The Virtual World
It’s 12:00 am on December 10th. I just turned 19. In the tangible world, I smile. It’s midnight here.
My mind is three years ago. It’s 2:39 am sometime in March of 2015. In the relevant world, I’m exhausted. It’s not the kind of exhaustion one has because it is 2:39 am, but the kind of exhaustion they’ve just unloaded a massive weight.
I hear the words of my brother’s frustrations ringing in my ear. I do not know if this is in the tangible world, or the relevant one. I do not know, because I cannot say if they are my own, or his. I’m closing my computer in one world and typing in the next.
You see the evidence of one, give life to the evidence of the other.
When I closed my computer three years ago, I am not fully conscious of the experience I’m having. I seem, somehow in two states, lost in the world I am stumbling through, and trapped in the world I swore I just left.
The feeling sways back to a clearer form of consciousness, one in which I can at least remember what thinking feels like. The first etchings of thoughts that come to me are “how long did I play?”
In the last 8 hours, I believe I had found a way to play 24 hours of video games. The feeling which overtakes me and drowns my mind is some form of misery that I can’t explain. I want to think I just need sleep but I know that can’t be it. The feeling is the emergence of my consciousness from whatever closet it had just been in, and the recognizing that my actions firstly were my own, and secondly were my regrets.
I had friends in that game who were still playing, and I wished I could join them. I had friends who would wake earlier than I would, just to play a bit more.
When the alarm clock blares in my ear at 6 am I feel nothing but resentment. Resentment for this moment. Resentment for my actions. Resentment for my friends. Resentment for anyone who would damn me or my choices, and being that that included myself, resentment for myself logically followed.
The motions of the morning are an attempt to ward away the day. Instead of brushing my teeth, I hold water in the back of my throat as long as I can. I begin to struggle and strain, trying to hold it there as long as I can. Finally, a convulsion hits me like I’ve struck in the stomach and I bend over to spit out whatever violence overtakes me.
I make an effort to let my vomiting be as loud as possible, such that my parents can hear and let me avoid the shithole I’m going to for just a little while longer.
They hear it, but I know they won’t let me stay. I’ve already missed too much with this strategy.
I try to clean myself up in time for my carpool, who I am deliberately making late. I want anything but to be dragged away and would give everything to just run back into my virtual world.
In that time 3 years ago, this was my relevant world.
I don’t hate them as I take the ride there, in silence. I hate myself. I hate myself for not ignoring my resentment of my life and my school, and being more on time. I hear someone in my head telling me not to use hate. “Strongly dislike” they are telling me, in either a tone or insistence, of pure, arrogant moralism. I do not know if this is the same voice telling me to ignore my resentment. I can’t help but feel it is. I hear the words, and under my breath utter, “hate”.
The picking, insistent voice scratches away at myself as I trudge to the classroom. If I were to see the act of learning in active decay, as though infested by insects or diseased by leprosy, this place would be it. The lights are an extremely pale, thrusting me from the foggy morning into a building where each individual is at all times under an autopsy.
The moralist's voice comes again. “What the f*ck is wrong with you, just get the day done like everyone else. Don’t be a f*cking p*syy, just squeeze through it”. I agree with it entirely. Just a little longer. If I can just...ignore...that feeling for a few more minutes, I can go through it.
The feeling is the same as holding a massive weight for a physical exercise. The pain, it might be horrid, tearing, burning, even excruciating. The words then come to save me “just a few more minutes”. Here, it was “just a few more hours” or “just a few more days”. Then, when the thought of taking it day by day lead to the question of “for how many more days?”, I shifted my focus.
Friends by association come into view. I don’t know if I would have called them a friend, nor if they would have called me friend outside the virtual world. We had been pushed away from reality into that place, and there we became brothers by an association of our burden. By association of our burden, we did not talk about our burden, and the first quality of a young man’s anguish is to not talk about a young man’s anguish.
So we only spoke of a virtual world. It was never our tangible world, but it was our relevant one nonetheless.
It was there that we could be anyone we pleased. There we could do anything we pleased. There we had the taste of freedom we otherwise would have forgotten. I knew them as the splash art video game character they played, not as the person they were. I knew only that our weight was the same, that our resentment was the same, that our hatred of life was in a mutual state, and in the brotherhood of the virtual world, the pains of the real one were made bearable.
The days would be long and arduous. Filled to the brim with irrelevant information we were forced to digest, pretending it was worthy of learning. It was like being told a stone was a meal and forced to swallow it. We knew it was meaningless, we knew it only served as a kind of mental torment by which we had to pretend to consume certain bits of information only to regurgitate them later. The process was a sickness, and our antidotes were the pretendings of being cured.
Within seconds of getting home, I would plug in and try and forget the stress of the day. The day represented the inherent divide between myself and my posse, where I could reach none of their support. I was isolated to a chair and a desk and a paper in front of me with data were forced into my mind. The moment I plugged into the game at home or the home of my game, I felt the sensation of relief, the sensation that I could forever run away from those tests and those paper, those “lessons” which only taught frustration and that “school” which only taught misery.
My friends would be there too. They would be there waiting and taking as much time as they could to relieve the anger, the intense agony of that systematic abuse. Immediate joy would overtake me as I’d see them on, firstly for knowing I could indulge my sins with support, and secondly because it implied my pain was not only my own.
