Wednesday, February 27, 2013

O, Death

When I woke up yesterday, I remembered that I had plans. As such, I ate first one, then a second meal. I showered. Shaved off my beard, and hacked off most of my hair. Put down my filthy eyeglasses and put in my contacts for the first time in months. And I ventured out into the night.

WiG Boston was meeting at Tommy Doyle's, and while I rarely turn down the opportunity for beer these days, I was more interested in that night's presentation, by one Zoe Quinn, developer of the recently released "commercial-ish" Depression Quest. I ran through it a couple of times in preparation, and I urge all of you to do the same, after a quick perusal of the trigger warnings.

The design is inspired, and I'll not detract from your depressing experience by describing it in too much detail. Suffice to say it captures very well the most game-like aspect of depression: the persistent sense, no matter where you are, that it's Too Late.  My experience with the game, in particular, was very positive: I am in way better shape than our unnamed second-person protagonist. My actual situation, perhaps, is a lot trickier--Depression Quest with a side of Silent Hill 2--but as far as coping mechanisms, motivation, and willingness to ask for help, I'm pretty good at this shit. Then again, it's new to our protagonist. I've been in the field since I was nine years old. "You merely adopted the dark," I wanted to tell him, unintelligibly. "I was born in it."

I'm grateful for the experience. There aren't many things that make me feel a sense of competence these days, let along mastery. And I do call my family when I can't bear to talk to them. I do go out when I don't feel like it, and half the time it goes quite badly, but I keep at it. I slog forward, maintaining the faith in what I can rationally discern, the command to treat the self like an other and the other like the self; I hope in the absence of hope. I plan for tomorrow, ignoring the visceral certainty that I've ruined my life.

So apparently I'm still good at something. Perhaps MITCO can help me find a strong verb to put it on the resume.

Absent from DQ, for reasons entirely sensible, is the impetus that follows, the empty altar in the church of Too Late. I've had a good deal of time on my hands, these past few years, and the philosophical wand'rings have proceeded apace. When someone you love is sick for months at a time, and the doctors can't tell you why, you get pretty familiar with death. You learn a lot about death, but you learn even more about fear.

And this, dear reader, is what I've learned in that time: the fears of death, rational and not, are perhaps too easily confused. The irrational, pre-verbal fear of death is, in practice, inferred from fear of pain. It is overwhelming, at times. It's stronger than almost anything else we can feel, but it's not deep, and in focused bursts, it can even be brought to heel. The rational fear of death is a trickier one; as has been noted by the talented and famous, nobody has anything bad to report about the stretch of time before their birth. Why should we be concerned about going back?

Because we experience death, over and over, during life. We experience it as loss, and loneliness. And the idea of death sticks to us, blinding us to the fact that the only person at the funeral who's guaranteed not to feel lonely is the one in the box. There only two people in the entire universe, after all: you and everyone else. Morality begins with the acceptance that you are always and forever outnumbered. Written in that fear is a social contract, perhaps the first of its kind; a promise issued daily to everyone we love, everyone we know, everyone we meet. I will keep your fiction, we promise, that tomorrow will be the same as today. Turn away from me if you like. I will continue to exist. I will maintain your reality.

I will be.