Retrospectives are tough. On one hand, you can pat yourself on the back for walking certain roads that paid off in the long run. On the other, you’re forced to take the good with the bad and see that some things happen for a reason whether you like it or not. The art of looking back can be a very polarizing journey and one that can also be applied to the world of gaming. While reflecting on the good times you experienced from playing a game, it could have also been a therapeutic comfort for the not-so good times you might have gone through and tried to forget. Like I said, some things happen for a reason. I would hear this saying most of my life and even though I was skeptical to believe it in the past, things have transpired in my life that have made me reevaluate what it means. And there is no better way to show that than by examining one particular year in my life as a gamer. Since I believe ten years is the perfect amount of time for some sort of reflection anyway, I’m going to talk about one of the most critical years of my entire life that shaped me into the person I am today – 2009.
To really begin my story, I’ll have to rewind a bit to the holiday season of 2008. My sister, who was a few years older than me, wanted to buy a PlayStation 3 for the house and decided to make it a split present for my oldest brother and I – she’d pay half of it and we’d chip in and pay the rest. I was excited mostly because the system had been out for two years already and I’d been playing crappier versions of games on my PlayStation 2 up until then. So, a month before Christmas, my sister bought the system for us and we got a few games also, which included Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Assassins Creed and Dead Space. It was a breath of fresh air to finally be able to see what all the hoopla was about. I even distinctly remember the exact games that I wouldn’t shut up about coming out in 2009 – Resident Evil 5, Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Batman Arkham Asylum, Brutal Legend and of course, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Every cover story I read about these games had me beyond hyped to just sit on my ass for hours on end and twiddle my thumbs on that rubber analog and I became obsessed with each one. Now I’ve been a gamer my entire life, but I feel when I hit my 20’s, I realized that I can just be completely free with my nerdom for this kind of stuff. Something just hit me where I just didn’t care what people thought anymore. I can thank my sister for that because that is basically how she lived her life. To put it bluntly, she did not give a fuck what people thought, and I saw that as a great way to start to live my life too. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get the moment to tell her any of this. In June of that year, she suddenly passed away. To say my life turned upside down would be an understatement. But with that moment came the story of how video games saved my life in 2009 and helped me come to terms with her passing.
As the rest of the summer rolled on, my mind was cluttered with different emotions that followed these sorts of things. I didn’t know how to really operate internally or externally so I turned to the one thing I hoped would at least distract me for the time being. What better way to take me away from my own reality than to dive into a virtual one, right? And what are my problems compared to the brooding Dark Knight’s, who lost both his parents and is now having quite the predicament trying to contain his rogue’s gallery in secured mental institution now run by one of his most notable arch enemies? I know I didn’t have the power to change my current situation, but I could at least change his. I could have a hand in stopping The Joker. Or joining the Ghostbusters as a new recruit in their plan to save New York from spectral deities. Or dropkicking zombies who are running towards me with chainsaws. I would have a hand in all these journeys. And if that meant tagging out my more beaten down side so it can rest and come back stronger, then so be it. So that is exactly what I did. All the games I was excited for I made damn sure I bought and played as soon as they came out. Hell, I even bought games I never even heard of before. But they all took me away and I got lost in their experiences, all the while ignoring my reality. In time though they started to become less a distraction and more of a coping tool. And with all the games I played then, none had helped me cope more than one of the first we owned for the system – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Funny really, because I initially said the game looked dumb when my sister originally suggested we get it. Little did I realize at the time that the hero’s globetrotting escapades would mirror my mental progress in real life.
The Uncharted series, for those unfamiliar, is about a treasure hunter named Nathan Drake and his quest for old relics and mysteries revolving around real life and folklore stories from around the world. He is basically a smart ass, modern day Indiana Jones. I enjoyed the first game a lot with its likable characters and action-packed story and I looked forward to the sequel continuing that trend. In October of 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out and once again I was Nathan Drake trying to stop some ancient curse getting in the hands of bad guys. But something was different. I felt a newer connection to him and his life. He was a fuck up but had a big heart. He makes mistakes and even tries to right them – he matured with his surroundings. The game was followed by Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception in 2011 and the franchise concluded with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End in 2016, released on the PlayStation 4. And when it came time to end the emotional journey Nathan Drake started almost ten years prior, I saw it as a sign I needed to move on as well. A sign that I didn’t need to keep reaching for that “one last job” to keep me distracted from reality. Nathan Drake grew from every cut and bruise he endured and I with him. The dude survived it all (being shot at by a helicopter on a derailing train, falling out of plane in the middle of the Arabian desert, etc.) but still got up, dusted off himself and moved on. When the franchise ended in 2016 it hit home for me because that meant the original attachment to my sister and this system had its final curtain call. And weirdly I was ok with it all.
Therapy can come in even the most unexpected forms. Some people find it comforting to paint or exercise. I found comfort in video games. Everyone will have moments in their life where they do not really know what to do next or how to react to the card life has dealt them. It does not matter what gets you through the day though, all that matters is that it is something. In 2009 I was lost, and thanks to video games and the escapism that they let me get lost in, I was able to get up, dust myself off and move on. Everyone can do it. Everyone can be the hero in their own video game. For nine years I was Nathan Drake and it felt damn good to get lost as him so I could find myself again.