My parents were never too hot on video games. My brother and I weren’t allowed to own them and were encouraged to keep it minimal if we were playing at a friend’s house, which we never did.
However, there were exceptions.
Every Thanksgiving, we’d be treated to a Thursday-to-Sunday Super Nintendo rental from our local video store (what a sentence). And we’d spend most of the hours in between plugged in to Turtles in Time and Super Mario. So much to be grateful for.
There was another loophole: once a console was obsolete and thoroughly un-cool, we were free to have at it. This started when my brother bought a Nintendo 64 in 2001, but I’ve carried on in kind, with a Super Nintendo in 2005, a PS2 in 2007 and a Wii in 2012. It’s a healthy way to be, I think. It helps tamper the all-in, sleep-when-I'm-dead enthusiasm/madness that tends to accompany new gaming technology for kids (or adults).
We were also allowed to play games on the computer. (I’m not sure why this was seen as different). Wolfenstein, this epic biker gang drama called Full Throttle, Lemmings, that sorta stuff. But there was one that stood above the rest: Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.
It’s a fantasy, real-time strategy game, orcs vs. humans, in which you build up an army while balancing a budget of gold, lumber and oil. There are dragons. There are catapults. Peons say "jub jub" when you click on them. It's top tier.
I found a way to play it online last year, and around the time Donald Trump won the Republican nomination, I started playing pretty often after work while listening to the song’s in today’s playlist.
Part of this was born out of the fact that I found myself mindlessly drawn to the ugliest parts of this election and I couldn’t find a way to stop. I spend most of my day in front of a computer, often keeping tabs on the paper's Facebook and Twitter profiles, so it was pretty tough to avoid at work. But what disturbed me is that I went to it quickly when I got home. I’d walk in the door and find myself on the couch, combing through Twitter and clicking on anything that made me nauseous. It was not a particularly healthy way to be and I can’t imagine I’m alone on that. So I played Warcraft.
On Tuesday night, I was doing a live election podcast with Charlie Deitch and Margaret Welsh. As the night wore on and the result became clear, we started talking about how we had escaped and distracted ourselves during this election, and how we planned to do so in the future. My memory is a little hazy (beers were had), but I believe Charlie took up the timpani and Margaret, bocce. My distraction was obviously the big W2:TOD, and in talking about it, I realized how significant of a role the game had played in my life the past year.
While I know that now is not the time to sit on the couch and hide from the situation our country is in, I do think it's important to find some peace for yourself on a regular basis these days, to stave off insanity/depression/disease brought on by current events. I think we can all agree on that. I gotta say, though: I didn't think I'd find mine in a 21-year-old video game about orcs. But I did.
The songs on the playlist are dramatic, dissonant, noisy, spooky, and at times, atonal. There's a 30-minute song from Swans; there are tracks from Jonny Greenwood's There Will Be Blood soundtrack (perfect for prospecting oil in Azeroth); there's some noise rock from Animal Collective and Kid606, "Dopesmoker" by Sleep; music from It Follows; and Aphex Twin (obviously). This is music to creep to (fantastic!).
Over the past six months, I've spent a lot of time listening to these songs and playing this game. Without it, I'd surely have taken to drink (a much better way of saying "drink too much") or lost my mind. I know we need to be active now more than ever, but you have to take care of yourself while you're doing it. So my advice: play a video game you like (not Warcraft, I don't want a bunch of n00bs crashing the site) and listen to these tunes. Or something else, something methodical and gratifying and difficult and surreal, and listen to these tunes. It'll feel great.
So, my parents did their best to shield me from video game obsession and for a while it worked. But after 29 years, the wall has fallen, like a Lordaeron gryphon over Blackrock Spire. And I gotta say: it was perfect timing.