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We Were Made For Being Happy

Written By mista sense on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 | 10:52 PM




Today a conversation with a friend of mine prompted me to recall this song from Akira Yamaoka's Silent Hill 3 soundtrack, 'Letter From The Lost Days.' It's a wistful track, in which a person writes a letter to her future self, wondering about what the passing of time will do with her relationship to her family, friends and her happiness in life.

The song did particularly well in the context of Silent Hill 3, which at its core is about a teen girl exploring her origins and her relationship with her father once the extent of her disassociation with those things become clear. Even though the lyrics of the song don't literally translate to events of the game, the abstract association is very effective.

Coincidentally, I've been watching shows I've already seen before when I'm on a treadmill or elliptical at the gym (they have these internet-enabled screens there so I can Hulu or watch streaming television! The future!) I generally choose to watch things I've seen before -- consuming new media often requires more concentration than I can allocate when I'm working out, so favorite shows are just engaging enough.

I had the bright idea a few days ago to stream the Cowboy Bebop episode 'Speak Like A Child', which sees rambler-gambler Faye Valentine accidentally stumble on a cassette that she recorded for herself as a little girl (before being injured in a space gate accident that left her frozen in cryogenic stasis for years and waking up with no memory, but anyway).

It's one of the most poignant scenes in a long, highly episodic series which assembles its presiding character arcs through occasional vignettes, so it's natural that I found myself climbing an elliptical machine trying not to get choked up about anime in front of other people at the gym. These are powerful ideas -- who you used to be, who you will become, these discrete temporal editions of yourself that are deeply you, yet somehow are still strangers.

Video games have this weird power of permanence. Maybe it's because they're often abstract and allow us to project ourselves into them, as Kirk and I have been talking about in The FFVII Letters. But whenever we tend to think about our most favorite games, we tend to remember less about the game itself and more about where, when and who we were when we were playing them. That impact, that power of instant recollection, is more pervasive than the capsule experience of the play experience, which is generally finite.

This month at Kotaku I wrote about games' power to influence the way we think about the world and our lives, so you can tell I've been thinking about this a lot lately. Related: this Kotaku feature I wrote last year about how much my gaming experiences have been about who I shared them with at the time. When I hear 'Letter From The Lost Days,' I most miss with whom I played Silent Hill 3, who beat all the too-scary parts for me.

We're coming to the end of The FFVII Letters -- just one exchange left. I wanted to begin the letter series to examine whether FFVII really was a Great Video Game, or whether my relationship to it over the years has been more about who I was as a high schooler. We've talked a lot about what makes the game special along our way, but the letter series and the re-play I engaged in has ultimately been a letter to my past self, from the me I am now to the me who loved FFVII as a teen. I think it's amazing that games can form a bridge like that.

You've seen me recently express overwhelm at social media and a world where, when a significant global event occurs as it did this week, none of us can avoid being steeped in the noisy tide of others' emotions and opinions (and fake Martin Luther King quotes). Maybe that's why it's been such a comfort to think about escapism; when headlines about PSN hackers rapidly propel us into a seductive world of future-fiction (I just wrote 'Why We Love Hackers'), it's tempting to miss your past self, to want things to be simpler.

I've wistfully retreated into the sweet, perma-youth simplicity of Pokemon games, and I thought it might be kind of fun to watch Pokemon cartoons at the gym and I wondered about how weird that would seem, a woman my age working out to Pokemon battles. I felt kind of bad that that's a thing I should have to worry about; I wrote 'I Am An Adult Pokemon Fan' at Thought Catalog too, your consideration of which I would appreciate.

The world can be an ugly, noisy place quite often. And people talk a lot about video games as 'power fantasies,' testosterone-fueled grindfests geared at making us feel superhuman. But so many games can help us form meaningful retreats from the obligation to be empowered, from the scariness that, thanks to the magic of the internet, is often shouting chaotically directly into our faces.

I would hazard that while we like games that make us feel cool and powerful, we better like those that give us a place to belong -- where your present self can go back and visit your past self whenever the future-self seems an unknown beast shrouded far ahead in the mists.

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