Confessions

elias hassos - fische



[Elias Hassos]

[because of this via that]

Where did I go for 8 months of my thinking life? Those months when posts had stopped -- trickled down to once a month? Well, I was here still -- sporadically, half-heartedly -- rousing myself at work from endless game strategizing and tabulating to think a few thoughts about the books I was still reading. There was never a complete dissipation, I never went under all the way -- but I definitely left.

I was so tired of keeping up -- that's the main memory -- tired of trying to compete for space and time -- tired of trying to iron out plans and budgets -- and plus I've always had a weakness for escapism.

So I escaped, last February, into a world I had looked at before but dismissed. I've always played video games -- fighting my brother for time with the controls when we were younger. I was a niche-player though -- only fantasy worlds [that's my guilty-pleasure fiction too -- fantasy worlds, not mysteries or historical biographies, etc]. Essentially, I was a Zelda fanatic -- lost in Hyrule -- I remember frenzied spring breaks playing the new N64 games -- 18 hours at a time, not eating much, sleeping only when my eyes stopped focusing.

Then came Fable [winter break, two weeks of madness]. And throughout the whole time there were the PC Warcraft games, though I felt more comfortable with a hand-held controller and preferred that to the mouse. I graduated from single-player, contained-world games last February -- I read about the expansion for World of Warcraft -- decided it would be a good diversion for the nights I stayed in -- I blasted out my video card that first frenzied night of adaptation --

That's such a striking feature of video games -- and of myself. I cannot stand unfamiliarity -- and so, immersed in a new world, with a new mythology, a new persona, new ways of acting, I must learn it all before I can proceed -- adapt to a new way of living. Those first few days (weeks with this game) they're monomaniacal. I mastered the world -- learning slowly to deal with the fact that this was an open world -- other players, some as awful as youTube commenters, some who became good friends and remain good friends.

But this is not an autobiography -- I can't even begin to understand how ensorcelled I was -- I became a 'seven-year sleeper' nestled in my new world, foreign practices, strange comforts (time flies when you're slaying boars -- ogres -- etc. Time flies when you're collecting gold, tokens, measuring yourself against imaginary standards.) Just like Hans with his rest-cures, the special chairs, special blankets -- the precise meals and routines. I gave way to the ease of my obsession -- for it was an obsession -- and it was an annihilation. And the ambition of it all! I graduated to the ambition of an imaginary world -- a world where performance statistics and reviews actually mattered -- a world like that of competitive swimming, which I had abandoned abruptly at the height of my career. I could feed on ambition again -- on the adrenaline rush of winning. That rush doesn't come from too many places -- winning, victory, the glory of sport, of domination and prevail.

Would it be strange to say I had grown accustomed to winning? I was a good athlete -- not spectacular, but a solid, improving NCAA Division-1 approved athlete. It's why I went to college -- or at least to one particular college. I was accustomed to competition -- and there is no thrill like the thrill of hard-won success. You train -- it hurts, sometimes like hell -- you agonize over the smallest slivers of time, the slightest turn of the forearm, a fraction of an inch at every kick, at every motion through the water -- and then, validation -- swimming is so satisfying -- on the day of the big championship you prepare, superstitiously -- you wait for your event -- warm up -- feel excited then blank -- I always sought to be blank before a race -- step up to the blocks, bend, grip, explode. My best races were the ones that had the bare minimum of thought. Lungs would burn, muscles numb -- on good races my whole spinal column would disappear into bank non-feeling, my breath would sink to my stomach and my head would be absolutely silent except for a simple count -- 1-2-stretch. Then the wall and the clock. Success measured by simple, precise time. No opinions, no second guesses -- once it was over, it was final. You either did it, or you did not.

If someone asked me what the happiest moment of my life was I wouldn't know how to answer or where to search in my memory. If someone asked me what my most glorious moment was, I would tell them exactly -- February 23rd, 2002 at sometime in the afternoon -- the moment I saw the magic numbers on the clock -- a moment of precise, irrefutable confirmation -- I was successful -- I had beaten time.

That kind of glory -- euphoric and unique -- I haven't found it anywhere else. It may be something that simply gets resigned to the annals of my personal history.

But I found a pretty close replacement in video games. Strange, right? Swimming and sport in general require a fusion of mind and body -- all the components of an existence working together. I mentioned that my best races were blank of thought -- that's not because I didn't think, but that I had thought so effectively up to that point (technique, strategy, training), that I could move beyond thought. That may sound like baloney, but that's what I remember -- clear and distinct. I would swim my best when I had moved beyond.

And video games don't ask for much physically -- I sat still and engaged -- and to be truthful, there's not much glory in beating a game by yourself in the basement. But -- add in the multiplayer element and the whole topography of the situation changes -- even for someone as habituated to individual glory as I am (swimming is not a team sport), I knew a team when I saw it. The hardest missions in my new world required 20 or more people -- they required vast scheduling (scheduling which spilt over to the real world), coordination, patience, skill. And when we were successful, and, more importantly, when I knew that I had been a valuable element to that success, I felt that familiar, lost rush of glory.

Anyway, I got addicted to glory all over again -- an easy sort of glory that only required a computer, a stable internet access, and hours upon hours of free time. So much easier than training for swimming. So I gave in -- and started researching and analysing statistics, playing with spreadsheets, giving my mind over to a different place entirely. I diminished in complexity -- single-faceted in many ways. A frisson of guilt followed me around -- shame at my dissipation. But the glory, and the mesmerizing compulsion of having to progress -- to move past artificial notches, artificial prolongations that I could rationally see through but could not conquer -- that kept me going.

That's what I was doing with my time from February of 2007 all the way through January of 2008 -- one full year given over. I came back though -- back from the edge of oblivion in many ways -- the internet access went, and with it the chance to play at the high level -- to be challenged. I had outgrown easy armchair gaming and wanted more -- wanted the glory -- so I quit, easy break, fifteen more dollars a month in my pocket. I had already started to thaw anyway -- living at home, new job, new plans, then the prospect of teaching at my alma mater -- it all worked to effect the transition. I still have my account -- lapsed, I saved my spreadsheets and stat meters -- I stay in touch with a few friends from that world. But now I mainly try to manage the deluge of activity from all those sides of me that had been blanketed --

So when my brother brings home Grand Theft Auto IV, plays dizzily through gorgeous summer evenings -- I know what's going on. I understand dissipation -- thirst for glory. It's not virtual glory, even if the world is virtual.

You can trick biology into feeling.