Open with showers; turning them on. The guard has left me a present. In the present, I keep turning on showers. A voice suggests and language suggests I arm myself but the room isn’t steamy enough. There’s no way to take off my clothes. Walking around a virtual world accomplishes nothing, so I do it. I do it as a fat man enters the room. There’s a knife scar smiling across his stomach, making two dim eyes of his nipples. He shouts for help while I try to shower; neither of us accomplishes anything.
Pause. A shadow stabs a strain. I pour buffalo trace into a twilight zone themed shot glass I bought at disneyworld when I was 17. I type. I think about drinking, so I type: I drink. Then, I drink. My life is not good, but at least in games it seems to be going somewhere. Resume.
He’s still wandering around the room. There are no mirrors over the sink. How does one shave? I stand there, staring at the wall and the camera zooms in; I lower the knife. In order for anything to happen, there must be violence.
I practice on the walls, on the falling water from the shower. My prison uniform remains dry. The knife alternates between stabbing and slicing. If there’s a way to control it, it’s foreign to me.
Before I stab him, I can’t help but think that I’m killing a man wearing shower sandals and a towel. One who refuses to hit me. I tell myself he raped my son or me or my wife or my daughter or my dog. Making pleasure awful could, maybe, be worth killing for. I think I could kill someone for turning pleasure into trauma. Pleasure is so rare, to conflate the two seems to be the most immoral act possible. But even this doesn’t seem to hold weight.
After I stab him once, he stops asking for help. “Why won’t you open the door?” Here, there is fate.
I tell myself that there’s fate at play but I’ve just pretended to kill a stranger. The knife lodges in his back and I’m unarmed. He still arcs around me, like the moon in its saddest days.
I don’t know what to do. I was typing instead of reading. He continues to walk around me with my knife in his shoulder. There’s a button that shows me my character and it terrifies me.
On the bench, I find another weapon. It finds itself smashing into the fat man’s head. Fate. This continues until something breaks. I punch. I punch. I punch. It’s such a weird phrase. He crawls away and I say, “I punch” to myself. While I watch, I pour another shot. I say “You know exactly why” and I wake.
The credits arrive. The credits depart.
Games give you the impression that you have agency. I play games to understand tragedy, the structure of it. The fact that either you fuck up or nothing happens. It’d be beautiful to not be lonely, but no matter what I try—kindness, cruelty, the further extremes of both—patheticness and monstrousness, I can’t make sense of it. Do nothing and nothing happens. All there is to do is awfulness—to do anything is to hurt someone. There are two scabs on my left hand from where I heated a bolt over the stove and pressed it into my skin until I was bored. An ex-grilfriend asked if I’d burned myself with a cigarette because of her. The women I date want to be devastating without wanting to know how to care for someone. Maybe there is fate. The burn where I didn’t wipe the skin off is healing nicely, the other weeps daily. My duty in the game is to walk forward.
The scene in Terminator 2 where the T-1000 pulls the skin off his arm is the only thing that’s ever made me jealous of robots. I’m an armature that never found a way to be more. In the game, I do what I’m told. This is why I play video games.
“We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.”
I am 8 shots deep.
I’m transferred to another prison but the bus crashes. A crow watches me awake. Murakami wrote a book where his title character is oedipus, a kid, a crow—kafka being a name for crow. There’s only one endpoint for this game, and it’s the same no matter how untalented I am. Here, I can’t die.
The crow flies away when I walk towards it.
A tree falls. “I guess I’m not going that way,” I say without knowing what I will say. I spend two minutes trying to step over a log no longer than my calf. In every world, we are more helpless than helpful. When I press the button to look at myself, my character looks away.
Crows fly towards me. Crows pick at the face of the driver. He is dead.
I pick up his flashlight. For some reason he has a flashlight. Background: Carl Gryzbecki couldn’t love anymore; he drove the prison bus on Tuesdays and Thursdays. He lived with three roommates, one he suspected of being a serial, violent date-rapist. He carried a flashlight on him and planned to turn it on whenever he had a brilliant idea. I take his flashlight, turn it on, and clip it to my pocket.
Carl is a failure.
I am a failure. Resume.
I will not walk in the water because it is cold. I will not step over a tree because it fell. Where do I go?
I want to swim and shiver. I want to see my clothes darken with water. I want to disappear into the lake or river or ocean or whatever it is that is inaccessible to me. But I can’t—I am helpless here, and you are here with me.
A branch makes a bridge. If I fall, I could win the game now, End it, easily. I stabbed a fat man, clubbed him, and punched him to death. But I make it across and a chasm swallows the bridge. My phone is off; I wonder if anyone is calling.
Resume. Staring into the chasm reveals fog and fog and mist. There’s nothing here. Here is a place to move forward.
The officer sent to arrest me falls into the chasm. Two options: help her, leave her. Helper. Leaver. I want to help her, so I choose to leave her.
She dies. Before she does, I say, “Sorry.” I do not like me at all.
I climb. You can be a terrible person and still be a good climber. Not east or west, but left or right.
Left her, right?
I stop playing, when I start again I’m in the past—given the option again. This time I go to help her but she still falls. Fate exists.
Broken road, gas station, map, wrench. A gate asks to be broken. Next to the office of the gas station someone has put up a poster asking if I have seen this dog. The dog is drawn, its name also happens to be Carl. I’d rather find the dog than break this lock, but that’s not an option. Even if Carl came up to me right now I’d have no way to call his owners. We’d sit in a cursed forest waiting, walking up to a phone booth without ever being able to dial.
Another crow watches me climb to the roof of the gas station. Once up, there’s a walkie talkie and a wheelchair. This should be expected here.
A mailman is polite to me. A fire starts in the kitchen of a diner. The world breaks apart revealing the tapestry of ironwork and fire which lets me know there’s a prison behind everything I see. Big deal, big deal, big deal. Seeing it for what it is should terrify me, but it comes as a relief.
In the kitchen, a staircase ends and the world is normal. A power chord in a drawer operates a coffepot next to a window. The steam reveals a 5-digit combination; when I find a safe, the code opens it. A pistol. In the basement, I stop a man from beating a woman, then I realize the woman looks monstrous so I stab her to death. The repetitiveness of the action frightens me; I keep swinging into the ground until the music softens; what if I walked away? She never even attacked me.
Did I mention the murdered dog lying on the bed? I wanted to touch it but I accidentally stabbed it. So, no.
Above ground. Saving. Saving. Saving.
In a hotel room, I change into a set of clothes that look surprisingly similar to what I am wearing out of the game—a bad combination of blue jeans and an army-green button up. Voices leak from a radio someplace. In the game, of course. The hotel rooms lack bathrooms. In their place, yellowed closets without clothes.
Wherever this goes it can’t be worse than back there, can I? Moving forward, progressing, makes the world more difficult. I’ve killed four women. Wheelchairs. Paintings. Prison. Girls. What have I done? That’s the reason I’m playing—to find out how I got here, by trying to get out.
A train conductor who killed 8 children, operating the vehicle drunk, jumps to his death. I wait five minutes for the sound of a body hit; the waterfall continues falling as I leave.