It was here, across arbitrary games and arbitrary standards that we bonded, it was here that we escaped being forced next to one another by chance and away from one another by misfortune. It was here that taught us how to bond, wherein a community of hundreds we were made isolated. It was here that felt the most human part of the world because the feeling was knowing the world could be shared with another. The sympathy of connection which that game offered us, where the world seemed to repress it as though it were a taboo to have a friendship, was the most addictive poison I might ever see again.
Give a boy hours of distressed loneliness amongst hordes who must feel the same, and give him ten seconds to just pretend to connect with another. Then watch an addict take form.
We were not the only ones with our poisons, and I believe we chose our compulsion out of the legality it had compared to others. On classes skipped we would share our hiding places with the groups who enjoyed many different remedies of the stress, but who felt no different than we did. We were their cousins, and we did not judge them, nor did they judge us. I saw the same anxious creature smoking cannabis out of need, not of recreation, as I did turn on my game once the “lessons” were skipped.
We were driven to our choices, driven to our disdainful habits. The days felt as though our minds were being placed on belt-sanders, while our releases were blissfully mind-numbing.
Teachers would scream at our irresponsibility after they had thrust duties which were not our choosing onto us and then reward us for how little we concerned it to be arbitrary. Administrators would damn our lives and hold what few connections we had hostage if we did not follow their instruction. Our minds, which should have been free were either bound to the involuntary enslavement of the master, or the voluntary enslavement of our systems.
I was in a haze of this feeling one day, on my bedroom floor feeling so sick I could barely move. I saw it all. I saw the loneliness of what it meant to have the kind of friends I had and the loneliness which they bore. I saw my frustration mirrored in every one of my brothers around me yet none of us dared say our anger. I saw that I was doomed to either waste away by someone else’s whim or waste away on my own.
I wanted to vomit but I could not feel anything to expel. I wanted to cry but I knew my misery was my own creation. I wanted to jump off a building out of not an instinct of suicide, but a motion of pure rage. I was an addict, surrounded by addicts, in a community which blindly and apathetically kept us this way.
This apparently was school, and this apparently was necessary. It was necessary to teach kids to resent life and funnel them into what few escapes they could muster. It was necessary to squander friendship for sake of isolation, for the isolated mind focuses better on its studies. It was necessary, somehow, to burden young minds to the point at which they will forever run away from life and learning, to complete a system of education.
I hear my younger brother’s words in the real world. “I just play the game to escape”. I think he’s been on for 6 hours in his little relevant world and I can’t find the strength to condemn him. In pockets of time spouts of rage emerge from him, which most would think is the result of the game, but which I know to be the result of everything he’s holding back.
I hear his words, and I know they are mine. I hear his words, and I wonder how many of my friends had said to them. I hear his words, and I wonder for a second how many more kids will have to say that, how many more kids will have to have a system thrust upon them and which they will only seek to escape, for someone to realize what is going on? How many more addicts, of any variety, will we have to teach to hate life before we realize we are teaching the wrong subjects?
I hear the words of those kids, who I could see were frustrated beyond measure, who were sick in their own living existences and couldn’t say a word, and I only see more of their pains being administered day by day. I see each of them as I was on my bedroom floor paralyzed out of regret, stricken with fear and sick from running.
I see the kid who is standing behind the school, so high he can’t respond to words... I know he’s running. I see the kid who’s playing the game so that he doesn’t have to live every moment of life in the state of enraged helplessness he otherwise would have to bear… I know he’s running. I see the kid who’s sleeping next door to me and says he just wants to kill time… I know he’s running. The kid who lights up in a crack house because nothing seems fun anymore and he can’t catch a break… I know he’s running.
They’re running from a world that taught them to hate themselves, to hate what it meant to feel, to hate what it meant to live, to hate what it meant to be.
Each of them are seeking the state of non-existence which schools would hold them to be. They teach them as though they are digits on a screen or products on a line, and never valid in a human existence. Each of them run from the terror of the test, or the terror of the stress. Each of them is finding a way to escape with the only means they’ve been given.
There was an earlier conversation I had with my brother. I don’t want to think about it, but I have to.
I asked him why he played so many video games, and in an apathetic, distracted tone, he answers; “to kill time”.
He paused. At first, he made a voice that would convey he wanted to let out a tone of fatalism, but I could see he changed it last second so I wouldn’t have to worry. He says; “I don’t want to think about that”, and nothing more.
A friend I used to escape the world with told me recently, each day he doesn’t play that game he gets a splitting headache. I wonder how much longer it will be until my brother becomes that way. How much longer will he have to be so scared of a living existence that to bear it without help causes physical torment?
I can see their bleeding frustration coming home from school still as clear as when it happened.
I know each of them just wants to run themselves into nothing.
I have a feeling of such crippling isolation that I’m nauseous out of what it means. It seems to hit me all at once, as though I’m dreaming, remembering and living in the same sensation of consciousness.
In the relevant world, I’m getting up from my bedroom floor and playing another game just to kill what it means to think about whatever I’ve felt. In the virtual world, I’ve been watching flickering lights let me forget what it means to be alone. In the tangible world, I’m looking at my brother’s bedroom door with the pale glow of digital screen drifting underneath it.
This feeling isn’t a tangible feeling.
It’s a relevant one, nonetheless.