Sort of a Public Journal Entry

Sometimes I get lonely. Actually, I always get lonely. For me, lonely is a constant state of being. I think I have a problem. My problem is that no matter how much social interaction I’ve had in a given time period, my reaction to most invitations is to say “Yes, please.” I convince myself that I’m so lonely that I just have to fill the void with other people. Naturally, this does not ease my loneliness.

The real problem is that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to enjoy my own company. To sit back with just me and my thoughts. That brings up my second response to constant loneliness: if there are no people around, there is always the internet. Or video games. Or my phone. Notice how I didn’t mention books or my journal or my cat. I’ve swapped organic, wholesome connections with fabricated time-killers. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve played and loved video games since I was about six years old. I wouldn’t call every single minute spent playing a game a waste; however, even I have noticed that I’m too insistent to boot up a game and drown myself in pixels these days. It’s because I don’t want to do the work of improving myself.

I don’t necessarily believe that I have to be an ideal version of myself to find a stable connection to other humans. I can be in the middle of improving myself and still find common ground with my friends and family. Sometimes, though, in the middle of the long nights when I swipe endlessly on Tinder and Bumble, just waiting for the quick rush of joy brought on by a match (these are fewer and further between these days), I start to believe that I’ll never form a solid connection because I’m not at “one-hundred percent,” and I haven’t been at “one-hundred percent” ever.

You can probably see why such a mindset is bullshit, and completely unhealthy. Who is ever at their full capacity in the midst of this late-stage capitalist hellhole? Existence tends to be a desperate clutching as we cling to burning branches in the worst firestorms we’ve ever seen. The firestorms are literal and figurative nowadays. I imagine the interlocking systems of capitalism, patriarchy, misogyny, racism, ableism, et cetera, as the factors that create the storms. They’re fucking terrible. They’re killing us all, faster and faster with each passing day.

It is too easy for my self-pity to morph into rumination on the quickening decay of wellness due to the powers that be. I go from the micro of myself to the macro of the state. This state being the overarching authority that impels most global change (read: catastrophe). It’s usually the U.S. I suppose a more general term would be “imperialism” or “empire.”

All of this rambling about unfair power structures and exploitation of the masses is to place myself and my emotional struggles squarely in the crosshairs of history. I am not unique in my suffering: everywhere around the world, people are lonely, and frustrated, and tired, and distracted, and pissed off, and desperate to find some sense of meaning in the madness of life. Life doesn’t have to be quite so maddening; we feel brittle because current systems are designed to make us brittle. So I am lonely, and I am struggling to find my silver linings, because it is difficult to disentangle myself from the worsening material conditions of the masses.

I am not trying to foist responsibility or blame upon the forces outside myself. Wait, yes I am; what amount of willpower on the individual’s part can stand up to the slavering titan that is imperialism? I am all too aware of how fucked up everything is, and this awareness feeds into my reading of every interaction I have.

Believe it or not, I started this rambling piece with the intent of exploring a funny and possibly twisted thought experiment I’ve been thinking about for a while. It’s possibly twisted because it leans on the gender binary, and for this I apologize. I identify as a cishet male. When I look at myself in the mirror, sometimes I acknowledge the fact that what I see is what other people see, and then I remind myself that I look at many other people with an eye toward my aesthetic satisfaction and romantic fulfillment. If I am constantly on the lookout for the people who attract me, then there are people looking at me and wondering if I attract them. More often than not, I don’t think I attract people. Of course, it’s hard to tell these days; the pandemic makes close social scrutiny dangerous.

But this all circles back to connections and dating apps’ stilted attempts to forge them. I say they’re stilted, and intentionally so, because the point isn’t to bring people together for a permanent life journey; the point is to get people swiping, and paying, and hoping for permanence, only to miss that or lose it and start swiping again. That’s capitalism: get people to try your product, then manufacture conditions to make your product more desirable.

So anyway, my thought experiment: since many of us are looking at each other, and looking for aesthetic and/or romantic satisfaction, who finds me attractive? Furthermore, would I find myself attractive if I was another person? I realize this all goes beyond physicality, but at first glance, it’s all about the face. So I look in the mirror and, being attracted to women, I wonder: what would a female version of myself look like? If it was possible to distill my physicality and all the factors that influence my bodily makeup into a female facsimile of me, what would she look like? And, if I saw my female self, would I be attracted to her?

I recall that line from Silence of the Lambs: “Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me. I’d fuck me hard.” I want to think that my female self would be attractive in some way. Not everyone finds my particularly geeky brand of physicality sexy, but I know there are folks out there who like the way I look. This is all just a very roundabout way of saying that I wonder if I’m attractive. And it goes beyond physicality: I stop and wonder if the way I speak, the way I communicate, the way I try to think, I wonder if these are attractive or if they’re deal-breakers.

I have to acknowledge right now that I probably shouldn’t use Tinder and Bumble as litmus tests for how charming or “datable” I am. I realize that in the beginning, these apps were mostly used for hook-ups. That reputation still stands strong, for many are the profiles that read “Not looking for hook-ups.”

So I get bent out of shape because I don’t make too many connections on apps that are designed to squeeze money from me by artfully denying me real connections. Yet the pandemic has made it hard to organically “meet” people, so … I turn to the internet.

