Pick Up Anything of Use

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  • THE ADVENTURE GAME IS NO LONGER RELEVANT, they scream, eyes flecked with the righteousness of the lifelong gamesman. THE CONTROL METHOD IS FRUSTRATING, the INPUTS UNSATISFYING. What are these, PUZZLES?! Oh, DECISIONS?! Where is the smoothness of play? The feeling of control? Why is it that we must combine this and that to make a conversation come to life? Why must I stumble from screen to screen like this? I am the hero. Why is everything so difficult? Everything in it is difficult they say. Everything in it  is difficult.

    ———

    It’s screeching midnight at a party in the dark cold suburbs of London, the murky, indifferent kind, where liquor stores are at their most garish, and I’m staring bloodshot across a table at a man who is always amiable, patient with me. We sit smiling and passing back and forth the word ‘cool’ for a while. I’m cranky in that I’ve been traveling for what seems like weeks and have only been at home just to pick up clothes, and I am pretty sure I might have put my underpants on inside out.

    My text message for dinner had simply… become irrelevant as his exhaustion went on.

    I came here to see someone I never see and he’s off talking to everyone else. I have just missed my last train home. I consider looking at my phone, when my friend mentions he was at MineCon and boy, was it busy and exhausting. I nod, and I say I remember that he went to MineCon, and had followed his tweets about it.

    I then frown and say, “Oh yes, I dropped you a message a few days after you got back. I was in London, and I thought you might have time for dinner when you woke up from eternal jet lag.”

    It took him a while, and he suddenly remembered, and said “Oh yes! I remember. I’m sorry,” he said. “I…” And he explained to me that it had taken him a drowsy, lethargic week to recover from his traveling, and that my text message for dinner had simply… become irrelevant as his exhaustion went on.

    ———

    Under the light of the sort of London ex-gas-powered streetlamp that casts a shadow, I imagine Lauren Bacall lighting a cigarette. I wait for friends to arrive; my housemate will be wearing a skirt, I imagine, and my friend V will be wearing something dramatic, something amazing. A is tall and imposing as she stands adjusting her scarf. P is late. Evans and Peel Detective Agency has a glass door in Earl’s Court, just down the street from the Eurogamer Expo. My birthday always falls on Eurogamer Expo; all the games people are in town, theoretically it should have been easy to have my friends assemble for overpriced cocktails and tiny food at a place that pretends to be a 40s-style Los Angeles private detective’s office with a secret bar in back.

    I snap at her via text message – “That’s cool but you could have told me earlier. I put a deposit down.”

    V texts to say that she’s not coming. There’s ten minutes to go and I paid a deposit I can’t afford on her seat. I snap at her via text message – “That’s cool but you could have told me earlier. I put a deposit down.” I feel like a narc immediately after sending it, but it hurts. She could have given me warning. It takes an hour to get here, I think. There was time.

    Later I glance at my phone, and she’s replied. “I’m sorry,” she explains. “I’m sick. I’m having pretty dramatic bowel problems. Like, you would not want to be around me. Sorry.”

    ———

    It began with the sort of apology that I suspected couldn’t happen. In my head, she had withdrawn her friendship over my irritatingly concerned inquiries, inquiries as to her well-being or as to how everything was or what was going on all interpreted as intrusive behaviors, darts of annoyance across hundreds of miles.

    There are some people that communicate their stressed status immediately. It’s possible to do it without appearing weak or needy, something I always worry I seem when I say to a friend I am finding something difficult. Some people just tell me straight when I invite them somewhere: I’m having a rough time of it. Can we do it some other time? I’m exhausted. I’m not in the mood. I have to go do this other life-thing that will make me out of bounds for a while.

    I’m having a rough time of it. Can we do it some other time? I have to go do this other life-thing that will make me out of bounds for a while.

    But for whatever reason, that time she had decided to not disclose what was wrong. She fell off the map. She didn’t answer my messages. She was only just visible on Twitter. She was gone. Until she snapped at me; made a joke at my expense in public, or so it seemed. I thought I understood: I moved away in conversation terms. There were a lot of trusts broken that year; it was a year where I thought I supported others but often felt like I was left hanging by myself. Or worse, that I felt betrayed by people I cared for. So I left that conversation, thinking that I’d invested in something that I should have known wasn’t sustainable.

    But there it was one night, silly 1AM tears and an open IM window like an open vein of text, and there the apology poured out. She was telling me how her ‘adventure game’ had suddenly become more complex, and I was suddenly compelled to understand that our systems of understanding had parted ways for a while, whilst we both clicked on items uncertainly, to see if we could pick up anything of use.

    We’re all stuck in it. When you call, you could be calling them when they are in the dialogue part: they crave a narrative, and you provide it. But sometimes you are calling when they are solving a puzzle. Sometimes they are solving five. We are all a network of people clicking at the obscure pixel hunt. We’re on the phone to each other, 90s style, twisting the cord around a finger and clicking furiously. But sometimes the puzzles are too impenetrable to divide our attention. And sometimes you don’t know how many puzzles that person is solving, right at the given moment you want to take a break from your own and laugh at the last thing that seemed impossible.

    The world is your adventure game to solve
    And you’ve solved more than the average person
    I’m trying to remember that too
    And I’ve been quiet because of course I’m the hero of my own game, she said.

    Adventure games are not really dead. They are just the most hyper-realistic thing we have and, perhaps occasionally, that’s unpleasant.

    ———

    Follow Cara on Twitter @CaraEllison

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