Quest Items: On Controllers

The weight of the controller increases. Playing becomes a Herculean effort. Muscles build in my chubby child hands, muscles I never knew I had, muscles developing from nowhere. I do this exercise in gaming weightlifting because I want to see on the big screen my Pokémon Game Boy games. Pokémon Crystal, specifically. I insert the Transfer Pak into the back of the Nintendo 64 controller. This heavy object serves as an emulator, enabling the two-dimensional goodness, the bland yet still strikingly vibrant colors of Pokémon Crystal, on the TV screen.

Something about the littleness of the Game Boy game blown up onto the TV makes me giddy. This game that is meant to be small, held in hand, framed within a screen the length of a finger, is reconfigured as something large. The square body of the female avatar is so much larger on the screen, where my budding sexuality, my femmeness, imagines in her step a pep, a sway, a femininity celebrated. I put the volume up as much as I remotely can to hear the iconic Pokémon music, each town and location its own score, thinking how lifelike, how grand it is journeying across this 8-bit world. The scale of Pokémon, otherwise tiny, otherwise contained between my two hands, on the big screen becomes something magical.

I spend entire summers playing Pokémon Crystal on the Nintendo 64 on my grandparents’ TV. It’s the only place where I can spend hours upon hours playing because in my home—well, not really my home but the rental, the cramped box we live in without any privacy, any moment to be with oneself—I have to share a TV with my brother, and the living room one is off limits. TV time is hard to come by, but in my grandparents’ house, a house where my abuelita babies me, I can have it for as long as I want. But these are just for the summers, or weekends. On most other days, my Game Boy allows me to clock in the hours upon hours of gameplay I otherwise cannot clock in at my own home. I can be in the backyard, in the woods, sitting on the porch steps. The world of Pokémon anywhere and everywhere.

In my grandparents’ house, I have a space all my own to game. I recline the chair as I want, I sit as up close as I want, I play as long as I want. I yell at the TV as loud as I need to, I throw the controller onto the couch as hard as I want, I can let my body respond to the games I play as I need it to. Something I cannot fully do in the cramped space of my parents’ house, with my shared bedroom, our shared living room, all the space I must share with so many others.

My grandparents’ living room is the closest thing I get to a gaming room. This kind of space is a luxury. Some of the other boys and girls in my school note how they have a game room, a special room with cool, expensive gaming chairs, the biggest screens and the best surround sound systems, all the latest consoles and equipment. They speak of these luxuries and I stay quiet, little me who comes from the Mexican part of town, the poor part of town, a neighborhood they call ghetto and dirty. They speak of their game rooms and I stay quiet, like always, like I will do for so many years because I idealize these little white children, their well-maintained neighborhoods, their big houses with game rooms. I feel intensely jealous of these boys and girls. Of the fact they have a designated space for gaming and leisure, a space carved out in the home to do what I can only do on special occasions at my grandparents’. A gaming room of their own.

Gaming is a form of solitude for my childhood self. A moment of respite from the antics of my family, a moment of escape from the white boys and girls I go to school with who call me fat, call me faggot, call me a dirty Mexican or a dirty Puerto Rican. That want that is being alone with oneself. We don’t frequently connect childhood with the desire for solitude. Children want to play with others, be with other children, have the attention of adults. Perhaps because I do not have my own room growing up, no space to call my own, and every Monday through Friday I experience a barrage of hatred from my classmates, at an early age I cultivate this need for solitude. A longing for an environment never had. A space in this world sectioned off just for me. For me and only me.

Video games give me this solitude. This being with myself. Though, like reading, this is a solitude that is not really solitude. I spend my time with my Pokémon, battling with them and healing them after, feeding them berries and giving them nicknames. It’s a form of connection, an intimacy with the unreal, a being with the incorporeal. In a world where I feel I don’t matter, where any day I can be gone and no one could care less, video games assure me that, in fact, I do matter, I am needed, my presence is essential. They—my Pokémon, my blue haired avatar, the NPCs, the storyline—need me.

The heaviness of the controller as I play in my grandparents’ house. The focus, the concentration, the joy. The weight in my hands is comfort. The controller’s increased dimensions, its bulkiness, the strain it demands, reminds me I am inside playing the game I often have to play outside. The game I fall in love with because it can be anywhere I take my body to, any exodus I undertake to keep on going. Here in this memory, this memory still so alive, for hours upon hours in this sunlight-soaked living room of my grandparents, screaming at the TV or gripping the controller tightly in frustration, the breeze through the front door and my grandmother cooking her rice and beans in the kitchen, is my gaming room. These memories at the turn of the century, this faraway childhood, my grandparents now gone, the closest I have ever gotten to a gaming room of my own.