It’s taken a lot from me to write this piece, but I thought “fuck it!” and I’ve thrown caution to the wind. This is a rather intimate post discussing something that I’ve rarely spoken about with anyone. I finally thought it was time to put pen to paper, or so to speak.
Have you ever been affected by a game so much that you’ve literally had to sit down and think about life and the world around you? I mean really deeply? I have, and it wasn’t from an expected source. It wasn’t all that pleasant of an experience either.
Games have the ability to tell breathtaking stories in a way that films and TV never can. You can really immerse yourself and live out second lives, absorb gripping narratives and even grieve over fictional characters that at the end of the day, are just polygons and code.
The game that sent me away thinking is a gaming masterpiece and was an instant classic when it was released in 2010. It was gripping, inspiring, enjoyable and in moments, it was heart wrenching. Strangely enough, It had me questioning my existence and my purpose in the world.
The game is responsible? Mass Effect 2.
I can see your confusion, and that puzzled reaction you’ve just made. Yeah, your eyes squinted a little and your lips slightly puckered. It’s alright, I know it’s weird. I pull that face at my own reflection most mornings.
Any who, in the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I thought I’d reminisce and look back to the time I had my existential crisis. It was bizarre moment where I seemed to question the very foundations of my life and whether it possessed any meaning, purpose, or value. We’re going back a few years now, during the summer of 2011 if my memory serves me right. I’d started college a few months previous and was just finding my feet journeying into adult life (well, at least preparing for it). As is the case with most teenagers, I was a keen gamer with absolutely no worries in the world. I’ve always had a love for everything sci-fi and enjoyed the first Mass Effect game; so naturally, I bought Mass Effect 2. It’s clearly an awesome game in its own right and is hands down the best in the series. It’s plot, character building, voice acting and storytelling is superior to other games in the series in almost every way; including the latest one by the looks of the reviews!
Mass Effect 2 was a deeply personal game that had a lot of emotion involved. On the whole, the characters were great. Through decent voice acting and touching back stories you really empathised with your crew. It’s one of those games that really focus on the decisions you make, which can lead to some brilliant and/or heartbreaking game-altering moments.
As well written as Mass Effect 2 is, I don’t feel that anything the game does, narrative or gameplay-wise, compelled me ponder my existence, but more what it inspired my thoughts and dreams to focus on.
Right, I’m setting off on a tangent here. Make sure you keep up, as it’s all relative… kinda.
As I mentioned, I’m a lover of all things sci-fi and I’ve always had a passion for astronomy. When I was a youngling, I spent many a night lying in bed gazing up into the heavens, with my bedroom blind slightly open. Living in the UK means you see the sky just as often as a large-bellied man sees his genitals (what with the constant cloud coverage), but whenever I did catch glimpses of the moon and it’s surrounding stars, I could stare for hours… or at least until I fell asleep.
I’ve always been a firm believer that we are not alone in this universe. There are billions upon billions of planets out there. The odds of there being planets that are identical to ours are ridiculously high. It doesn’t even need to be like ours in terms of atmosphere and natural resources, but so long as the conditions are right, life can flourish. Surely? No? I can’t be wrong in thinking this, can I?
As such, games featuring extraterrestrial life play right into my hands. So when titles like Destroy All Humans, Halo, Mass Effect, StarCraft and even No Man’s Sky (…*sniff*…) come about, my interest is instantly peaked.
So clearly, I believe in aliens. I don’t believe that we’ve been visited by extraterrestrials, but I know they’re out there. What a nerd, right?!
“Get to the point!”
Ok, ok, you’re not interested in my life story! I get that. You just want to hear the gossip and what weirdness I have to offer you. Well, it’s all relative and I just fancied fleshing out this post with a sliver of back story. I’ll get there eventually, but seriously, keep reading. It’s done me some good to get all of this out of my system.
Basically, one evening I was walking through my neighbourhood. It’s was quiet enough to lose myself in my gormless thoughts.
I walked through my local park, guided by a single street lamp in the distance. I can’t recall the time, but it was late. Just past the lamppost was a bench (it’s been removed since, but I digress), I parked my bottom on the cool steel and I raised my head to examine the stars. I can remember this moment vividly; it was a clear summers night with not a cloud in the sky.
