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Last summer I received some news unlike any I had ever experienced before. A friend of mine -- a fellow student, scientist, gamer -- took his own life. The long delay between attending his memorial service and writing this piece today isn't for lack of thought about it. He still shows up in my dreams, at which point the rational part of my brain says, "This isn't real. He's gone." But when I wake up, I wish I could turn that part off for a bit just to enjoy a little more time spent with him, if only in my dreams. No, I certainly haven't forgotten about him; it's just taken this long to start to come to terms with it all.
We weren't even the best of friends. I taught a laboratory course with him, I played soccer with him, and I had him over to my apartment a couple of times to play Rock Band, but we certainly could have spent more time together. I often wonder if I would have been able to pick up on any of his personal issues, or if I could have done something to prevent his decision to end his own existence, were we closer friends. But of course, this line of thinking isn't helpful for anything.
All I can do now is hope to hang onto the good memories I have of him. I lent him my copy of The Orange Box, since he wanted to try out Portal, but didn't particularly care about any of the rest of it. He kept telling me he'd pay me back by lending me his copy of Mass Effect someday. Another time, I invited several of my fellow graduate students over to my place for drinks and games. He showed up with his laptop, and he proceeded to use my Wi-Fi to play World of Warcraft. Everybody else eventually coerced him into singing "Still Alive," which is the worst/funniest rendition I've heard of the song to this day.
The more I thought about the fun memories of him that I have, the more I thought, "we sure do live in some strange times." Should my memory ever fail, there are persistent records of all occurrences, accessible to everybody on the Internet. If I need to be reminded what he looked like, there are photos on Facebook. If I can't remember what he sounded like, there are videos on YouTube. If I want to read about the research he did, I can search his name on SciFinder. And if I have an inexplicable urge to analyze his gaming habits, I can always check his Gamercard.
Clearly, he was more of a PC gamer than a console gamer, logging only nine unique 360 games over the course of about two years. Mass Effect, the game he repeatedly tried to get me to play, he hadn't touched since December of 2007. Scrolling up a bit, he has The Orange Box, last played in May of 2008. As far as I know, it's the only existing record that I had made any measurable mark on his life.
At the top of the list, there is Dead or Alive 4. Last played on Friday, July 10th, 2009. It will always be the last game he ever played on his 360. Indeed, the entire page will remain frozen in this state for who-knows-how-long, until Microsoft decides an appropriate amount of time has passed to consider his account defunct. It fascinates me and makes me sick to my stomach at the same time.
It's a tired cliché that gamers don't understand the reality of life and death. "In life, there is no reset button," or "in this game, you only get one life." That's all bullcrap. I will never fully understand my late friend's motives, but I do know that he knew what he was doing. He knew that it's a decision that, once effected, cannot be undone. And he must have considered the anguish he'd cause his friends afterward. For that, I can never forgive him.
But along with the pain he left me with, he led me to some introspection. If I were to die tonight, would I be content with the mark I've left on the world? Have I accomplished what I wanted to at my age? Have I eaten enough food, have I made enough love, have I played enough games, have I touched enough people? Would my persistent digital footprint suffice? And if not, what can I do to make it so?
What will be the last game I ever put on my Gamercard? Will it be great, mediocre, or terrible? Will I even finish it? I can't know the answer to most of these questions, but you may notice that I have finally begun playing Mass Effect. Though I will never get a chance to discuss it with him like he wanted, it is the one final thing I feel I must do to pay my respects. So long.