I won’t hide the truth: I went to the bathroom in the middle of writing this and I forgot where I wanted to go next. I have been thinking, however: the whole gist of this rambling self-pity party is me asking the question “Do I even like myself?” And if I don’t really like myself, what can I do to become a person of whom I am proud? I take my friends for granted, believing that if people spend time around me, I must be a good person. Yet I know that this is not sound logic. I can always do better.

Now I’m ready to ask myself “Would you hang out with you?” Would I text myself back comfortably? Would I want to cook dinner with me? Would I want to go on a road trip with me? I want to be a person who is liked and respected. I want to deserve these positive feelings.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself. There are some who would pipe up and say “You don’t need to earn these things!” I’m somewhere in the middle: I don’t think that good relations are a given, but I do believe that everyone deserves common decency until they demonstrate that they don’t deserve it.

I’m not even sure how to end this. I’m lonely, and I want to connect with people. I suppose I’ll keep trying to improve myself.


Walking Through Death’s Door

Don’t worry, I’m not talking about literal death. I’m talking metaphorical, figurative, pixelated death. I suppose that in the video game world of Death’s Door, death is real for the folks you defeat. You play as a bona fide reaper, after all; but I’m getting ahead of myself. Allow me to start again.

In the recently released Death’s Door, you take on the role of an adorable crow whose 9-5 job is to reap souls. You step off a bus and into a grayscale office complex where your murder of crows performs all the duties relevant to reaping, storing, and harnessing the souls of the dead. One of your colleagues handles soul requisitions; another types up the paperwork that officiates your handlings of said requisitions; a third crow guards the soul vault, and allows you to upgrade your abilities with the souls you gather. That’s because you’re the “muscle,” if you will: you walk off the aforementioned bus with a sword on your back. You’re here to chew bubblegum and claim souls, and you’re all out of bubblegum.

The upgrade system is a very video-gamified way of displaying the progression one expects to undergo on a job; the more you work, the better you get at working, usually. So the more you reap souls, the better you get at kicking ass. Your fellow crows serve as mouthpieces for the drudgery of streamlined office bureaucracy; your handler is always stressed out by their workload, the typist is legitimately obsessed with typing and knows nothing else, and one of your fellow reapers frequently mentions a staggering workload and calls the job a gig. It’s not meaningful work, necessarily; it’s the status quo, and there are some reasons why the drudgery has increased in recent years.

I won’t go into those reasons as they’re definitely spoilers, but I will take this time to pivot to just how fantastic Death’s Door is as not just a video game, but as a work of art. I will go that far in describing it: the game is art, and every aspect of it is meticulously planned out and designed to produce the maximum amount of joy, satisfaction, and fun. The artistic direction is cartoonishly charming and gorgeous – I was excited to just stop moving our crow every now and then so I could absorb the beauty of the game’s world. The level design is also top-notch, with every room and area integral to progression; I would argue that there are almost no frills in the game, and this makes for a very quick and satisfying pace. The leanness of the world design may be a double-edged sword, however, since the game is so good that I just want to experience more of it … but overall, I prefer a short and sweet experience to a long and rotting one.

The writing is great as well, and I found myself smiling at the various personalities you meet throughout the game, and laughing during particular conversations. Finally, the gameplay is fantastic. Combat is tough but fair, and every time I experienced the harrowing DEATH screen, I quickly analyzed my output to realize that I’d made some mistakes. When I die in Death’s Door, it’s no one’s fault but my own. The game gives you everything you need to succeed, and it’s up to you to use your skills to cleave through challenges and reap as many souls as you can.

All in all, the game has everything one could want: beautiful art, stellar music, sharp writing, and satisfying gameplay. The cherry on top of this video game masterpiece is trust, and just like in real life, trust is a two-way street. The game’s creators, an awesome group called Acid Nerve, trust players to persevere and continue fighting and exploring to uncover every last secret in the game. This is where the other way of the street comes into play: while the creators trust players to be patient and explore everything, players must trust the creators and their vision. There are plenty of places in the game where a particular path is blocked, but only temporarily; if players trust the developers, they leave that blockage for later, when they’ve earned a new ability that opens the path. As of this write-up, a decent number of players are impatient and tend to ask “How do I get past [insert obstacle here]?,” when all they need to do is keep playing the game. They will acquire the abilities they need to progress; it just takes some time.

I don’t mean to bash these players. I happen to be a big fan of these “Metroidvania-esque” games, wherein backtracking with new abilities is standard fare. I was prepared to come across walls I couldn’t open, only to blast them with a bomb later. I know the subgenre, and in a funny way, Death’s Door is a Metroidvania despite its relatively tight design.

I love this game so much that I’ve actively participated in various Reddit threads about the game. I tend to be introverted and stuck in my own little bubble, but sometimes I like something so much that I have to gush about it. So I’m on Reddit, and now I’m on my blog, gushing about Death’s Door. It’s one of the most immaculately crafted games I’ve experienced in recent years, and I hope that it sells super well so Acid Nerve can make a sequel, or an expansion, or even just a spiritual successor. Speaking of Acid Nerve, I highly recommend that folks try Titan Souls; it was made before Death’s Door, and a lot of the gameplay in the latter was influenced by the former.

So there they are: my thoughts regarding Death’s Door. As scary as it may sound, I strongly suggest that you go and wander through Death’s Door – it’s a valuable experience, and a rewarding one.