“C’mon, let’s play something else!”
I don’t remember what year it was, or which place I was living, or anything that seems like it would be actually important. But I do remember that my brother was visiting. I got to see him some weekends, and I adored him. The happiest times of my childhood were spent with my brother. That time was precious to me, and limited.
When he came, we played video games. Well, he played. I mostly watched. I delighted in watching him brave the dungeons of Hyrule to defeat Ganondorf, “barf!” and “bleh!” his way through River City with a fistful of lunch money, placate wild animals with candy through Slumberland, and whip his way to Dracula. I loved the way he made even Ghosts n’ Goblins look easy. The games weren’t easy when I tried to play them. It make him seem even more heroic. I didn’t need Link or Mario or Mega Man; I had my big brother.
“C’mooooon. Let’s play something eeeeeelse!!” I remember whining. “You’ll never get it, you’re just wasting time!”
We had smashed all the buildings to bits in Rampage, followed a frog down a hole in Blaster Master—and now we were on a submarine, being told to input a code by a cute little robot named Nav-Com. Big brother entered in code after code, for hours, every one rejected. He was determined to crack it. I was determined to not waste precious brother time, for him to give up and do something else before it was time for him to leave.
This was back in the days of FuncoLand, and an economy of used cartridges. You were lucky, gods shining on you from the heavens lucky, if your lightly Cheeto-dusted, new-used trade came with a box or a instruction manual. When we swapped Dragon Quest for StarTropics, by some miracle it did come with a booklet—a booklet that was supposed to include a letter on the last page with instructions to dunk it in water to reveal a supersecret submarine code. But our waterlogged manual was missing the last page, the letter . . . and the supersecret code.
I was so angry. All that time we wasted. We could have saved a shitload of princesses or run Ecto-1 off the road 9,000 times. Instead, my brother wrote down formulas and charts and toiled away while some dead-eyed robot mocked his failures. But he refused to give up. He went away and came back a few times before he was able to get it.
My memory is full of a lot of things. The day I met my husband. The days my kids were born. And the number 747.
The submarine code, by the way, was fucking 747.
I don’t remember what year it was, or where I was living, or anything that seems like it would actually be important. But I remember the look on my big brother’s face, the sound Nav-Com made, and 747. My dying breath will probably be that number.
I’ve always been bad at sticking with things. The nature of my life has meant that the only constant thing in it has been constant and chaotic change. Nobody ever taught me how to stay with something when it got hard, or boring, or complicated. Life is short and life is shitty. When something stops being fun, or rewarding, or simply necessary, you stop doing it.
I play lots and lots of video games. But it’s never for the gameplay. It’s for the story. It’s for the characters, for the music, for the visuals. I don’t care about gameplay and I never have. I’ve buried the hatchet with an ex-boyfriend to ask them to come over and beat a boss, given my log-in credentials to an online friend, and woken up my husband at 3:00 a.m. to navigate a vehicle so I could get back to the story.
I bought Bloodborne for the over-the-top goth-y aesthetic. Because it is heavily based on the Lovecraftian mythos. Because I can dress my handsome fellow (his name is Vladichops Dapper III, by the way) in an array of fancy attire. Not for the gameplay. Except . . . Bloodborne is considered part of the Dark Souls series, a series renowned for its difficult and unforgiving gameplay. I made my character (fancy!), wandered around the starting area admiring the dead horses and spooky barrels (oooh, gross and fancy!), and proceeded to be absolutely slaughtered by the first enemy I encountered (not quite as fancy as I’d like.)
I have a friend who is very into the Souls series. He plays games like my brother: unflinchingly. Story mode? Pffft. It’s Nightmare or GTFO. When he noticed that I was playing Bloodborne—in reality I wasn’t “playing” it so much as “looking” at it and posting screenshots of Choppy in various hats—he suggested that we play Dark Souls together. As in, he with me. Me. Being that this was a friend I cared about, and knowing how much he cared about Dark Souls, I had somewhat of a problem. How could I play a game with a guy who could make money gaming competitively when I couldn’t even fend off the first enemy?
So, as I do with most problems, I turned to the Internet. “Bloodborne is so hard,” I lamented. “I don’t want to disappoint my friend. What do I do?”
Get good. You adapt and you overcome or you give up. I didn’t want to give up on my friend. So I got good.
I played Bloodborne with an almost religious agenda. Git gud. I lamented all the time I was wasting playing a game, killing the same monsters over and over and over, starting at the beginning of the levels after cheap one-hit kills. Git gudder. Entire evenings, precious “Oh my God, the kids are sleeping” time funneled into defeat after defeat by giant pig monsters and bad guys with fancier hats than my own. I would stay up until 4:00, 5:00 a.m. and wake up to do real-life duties bleary eyed and frustrated.
“What am I even doing?” I asked myself aloud at one point, tears in my eyes and exhausted. “This doesn’t even fucking matter.” Maybe it was because I was so tired, or had a particularly bad day, or because my usually manageable depression had spiraled into something crippling and out of control—but I had a moment. A cry-it-out moment. The crushing isolation of what-the-fuck o’clock. The sort of high-school-sophmore-reads-a-Palahniuk-novel-for-the-first-time, is-my-purple-your-purple sort of moment.
Life is hard.
Life is brutal, and its cheap and its unfair. And the only thing to do is get good.
How much time had I lost in my life worrying about losing time? I had been so upset that my brother and I didn’t just turn StarTropics off and do something else, and yet, that has become a vivid and cherished memory. How many times had I stopped something because it got too hard and I didn’t know how to acclimate, or I didn’t even know that I should try? That people like me were even supposed to? I’ve always been envious of people who could see things through, who had people encouraging them and teaching them not to give up. Who could push through blocks, work around problems. Who had a support network of people cheering for them, a safety net if they failed.
Those things are nice, but they aren’t guaranteed. And life, for some people, has modes other than Nightmare. But I’m not playing those games. I’m playing something else, and there are no difficultly options. This is real life, and it does matter. You git gud or you git rekt.
My brother has always been my hero. Sure, it’s in part because of how spookily, insanely smart he is. And because his sense of humor is blacker than my closet. But the biggest reason is his refusal to ever be defeated by anything, trivial or life changing. 747.
And I didn’t know it before, but I do now: I can be that way too. Get good or give up.
And hey, I’m still here.