And then, about two days after reentry, I came down with the death flu. You all know what I'm talking about. One morning I had a runny nose, and then gradually my eyeballs began to ache. This is always a bad sign, this soreness of the eyeballs. Over the following days I'm treated to a whirlgig tour of the varieties of somatic distress. Not only the industry-standard chills, nausea, sweats, etc., but also these absurdly detailed headaches: a San Andres fault of pain, a fully localiziable fissure spidering its way through your cranium.
You know the situation, where the full-body weakness forces you to subject the smallest expenditure of effort to this brutal calculus. I would like to take some juice, but can I afford to walk all the way to the kitchen? When that juice is on the bedside table: can you afford to move all the way across the bed and move from underneath the covers? While I made it out of the house on Saturday, I didn't make it past the refrigerator on Sunday. It was that kind of sick.
Listen, I realize that all this is pretty uninteresting. Publicizing the minute particulars of your unwellness is on par with telling people anecdotes about your pets' eccentricities, or showing them your vacation slides. And telling people about your dreams is almost as bad. However, I think the fever- delirium over the last few days had some interesting angles. When you run this kind of fever, the frontier between wakeful consciousness and the dream-logic gets a bit porous. You can't really fall asleep, but when you close your eyes your thoughts run away from you.
So here's the thing: My hallucinatory feverishness had this distinct ludic quality. Right as I was coming down with the sickness, I had been playing Shiren the Wanderer. I even played it some while I was sick, during those times when I was capable of keeping my head and hands outside of the bedsheets This was a very bad idea. I've been this kind of sick before, and the fever dreams have always had this nasty edge to them, these really abstract elements of persecution-mania: I'm being pursued, or kept against your will, I'm being followed, I can't find my way to escape. Not by anything in particular, mind you, and this makes it worse. There's no beginning and no end to it.
Usually I would say there's something metaphysically comforting about playing video games. It's a space that functions according to a predictable and surmountable set of rules. I think this is true regardless of challenge: even where you're unable to get through the obstacles the game puts in your ways you never lose the sense that there is such a way. I sometimes think that the essential predictability and intelligibility of games (and sports, for that matter) explains why they appeal to us so much during our adolescence: while we're spending the rest of our lives coming to grips with an emotional and social reality that is new and complex and unpredictable, games offer us a place where we can safely cope with a recognizable and familiar order.
This is why the ludic delirium was so godawful. Whenever I closed my eyes, my brain kept on playing Shiren the Wanderer unabated. But it was as if the familiar logic had come unmoored, was stripped of all its comforting sense of stability and order. My mind kept traveling along in this insanely familiar space, but the experience was twisted into this Kafkaesque odyssey. I retained this feeling that I was wandering along these paths between towns (these dreams even had this overlying map-grid from the game), but any sense of progression or rule-guidedness was gone. I had this incoate feeling that the goal of my quest was to overcome this terrible illness (like, when my fever broke and the aches receded and my stomach settled down, it played out in-game like I had discovered some new town or accomplished something) but I had this horrible sense that my most intelligent efforts would avail me of nothing in this effort.
I think most people who play games as much as I do see this phenomenon to some extent, where the game-logic invades their everyday activities. There were some hilarious examples of this in the most recent Idle Thumbs podcast. This was some bad mojo, though. The moral: stay far far away from videogames if you have the death flu.
Now that I'm on the mend I have some some plans to talk about actual games that you can play, rather than the hallucinatory versions of them that are available exclusively on the in my fevered brain entertainment system. Stay tuned!