So there I sat, looking at the stars overhead with only my thoughts for company. I remained there for a good hour or two. Totally motionless.
All that kept circling in my mind was how small I was in such a large universe. How could my voice ever be heard in such an overpopulated, nonsensical world? I just felt that I had no purpose or reason for being where I was. How could I have any influence on anything or anyone in the grand scheme of things?
I mean, let’s look at the facts. Get your calculators out everyone! I’m going to inject a little understanding into this so you can see where it was I was coming from.
There are what, roughly 7,250,000,000 people living on Earth? And in our galaxy alone there are over 100,000,000,000 planets (not including over 400,000,000,000 stars!). Out of all of that, there’s only one of me! Although we’re all clearly unique, if this doesn’t make you feel inadequate, I don’t know what will.
Furthermore, if you consider the amount of galaxies that are actually out there it gets worse! We’re talking at least 200,000,000,000 discoverable galaxies within the universe, each with billions upon billions of their own planets…
Let’s just try that. I hope my mental arithmetic is on point.
200,000,000,000 galaxies x 100,000,000,000 planets = 20,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 total planets give or take. If you’re after a pronunciation, that’s 20 sextillion! The universe is endless, and as our technology advances and telescopes get better there is no doubt we will see more and more galaxies. Then on top of this, what if there’s more than just our universe? I mean, there’s absolutely no way of knowing. The absolute scale is incomprehensible.
But you’re telling me, that out off all that possibility, our measly planet is the only one that’s capable of supporting life? Bollocks.
It’s hilarious that a white girl from California thinks that she’s the centre of the known universe, but the above video does a great job showing you the scale I’m talking about. We’re just a drop in the ocean.
Anyway, I’m rather enjoying our little number-focused session; let’s continue!
Whilst our ancestors have been around for about 6 million years, the modern form of humans only evolved about 200,000 years ago. Civilisation as we know it is only about 6,000 years old, so let’s be generous and start there. We have been continuously evolving and advancing as a race for over 6,000 years. In that time we have never been to another planet, not even to one of our neighbours. The most we’ve managed to muster is a brief journey or two (it’s actually six) to the Moon; which is barely a stone’s throw away from Earth and only happened in the last century. We’re a primitive species, and we’re quite clearly thousands of more years of deep space exploration.
So there I sat on that cool Summer’s night, just dreaming.
What purpose do I have? What is the point in being here?
Truthfully, it’s an answer I still haven’t found.
I still can’t quite put my finger on why Mass Effect 2 made me think this way. Perhaps it was the realisation of a childhood dream: being able to freely roam the cosmos visiting different planets and witnessing alien species firsthand.
Who knows where it came from, but it was an evening that I’ll never forget.
Just before I finish up, I just want to make a few things clear. I don’t have depression or anxiety and I’m fortunate enough to have never been personally affected by it.
In the days that followed my ‘mid-teen crisis’ as I’m calling it, I spent most of my time moping around my house and feeling sorry for myself. I had absolutely no get-up-and-go about me, and was disinterested in everything. I spent most of my time just lay in bed staring at the wall. It took a few days, but I soon became my sprightly self again.
It was a weird, out-of-body experience, and it’s one that I wouldn’t wish on anybody. Although I’m not claiming to know what it’s like to suffer with depression, I feel that I can relate to it somewhat. It was completely out of character for me, but has always had a profound effect on the way I see the world.
Words like ‘depression’, ‘mental illness’ and ‘suicide’ are thrown around a lot nowadays but there’s still no doubt that a stigma surrounds the whole topic and it’s something that we need to talk more about. Just to clarify, I’ve never had any suicidal thoughts. I’ve lost friends to mental illness in the past, and the devastation left behind is just something I could never hope to put my family and friends through.
If you’re ever feeling down, I’d suggest you speak to someone. There’s no need to bottle it up. I’ve never felt as alone as I did that night, but chatting about it really helped. I was called a blithering idiot a few times, but it certainly helped.