It’s Thanksgiving. I’m still unemployed, so I’m a little more broke today than I was yesterday. I’m sick, my wife is sick, and our kid is at his dad’s for the holiday. When he gets home, I’ll go buy a Christmas tree with money I don’t have that I can’t afford to put any presents under, and that’s probably how he’ll find out the truth about Santa Claus.
Life Bytes: Growing Up Geek
I started the day off bleak and miserable, so I decided to do what I always do when depression’s razor claws dig deep into the tender bits of my fleshier regions: I retreated into nostalgia.
Which is what this whole Life Bytes series is about, really. Wistfully looking back on yesterday, when things made sense and the world seemed kind of fair. Games were black and white – you were a good guy fighting bad guys, or sometimes you were a bad guy and that was okay, too. There were clear boundaries. You just had to stay within them, and everything was fine.
This naive thought process extended beyond the games, too. When I was a kid growing up in the ’80s, anything was possible. (More on that here.) By the time the grunge-tinted ’90s rolled around, I graduated high school, started college, and became an obnoxious 20-something. And life was still good.
I still believed in all the same things, even if I grew a little less innocent with each passing year. I still thought hard work would be rewarded with something other than just more work. I still believed in the American dream. I still bought into the idea that you could be anything you wanted, if you just worked hard enough. So that’s what I did. I worked. A lot.
Which leads us into the new century. When everything went to hell.
My last entry covered Ultima IX, which was released in 1999. I haven’t posted a new entry since then, because I didn’t want to get into the 2000s. The turn of the century, for me, marks an unhappy time in my life. Shortly after the nation was forever changed by the September 11th attacks in 2001, I began my own little medieval times: my Dark Ages, if you will. The whole period represents nothing more to me than wasted potential, missed opportunity, and lost innocence.
I don’t like to think about those years, much less write about them. But if I’m going to continue this series, I guess I kind of have to.
But not today.
Today, I need one more dip into the soothing waters of nostalgia before the 2000s come along and pee in the pool. I need…GOG.
For a nostalgia-obsessed freakazoid like myself, there is nothing better than GOG.com. In the past, it was just a great place to buy good old games and some amazing new ones at a great price and DRM-free. But sometime last year, I found the GOG.com Twitch channel, and I discovered how amazing the GOG community is.
The stream team is great, the chat regulars are amazing, and no one tolerates jerkfaces. That’s not to say that there’s any specific anti-jerkface policy or anything – and the moderators rarely flex any enforcement muscle. Rather, it’s just that a sort of self-policing thing organically happens in the chat, where annoying Internet People feel unwelcome as long as they’re being annoying Internet People.
It’s kind of like spraying a petri dish with antibacterial juice and then watching as nothing awful grows in it.
People are nice to each other. Decent. It’s as welcoming a community as the one Jenny Lawson has built around TheBloggess, only it includes video games. If Jenny was a gamer, she’d stream for GOG.com. Truth.
For example, shortly after I woke up this morning feeling awful and depressed, I tweeted about not being able to afford to buy any presents to put under the Christmas tree this year, and about how my son deserves better than me. (I feel absolutely worthless.)
Almost immediately, I started getting messages from GOGers. They sent me kind words of support and compassion, of understanding and encouragement. Unprovoked, unsolicited kindness: the GOG community defined.
I’m still going to stress about Christmas, even though my kid isn’t expecting any presents this year – not because he understands how much money we don’t have right now, but because he is amazing and wonderful.
About a month ago, he earned $10 from his Math teacher at school for having the best grade in his class on a test. When I picked him up from school and he told me about it, he said he wanted to donate his prize to charity. He’s nine years old, that $10 was all the money he had in the world – and he wanted to give it away.
So he did. I took him to get a money order since he doesn’t have a checking account because he’s 9, and he sent his life fortune to the UNHCR, to help Syrian refugees. (Thanks to Neil Gaiman’s influence, which just goes to show how important Good People are.) While adults are still busy arguing over whether to extend basic human decency to those in need, my kid just went ahead and did it. Because he’s a better man than most of the grown-ups I know.
Then he took it a step further, while composing his letter to Santa Claus:
“I know I’ve been really good this year and you might have a lot of presents for me, but I don’t really need anything. I already have a great life, so please give my presents to kids whose lives aren’t so great right now. Like maybe the kids in Syria who need them more than I do. If you really want to bring me something, just surprise me. I’ll be happy about that.”
He really is the best kid ever – and yes, he still believes in Santa. He believes hard, too – which is going to make this year all the more painful, when I can’t buy him anything. Is there any worse way for such a great kid to find out the bitter truth than an empty tree on Christmas morning?
I’ll get back to writing the next real chapter in this series soon enough, but today I need my GOG friends. As I said, I’m sick and broke, so there will be no Thanksgiving feast with friends and family today. There’s just me, my equally sick wife, and our dogs. And Netflix. Obviously.
But there’s also GOG.com, and the stream team. And the chat. And the games.
Life might suck right now – and I’ll be just as broke and unemployed tomorrow as I am today – but for now, I can laugh and smile with friends I’ve never met. I can crack lame jokes, watch fun games being enjoyed, and generally not feel like I’m a Dickensian street urchin standing outside life’s bakery with my face pressed up against the window.
© 2015 – 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.