Every year I get a little romantic come the turning of the new year and can be found sitting quietly in introspection fueled by an alarming amount of coffee – my body, a jittery and new composition of caffeine and fleeting, outlandish thoughts. My pillow-like cocoon of blankets and sweaters is ready to crack open, coffee aroma thick in the air. The short days of sunlight and slow, cooling temperatures make for an excellent atmosphere to meditate on the previous year. Perhaps that’s why the arbitrary decision to start the year in the winter was made, the utility of the quiet and cold as a helpful stage to sit and reflect upon.
Within my cave, wrapped in a blanket and illuminated by my computer screen, I am clicking through a game creator’s page and downloading their short, free game called “Chasing Birds” by Davidczar. The game itself was created as part of Itch.io’s “Self-Care Jam 2,” a small collection of games created and submitted at the end of this year. Game jams are usually built around some sort of theme, be that cyberpunk, sports, or flight simulation. Anyone is allowed to submit their own game they designed to the jam. Think of it as some sort of art competition without the competitive nature, instead just being a small celebration of game design.
“Chasing Birds” is a tiny game. No story mode, no multiplayer, one level. You play as a dog, maybe some sort of brown lab mix, and find yourself in the middle of a grassy, sunny, city park. The sounds of the city permeate the boundary of bushes, trees, ponds, and benches. Clusters of little white birds sit in the park and you are immediately driven to chase and bark at them. Indeed, it’s all you can do. There are no points, no stats, no inventories to manage. There are only birds to run after and bark at in this idyllic little park, splashing through the ponds and occasionally kicking at a red ball.
This year feels like it stands out from the rest. Arguably every year feels that way when you’re living in it, but reflecting on the feeling of 2017 I quickly find adjectives like “difficult” and “exhausting” come up. These feelings are expressed in the overview of the “Self-Care Jam 2,” saying “2017 is almost over. It’s been quite a stressful time for a lot of us.” It continues, “You can make a game, write a poem, knit a sweater, draw a picture, compose a song, or do anything else that you would enjoy. It doesn’t need to be about the state of the world, or something that makes the people that play it feel happy. This is just for you.” I take another sip at my coffee, cooler and emptier than before, and feel like I’m sitting next to a lot of other people probably feeling the same things that I am.
By February 2017 I had built myself a daily routine of signing at least one petition a day, emailing our congressmen, and/or making calls to their offices. I participated in more demonstrations and protests. I developed new behaviors around the way I shop, how I use the internet, what kinds of media I support. I started playing music again, I started writing more, I got rid of piles and piles of unnecessary belongings. I read more, grew more, cried more.
I have now been running around this peaceful park as a dog, barking at birds, for about a half hour. My coffee is cold and my mind is blissfully empty. Sometimes I wish I was a dog or a cat for all the obvious reasons. I’m looking at my cat, Boombox, as he sleeps atop what I call his “tower-o-terror.” His eyes are closed in that peaceful way cats have closed eyes and his paws are twitching a little. Maybe he’s dreaming about chasing birds, digging in a houseplant, or destroying something precious of mine.
It is only just now that I realize that the park in “Chasing Birds” has hard boundaries, closing in the world to an area about an acre wide. Though there’s no boss or ending credits; I feel like this is the end of the game and smile as I close the game down and open up my email. A couple of calls-to-action have populated my inbox and I have some letters to write to congress. Oh, goodness, and refill my coffee!
Brett Massé is currently playing World of Horror by Pansatas