I’m at a crossroads in life. I’ve just come out of the vault in the biggest open-world game there is. No, this isn’t a twist. I’m not pretending to be a video game character who comes across a magic cave or a haunted forest. I, Henry Skey, am stuck at an intersection looking both ways. Crossroads may not even be right word to describe it; that would indicate a choice between set paths. I have no idea what my path is, where it is or how I will choose to walk it.
The details of how I became unemployed after nearly six years with the same company are irrelevant. I don’t blame anyone, and I’m surprised at the lack of anger I’ve felt about the situation. The bottom line: I used to have a job and now I don’t. I’ve just started looking after a bit of time off to think. The notion of what to do with my life didn’t hit me like a ton of bricks during one of my walks, or while I was swimming laps at midnight at my local recreation center. Writing for Snackbar is something that is supremely fulfilling, but feelings of self-satisfaction and working with the awesome Snackbar staff won’t pay the rent. So I’ll continue to write and be thankful for the opportunity. I’ll also continue to look for opportunities, for careers, for purpose and, yes, for games. This is a video game-based column, after all.
I’ve been playing quite a few games since I lost my job. I’ve caught up on games I should’ve played a while ago (Witcher 2, Mark of the Ninja, Super Meat Boy) and I’m enjoying such modern titles like BioShock Infinite and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm. I spend time each day looking for a new job, though admittedly not enough. I have been updating my resume, getting my references in order, applying, reaching out and soul-searching. It’s not fun, but it’s necessary. Games are very good at getting into your life and staying there, but they’re a threat when you have more spare time than you know what to do with. If you’re not careful, they can become more alluring than they actually are, and remove any guilt you may have about being productive.
I’m not going to sit here and write about how games should take a back seat to real-life priorities, because obviously family, friends, work and life should come first. Games should be a means to enjoying yourself during your precious luxury hours, and should never replace your loved ones — or your search for a job. I’m not worried about that. I’m focused enough that I’ve moved beyond that fear. What I did notice in the last few months is how my gaming time has become less about enjoyment and more about focus. Yes, games are helping me keep focused, positive and encouraged.
I’ve already mentioned how most of the appeal of Dota 2 is playing with your friends, and how learning a game together, supporting each other and post-game chatter are the real high points of a MOBA-style game. For me, it takes on a different role when I’m sitting at home trying to figure things out. I only play with friends now. Playing public games can be fun, but it’s frustrating trying to communicate and coordinate with those who don’t speak your language, figuratively and literally. There’s a lot more potential abuse from your teammates, and I really don’t need that right now. Dota 2 is a fantastic way to keep in touch with friends, but for me it has become almost therapeutic.
Every time we play, we hop on TeamSpeak and talk. I don’t get to see one of my best friends much, since he lives in Calgary. Dota 2 allows me to stay in touch with him and my other friends, keep updated on their lives and tell them about mine. They’re well aware of my situation, and every time we talk, there are words of encouragement but also a bit of much-needed tough love. They’re asking me what I’ve applied to, asking if I need help with my resume, asking me how I’m feeling or recommending places I should apply. I’d be lying if I said that I think I deserve such wonderful buddies, but there’s no way I’m not going to keep them. By meeting online and playing two to three times a week, they won’t let me forget that we can have fun together, but they’re motivators as much as friends. Dota 2 serves as a forum for keeping me in the loop with my friends, but it allows them to give me a friendly shove when I need it. Thanks, boys.
I mentioned before that I’m playing BioShock Infinite. I’m near the end, but I can’t discuss the game in length quite yet. It is absolutely brilliant, but those who have reviewed it and played it already know that. What BioShock Infinite has done for me is provided me with a few instances of visual, breathtaking beauty at the times I need it most. The BioShock series makes everything so interesting that you’ll hate yourself for leaving the world. While Rapture was a atmospheric, haunting, claustrophobic world of terror and wonder, the floating city of Columbia is absolutely stunning, with each area being more intriguing and wonderful than the last.
Upon reaching Columbia for the first time, you’re treated to an incredible song “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. True to the setting of the game, it sounds like a long lost hymn, or something to be sung around the campfire or church gathering. There’s water on the floor, but unlike Rapture, it’s by design. People in white robes walk beside you as you try to enter the city, waiting to be baptized. Stained glass windows, thousands of lit candles and a surprisingly-peaceful atmosphere mesmerize you. Remember the visual contrast I talked about with BioShock 2? BioShock Infinite is like that for most of the game. It’s almost overwhelming.
If I had to pick one moment, it’s one that takes place in the basement of a run-down bar. You are Booker DeWitt, a man set with the task of rescuing a girl from the floating city in order to wipe away a mysterious debt. The girl’s name is Elizabeth, and she’s easily one of the best companions in gaming. You don’t have to worry about her dying in combat, follows you easily, runs at the same pace as you do, gives you health and ammo during fights and randomly finds money for you.
At one point, you find yourself in the Graveyard Shift Bar in one of the poorer areas of the town. Despite Columbia being beautiful, it has a very dark side; there is rampant racism, propaganda is everywhere and there is a cult devotion to a single man: Comstock. This means that some people suffer; workers are forced to endure 16-hour days and no vacation or sick days. It’s a far cry from my own personal situation.
So you head to the back, then down some stairs only to find a basement filled mostly with barrels and a small boy and a guitar. The guitar is flashing, which means you can interact with it. Rather than use it as a weapon, you sit down to play it.
You start playing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and Elizabeth starts singing. It’s a peaceful image; she picks up an apple and heads towards the child who has hid under the staircase. His head pops out and he accepts her apple before dashing back to his hideout. You can’t help but smile. Elizabeth’s attire is true to the 1912 setting. You’ve traveled back in time, to something simpler. The whole scene lasts maybe a minute. It made a world of difference to me.
Amidst all the magic and missiles, all the rebellion and cult followers trying to kill you, it was relaxing to take a moment and enjoy a song. You get back to fighting very quickly, true to BioShock form. The game will let you rest and soak up the scenery, but not long enough to let you completely forget that the world you occupy is a tough one that requires blood to be shed.
An Easter egg like this made a difference. I was enjoying BioShock Infinite, but I was still stressed about finding a new job. I was contemplating how I was going to let people see me react if I bumped into them on the street, or at a party. It was hard to decide if I should seem optimistic or morose; if I should be honest or lie. Maybe playing games helps me avoid thinking about questions like that, but they were ever-present during my run. I’m not going to say BioShock Infinite completely wiped that slate clean, but after seeing Elizabeth sing a rendition of one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a game, I certainly took a step back. I saved my game and went for a run along Beacon Hill Park and Dallas Road (great Victoria spots), and by the time I got back, those thoughts weren’t as important. I wasn’t so concerned with other people’s perceptions of me.
My family and friends are extremely supportive, and my situation is not dire by any means. Many have it way worse than I do, and I feel optimistic. I had lunch with my aunt the other day. She mentioned that losing a job means you’re allowed to be mad, because somebody else is taking control of your life, or temporarily taking it away. She’s right, of course. I haven’t been mad yet, but that makes a lot of sense.
Games offer a small island that I’m the dictator of. I can control it. Nobody can tell me which games to play or how to play them, EA and SimCity aside. That small amount of control is all I need. I know what I have to do and I’ll do it with a smile on my face. It’s not game over, I’m just starting a new game.