I’ll tell you something about my beloved, if you like.
First of all, he wrote this book. But that’s not what this blog is about; he wrote that book WELL before we ever met, so I had nothing to do with it. (Although he did read it aloud to me, story by story, and that was very fine. I shall blog more on THAT, later. My short review is: “Wholly Irreverent Holy Beauty.” Which requires some unpacking, I think. Story by story.)
This blog is about games.
Because if there’s one thing Carlos Hernandez (AKA “Doctor Doctorpants, Professional Professor”) is about, it’s games. (Except he’s about other things too, like all of us, “containing multitudes.” Even his Twitter handle speaks to his tripartite vocation: @writeteachplay!) And since he writes and designs games, among all the other AMAZING STUFF he does, he likes to play them too.
Now, I… I am not a gamer. I have gamer friends. I have occasionally sat down (twice, actually) with buddies at a table (once at a coffee table, the other time, we all just sprawled on big fat embroidered cushions on the floor) to play an RPG. I used to play, like, “Clue” and “Yahtzee” as a kid. As an adult, I don’t know. Do I still even remember the rules to “Go Fish”?
That said, the gentleman, he likes games.
And during his semester, he gets very busy. He wakes up between 1 AM and 4 AM to grade and plan class. He’s editing pedagogical periodicals, he’s fine-combing the ARCS of his forthcoming collection, he is sending me FABULOUS TEXTS. So. He does not get to play them very often.
So then I thought, “Why don’t we have a little Sunday afternoon DATE, with some PIZZA, and I could learn a bit about GAMES, and he could play something FUN, and it’ll sort of be like being a kid again, when my brothers all played ‘Frogger’ on ATARI and’Donkey Kong’ on some way-early-version of NINTENDO, and it was all super interesting??!!”
We’d intended that he play Fallout 4, because that’s what EVERYONE and their MAMA is talkin’ about on the Facebooks. But in the end, on GAME DATE DAY, we ended up playing two other games entirely.
Indescribably beautiful. The strange serenity of isolation, unexpected friendships communicated solely through sound not words, the ebullience and joy of an infinite horizon, ruinous depths and impossible heights, and gods who bend down to show you your life as written on the wall.
I say “we” played because, even though I didn’t actually PICK UP the controller, I was actively involved in WATCHING.
Watching is a TOTALLY plugged-in experience when one’s beloved ninja-thief keeps getting BLOWN TO SMITHEREENS in puzzle mazes (N++), or is a gorgeous, genderless, childlike desert-spirit skidding along sand dunes and riding updrafts of air with a scarf billowing behind it in the wind, all illuminated in runes, and there are pretty colors and interesting music, and, and, and…
It utterly excites my brain. It makes me want to play. I was not ready that day; I’m shy of new things. But I’ve been thinking about playing ever since.
All of which to say, I had the most moving, sometimes terrifying, sometimes oddly peaceful, certainly captivating afternoon, all the while engaged in a medium I don’t usually bother to give the time of day to.
I started thinking about things I’ve never had to think about! What makes a game different than a story? Different than film? What is happening in the brain when your own personal agency meets an alien atmosphere created by unknown collaborators; when you must abide by rules in a win/lose situation and you must learn those rules as you play; when you suspend disbelief and engage in pretend like you’re a child again, but you problem-solve like an adult; when death is so ubiquitous and entertaining it loses all meaning; or when death becomes, through repetition, a luminous and transcendent mystery once again?
Gosh, it was cool.
Hernandez and I write poems and songs to each other when we have time. We try to make time as best we can in these busy days.
That week, I asked for poems about his game experience on our date day, and he sent me these.
I treasure them. He gave me permission to share them with you.
by Carlos Hernandez
I kept dying. I’d land
On a mine and explode and
My head would bounce off the black pixel walls
In entertaining ways: even in death, physics is fascinating. Or
I’d miss a jump and the height of the fall
Would cause the sticks of my body
To fly in six different directions,
Artistic blood blooming to emphasize the failure.
Ha ha ha, I said: dead again.
Once more, then; that goal isn’t going
To reach itself. A running start,
X to jump, finesse the landing with
The joystick. Or not. Or dead again
And try again and so on.
I’ve learned not to take my death so hard. It’s just feedback
From a world that is, by design,
Forgiving of fatality. Try again
And die again until I don’t and learn
And move on to level two. But you:
Barefoot, dressed in morning light
And a diaphanous scarf that from the side of my eye
Were indistinguishable from one another,
Curled on the couch and watching with a cat’s intensity
My leaps and launches and experimental
Forays into unanticipatable reactions with
Robot enemies and springboards and homing missiles and
That tracking laser that was
Particularly frustrating, particularly good
At killing me–Love, you love me,
And even in this life of two dimensions,
When failure simply means reset and
Take another try, you bit your Venus’s mound
And clenched your whole body like a flexing bicep
And yelled when I died and died and
Only after remembered it was a game, so even
In this hypothetical space of play
Your love arrived and took too hard–thank you for taking too hard–
the hyperbolic suffering that’s only there in games
to make winning that much sweeter.
By Carlos Hernandez
My voice is a flute.
I want to tell my friend
That our insectival pointed legs
Can surf the dunes, and
It is such joy to soar over the dunes,
But the breathy tones that I generate,
Though pentatonically incapable of dissonance,
Could mean anything.
I long to be understood; it is
So joyful to surf the dunes.
The gods wear robes of gold and white,
Mostly white. The masks they wear
Have beaks that never open.
They are so large. They radiate a casual terribleness
That is wholly belied by the way
The circles of their eyes blink to serene lines.
I summon a god–the same god as before?–and the god
Reveals a fresco of my past and of my future.
We stand for a moment in wordless audience
With one another before the vision
Vanishes and I move on to other altars
From which I may summon more gods.
I am alone mostly.
The landscape is mostly dunes
Convinced of their own featurelessness.
There are markers that may be graves.
My life began as a falling star;
Was is wise to leave the sky and come to this place
Where loneliness is a kind of reverence?
I have traveled through aqueous air,
Flown on the backs of carpet kites as playful
As fairies or hounds, been attacked by the terrible
Mechanical dragon with the red cyclopic eye that shines
A light that hunts me, seen the scarf that is my life,
That holds the words of power, shrink to almost
Nothing. Now, as I seek the mountain, snow. Deep, slow,
Enervating. The globe of life contracts around me.
My robe and I ice together.
I freeze to death like a cricket in winter.
Again a star!