Sorrow’s Furnace

tfw no gw
>tfw no gw

The word nostalgia was once used to describe the homesickness felt by soldiers deployed abroad in the vast colonial lands of Europe. Nostalgia was treated as a medical condition, an excess of black bile causing an acute melancholy in those who suffered from it. Today, nostalgia refers to a longing for the recent past, a contracting span of time shrinking with each passing year. Decades are reduced to curated pop culture selections and sold back to us as if buying them could somehow take us back in time. We do not long for home anymore but the films, music, and video games of our youth.

When Americans are not arguing about politics or divulging our health issues to strangers, we are talking about pop culture. Film, music, and video games act as the cultural waypoints by which we navigate the desolate wilderness of our own hyperreality. With nothing in common other than a vague, fading sense of national identity, we form friendships and communities around these mutual interests. High school cliques originate in part from one’s preferred media selections: those who watch sports, those who listen to hip hop, those who play World of Warcraft (though the football teams of my day seemed to secretly share an interest in all three).

I spent the better part of middle school in the fictional land of Tyria, the setting for ArenaNet’s 2005 online role-playing game Guild Wars. Guild Wars was structured much in the same way as World of Warcraft and Everquest, though it borrowed the best elements from each and eschewed many of the typical MMORPG norms that made its contemporaries such a chore to play.

Gone were the long hours of endlessly grinding for levels and rare items: Guild Wars put its players on relatively equal footing in regards to experience and gear. Success in player-versus-player content, a core component of the game, often came down to team composition and player skill. The game consumed hundreds of hours of my youth, yet eleven years later I find myself without a shred of regret.

Growing up in a southern California exurb leaves you with limited options for entertainment. These towns were built for families working in Los Angeles and function solely as places to sleep at night before beginning another two hour commute the next morning on the 5 Freeway. When you are young and unable to drive a car, your very existence is limited to school and home. There were no kids on my street growing up and my extended family had long since left the state. Outside of school, there wasn’t much to do.

I used to regret spending so much of my childhood immersed in virtual worlds. I was told the days and weeks I put into playing video games were a waste of time. Looking back now, I empathize more with my situation. What else was I supposed to do? My family scarcely went on vacation or took weekend trips. Every vacation I remember was ruined because of some logistical error or grand, week-long argument. It was a relief to return home for the summer, even more of a relief when school started.

Guild Wars was, more than any game I have ever played, an escape from the mundanity of my younger years. I convinced my friends from school to start playing and within a few months we had a functioning guild. After class we would rush home, log on, and put each other on speaker phone while completing quests and missions.

MMORPGs have a trope called the “holy trinity” which consists of a tank, a healer, and a DPS. The tank mans the frontlines, absorbing enemy hits while the healer keeps him alive and the DPS does damage. I played Warrior in Guild Wars (the original tank profession) and my two friends played Monk (a healing profession) and Elementalist (a spellcasting DPS profession) respectively. Together we explored and conquered Tyria, from the frigid Shiverpeaks to the dense jungles of Maguuma.

The game was for us the adventure we lacked in our young lives. Boys are supposed to play in the woods, get into fights, and generally cause mischief. In our real world of helicopter parents, bureaucratic school administrations, and overbearing government, we have to increasingly seek virtual means to fulfill that which is innate in our sex. Sports and video games, the two remaining outlets for a boy’s competitive nature, provide some relief. But in a repressive culture without some higher calling, some higher purpose, they are ultimately substitutes for more worthwhile endeavors.

By the time the second expansion Nightfall was released, my friends and I had moved on. The guild that we had started was full of inactive players and the cities and outposts throughout the game world grew empty. Though the servers are still active today, returning to the game leaves you with a vague sense of unease. Hardly anyone still plays these days. The communities that were formed within the game have disbanded and gone their separate ways. The sense of uneasiness I felt was only shared upon returning home from college the first time: the town I grew up in strangely devoid of life, the majority of the people I used to know having left for greener pastures.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Guild Wars would be the start of my interaction with others online. MMORPGs predated social media and were how you used to talk to your friends over the Internet. The barrier to entry kept people who didn’t share your hobby offline watching MTV or whatever it was normal kids did those days. For a while, the Internet was a paradise for those who played video games. Almost everyone who spent their free time on the computer was just like you. We were a part of something that will never be experienced again.

What will happen to these virtual communities when they eventually cease to exist, when the servers are shut down and the worlds we grew up in vanish? We’ll be left with memories of times and places, real in a sense to those who remember them but virtual nonetheless. The Internet once provided us a window to vast, fantastic virtual lands when our own reality wasn’t much to look at. Now all we see are the very reflections of our hideous reality in the social media sites and advertisements that have colonized the Web.

I suppose you really can’t go home again.

