My earliest memories are filled with a sense of companionship. I remember a cold, glossy tile floor with couch cushions spread across it and a lot of “Super Mario Bros” on our colossal, 26-inch TV. Our neighborhood friends would gather around and play games, constantly trying to get closer to the end of the game. I was never good by any stretch of the imagination, and expected that I would eventually fail and run out of extra lives to continue.
This deeply-ingrained knowledge that I wouldn’t always beat a game or get the highest score helped me enjoy the act of playing games more. Clarity around this fact really started to crop up when I began attending LAN (local area network) parties around 2004. I felt an intoxicating amount of enjoyment even while being at the bottom rung of any competitive game. Though I would be thoroughly beat to a pulp by TxtbookNinja in “Starcraft,” I still enjoyed seeing how someone could so perfectly destroy me. Though I leaned toward first-person shooters, Pugboy was always happy to spoon-feed me a wealth of bullets. And though he is the sweetest human being on the planet, Falcondan was always sure to prance about at the top of most any leaderboard. For me, the best part of a good LAN party is the comradery and love for even your most bitter of virtual rivals.
As our gaming crew grew and ventured out to other LAN events, we began to build stronger ties with others in different cities, most notably our dear friends in Albuquerque. Hailing from the distant, desert waste, these gaming companions would venture to Durango for various LAN parties just as we would travel south to game in their locale. The network grows wider and farther every year and we can still make efforts to meet and game together, if not online, at least somewhere like Dallas for the annual Quakecon.
Sadly, with the passing of each year, occasionally the passing of a friend occurs as well. This year we said goodbye to a dear companion, Matt Jewell, who admittedly I only really ever knew as “Rif7e.” We may shout and scream and throw our hands in the air at one another on a regular basis, but gaming communities, notably LAN communities, are especially close. There is no real anonymity behind our screen names; we are not completely unknown to one another because we regularly occupy one another’s physical space as well as virtual. Though I personally only interacted with Rif7e maybe a couple of times in the past, his passing has been noted.
In the gray, quiet after such a devastating loss, we often can hear ourselves asking questions: How do we go on? How can we rearrange ourselves from this mess? What are our priorities? What will we do with our time? While I can’t answer any of those questions for anyone but myself, I can at least say that it gets easier after you accept that there is suffering, sadness, and anger, and that it is far worse if you try to move forward by ignoring it. Traumatic loss can shape our behavior or actions but doesn’t have to control us with fear.
We will constantly be confronted throughout our lives by such painful realities. Maybe it’s fear of loneliness, aging, sickness, poverty, or death. Perhaps you have fears based around your desires to be recognized, to be independent, wealthy. These fears, big and small, shape how we behave and take action. We might ignore some of these fears sometimes, but they are always there and can lead to unhealthy decisions and self-harm. They can drain your energy and can interfere with finding some peace.
Accepting that there is suffering can help free up your mind, give you some space to let loose of your fears, and see more clearly your path forward. There is no perfect way of doing this and it is very difficult to know what actions to take around your fears. I can say that it doesn’t get easier if you don’t take the time to reflect, maybe meditate, maybe talk it out, and practice. There’s no way to get through trauma and loss without being changed, perhaps even hurt, but accepting that it may be painful, and that you will survive it, helps. It’s OK to be clueless at times; I certainly don’t have all the answers, but moving forward and accepting that there is pain can help you feel relief. Please don’t surrender, and don’t shut yourself off.
For now, I find that it is best to spend time around loved ones and doing the things that we love. Though I am total garbage at it, I have been playing a first-person, tactical shooter called “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege” with my friends. I frequently find myself to be the least-valuable player to my teams, but that’s OK. The time I’m sharing with my loved ones is the best part of any game.
If you are having an especially hard time, please reach out to someone, anyone. Depression is never something to take lightly and therapy is never a bad idea. You are not alone.
Brett Massé is currently playing “Grotto” by Michelle Olson and NeonBlade.