VIDEO GAME THEORY
There should be a word for that feeling you get when you notice the passing of time. When you’re older, I hope you want to play video games like me. Telling you this won’t affect whether you do or you don’t, but I want to feel like I’m giving you something now that I’m gone. When I was a kid, the first video game I ever completed was Disney’s Aladdin on the Commodore Amiga. My mother bought that hulking pixelated monstrosity for digital design and animation in a time before she could afford photoshop. We never had much money growing up. You’ve probably never seen one before.
She’s an illustrator by trade, and trained at the Los Angeles college of design. You know she told me that once, to pass an exam at school, she had to draw a perfect circle freehand! Can you imagine? My childhood was filled with her elaborate drawings and delicate paintings. I remember grizzled wart-covered goblins and awkward gangly trolls, children and their dragons, and caves to put them in. Her teacher was Chuck Jones, the creator of Loony Toons. Road Runner and Speedy Gonzalez were my favourites. I always thought the ability to run that fast would be the greatest super power imaginable. You could leave clouds of smoke behind you and escape anyone that would ever want to hurt you. I think I’m going that fast now. I’m getting further away, and I want to teach you the six things playing games taught me, before I’m too far for this message to reach you.
My mother is also a massive nerd just like I am. I bet you will be too. She was the one that introduced me to both Hobbits and Star Wars. When I was young, I would take two striped cushioned chairs we had in the living room and put them on their sides end to end to make a fort by the big living room window. The same living room window that I can swear to you I saw the Easter bunny through one year. You should ask your grandmother, she won’t even say I imagined it. We had an old red bean bag that I would throw inside the two chairs before clambering in and curling up with The Lord of the Rings. Books were my other escape from the cruel echoing voices of my schoolmates, and the harshness of the urban sprawl that we lived in.
My imagination was nourished daily like the plants she loved in our small back garden. A rare patch of lush green surrounded by miserable grey and muck stained white. She and your grandfather were happy once, and together they built a tall wooden climbing frame there for your uncle and I. Our names were written in the cement that held each wooden pole into the earth and rich clay. I miss the sensations of solid ground under my feet. The view is spectacular from up here though, I hope the pictures made it to you.
If I ever needed something to do, my mother encouraged me to read and write and draw and create for creations sake. My upbringing was littered like our living room with waxy coloured crayons and pencils, and papers of every thickness and colour. I learned what the force of creativity is, and that when you make something, everything like that connects to everything else. She played the guitar as well, and sang. She sang all the time and filled our home with music, just like your mama. All these things I’ve tried my hand at over the years too, thanks to her.
It’s lonely out here, but that’s to be expected. I hope you feel like your mama and I support you in everything that you do. I’ve never had a supporter quite like your grandmother. Well, that is, until I met your mama. When I told her my plans to man the Gödel and fly out as a volunteer, I knew she didn’t want me to, but she made me go anyway. That’s the thing about being an adult, you won’t always see eye-to-eye on everything or even believe the same things. The secret that most people don’t know is that you can live with and love each other anyway. In fact the best ones are the ones you disagree with the most. You’ll probably hate me for leaving at first, but in time I hope you understand why.
I want you to grow up creative like my mother, and strong like yours. I bet you’re athletic, like your mama. I remember sports day on a sweaty summertime afternoon. The ground was littered everywhere with the pink and white spring blossoms in huge hilly piles all over the ground, and wedged into the corners of red brick walls. Whenever it was hot the playground at school would cook and fill your nose with a chemical asphalt fragrance. There was a novelty race, where the boys had to dress in their mother’s clothing and run a hundred metres. Would you believe your grandmother used to wear tracksuits and running shoes? You’d never guess looking at her now. It was the only race I won in my life.
Isn’t it funny that I’m trying to teach you with a message from the future, but that ultimately I can’t change a thing? I wonder if I’ll be remembered by anyone, or if I’ll just be a blip in history. A footnote. I think ultimately my life will be defined by the strong women that were part of it. No matter what it is I set out to do, they are both there by the sidelines, cheering me on with their whole hearts. I’m so lucky that we made you so I have another strong woman to cherish. Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not the best at showing it. I should have called my mother more.
By the time you are able to read this, you’ll probably wonder why I was so selfish and left. I couldn’t give you all the reasons, and to say it was completely for the good of mankind would be a lie. Some of it was for me. It had to be. I hope you’re the kind of woman that makes up her own mind. How could you not be?
I always fancied being the hero, ever since Star Wars. I didn’t want to be Skywalker though, I always preferred Han Solo. There was something about that devil-may-care attitude that always appealed to me. All he needed was a sarcastic comeback and his trusty blaster to get the job done. I’m not really like him in the least though, life isn’t that simple. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I’m sorry, and that it’s ok to be a mess sometimes. Sorry that you grew up without me. I want you to read this and know that I didn’t leave because of you. You need to hear it from me and no one else.
By leaving on the Gödel, I’ll be able to contribute in some small way to securing a future where you can still go outside. You will have read by now what our mission was, where I am now. The timeline of it all really messes with my head. It will take me and the crew eighteen years to reach Salutis Major, and another eighteen years for reports of our success to reach Earth again. In that time we’ll have set up the colony. We’ll be ready and waiting with open arms to ferry half of humanity out here, and save that beautiful blue and green ball we all love from the environmental doom we were too short sighted to set right in time.