Russian Blue

Say Yes To Drugs.

They say eyes are the windows to the soul. What does that even mean? Most of the eyes I look into are dead. There’s no soul behind those eyes, no signs of intelligent life. The SETI Institute picks up more signs of intelligent life from across the universe than I encounter in the glassed-over vitreous orbs of the Bug Men that stare back at me.

There’s nothing as profoundly alienating as the blank, bug-eyed stare people give you when you interrupt them during one of their monologues. These people don’t want to talk with you. They want to talk at you. They want to tell you all about their dog, or why their car brakes were squeaking, or about the myriad of virile, young Italian soccer players that have been stalking them in their fertile age of 52.

Unmarried women should be forced to become nuns and hit little Catholic school kids on the fingers with rulers. That would prove a larger boon to society than a legal secretary or a medical office receptionist or whatever else these surplus women do with their miserable little lives. I don’t feel pity for them because they’re usually awful bitches deep down. You can tell when you try to correct one when she’s babbling on about something mundane. Correct some minute, inconsequential detail about her monologue. Go ahead, try it.

First, you’ll get the bug-eyed stare. That’s if they hear you in the first place. They forget they weren’t talking to their precious puppy, forget that you are a sentient being capable of transmitting complex forms of thought (hopefully), and are pulled out of their reverie by your sudden comment. Confusion strikes initially. Then irritation, frustration, and even anger manifest.

How dare you bring her back to reality? She’s childless, alone, and spends her nights with light romance novels and phallic vegetables. She must be allowed to live in Disneyland (she is a princess after all). Besides wine and Xanax, it’s her only coping mechanism. Your comment shatters the illusion, ushering her back into the cold, cold world. Now she hates you. She’ll make a snide, passive-aggressive comment. You won’t say anything back because you need to cheat off her test and don’t want her to start sitting on the other side of the lecture hall. You realize why nobody loves her and why nobody ever will.

I need to stop listening to people. I’m going to start charging for my time. They pay their psychiatrists and I’m essentially fulfilling the same function. What a terrible job. I do not envy the psychiatrist. Well, I envy his unlimited access to medication. Don’t take any of that shit, by the way. You won’t be able to hear the voices anymore.

The big question is how do we prevent ourselves from becoming like this woman in our own middle age? Smith & Wesson are always there for you if you feel yourself too far gone down that path, but there must be a more economical solution. Bullets are expensive. I suppose a vibrant social life in a multigenerational, homogenous rural community would do the trick. But that’s as unrealistic as these bug-eyed women not dying alone and incontinent in some godforsaken hospital bed.

I’ve longed hypothesized that neurodegenerative diseases like dementia are due to social alienation in old age. There’s some island in the Mediterranean where these types of diseases don’t seem to occur. Scientists haven’t quite been able to figure out how being surrounded by friends and family, eating and drinking well, and living on an island in the Mediterranean is good for health, however.

It seems the possibility of having this type of life grows ever smaller with each passing year. I’m making enough money where I have a roof over my head in a nice part of town and expensive eggs from Whole Foods. But it’s not fulfilling. Nothing ever is fulfilling. Not even chasing girls. The hunt is fun. But by some miracle when you manage to catch one you grow quickly tired of her. You’ll do everything you can to avoid having sex and dump her after a month or two.

I nearly went home with a co-worker last weekend. She was a pretty Russian girl, drunk out of her mind in traditional Russian fashion. Guys were buzzing around her like flies all night, buying her drinks and trying to make her laugh with lines they stole from some idiot comedian on Comedy Central. I walked by her and she called my name, anything to swat the flies away. I flirted with her, she with me. Her eyes were different: vast blue oceans of profound, immeasurable depth. Was this the fabled Russian spirit?

The only Russian word I know is пизда because that’s all Russians say when you’re wrestling. I could beat everyone in my BJJ class in college except the stout Russian guy from Kazakhstan and the instructor (also Russian). I’d last about fifteen seconds and find myself pinned under two hundred pounds of Slav. No escape. I would have my revenge with this girl. We weren’t going to have sex, we were going to wrestle and I was going to make her submit to America, to freedom, to capitalism.

Eye contact is the second hardest thing in the world. Eye contact with Russian women is the first. Their women are genetically engineered in Soviet labs to sniff out weakness. American men are faggots, she told me. I agreed. You don’t look American. I’m not, I lied. I made her guess what European country she thought I was from and she guessed Italy. Good enough.

She was married and all throughout the conversation her husband (an American faggot, she reassured me) was blowing up her phone with frantic, worried messages. Please respond. I guess green cards are hard to come by these days. She opened up the Uber application and sent for a ride home. Where do you live? I pointed to the left. She paused and embraced me and left the bar, left my life.

Wild World

Wild World.

