…and it’s making me think about videogames.
Right now I’m a whimpering, fidgeting wreck, because there is a wasp in my kitchen. I don’t know how the bugs get in my house. I think it’s because our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, so the windows are open with cheapo screens shoved inside. I suppose there are cracks; I suppose the bugs can sense fear and weakness, of which I am a shining beacon. Typical girly-style. Most of these bugs I can contend with: the moths freaking out in my lampshade, the fruit flies having a ball in my kitchen. Those things don’t have killer death stingers and malicious tendencies (both of which I assume wasps have). I’m also sleeping alone tonight, which I don’t do very often, and it’s making me extra-extra-double-mega whiny about said wasp in my kitchen.
So I’ve barricaded myself in my bedroom. I shoved a comforter in the space along the bottom of the door. I have my hiking shoes next to my bed for extra squashing power. This is serious business, people. I wish I were kidding.
Earlier tonight, when I wasn’t doing my very important writerly duties like reading Chekhov and drinking gin, I was playing video games (and still drinking said gin). Specifically, I was playing Mass Effect 3, a game of some pretty intense popularity. The series is one of my favorites, and was one of the first videogames I got into. I’ve played the whole series up until now and have cultivated what I would like to think is a pretty badass avatar. Her name is Laura Shepard — clever, I know. I built her to look a lot like me — shoulder length, side-parted brown hair, blue eyes, cheeky grin. The game is role-playing based, and so I’ve gotten rather emotionally attached to my character and what I have constructed her narrative to be. She is like any character I’ve written into my fiction, in that she is both a reflection and a projection of myself. She has some elements of character that I am proud to have (some semblance of wit), that I pretend I don’t have but I know I do (stubbornness/extreme yelling when plans change), and some I really wish I had (wicked scars. Also, plasma guns). Over the course of the series, I, like many serious videogame players and especially those of the RPG persuasion, have tried to inhabit this character, completing actions that fit what I have constructed her to be like. These decisions range from what style helmet she wears to her romantic choices to her specific dialogue. I try to think behind her eyes, the eyes that I myself have created. Technically, I could make Laura Shepard do whatever I want because she is a completely personal construction. She sprang forth from my own brain and that of ME3‘s game developers like some pixelated Athena. Yet, when I am making decisions and taking her through gameplay, I feel the limitations of what I created and act within constraints of my very own as if they were rigid, immovable rules. I know how I want her to act and how she “should” act, and sometimes those conflict. It’s a neat paradox/paradigm that is one of a million reasons that videogames are such a fascinating medium.
As I hid behind my couch avoiding Enemy Wasp, I thought about Laura Shepard. In the Mass Effect series, you fight a lot of things, including but not limited to: robots, bugs, and robot bugs. You fight giant spiders that shoot lasers out of their eyes, you fight robot-y human things that climb walls like roaches, you fight giant sentient alien ships that kinda look like gigantic fleas. I can do all that. I see their guts spew across my TV screen. I woop and holler and say ridiculous things like take THAT, scumbags. I fistbump my horrified/amused boyfriend. I kick ass and take names and save entire galaxies from imminent destruction. In short, I act very, very unlike myself.
But as I ran into my bedroom, my skin crawling and my boyfriend on speed dial, I was reminded that it wasn’t actually me doing any of that. It was my pixelated, wickedly-scarred, plasma gun-toting avatar who, the way I’ve constructed her, is light years more courageous than I am. Did this knowledge inspire me to run out with my hiking boot and smash the wasp to bits? Nope. I ran away like a little girl and am actually having trouble falling asleep because I fear the wasp will make his way in here and sting me to death (or something). I have failed to be even remotely like a character I specifically created to be like me. And I think it’s inevitable. If our characters, on screen or in prose, are conscious creations of our own cherry-picked best and worst qualities, maybe we as players and artists are destined to fall short of the fantastic personalities we create. We long to inhabit our own projections, and sometimes we do — but sometimes the wasps will get the better of us, and we retreat.