So now sacrifices like those being made by the Gödel and her crew are necessary. I’m sorry it means I won’t be able to see you at any age but this one. The further I get from earth, the weaker the signal will be until eventually I won’t be able to send anything. It might be confusing to you at first, but as you get older this message will start to make sense. I just hope you can forgive me.
Your grandmother also introduced me to video games on that Commodore Amiga. We grew up in a rough area in south east London, England. Screaming and sirens were the melody at all times of the day. Fighting between enemies and families, shootings and stabbings, midnight drug raids and dog attacks were a weekly occurrence. I used to resent her for not letting me play outside with some of the neighbourhood kids but now looking back, I think I realise why. Even if she’d wanted to protect me from the choices I made that led me here, she couldn’t have. That’s ironic too I suppose.
My mother used to let me play games as soon as I got home first, before I had to do any homework. I’m not sure she realised anything about the order that things took place, but I’ve taken it to heart. It’s going to take me a lot to persuade your mama to let me do the same for you but I’m going to try. They taught me a lot. I’d get home around four pm, sprint up the stairs on all fours to the back room which doubled as both junk and computer den, and smelled like mould. I could play games till around five pm, then i’d do my homework after, and then play some more, or with my toys till dinner. During and after dinner the whole family would gather round the cool blue glow of the television, and watch movies or our weekly shows together snuggled up on the sofa under blankets until bed time. I remember wolfing down huge helpings of tomato pasta with browned beef mince and crisped cheddar cheese on top. What I wouldn’t give for some real cheese right now.
I want you to know that unless you love your job, I think the idea of taking your work home with you is outrageous. You know I used to work in an office once? I hated it. Every five minutes I used to think about jumping out the window. Not to die mind you, but to see if I could just fly away. I guess I managed it in the end. Remember I told you I have a very vivid imagination. I would feel held captive by the pearl buttons on my shirts that glinted like faint stars. It felt as if my silk ties were choking me. Trust me, everyone in an office is replaceable, that’s one thing I learned over the years. Sooner or later robots are going to do everything anyway so it’s better if you learn how to play as soon as you can, and do it as much as you can.
To actually go back and forth through time is impossible as you know, we’re just using the incredible power of the temporal propulsion engine to make it outside the Milky Way. The thing about interstellar flight on a ship like the Gödel is that because of the speeds we travel at, myself and the crew experience time outside of it as a continual loop. Time passes normally for us inside, but in order to move so quickly it’s distorted all around us. Torn and shredded temporarily as we carve our way through. The whole ship looks like it’s sealed within a soap bubble. You’ll read about it someday.
You’re smart. I know it because I’ve seen it in your eyes. Those deep burnt chocolate brown eyes your mama gave you. You know at first I was sad they weren’t grey-blue like mine? But then you looked at me for the first time. I remember looking into them when you were born and seeing nothing but potential. They glittered, completely unknowing but somehow knowing. You were everything there was and nothing all at once. Everything you could come to be was there, at the same time as nothing at all. It was like staring deep into the universe and speaking softly, waiting for an echo to come back in the unending silence. I could stare into those eyes for hours.
All I can do from here is send messages in a bottle, back to the exact same point I left you. All you’ll ever have to me are two perfect opal teeth and that beautiful wispy hair dancing all over your head like cotton candy. Even though it’s been years since I left, my words will reach you and your mama at the exact same second every single time. I can’t teach you anything new or pass anything on, but I want to feel like I am. I want you to know how much I love you.
I never told my mother how grateful I was for teaching me that clear divide between school and home. You know if you let it, life can be one endless cycle of simply getting by. Don’t let that happen to you. There was nothing worse for me as a kid than being at those dreary schools all day long, away from my family and home and comfort, surrounded by people who would never love me. I would write fake sick notes every week by typing them up and secretly printing them out, then forging my father’s signature just to escape. It was easy to do, his handwriting looks like a spider dipped its feet in ink and ran across the page.
Aladdin actually took me years to complete. It’s not like games nowadays where you can save your progress and come back to it later. That’s a luxury you don’t even realise you have. There are so many of those. Clean breathable air, even fresh water for that matter. Every time you restart on a new day, you have to begin again, and if you use up all your lives trying to pass a particular level, you have to restart from the very beginning. There was one stage that I hated and loved the most. It was based on the scene where the hero needs to escape from the Cave of Wonders after it’s erupted into molten lava. You’ll see the film one day I’m sure, your mama loves them. The music used to make my little heart beat faster as I’d grip the shiny black joystick and prepare to give it my best.
Again and again I relentlessly pushed those blue floppy disks into the drive, listening to the dull mechanical click as they went in with anticipation. After so many tries eventually I could speed play it. It was a loop in itself. Because I’d been there countless times my hands knew the movements perfectly as if I was synchronised with each byte of information before my eyes. I was one with the machine and I knew every detail about every level intimately. As an adult, this has helped not only my hand and eye coordination greatly, but my ability to problem solve and to fail with grace and dignity. I learned then that to become an expert, to be truly great at something, you have to immerse yourself in it. When you fail over and over, understand that you are simply learning something. And when you do finally master something, it’s only just the beginning. It starts all over again.
One day, standing up from my chair with a triumphant roar in my lungs, I did it. I completed the whole thing from start to finish. I do that often in the morning you know. I get out of bed and just shout. If you asked me why I couldn’t tell you. There should be a word for that too. The screen went dark and seven words appeared in the black that remained.
Well done. Press any button to start.