McGinnis: The hazards of life for a video game characterWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Frequently in this column I have discussed my love of video games. Among the many reasons I enjoy them is their ability to transport the player to worlds they have never visited and give them a chance to play out scenarios that real life would never present. I have visited far off galaxies, other dimensions, ancient ruins, even the streets of Gotham City — all in video games. When they’re done well, a game lets you be someone you never could be otherwise.
Recently, though, I received an email from a reader who informed me that my fandom for games on this front was extraordinarily short-sighted. Sure, you get to visit other worlds, but you get to do it from the safety of your own couch, he wrote. If I actually had to take part in such adventures, he claimed, I would see just how much better the real world is. “Believe me,” he wrote. “I know.”
I asked the writer if he’d be willing to go on record with an interview for Toledo Free Press Star. He agreed, but insisted on strict anonymity. He will be referred to from now on in this story as “M.”
“It’s-a me,” the informant said as I answered his call. “Now, are you-a ready to listen to reason? You-a don’t wanna be a video game character, you-a understand?”
“Well, no, I don’t understand,” I responded. “Why wouldn’t I want to be you? You get to live out amazing fantasies in beautiful worlds, doing remarkable things every moment! Why not?”
The voice on the other end of the phone sighed. “Because, you-a dumb s***. You-a aren’t thinking about the risks.”
“Have you-a ever stopped to think about all the hazards video game characters have to overcome on a daily basis? It’s a freakin’ nightmare!”
“Well, you have plenty of enemies, sure,” I said. “But you can just — you know — jump on them, right?”
M let out a snort of derision. “Sure. I can-a just jump on them. That works 99 times out of a hundred. But what if I land short? I can-a make mistakes, you-a know. Then what happens? I die. Not by some amazing attack or assault on their part. No, I’m killed just by touching something. Have you-a seen my enemies? Most of them have no visible means of attack! Yet even by brushing against them, they kill me! What-a sense does that make?”
I paused. “Well, sure, but you can just eat a mushroom or something, give you a little more defense, right?”
“Are you-a thinking about what you’re saying, man? Yes, I can-a eat mushrooms and they can-a make me stronger. I can-a take one — one — more hit. Wow, what power! Besides, there’s a whole weird subtext about encouraging kids to eat magic mushrooms, isn’t there?”
“I hadn’t really thought about it …”
“Exactly, you-a idiot. And besides, the mushrooms don’t protect me from other hazards.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“Well, what about the scrolling screen?” M asked in reply.
“I’m at the beginning of a level. There are a lot of treacherous jumps in my way. The best option I have is to be very, very careful, right? Then, I look behind me, and I see a wall coming toward me. Slowly. Surely. Never stopping. It’s the edge of the screen — your screen, the television screen. And if I don’t keep ahead of it, it’ll push-a me off the edge! How is that fair?”
I considered this. “You’re right. It isn’t. And why does the screen edge only effect you? All your enemies don’t get pulled along with it.”
“Exactly!” M angrily agreed. “The odds are so-a horribly stacked against me, I don’t even know why they bother with the clock.”
“Oh, come on. You-a know, the clock! Up at the top-a of your screen? There’s a timer counting down the whole time I’m-a doing a level. I’m-a running along, picking up coins, bonking my head into boxes with question marks on them — which hurts like-a hell, by the way — and suddenly the music will speed up. And I know, I’m-a running out of time. So I gotta hurry. And, of course, because I’m-a hurrying, I’ll make a mistake and die.”
M paused. “So, you-a see, it may be all fun and games for you. But-a for me, it’s a constant struggle for survival.”
“So why do you do it?” I asked. “Why do you keep going?”
M asked me to hold on a second. He pulled the phone away from his ear. Another voice was speaking to him. I couldn’t make everything out, but it was saying something about a “princess” and “another castle.”
He came back on and sighed. “You-a wanna know why? Because love makes you-a do strange things.” M hung up.