I think I might assume that I am not alone in the aftermath of the holidays (whatever you need to call them), surrounded by yet unchucked gift wrappings, batteries; maybe your tree is still in the living room aging as fine kindling, and one or more of your kids has been locked away in his or her room entranced by the novelty of a new video game. My son (and flatmate) Jason has been at this same one for years now, and he has reached level whatever-it-is and has all the refinements, upgrades, and whistles. Your offspring may seem to lock themselves away, to emerge for meals, maybe a job or school (if they can be forced away from the screen), and speak a foreign -- alien, really -- language invented by brilliant, likely neurotic, young, likely pimpled online role-playing designers to cement whatever barricades may already exist between parents and their son/daughter players. I'm betting enough can relate here. But kick this Other-World/Alienation factor up a few notches, well into the red-marked obsessive/compulsive/addiction, add a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia and schiz-affect disorder, and we are firmly in my post-holiday terrain. Oh, minus the job or school.
When I asked him last night, as I have several times with some decent results, what I should write about for my column, his first suggestion was the high surf along the coast. This surprised me and pleased me because I immediately saw the poetic imagery, the Jungian backdrop for tumultuous emotions of unimaginable force gathering them upright, poising them for a brief moment before dashing themselves where they may onto the shores of consciousness. And I might still do it if the surf's up, but I don't want to get waylaid by tracking down actual facts from the Weather Bureau, the Coast Guard, what have you.
His second suggestion was to write about video games, "You know, the culture of video gamers. But I guess you've done that."
Yeah, I have, but that's not really what he meant, anyway. This was an invitation to the world he inhabits, where he knows the language, the imaginary people or creatures, the wild geography, and surreal furniture. "Well," I said, "give me some ideas. What's interesting? How does this relate to your life? Your world? Or does it?" This last question seemed almost cruel, though I did not mean it to be. Jason's world can be triangulated with his bedroom, Sav-On a block away, and Big Lots farther down University. In that area is a fast-food Mexican joint he'll frequent, but expeditions outside the apartment are not even daily some weeks.
While encouraging him to wax on about this cyber fantasy realm he inhabits, I found myself taking notes on the back of Tobias Wolff's Old School. This morning, I see I have written, "...downloading a patch, one hour, slow. The New Year's patch has Santa gone, but you can click [quoting Jason] on these Christmas gifts he left behind, and inside there'll be, like, a little bell, and when you ring it, a reindeer comes and does certain things for you. 'I was selling enchantments at an auction house, and I let someone overpay 40 gold and 40 silver. I kept it for a whole day before I gave him back his money.'" Jason was talking about game currency, but there was a real-life player on the other end of this transaction, and Jason seemed troubled by this moral lapse on his part. I suppose that was a good thing.
Other notes I had jotted were: "...servers, PVP (Player vs. Player), P.K. (Player Killer) -- when you kill a character you own them? Own? Jason in Illuminati Guild. Korean player recently kicked out by consensus for reckless attacks on others. Thinks she is Korean; thinks she was a girl but talked like a guy. This allegedly Korean berserker is a real player (in Korea) and seems incoherent, giggly, and insane in her e-messages. Maybe language thing."
Like an auxiliary travel guidebook, I referred to the bible, that is, The World of WarCraft Player's Guide. This is daunting. Here were over 200 pages with chapters on Corpse Retrieval, Resurrection Spells, Resurrection Sickness, What it Means to Level, Weapons Availability, Betrayer Ascendant, and so much more. As we spoke, me listening mostly, gaping, I was put in mind of a book popular in the 1950s and early '60s called The Fifty Minute Hour, a collection of true psychoanalytic tales, by Robert Lindner. One section of the book, "The Jet-Propelled Couch," was concerned with a patient of Lindner's, a physicist in an important government project, who had, over many years, constructed this vast web of trans-galactic, science-fictional reality over which he, in some capacity or other, either ruled or wielded great influence. Lindner, the shrink, was an old sci-fi fan and found the delusion fascinating. He attempted to enter the delusion and was so successful he alarmed himself at points when he discovered flaws in the delusional logic. I wondered if this sort of thing might be a hazard with me. I think I can rely on the fact that games, in most of their forms (beside trivia question games), bore me senseless.
But here was a conversation. Can I somehow use this world as an entrée into some very important stuff that otherwise Jason will not discuss: dangerous weight gain from psych meds, a two- or three-year-long inability to read much of anything outside of the world of WarCraft that I am convinced is linked somehow to myself and am now finding contagious? Some sort of rudimentary job threatening his state disability checks needs to be broached; and simple matters of laundry, hygiene, his agoraphobia all need to be addressed with no way in.
In the end, he senses my lack of interest and retreats again into his room. "Goodnight, Buddy," I say and tell him that I love him
"Okay," he says through the closed door. Schiz-affect. And while I know that isn't contagious, I am left flailing in the living room with my Wolff novel trying to access and download my capacity for tears.