Disclaimer: This post is more personal in nature than usual.
Tonight is my grandfather’s birthday. Tonight is also the night that my family scattered his ashes. Due to life circumstances I was unable to be there to stand by my family, cry and talk about how amazing of a man he was and how much joy he brought into my world.
Instead I had to remain at home, readying myself for work tomorrow as the responsible adult that I, hope, have become over the years.
It wasn’t easy, as I don’t think situations like this ever really are. I was blessed to have someone close to me talking to me via Skype as the text messages, video messages and pictures messages began to flood my phone from my family as they celebrated the man I called my papa. It hurt not to be there, to not be able to just express how much one man’s life meant to me as I grew up. How I admired him and how a simple “you did well” from him meant more than all the awards and medals I could ever earn.
At some point during our virtual conversation I found myself so upset by my inability to be with my family today that I decided to log off of the internet and fire up my Xbox. I said that I needed to: “get offline and shoot something”, not really knowing how to express what I was feeling or going through. I was told “shoot well” as I signed off to try and what I thought was, distracting myself from everything that was going on.
Before I go any further, I will confess that I love the Bioshock franchise. My living room is themed with framed art from the game down to the city scape of Rapture hanging over my fireplace. This last week, as a belated birthday present, I was given a copy of Bioshock: Infinite which I had put off buying because I was saving for a new car. Already ten hours or so invested into it, I was ready to try and forget everything that was upsetting me and just dive back into the world of Columbia and be a hero.
Then, after only mere minutes escorting of Elizabeth through danger, protecting her from the people out to stop us from accomplishing our mission to escape, it dawned on me: I didn’t decide to play this because I needed to enact some form of rage or aggression on random enemies…I needed to be in control. I needed to be able to save someone because I couldn’t be there to save my grandfather.
I paused the game, took a sip of my drink and sat back in shock. When I resumed playing I fought like a man that knew the fate of the world rested on his shoulders, a man who could do something to change the world for the better and more importantly, a man who could rescue someone from a life in shackles. Or worse…death.
Video games have always been a part of my life. They are the one constant that is always around. Bad day at the office? Play some Devil May Cry. Nice, quiet day outside? Good time to lounge by the pool and play Final Fantasy Tactics. Today my grandfather passed and I got to, for a moment, enter the world of Columbia and be a hero to the people, or more importantly, to Elizabeth.
Much like my grandfather, I occasionally say less than I mean. He was a strong man, an amazing man and when he said he was going out to the ranch to care for the horses he worked with he meant he was going to do just that…and also grab a bite to eat and maybe meet the guys for an hour or so after his work was done to have a drink, and decompress from the day of labor he had finished. Today, I said “I need to go shoot something” when really I meant that I needed to get lost for a while and be a hero when I felt that I was at my weakest.
I titled this article “The Importance of Escapism” for a reason. In our daily lives we find ways to deal and cope with the stresses that are thrust upon us by the world. For some people their form of escapism is as simple as going home at the end of a long day and seeing their family. For some, in one of the worst possible scenarios, it is going home and drinking yourself into a state where you forget all the things that drove you there in the first place. For many of us gamers, it is the idea that, for even a moment, we can save the world.
It does not mean that we do not do the best we can in our daily lives. It never means that we do not strive to make our world a better place to live in. It just means that, for a second, we can enter another world and be the heroes that we know that we know we are for just a little while. It means that sometimes, a little escapism helps us cope with harshness of reality and accept that even in the real world, we can still be heroes. We might just have to try a little harder to do so.
With that, my thanks go out to the Irrational Games crew who let me escape on an airship to the world of Columbia for just a little while and to my papa who made me the hero I am today.
I miss you.
Goodnight and good game. –James C Smith