Some of you may have noticed the lack of content on the website over the past two weeks. My extended silence was because, on October 15th, my mom passed away.
Ever since I made the decision that I would return to the site soon, I’ve been debating how much I should say. Obviously, some sort of post explaining the gap in content would be necessary. How honest should I be, and how much detail should I go into?
When I communicate with people at work, I’ve been using the phrase “family emergency” to explain my absence, and the delays in productivity resulting thereof. I’ve found that the ambiguity makes people more comfortable, and in a lot of ways makes me more comfortable as well. When I don’t specifically say what happened, I don’t trigger obligatory condolences from strangers, and I don’t have to deal with handing out the “thank yous” and “it’s oks” to people I don’t know nor care about.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I came to the decision to just speak about what actually happened. I think it makes the most sense, given my intentions with this website. I founded Alternate Fire as specifically indie focused, not just because I dig a lot of games that happen to be indie, but as I’ve previously mentioned I have a particular fondness for raw expression. Perhaps, dear reader, you will be made uncomfortable by this post. Perhaps its inappropriate of me to speak about this topic here, in this place and in this format. But the indie spirit is not a product. The sharp edges are not filed down. That’s what I love about art which is independently produced.
So for my return post, I’ve decided to write about some of the reflections that have occurred within myself since October 15th.
I haven’t dealt with many deaths, just generally speaking, before this time in my life. I’ve certainly never dealt with a loss of someone truly close to me. One of the first things that happened within myself was a reflection on what really mattered in life. I lost my mom – that consumed my emotions and my passions for an extended period of time. Work, school, obligations, chores and responsibilities; they all fell away. Of course, a person can’t stay in this type of emotional state forever. Its not natural, it’s not emotionally healthy, nor is it what loved ones would have wanted for us, or a particularly good way to go about life. So as I return to the world, I re-prioritize. I examine what is really important to me going forward, in a world without my mom. In a world where I am painfully aware that I can quickly and unexpectedly lose the people and things that I love and care about, yet take for granted every day.
Obviously, my job can’t be abandoned. I’ve certainly been less stressed as I’m taking things at work much less seriously, but I need to show up and do the tasks. As some might expect, I don’t want to drop school. I want a better future for myself and my family. Learning and accomplishing things in academics helps my confidence and feels valuable. I don’t want to give that up.
So then, what about Alternate Fire? What about… video games?
When faced with things such as mortality and the true value of family, where does that leave my hobbies? Particularly, the ones that, for the most part, impart no physically perceptible benefit. The ones like video games, into which I sink a multitude of hours and have nothing to show for it beyond digital progress, items, and achievements; maybe some improved hand-eye coordination if I’m lucky. How do I justify spending time on something like that after what’s happened? Can I justify it?
Of course, since I’m talking about this in the context of the loss of my mom, I’ve been thinking about whether video games had any impact on the relationship I had with her. It’d make a great article if I could say that she was super-into video games. It would fit so well to recount an anecdote of us playing Mario Brothers together, and to say how video games were an important part of our relationship.
That wasn’t my mom though. Electronics, generally speaking, gave her immense anxiety. One thing that I can say is that she was not discouraging of video games. She wasn’t discouraging of much. If I was doing something that made me happy, and it wasn’t hurting me or anyone else, generally she would let me go to discover what I really enjoyed. So while I heard the occasional plea to spend some time outside because I had been playing Megaman 2 for four hours straight, I never heard such classic phrases as “You’re wasting your life!” or “Stop playing those stupid games, they’re rotting your brain!”
While my mom did not take a vested interest in the topic of digital entertainment, I would occasionally share things with her that I thought were cool. This included all sorts of media; TV shows, music, books, and of course video games. I would normally show her a game that I thought had a compelling story or an interesting world design, since she was an English teacher, professional storyteller, and artist. I remember showing her Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness, and getting a recommendation to read some Tolkien novels. I recall explaining to her, at great length, the convoluted plot of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and she was reasonably impressed; I believe I also played her a cinematic featuring the Elder God and she commented on the impressive presence of Tony Jay’s voice work. I have a vague memory of showing her the introduction sequence to Half-Life, and giving a summary of its puzzling sci-fi plot; I don’t remember her reaction to that part, but I do remember her being disgusted with me for shooting a scientist in the face.
At the very least, although my mom did not play them herself, video games were a fun thing to share. They were something that, at least some of the time, the two of us connected on. They were an avenue for her to glimpse into my world, and a bridge for her to share some of hers. She was always encouraging my creative side, and she recognized (correctly) that my interactions with video games were an extension of my indulgence in that part of my personality.
Therein, I believe, lies the key to the answer to my question. For me, the value of video games in life is shared experience. Games are fun for me; they are an enjoyable way to pass the time, but it is also just as much fun if not more so to talk to people about them afterwards. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had a fun late night with friends talking about video games. Maybe you were discussing them over drinks, recalling moments in games which shocked or delighted you, or elements of game design that you loved. Maybe you were sharing tips and hints. Maybe you were over analyzing a story line or two. If you’ve ever taken part in a discussion like this, you know what a joy it can be, and that’s whether you were recounting memories of that goddamn laughing dog in Duck Hunt, or the decisions you made to change the fate of the characters and universe in Mass Effect.
I’ve made the decision to continue with Alternate Fire because playing video games, and more importantly talking about them, is something I love to do. Writing is my favorite creative outlet, and utilizing video games as my topic does not invalidate that. I like the way video games connect me with people of all ages and walks of life. I enjoy the experiences that modern games can evoke through amazing storytelling and inventive design. “Video games as art” is a debate for an entirely different editorial post, but for me on a personal level there is no argument. I believe my mom had a sense of that as well, hence why she never called it a waste of time.
So there it is folks. Alternate Fire is here to stay. I hope you enjoy the experiences we share.