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How Proteus taught me to let go of the past

2:00 PM on 08.24.2014 // CousinDupree

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"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"
He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.
"I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before."
-The Great Gatsby 

I was sitting on Proteus' second island, atop a small ridge jutting out into the ocean. A vast and lurid aurora borealis was unraveling itself before me, framed by the arching branches of two nearby trees. The game's distinctive randomly generated music seemed to have been created with this very vista in mind, its gentle peaks and troughs mirroring the northern lights that twisted and buckled in the sky.

I was acutely aware of my size and shape in that world. All of my possibilities were laid out before me. The only pressing item on my agenda was enjoying the simple pleasures of the view, the music, and the sound of the waves softly lapping against the shore.

Everything was perfect.

And then I spotted a couple rocks on a nearby mountain. My curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to make my way toward them. I could always come back if it wasn't as good. I could always return to my "perfect spot."

As I climbed to the top of this second peak, I noticed the music changing; slowing down slightly. It started to rain. The "couple of rocks" were actually the start of a long line of rocks that, as I had recently discovered, could be used to play a basic melody.

I began walking along the line, and in turn, further and further away from my "perfect spot." This new music I was creating was pretty good, actually. Not as perfect as it had been before, but still good.

And then I became incredibly anxious. What if I couldn't find the way back? What if I couldn't recreate that moment? What if this new spot wasn't as perfect? I immediately came to a halt, attempted to take my bearings, and then darted back toward the first ridge with as much speed as the game would allow.

Upon arrival, I started to scramble around; running back and forth in an attempt to get the same combination of factors that had created that utterly perfect moment. To recreate my "perfect spot."

But it wasn't the same. Of course it wasn't. The music in Proteus is created by an algorithm that converts your position within the world into a song. It's almost impossible to find a very specific spot again, no matter how hard you try. What's more, the aurora borealis was slowly fading -- and the rain hadn't let up -- so I was looking at an utterly alien skyline.

As Jay Gatsby failed to realize, you can't repeat the past. No matter how hard you try.

Off to one side, I spotted the orbs of light that signify a portal leading to the next island. You don't have to use the portal if you don't want to, but it was so close -- and I was so discouraged by the loss of my "perfect spot" -- that I figured I may as well.

The second I stepped onto the third island I was overcome with regret. There was now absolutely no way I was ever going to relive that perfect moment again. A pure experience, whose memory was getting hazier by the second.

So I sulked. I wandered aimlessly in my new surroundings, refusing to acknowledge any of the gorgeous scenery that was trying its absolute darndest to cheer me up.

Predictably, Proteus wasn't going to let me indulge in my angst. Indeed, the game threw another potential "perfect spot" at me with alarming haste. This time it was a circle of trees. The wind was blowing through their leaves. The sun was starting to set.

Everything was perfect.

But this time I tried something different. Instead of becoming emotionally attached to this intensely specific time and place, I decided to just enjoy it while it lasted. And then once it was over, I moved on, and started searching for another beautiful moment.

To my surprise, it worked. I found another mesmerizing moment. And then another. And then another. Not even the memory of that very first "perfect spot" could ruin my new-found sense of wonder. After all, there was almost certainly a new and better "perfect spot" lurking just around the corner.

You can't repeat the past. No matter how hard you try. Not if you play the games that you played. Not if you listen to the music you listened to. Not if you watch the movies you watched. Not even if you go to the same places you went to.

But if Proteus has taught me anything, it's that the future is often better anyway.

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