2.23.2004

I've been playing video games lately.

As I mentioned earlier, every few years I get in a rut where nearly all my free time is occupied with the video games. Every time, I fixate on a single game, though I might take a break from it with some others (a kind of rest from video games... playing video games), there's the one game I return to again and again until I feel I have mastered it. In the past, it's been Tekken 3, which I have yet to be convincingly schooled at; MLB baseball, which took all of two hours to master, and now I just play it for fun, to see how many runs I can score; Goldeneye, which I came to an uneasy truce with, after realizing the N64 controller doesn't fit my hands, and the play-action is kinda bad (I did beat the game, though); Bionic Commando, which is my second favorite game ever; and Metroid, which is simply the most imaginative, economical, and best video game ever made. This time, I'm playing Tetris.

In the past, it had always been a relief game - after three unsuccessful tries at defeating Metroid's Mother Brain, or after missing the final bazooka shot at the helicopter in Bionic Commando, I'd pop in Tetris, and relax with the interlocking shapes. The shapes and the music lulled me into a kind of hypnosis, a place where the earlier frustrations dissolved, and in ten minutes' time I was ready to go back to war.

Now, the interlocking blocks are the war. If you're familiar with the game, you might be thinking: "Tetris can never end. It's a futile task." Sure, if you play the A-Game, starting at Level 0 and advancing in speed. But there's a B-Game.

The rules of the B-Game in Tetris are these:

  1. You pick your level, which dictates the speed. The higher the level, the faster the blocks fall.
  2. You pick the height, from zero to five. The higher the number, the higher the "noise", random blocks and obstacles generated on the play field.
  3. To master the level, you must get twenty-five lines.

I've mastered levels 0-8 at height 5, and I've come within 4 lines of defeating the fastest, highest - in actuality, the most difficult - level Tetris has. As I write these words, very nearly my only desire is to defeat this level, to make sense of all these awkward shapes.

Why? To make sense of my life.

For years, I've been unhappy with the direction my life is going. Obviously, I have a lot to be happy and thankful about - Lee, Lili, good friends, a caring and close family - but it seems that there are pieces to the puzzle that don't fit anywhere, that can't find harmony with the other things. I have commitments that do not harmonize with my goals and desires. Certain plans for the future - my desire to write, make personal digital videos, and reduce my dependence upon the system - cannot be realized with the obstacles already existing in my life - the big corporate job, the child support payments, and a mysterious obligation I feel to tradition and outworking my forebears. But I have to integrate these things, or eliminate them, or assimilate them.

I cannot keep stacking one thing on top of the other as though all these conflicting things fit together. So I'm playing out my life, my future, in my living room. If I can't keep my wits about me well enough to put these irregular blocks together, how can I hope to make my life work?

One could accuse me of inflating a trifle to epic proportions, but the epics of our lives are composed of trifles, situation after situation in which we must choose, a succession of small pictures that, when run sequentially, become a life. To fail at something so small as a recreational abstract challenge would doom me, metaphorically speaking.

It is probable that when I finally defeat Tetris to my satisfaction, I will abandon video games for good. I will sell all three (!) of the consoles I own, and all the related gear. This struggle with Tetris is my swan song with regard to video games, an effort to beat the unbeatable game. But until I've put this one tiny piece into the right space, until I assimilate it with all that has come before, I cannot move forward.

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