As an adult, I do not play a lot of video games. But of course, like every other person during the first two months of the COVID lockdown, I bought myself a Nintendo Switch, hoping that the blinking lights and surreal simulations could create an illusion of companionship and frivolity *for just a moment*. While there is something knowingly depressing about buying a multi-player gaming console for one person (The checkout bot asked me twice if I was *sure* I didn’t want to add a second controller to my purchase), the mere act of spending money tends to create a mirage of value and comfort. It is as if by exchanging something of value, we can temporarily delude ourselves into thinking we are adding something to the world, and thereby feel comfortable with our place within it. It is, in fact, the only real reason I buy anything – to achieve that delicious, delicious high of self-satisfaction. So, while the background behind my decision to purchase this *particular item* is sad, I would propose that it is at least understandable.
When I bought the Switch, the only game that I bought with it at the time was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Back when I still played video games more regularly, Zelda was always my favorite franchise. It’s fantasy setting, intense focus on adventure and puzzle solving, and at turns both melancholy and inspirational soundtrack were enough to get me hooked from day one. I spent an entire summer my sophomore year in high school replaying Ocarina of Time, lost my wits as a doltish child attempting to beat Link’s Awakening, and had my view on art and music in video games forever changed by Wind Waker. Thus, while I would have been at least mildly excited for the release of *any* new Zelda game, this new one for the Switch had been hyped for years. And I was thrilled to finally get the chance to attack it.
And man. What. A. Game. As a generally pessimistic and morose soul, I’m not prone to providing undue praise or superfluous compliments. But this might actually have been the greatest game I’ve ever played in 28 years of living. The open world concept was executed flawlessly. The general theme, tone, and setting were inspired. The soundtrack was a perfect blend of orchestral polish and nostalgic throwbacks. And overall, every single thing in this game was just *fun* to do. And given its pretty absurd size, it never lacked for content. It was almost impossible for a single, generally employed human to discover all the secrets that the game had to offer. Simply ride around on your horse for 10 minutes, and you’d find a whole new adventure or side-quest to engage in, wielding the master sword in a heroic attempt to slay the miasmic evil of Calamity Ganon! Truly superb.
I still got tired of it after like a month. It’s not that I appreciated it any less. Nor did I feel like I was having a bad time when I was playing it. The game was just as beautiful as it had always been. The soundtrack was just as lovely, and the content just as engaging. I had just grown completely inured to it all. Truly and utterly bored. Every once in a while over the next couple of months, I’d get a faint tug on my interest to play the game again. And I would. I’d pop it in, play it for 20 minutes, have a lovely time…and get bored. I’ve seen this. I’ve done this. How many times can I do the same God damn thing before my mental synapses refuse to fire on all cylinders? Where’s the stimulation? Where’s the newness? Where’s the diversity and variety that a brain needs to function at its finest?
And honestly, this applies to far more than just video games. People are remarkably adaptable. When they’ve been exposed to something for a long enough time, homeostasis will eventually kick in, and what we once saw as novel and unique, just becomes part of the norm. Eat the fanciest food for a month straight, and it suddenly no longer seems so fancy. Go skydiving every day for a year, and suddenly it’s not so exhilarating. Even listening to that new song that you throw on repeat for a month *because it’s the greatest song to ever be written in the history of ever* eventually loses its appeal and doesn’t stimulate the heartstrings in quite the same way anymore. You might still generally like that escargot, look forward to jumping out of a moving plane, and tell all your friends that the song you tired of two weeks ago is still among your favorites. They’ve just become boring.
Applied more broadly, it’s hard not to feel similarly about life at large. Like fuck, is this all there is? Do we all just wake up, drink coffee, answer emails, and die? Is this all just one eternal march into the abyss, marked only sporadically by Thursday happy hours and that exciting new show on Netflix? As the “About” section of this blogs suggests, if I am to accept that we all must go at some point into that gentle night, I’d at least like to go loudly, to fight tooth and nail against my own inevitable demise and the world’s ending. But most days it feels like the best I can do is asking death to “Wait one minute please, I want to quickly finish up this chapter in my book. What? No, it’s not new. This is probably the sixth time I’ve read it. What do you mean “How is that fun?” It’s a classic. Hey, while you’re up, can you fetch me some Wheat Thins? And refill my Diet Coke?” And in my defense, it *is* a classic. And Diet Coke is the ideal blend of carcinogens and caffeine. But would it have killed me (*Looks up at Death sheepishly*) to stall the reaper with some bungee jumping and Everclear? Preferably at the same time? When did it all become books and work and happy hour and food from that *only place I ever get sandwiches from*?
But to be fair, I still like all of those things. Finely crafted literature is a true boon to the world. Happy Hour soothes the wounds of my soul with sweet alcohol and polite socializing. And there’s a reason I only ever get sandwiches from one place – they’re effing delicious, and the amount of fries they give you could dry up a lake with all their delightfully heart-stopping sodium content. It’s just really hard to get excited by them anymore. There is no long-lasting spiritual appeal to answering *another* email. It is as soul crushing as it is ultimately meaningless to the world at large. Alcohol, while delicious, is not a life experience I would proudly tout to the young CNA when I’m a washed-up invalid kicking it in the nursing home (“Do they still have dollar taps of Schlitz at the Brat-house, Lass?”). And books, while a true and magnificent window into a world of wonder and adventure, are, by their very design, just fictions or recounts of other people living their lives in far more interesting fashions than yourself. So, what is a man to do?
Now, a casual observer might simply say: “Well Tom, why don’t you just go out and try new things, you mopey little emo wannabe? Surely that would provide a much-needed boost of adrenaline to an otherwise mundane existence.” Well, sure. I could do that for a while. But eventually, I would run into the same problem. That new and exciting thing would eventually become just another part of standard operating procedure. I could trade in the books for a newfound passion for hiking, but give me six months and I’d be grumbling about how all trees look the same, and asking why I should even care about seeing another lake. I mean, my God, aren’t they all just pools of water with fish and bacteria in them? When you’ve seen a dozen of these fish latrines, you’ve seen them all. And simply hopping from one thing to another just seems so unfulfilling. I’d merely become another adrenaline jockey always looking for that next thrill, never content with what he has, and perpetually keeping himself overly stimulated to avoid having to think too deeply about his life. This seems like a never-ending cycle of regret, and a truly horrible way of living life. Plus, I *absolutely* do not have the energy for it.
I’m not entirely sure where this leaves any of us. We’ll continue to sit on our couch each weeknight, scrolling through our phones and the “Recommended for you” section on Netflix. The following morning, we’ll get up to answer emails from Carol, and smile and nod through some meetings. And in the evening, we’ll watch episode 2, and then maybe pause Netflix to put on the Bachelor. On weekends we may go out to brunch. I guess in the end, it’s not a bad life. It’s safe. And predictable. And comes with a fairly high standard of living. And sometimes in the midst of the boredom, you get a legitimate and heartfelt urge to read a book or go for a walk, much like going back to that old video game. And if there’s the occasional spike of existential dread when the last page turns or you round your block to go home, well, a cost to everything, my friends. A cost to everything.
So, if you’ll excuse me – I have a Nintendo Switch to plug in. God speed.