I took a hammer to my Xbox. Imagine me frozen in my lounge with the hammer upraised. A look of serene release on my face and casing flecks suspended in mid-air like globules of come. Ha. Let’s rewind the existential steps leading up to this console assault.
I’m having a mid-life crisis and I can’t afford hookers or imported cars. My frustration, rage and despair has to manifest somewhere – provided it’s within the punishing horizon of my bank balance. So junk food and video games, the suburban dilution of crack cocaine.
I began playing video games on an Atari 2600 I got for Christmas in the mid-80’s. It was black with a “wood veneer” and came bundled with games like Combat, PacMan and Night Rider. The latter was especially mesmerizing to a kid. The road billowed in darkness and you felt grown up driving home. The graphics were so simple you had to do all the cognitive embellishment yourself. It was basically radio. Playschool David Lynch. Ours was a fractious household with occasional bouts of domestic violence. The Atari took you out of that. It calmed everyone down and brought us together. Like a fireplace on the old frontier.
By 1995 I had a Playstation. The gray moon-shaped console you flipped open like a petrol tank, exposing its own innards like few other consumer products. You looked right into the machine almost forcing you to be a geek. That glance alone helped prepare the millennial appetite for gadgetry. Just as colonial composer, Edward Elgar’s music soundtracked the British Empire, the whirr and thunk of a loading disk was the prophetic sound of a multi-billion dollar gaming industry. The leap over the Atari in processing power and game graphics was mind blowing. Everyone in the room stopped what they were doing when Lara Croft appeared onscreen. I lowered her into a cave in Tibet, marveling at the snugness of her hot pants, the porno rendering of her magnificent breasts, and was snapped out of objectification by a pair of advancing tigers.
That was already ten years of sitting around playing games. Habit sending signals to my limbs. Sedentary orthodoxy wiring my brain for keeps. This is a body that lives to be supine. A body semi-permanently at rest. The slow seeds of adult obesity were being sown with each bad guy Lara dispatched. It was her vaulting over crevices, sprinting across snow, repelling and rock-climbing, not me.
In Newlands, with a pile of ESL savings, I once spent a year basically gaming and eating Butlers pizza. Doing nothing else. Much of it devoted to GTA San Andreas, a note perfect recreation of the blunted menacing glow of West Coast gangsta rap. It was always a weird moment getting up from the sofa, after untold hours, to open the door to a fresh-faced teen with braces with my order. Being a drug dealer would have felt more dignified. I wildly over-tipped with guilt.
That ended when I ran out of money and remembered how good exercise makes you feel. Even pizza gets old. I knew I was through the looking glance when I had CJ, the star of San Andreas, go into a corner store and play asteroids. It induced a sickening postmodern vertigo. Here I was playing a man playing a man playing video games. Whoa.
Then I fucked up with the hipper than thou creatives of Cape Town. We went away to an annual thing they do in the Karoo. A lovely weekend of togetherness and creativity. Being a negative shit, I couldn’t get into it and got very drunk and high. Then kicked in the door of a room that wasn’t mine in an old hotel. Waking up, I didn’t even remember doing any of it. My impulse was to flee and lie. I couldn’t face anyone and fled to Muizenberg. Where I’ve been a beached male ever since.
Back to carbs and video games. The twin pillars of a wasted life. I picked up an Xbox cheap from Cash Crusaders and avoided life again. Led my team through Gears of War, solved murders in LA Noire, walked a hundred miles in put-upon immigrant Niko Bellic’s stinky shoes, shot ghost tornadoes in Alan Wake and mowed down civilians (without hesitating) in an airport in Modern Warfare 2. I mined planets in Mass Effect and murdered little girls in Bioshock. I became John Marsden in Red Dead Redemption.
Gaming is one of the highest forms of mass escape the market offers today. Keep your package tours and adventure getaways. Sit and stare, loser, and win. I’m halfway through Skyrim. One of the most detailed and elaborate open worlds ever created in a video game. A role-player challenge immersive and expansive enough to close your curtains against the sun. It promises hundreds of hours of play.
Let’s unfreeze the moment. I take a hammer to my Xbox. To be free.