Memories of places I’ve never visited and a time I never had

Two games stand out from the past couple of years for their emphasis on the experience of being a teenager, and having been labelled as “nostalgic.” A hint towards which games these are: blue hair. Okay, so I’m neither female nor American, and I haven’t experienced the same degree of loss at such a crucial point of my life, but that’s not to say they can’t speak to me. The thing is, they don’t speak to me in the obvious manner.

Let’s pick a moment from Life Is Strange; the morning when Max wakes up at Chloe’s after having had a sleepover. This scene is full of nostalgic elements due to objects lying around, the music playing on the stereo, posters, the golden sunshine beaming through the window. One of the actions you can take is to simply lie on the bed and soak up the atmosphere for as long as you like. I can’t honestly say much of this relates to me. Messy bedrooms are cluttered and dirty, few of my friends would play music, posters were non-existent or awkward, and Scotland rarely has golden morning sunshine! I wouldn’t wake up feeling refreshed because I’d have stayed up way into the night playing video games and end up sleeping on the floor. So why did I get such a warm feeling from this moment?

I don’t think it’s because of the memories Life Is Strange conjured for me, but because it is a moment in which two friends are simply comfortable in each other’s company. I don’t have many friends – the person I am never will – but there are some people in my life with whom I can share a space and feel relaxed, myself, and safe to be unguarded. This isn’t something one can experience through other media; no matter how well directed, shot, or acted, neither in TV nor cinema can the participant – you or I – simply linger in an environment. In a novel, unless you keep reading and pushing time forwards, a scene is utterly static. Life Is Strange allows you to exist and explore, and relax … the room isn’t static or still, simply calm.

Oxenfree starts off (near enough) with teenagers engaging in intoxicating social activities at a beach. I won’t pretend I’ve never had those, but no-one ever made such a grand fire, and beaches where I grew up were never – are never – that tidy. Whatever, it fits with the art style. The group of teenagers then play a variant of truth or dare, then marry, screw, kill (i.e. that’s the name of the game in the game – they don’t actually do any of those things). I remember games like those at parties I went to as a teenager. I don’t know if they’re supposed to serve some sort of social development function for people, but my main reaction was always “I do not want to be here.” Even playing through this scene in Oxenfree I felt a familiar tightening in my chest that didn’t return throughout the rest of the story, despite the horrors to follow. As with my teenhood, in this scene I couldn’t escape – I couldn’t just not answer. It was utterly, deeply uncomfortable to have my agency challenged, to not have control over whether I wanted people to know what I was thinking. Admittedly, Oxenfree didn’t push me that close to my limit, but the emotion it sparked existed.

There is no real point to this piece. I don’t intend to review games or any other medium. They just made me think about me. I have some friends I feel safe with, and Life Is Strange pointed out how important that is to me. Oxenfree confronted me with a situation that mirrored one that gives me anxiety. I reflected, and eventually wrote something.

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Grasping at Straws

The screaming is getting louder. I’m still clicking, but every day that voice is becoming yet more deafening. My finger moves automatically to find a page of habit and the voice shouts it down. I no longer enter the virtual worlds. There are but a few places the habit still defends, but the walls are looking less sturdy.

The habit is looking for a new place to hide; it wants somewhere the voice can’t find it. I must keep at least one step ahead.

The Screen

My head feels like a grey cloud. As I stare at the screen, the feeling of being human, complex, thoughtful, drains away to a bland fog of apathy. All I feel that I think is just the insatiable, empty hunger for another spark of something – anything – that might make me feel, that will give me sense of being more than ‘just’ alive.

I know there are things I should do, that I should write, that I should think, but they’re all too easily dismissed with a simple click that signals another step into that fog.

There’s a voice behind me, screaming that I should turn round, hit the power, do something constructive. I hear it, but …

click

Old Fights

The Fungimentalist spawn had failed, for now. The culture above was simply too unruly for them to be more than a minor consideration. Whilst our Bryophytist ways meant that we had little hope in the Euground, we had been able to lodge ourselves in the little niches up Auvreground and expand from there.

It had been a vicious war spanning many decades. Previously, we had lived in relative peace, sticking to our own turf as it were. Then, for unknown reasons the Funguys assaulted the Dæmbildres, attacking their very way of living. The latter were only able to hang on so long, but in the resulting chaos we did manage to sneak in and strengthen the wall holding back the flood.

To our disgust and horror, the Funguys eventually slayed then consumed the Dæmbildres down to the bone. It was not a gorging upon flesh, but a steady, repulsively delicate, hyphaetic consummation.

During this ghastly feast it dawned upon us that the wall had in fact been of more benefit to the Funguys than to ourselves. We knew that the wall was now little more than a spiritual morgue for the Dæmbildres, so after the long winter we took the difficult decision to allow the wall to break, battering and dismembering our brave souls holding it together.

The flood came with a dreadful inevitability, but enough of us hung on to survive and rebuild. Now we flourish, so to speak. Even amongst ourselves it is something of an uneasy peace, but we survive, and many millennia longer do we hope to continue.

Beware The Trees

The trees are plotting. They’re plotting to overwhelm us with LOVE and HARMONIOUS ETHEROUS CHEMICALS. I can SEE it. I’m at my balcony in the French Vosges and I can SEE the GREAT CLOUDS of CHEMICALS they’re sending up and down the valley to COMMUNICATE with each other.

I SWEAR I can TASTE the air when they do this. It’s a terrible, sickly SWEET, like they’re expelling a fog of SEMEN tainted with SYRUP.

HORROR HORROR HORROR

Oh god, it tastes DELICIOUS. I must have MORE HORROR HORROR HORROR

I may BE a while.

Over A Bottle

He pours a generous glass for me and passes it over the table. Noting the label, I search for all there is to find on the wine; its locale, recent genetic history of the vine, soil composition, the weather over the year the grapes were grown, that sort of thing. It tells me so much, yet I could never tell the difference between one bottle and the next. He tells me how good the wine is – very, though not the best – but I have to take his word for it.

I pour him a generous glass of my beer. He’s not much of a beer drinker, only drinks common lagers. He takes a sip and tells me he can see my soul in it. He describes my soul, and his words warm it further. We continue our discussion in the bedroom.