I’m not the sort of person who is afraid of being alone. Much to the chagrin of my friends, I will often do things that allow me to sit and enjoy something entirely by myself. I sit for hours at both home and my job, just passively watching things go on around me. Movies, dinner dates and sightseeing are all things I’ve done lost in my own thoughts.
Gaming nowadays goes roughly the same way, almost in defiance of how social video games have innately gotten. There’s endless titles that have single-player narratives but still allow global text chat, voice chat, cooperative play and random matchmaking. The act of playing a game can be just as social as anything else we choose to indulge in.
However, as I grow older, I find that my gaming habits have changed. As Ian Williams remarked on a recent episode of Justice Points, we don’t need MMORPGs to fill that social void when we’re constantly interacting with social media. Social media has let me lapse into a solitary lifestyle while the gentle pings of Twitter keep me company whenever I decided to tab out of whatever I’m doing in Diablo III or Hatoful Boyfriend. I can even enable my app to pop Mentions out as tiny boxes that I can read without even leaving what I’m doing. Having others rely on me to keep a game experience going is often tiresome for my mercurial attention span – sometimes I can hyper-focus for hours at a time but most of the time I just want to come and go as I please.
Enter Eidolon, a game I feel strongly about despite having only played a handful of hours. I have barely scratched what promises to be a deep narrative experience, only to just wander lonely and quiet, gently surviving. I watch the sky change color and clouds roll by. I climb to the top of cliffs to look out across the horizon. I pick up tinder and mushrooms. I orient myself using a compass I found from a glowing green cube.
There are no social options in this single-player game. There’s not even any other people as far as I know and I find that the best part. In this low-poly post-apocalypse setting, all I encounter is the occasional animal (dangerous or not) and snippets of what people left behind. I could sit doing nothing, just looking at the stars and the game would not mind. As long as I have enough food to keep myself from starving and a fire to keep me warm, I could go on like this forever, criss-crossing this ruined stretch of the low-poly Pacific Northwest.
It isn’t that I eschew the comfort of others, far from it.
When I used to have anxiety attacks about my own life, I used to imagine leaving everything behind. Whether it was driving out to the ocean in a car I didn’t own or leaving my body somewhere, the particular act of dissociation gave me a little control over my feelings. The open road has been a call for many people but I mostly just wanted to drift from whatever particular circumstances I was in at the time and felt chained down by.
What the game offers me so far is that same freedom to leave the trappings of being – I have no body or presentation in this game. There’s not even the ubiquitous “pair of hands” that so many other games have, I am a ghost wandering the hills. My experiences with other genres have been tied up very heavily in how I look, and one of the drawbacks of that is that it does remind me how, even though I am almost the lowest bar to clear in terms of representation (white cis female), there’s still quite a lot lacking. There’s also just how weighed down I can feel by how much even my gender matters in the video game sphere. Everywhere I look, someone is reminding me that I am queer, feminist and a woman and everything that means. Expectations and micro-aggressions are their own suit of armor and my spaces have gotten more hostile as of late.
Video games have long been the province of escapism, full of power fantasies and highly idealized versions of self. Exploration mechanics in games are the antithesis of that in a lot of ways, they beckon you to enjoy being somewhere versus someone else. For me, the chance to be no one is enticing, to not matter in the slightest. I simply wake up in the middle of a forest and the only question I have to answer is, “What now?” It’s a way to gain the feeling of being lost and happy about it without some of the concerns that do come up if I wandered outside of my house.
The choice to matter so very little is an odd one, but it is less stressful, even for a little while.