Like many people, I am tired of being alive and I don’t know what to do about it, so I play video games. Until recently I had not considered that the latter activity could be a solution to the former problem, as opposed to a mere distraction from it. Through research and some applied arcane thinking I’ve determined that one’s avatar in a video game can make as durable a container for the human soul as any voodoo doll or mirror. I plan to use this knowledge not to take vengeance on my enemies but to extinguish myself.
Typically in video games the player inhabits the role of the controlled character, but it is equally accurate to say that the player turns the character into themselves. One is unable to totally inhabit the vessel of the maniac protagonist of a Grand Theft Auto game, as this would cause the player to suffer a complete mental and moral collapse. Thus a divide is created in which the player not only pretends to be the character-curating their own movements, actions and thoughts towards what makes sense for the progression of the game through their avatar-but also ascribes to the characters their own morals and desires, up to a point. “As long as the character does what I wish, and his goals are compatible with mine in the context of this game, I agree to exchange agency with the character.” This may seem like capitulation on the player’s part, but the fact that a compromise is happening at all proves that the game’s morals and demands never take full command over us, and that we remain guiding our avatar in accordance with some semblance of our true selves.
That said, it cannot be stated the degree to which a game holds sway over a player once they give themselves over to its world. Recall that in life, every individual action one takes erases infinite other actions within the given moment. To move an avatar with the aid of a thumbstick is to temporarily give up the use of one’s own legs; to press a button in order to make them use a weapon is to cede the use of one’s own hands for this sole purpose, for the time being. Consider those who’ve died of exhaustion in the video café for the sake of their progress, or the father who leaves his infant unattended in order to accomplish a specific task within the game. They make these choices not out of obsession with the game in specific, but out of an overwhelming need for unity between them and their guided selves. The avatar is like the soul of a man trapped in his body, racing against its confines towards either absolution or obliteration For every act, one hundred thousand sacrifices.
For untold centuries mankind has attempted to meld the Self with the ominous Other by way of hollow, fractal representations, be it the crude humanoid voodoo doll or the reflection of one’s own face used to conjure Bloody Mary in the mirror. The video game seems to me to be the closest we’ve come to a full breach between the human and his doppelganger, but as yet we’ve not found the ritual needed to close the gap. I believe I may have found the way.
A friend has introduced me to a low sort who claims to be a kind of modern-day spellcaster; after a few brief but very convincing demonstrations of his ability I give myself no choice but to believe him. Tomorrow he will guide me through an esoteric procession of small blades, shed blood, bent wire and celestial shapes, the details of which I will keep to myself. These tasks are long and in themselves uninteresting, and should I pioneer this new innovation in suicide I would like to keep it to myself, so that I alone will come to Hell encased in amber.
When these rituals are complete I will wait three days, then go to a location of my choosing. I have chosen to walk through the museum. I will observe and study the paintings of the masters, I will crest the lips of a Grecian statue with the tips of my fingers while the guards look elsewhere; I will absorb the curious murmur of the crowds, let the overpriced, overcooked cafeteria meals waft across my tongue. I will become one with a place of art to the extent that my body will permit, and then I will leave.
When I get home I will lock my door, close my curtains, throw all of my food into the garbage. I will caulk the cracks in the floor and the walls. I will make my apartment as dark and lifeless as a tomb, and then I will sit down to play a video game of my choosing. I’ve picked a Hitman game, as I find that series to be very immersive and to have a play area with goal paths and artificial intelligence that closely resembles that of the real world.
When I begin to play I will select a level at random, and this is what I am told will happen.
I will press the thumbstick forward as gently as I can, to make the player character walk at the slowest possible speed. If I should cross a door in my forward motion, I will press the action button to open it and proceed. Soon I will come across enemies. When they begin firing at me-however many of them there may be-I will return fire once for each foe, continuing to walk forward at the lowest speed the game will allow. My character will perish, and a menu will come up asking if I wish to restart the level. I will say yes, and I will repeat the ritual as written above.
When I have done this four times I will select a different level at my whim. For an almost imperceptible instant as I start the level a deep green will pass over the game that will obscure the entire screen. Then when I start playing I am to head to the left at the first path that presents this option, and when I come to the first area with enemies I am to kill all of them. When this happens I will restart the level once and repeat this procedure.
After I pick the next level I am told that even as I am sitting still it will begin to feel as though I am leaning forward, and that the crude components of the level will make itself apparent to me. I will see every building and every car and every fold of clothing as an assemblage of vulgar rectangles, circles, rhombuses and trapezoids and as I send my character walking this geometry will make me ill. I am not to stop moving. I am to enter the first door I come across and speak to the first non-player character I see. Their words will be frightening, meaningless gibberish, words that could be words but are not and will never be.
By now my consciousness will have begun to fuse with that of my avatar and I will stop comprehending the difference between my living room and the game world. Characters in the game will have astonishingly complex and detailed expressions; I will see saliva when they open their mouths and see the rage and fear in their eyes when they point their guns at me. Contrariwise the furniture in my home will appear muddy and misshapen and when I try to feel the arm of my chair my hand will pass through it. I am told that if I look to my left I will see an artifact that should only be present in the world of the game and if I look to my right I will see myself playing the game, but he will not look like me and I should not speak to him if I wish to pass into the next life in relative peace. If he starts to look at me I am to look back at the screen before our eyes meet.
When I next fire my weapon I will feel my teeth disappear when I move my tongue. There will be a warm tingling behind my eyes and I will feel the floor move and indent under my feet. When I move into the next room the geometry will fade and the characters onscreen will become masses of moving black wires. If I hear myself laugh off to my right I am to ignore him. I will move into a mass and fire my weapon again. At this point I will feel myself fall forward even though I will still appear to be sitting upright in my chair. When this happens the black mass will return to the shape of an enemy character. He will fire upon me. The screen will turn green again but it will stay green longer as the sound of the gunshot melts into a long moan.
I will feel my finger press the action button but I will not see it, and the screen will return to normal, but my room and the player character will be gone. Only I will be standing there in that low texture wonderwasteland, my skin the color of raw turkey, surrounded by artificial men with a single directive to destroy me. They will be low-resolution and badly modeled but I will know their programmed hatred to be as real as anything real can be.
From there it is unclear what will happen next. Perhaps when they shoot me I won’t feel it at all; perhaps it will be agony. And when I fall down and my blood, no longer corporeal but not fully digital, leaks out of me, maybe it will take no time at all for my body to disappear as no one chooses to reload the level. And maybe my soul will go to neither Heaven nor Hell but choose to stay one with the blank screen, my human body erased, my video spirit sleeping in limbo.
Turn on the console. I am waiting.