When you read this, you start playing. This game is all about you – that is, it is about me. And now it is about you as well. You might not fully understand what the goal of this game is. Don’t worry, neither do I.
You will need some things to play, and you won’t always have them. There are steps to follow, but there are no paths that everyone can walk. At some point, the game will be over. Then we will have cake.
1. The World
One thing is always true: you begin somewhere. We connect ourselves to location, to movement, we see the choices that govern our bodies and we make them our choices. Sometimes we do this to achieve social change, but mostly we do this to gain levels. Roll two dice, and add their lessons together:
2-6 We are born of clay and mud, to uproot our ancestry is to claim it in the most perverse way. You say no one is above the law? I say there is law below us all.
7-9 We cannot afford to play for fun. To stand in solidarity with people fighting for justice, we must know ourselves. When you reach level 3, you will know yourself.
10+ This option is still being playtested. If you roll this option, please roll again until you roll an option that is not still being playtested. If, by a statistical anomaly, you keep rolling this option for all eternity, may God help you.
You are the centerpiece, a meaningless distraction in a time that hates you. You sit atop an anthill named reason. You may choose up to four upgrades for your anthill, but you may never enter the tunnels that burrow underneath. As they coil around themselves, they spell out the meaning of life in a language you can’t read. When you reach level 5, you will be able to read it.
After step one, we can no longer deny the world. Trace it to your veins, and choose three:
– you will do one (1) good thing every day
– you will be better tomorrow
– you must be kinder to yourself
– you have not done your one (1) good thing today yet
– you should have started yesterday
– you must earn your own kindness
– you do not deserve tomorrow if you do not catch up
– your one (1) good intention has become two (2) bad things
– you do bad things
– you are a bad person
– you cannot cross your problems off a list
– your problems are the world’s problems
– you are the problem
This will be enough for now. As explained in step one, you are not the world. When you reach level 10, you will become the world. Then we will have justice, and cake.
I step onto the fresh snow, waiting for the cracking under my boots. Unenthusiastic sopping greets me. Another disappointment.
“I didn’t think the sun would look so different out here,” I say as I turn to Ray. He nods.
“We all underestimate how much we need to be close to things to understand them.” He’s right, of course. The state-mandated patches of grass, the bikes softly rusting on the pavement, even the neighbor’s dog – whom I hate – all have an uncanny quality, like they were designed by someone looking through the bottom of a drinking glass.
“I don’t know, Ray. If you get too close, you just see dots.” I tap my glasses pedantically. He says something about understanding jokes and dissecting frogs, but I’m not listening. Sometimes I just imagine him saying something, and it’s just as good as the real thing. We start walking.
After about ten minutes, Ray decides that now would be the perfect time to talk about the future. He points to an oval-shaped apartment block. It’s a beige ulcer amidst the greenery, casting an umbra of dissatisfaction even as its white rooftop leaks off into the designated gutter. I just can’t seem to enjoy the smell of air recently.
“I’ve heard they house students and elderly residents there. They pay half of your rent if you help out with shopping and visit the lonely ones.” He’s relentless.
“Sounds efficient. I wonder how many caught the virus.”
“I reckon it’s a good step up from the bed slash couch slash dinner table.” He pauses, then looks me in the eye. His sincerity makes me want to vomit. “Think about it.”
I don’t. “With the way things are going, those old folks are more likely to take care of us than the other way around.”
“Don’t say that. We’re doing so well.”
“We’ve been inside for eight months, Ray. I don’t have a clue what ‘doing well’ looks like anymore.”
“We’re talking. That’s an improvement.”
“You’re talking. I’m trying to enjoy the walk.”
He turns quiet in the loudest way possible. When we reach the house where the cat lives, he softens. The snow seems almost liquid. We imagine blossom petals tumbling into our boot prints. I wish he could stay mad at me.
Before we head home, I take us past the fountain next to the football cage. We count four frogs. Ray declares that they are all in a gay relationship together. I explain that frogs undergo parthenogenesis and don’t need relationships. He tells me to stop dissecting his jokes.
“Besides, everyone needs relationships.” He sticks his hands in his pockets. “You are doing better, you know.”
The neighbor looks up from his dog as it descends the steps to the pavement one by one.
“Who are you talking to,” he asks.
“No one,” I sigh.
Did you forget that you were playing? You shouldn’t, now that you know what the stakes are. You should play, because dreaming a world can uncover what this one lacks. You should dream, because the voice that speaks in the dark is always the one that wants to tear down, never to build. You should speak, because black lives matter, and a better world is coming. You matter, because you’re not the sum total of your failures and your successes. You are everything you can be, and there is no end to what you can become. That is why we play.
By Rico van Opheusden