A chubby, stuffed bear wobbled up to me today and started talking about bread pudding. This wasn’t the first time this week we had talked about dessert: just yesterday he told me he was making peach cobbler. The stuffed bear broke out in a fit of awkward laughter. He had eaten all of the bread pudding already, and not realizing this, had offered me some. Maybe next time. He waddled back into the woods and I continued strolling towards the coast.

I played Animal Crossing: Wild World on and off for the better part of a decade. I got the game for Christmas in December 2005 and put it down after finally catching the elusive coelacanth in the spring of 2013. The coelacanth is a super rare fish that only appears when it’s raining in your town, which is pretty much never. What makes the coelacanth a challenge for even the most experienced anglers is that they have the same shadow as the ubiquitous sea bass. You don’t know if the fish you’re about to catch is the most common fish in the game or a priceless, living fossil.

Sometimes I played Wild World every day for weeks at a time. The Animal Crossing series is incredibly digestible and is best enjoyed in daily thirty minute sessions. I would play Wild World almost immediately after coming home from middle school. Flipping open my white Nintendo DS Lite, I would find new furniture to buy, new visitors to meet, and new fish and bugs to catch.

The game sounds stupid when you try to explain it to people, but it’s probably even more stupid to spend hundreds of hours of your precious childhood catching virtual fish and talking to stuffed bears about dessert items. My town, the creatively named ‘Hyrule’, was like a second home: a refuge from the real world. Old PlayStation ads used to tell me to live in my world and play in theirs. But I just wanted to live in theirs.

The real world blows. When Mark Zuckerberg becomes president and hooks us all up to a 24/7 VR simulation and beams ads into our eyeballs forever, I will call that an improvement. I no longer look down on the meek NEET, the techno-oblate of our time. The NEET is part of a global religious brotherhood, his sordid bedroom a monastery to the devotion of the Machine.

Shall we too submit to the Machine? There’s surely no escaping it: even autistic Amish kids are watching Minecraft Let’s Plays on YouTube. What do we have to gain other than the smug superiority of having an iPhone a few years out of date? I’m special, he says, I don’t need the latest and greatest. He posts this from his 2013 MacBook Pro.

I didn’t make a Facebook account until the end of college. Who knows how many parties I wasn’t invited to, how many friends disappeared into the ether because I couldn’t keep in contact? Who really won: me or Mark? Use social media or you will be punished socially, you will face repercussions. The Silicon Valley mafia will show up at your door in the middle of the night, bearded men wearing thick-framed glasses and flannel shirts will storm into your home, and they will drill an Oculus Rift into the bony margins of your orbital canals.

Do you know why the real world blows? You know because when you wake up from a dream you’re horrified that it wasn’t real. You’re back here and have to be at work in an hour. Nobody ever had such a good day that they were frightened to fall asleep on the off chance it wasn’t real. Even nightmares are more interesting than your life. You at least get to be chased by some demonic entity beyond your comprehension rather than sit stuck in freeway traffic on your way back home from work.

The scary thing is that there may be no escape from it all. You will die and after drifting through a tunnel for what seems like hours you will be presented with a popup message: please log in to continue. Cue Jeff Bezos laughing in the distance…

I had a room full of Japanese themed furniture in Wild World. The west wing of my house was decked out in samurai swords, ninja stars, wall scrolls, and one of those bamboo teeter-totter things that fill with water. There was this cute half-Japanese girl who used to talk to me in middle school until I beat up a sixth grader. I’m kind of glad she stopped talking to me because I was very close to becoming a weeb. However, the Sim Managers had granted me one saving grace.

I was spared from complete social obliteration as a child solely due to the fact that I never got into anime. Video games became more or less socially acceptable in 2007 when Halo 3 and Modern Warfare were released. Anime never became cool and will never become cool. It is the last vestige of anti-modern entertainment. The Japanese do their own thing, even if they say something completely different to your face.

I’ve seen some of the classics, notably Cowboy Bebop and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but I never went much further than that. The night I lost my virginity I immediately left the girl in my room and watched Black Lagoon on Toonami: a final, tongue in cheek nod to the most incel of artistic mediums. I’ve seen anime ruin lives in ways sports or even reality television could never accomplish. I’ve seen good kids turn into wretched, hulking monstrosities of men. You know when someone watches way too much anime. You just know.


I turned on my Nintendo DS Lite the other day and my town hadn’t changed. ‘Hyrule’ was infested with weeds and my flower garden was dead, but everything was pretty much the same. My mansion with its red roof, the secluded shoreline full of coral below the shopping mall, and my orchard of exotic fruit were all still there. I walked across the bridge connecting the two halves of my town and journeyed through the woods.

The stuffed bear was gone. We never got to have bread pudding.