Have you ever loved a game untill the point it became unhealthy? Was it really love in hindsight? Or perhaps an obscured form of addiction, a desire to escape, a longing for an altered state of consciousness? ‘Faded Love Letters’ delves deeper in those times in which we were completely obsessed with a game. It’s about honoring a personal favourite, while also casting a honest look on the prerequisites for our obsession, and thereby re-creating a goneby period in our life. To kick things of Jelger will drag you deeper in his fascination with the Nintendo Gamecube classic F-Zero GX.
‘Videogames are just f*cking cool’
‘Get away from that stupid thing!‘ my mom sneers to me while casting me an annoyed look. She has no clue about what keeps me and my younger brother glued to our Nintendo 64. To her it is just an alien plastic device that makes us passive and keeps us from playing outside. On our side of the spectrum our N64 is a portal to exciting new dimensions. Videogames flawlessly mesh with our pre-existing passions: music, going on adventures and drawing and designing our own fantasy worlds. They supply us a spectacular break from the often dull routine of school, family life. On an aesthetic level it presents an alternative to the sight of endless farmlands and small villages that are dominant in our youth. Or, to paraphrase my 14 year old self: ‘Videogames are just f*cking cool’.
Around this time my parents decide to curtail our videogame time to half an hour a day. Needless to say this feels problematic to me. It’s autumn and I am feeling miserable at the new school I enrolled in. I don’t know how to voice this to my parents. Do I feel too ashamed to tell? Do I feel unable to handle the pressure of their expectations? Whatever it is, I have just bought Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 and want to do nothing more than explore the vibrant world Rareware has created for me. Thirty minutes glide through me like a breeze and more often than not I sullenly accept the scolding I get for disobeying my parents’ rules as the price of admission. Banjo Kazooie actually gives me something to look forward to when I am home from school. My desire to live in a dreamworld gets amplified by my depressive state.
Adrenaline and cannabis
Fast forward five years later. It’s autumn again. Highschool hasn’t turned out as bad as I feared five years earlier. I have a group of friends and experience deep satisfaction in having just discovered the process of making music with Fruityloops. Yet I am still unsure, unsure of being something, of claiming direction in my life. It hasn’t helped that in spring all my friends have passed the final highschool examination and I didn’t. For a while I find a new escape: I start smoking weed and when I am happy it shows me beautiful and intruiging aspects of the human experience. But as summer fades and my friends move to the big city I am still stuck in in my parental house. The cannabis stays but the happiness wanes. Silently I start to feel like a failure but refuse to acknowledge the thought. So I decide to escape again.
When I am alone at my room (which I often am at that time) I turn to my Nintendo Gamecube. It’s the second year of it’s release and futuristic racer F-Zero GX arrives at the shelves. Being a big fan of the hypnotizing F-Zero X for the Nintendo 64 it’s an instant buy for me. The game does not disappoint and provides me with an adrenaline rush that distracts me from my gloom. After some initial uneasiness with the sensitive controls I really start to dig in and start to become pretty good in the game. Even the dastardly third-party memorycards that erase my 500 (and 300 the second time) hours of play can not deter me from my daily jolt of adrenaline. It’s a big part of a deceptively simple life: playing F-Zero GX and smoking a fat joint before going to bed starts to become the rythym of my days.
As I try to be carefree I am becoming careless. I don’t care about getting a job, shove my homework aside and fall into the same trap as five years earlier: playing videogames not as primarily a as complement to reality but as an escape from responsibility.
Not that I am arguing that I shouldn’t have played these fantastic games in times were I was vulnerable. In my case the excessive playing of videogames when I was unhappy was a symptom, not the sickness itself. As I can not change what has passed I have no regrets. I have forgiven my younger self. It’s a blessing to reflect on these times and draw lessons from them. Ultimately your times of crisis can teach the most valuable things about yourself, because a crisis will reveal your greatest insecurities and deepest emotional pitfalls. Speaking about life lessons: know that F-Zero GX is a pretty hard game to beat. Despite this my lazy 19-year old self never gives up and manages to fully complete the game. In hindsight this reveals that I could push hard to overcome obstacles as long as I put my willpower to it. Not giving up reveals that you have chosen to refuse to fail, or have refused to see a setback as ‘failure’. The energy to persevere was already there.
Looking back F-Zero GX will always be tied to in insecure period in my life. How does the game hold up for me now that I have grown as a person? To answer this let us fast forward for one final time, back to a few years ago. I am working at a videogame convention and in my downtime I stroll around the big hall looking for merchandise and nice games. My eye gets drawn to a corner with about ten people, some couches and old tv’s. I am about to meet my old love again, still looking good after all these years. It turns out there is a F-Zero GX competition being held, where everybody can try to set a lap record. Whoever sets the best lap at the end of the day gets a prize.
Playing the game for the first time in many years turns out to be a prize in itself. I discover that the game has aged very well and is still a adrenaline-pumping joy to play. It takes me a few rounds of play but I am getting in to that sweet hypnotical groove again. At the end of the day I win the competition and feel like I have come full circle. I discover that my old love will always have a soft spot in my heart, even if I wasn’t the best version of myself when I was in love. It’s probable that I might never again play a game as much as I played F-Zero GX and I am glad that I don’t feel a compulsory urge to do so. To this day I can still honor F-Zero GX as one of my favourite games ever. But beneath my praise will always stick a note to my younger self: ‘Yes Jelger videogames are f*cking cool….but never forget that there is more to life than beating Deathborn on very hard‘.
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