real memory I have of her playing a console game.
I briefly stopped to thank her again for helping me out. It wasn’t a long conversation, but she had put hour after hour into a project that she didn’t care about because she knew it was important to me. I wanted to make sure she knew much I appreciated her help. Then we got back to work.
We tightened. We lathered. We detached. We re-attached. And finally, after every last second of free time for our weekend was spent, it was done. The PS3 was fully reassembled, with a new silver coating, and there was nothing to do but plug it in and turn it on.
We did so.
As of the moment of this writing, I am future-me. But I’m not the future-me the person in this story was worried about becoming. I’m the future-me who got to jump up and down with his wife when the PS3 turned on. I’m the future-me who whooped when Red Dead Redemption loaded up my save. I’m the future-me who guided John Marston to his final reward and earned what I think was the finest videogame ending I have ever seen in my entire life.
I’m all those things because I embraced the suck. Because of that, today I can now look back on every frustration, every set-back, and every obstacle that was overcome with a smile. It’s not a huge smile, but it’s a smile that was definitely worth every second of discomfort.