Playing With Yourself: The epitome of escapism

[Editor’s note: LukienAkeela shares with us how playing with himself helped him deal with some bad times. — CTZ]

The summer of 2005 was hot. There were record breaking temperatures and droughts set in Central Missouri. I was there as a part of AmeriCorps *NCCC, part of a nine person team working for a non-profit after school center known as The Intersection. For six weeks we toiled in the boiling sunlight on beautification projects for their property during the day. During the evening we were program coordinators, working with the kids after school. At all other times we nearly broke, bored twenty-something’s with nothing to do.

Our home was a single story two bedroom house. It was in a neighborhood with a median household income of less than $12,000. Out of the 90,000+ population in the city, 47% of the people around us were at or below the poverty line. We were next to a seedy Dollar General and across from a gas station with a buy-one get-one deal on Colt 40’s. Also, our house was previously occupied by squatters. It showed.

For many reasons, few of which I’ll go into here, it was the most depressing and stressful six weeks of my short 25-year-old life. I was almost always broke, living on $1.00 pizzas and Dollar General brand rip offs of Dr. Pepper and Mt. Dew. As a result of working two shifts and having the weekends off, I had a lot of time to contemplate the struggles with the project and our surrounding environment. It was a suffocating, dark place for me to be in. I needed an escape from the drug dealers walking their poodles, the murders (one little boy across the street, another was a grandma beaten to death in a gang dispute three houses down), and the constant reminder that I couldn’t do anything about it.

Sweeping to the rescue was a little square grey piece of escapist joy. The Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP and a game called Final Fantasy Tactics Advance.

Almost every single hour of free time I had was spent in the fictional world of Ivalice. My journey began when Marche and friends began their own journey after opening that magical book. It was in the small shade of our dilapidated stoop that I learned about Judges and hating getting my characters out of jail. Deep into the night, amidst police lights and subwoofers, I would pump my fist for unlocking the Ninja class and cursing when my lame low-level Archer couldn’t complete a Dispatch mission. My scuffed and scarred GBA always welcomed me with open arms. After spending an afternoon with homeless, mentally unstable folks accusing me of being a Nixon clone … I needed it.

Hmm…maybe I was smoking something else?

My teammates made fun of me, alternating between calling me a little kid (for playing videogames so much) and an old man (for spending my evenings at home instead of bar hopping). I shrugged off the comments, too focused on trying to get Cheney after receiving the Snake Shield. My happy memories from that time came from opening new locations on the map and grinding them into oblivion. Cheap soda and cheap smokes fueled my solitary and decidedly sedentary trek through the Lutia Pass, Muscadet, and Uladon Bog. Sitting in my flower-themed camping chair, all by my lonesome, was the foundation for my sanity.

One hundred and twenty hours was spent over six weeks battling monsters and advancing a simplistic plot. Without the ability to sit there and play a game by myself, I wouldn’t have made it through that period. I would have quit AmeriCorps in shame and gone home to quiet anonymity. As an aside, I also wouldn’t have continued my relationship with my future wife. Moreover, there is a soon to be born little girl that would have never happened. I have a lot to be thankful for that GBA and cartridge of hope.

Sorry Ritz, her name will be Claire.

People play games for all types of reasons. In many ways it starts and continues as a social interaction with friends and strangers. For others, they are simply a way to escape the world and nurse a bruised psyche. For me it was a need to get away from it all. Ivalice was my freedom from the poverty and destitution of a thankless endeavor. It was the epitome of escapism.

David LukienAkeela