The sudden arrival of a quiet world is both a balm in an aggressively busy world, and deafeningly loud for all of its sudden silence.
I am comforted by the aesthetic of quiet.
I find the idea of reading a book while rain patters against the window of a little nook set off of a living room to be the platonic ideal of how to spend an unscheduled afternoon. The gentle percussion of raindrops and the warm whisper of the central heating providing the soundtrack to a moment of quiet comfort.
This moment isn’t silent, but it is a moment devoid of the usual rush and press of modern living. We are never further than an arm’s reach from a busy inbox or several chat programs, a text message, or a self-fueling social media feed. Even without the rush of sound, this world is unapologetically loud, willing to take up mental bandwidth at every opportunity, even moments that are anything but opportune.
In theory, I should find these moments of captured quiet to be a balm, but I never have. If I am sharing space with someone, even those with whom I am very close, I find the quiet is strained. An invisible thread of anxiety rakes my senses, and I find myself wanting to say something, anything, to chase away the quiet for just a moment. That brief snippet of conversation, of levity or humor, feels like breaching the surface after holding my breath, a sudden rush of air. Then, inevitably, when I run out of things to say, I find myself desperately needing to say something. Anything. To chase away the quiet for just a moment.
I don’t fault myself for this. As life gets busier, we’re on the cusp of an unending deluge of news feeds and messages. Life’s volume seems to turn itself up as well. Media like music and movies are mixed to max out volume, pushing larger and louder limits to explosions and gunshots. Pop music bumps its way across the airwaves, tuned to pulse through speakers with every watt of power. I can’t think of the last time a movie was willing to make no sounds, halt all visuals, and let itself linger in the quiet. Life, for better or worse, has gotten loud.
Then it got extremely quiet.
The platonic quiet nook has become the sole window to the world outside. Cars pass, occasional pedestrians wander by with dogs or strollers, but the healthiest choice for the past year has been to remain on the cushion, against the wall, and watch the world through the pane.
During the pandemic, media has really become the strongest link to the outside world. Many have turned to online games, gaming communities, and small social gaming groups to gather a modest digital slice of what used to be. While I have certainly continued to fill my social circles with digital voices, one of the ways I’ve wanted to come to grips with this unyielding pandemic is to chip away at my fear of the quiet. To undo the constant gnawing sense that if I’m not filling the air with something, it is instead filled with articles of my inadequacy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I found a great deal of difficulty finding games that had the sort of quiet I was looking for. Even games that are typically casual—farming sims and island managers—still seemed to carry with them pointed goals. Daily check-ins, goals to complete, the endless march of time pulling the finish line ever closer.
One of the games that best communicated to me a sense of amiable quiet was VA-11 Hall-A, a game about being a bartender. The city around Valhalla, in the midst of a push to be the vanguard of the normalization of cyberization, is a strident city full of conflict and intrigue. However, as the bartender, your goals are simple. Show up to work, mix a few drinks, chat with the customers, and see what the next day brings. The player is never the agent in the city’s grandstanding. The bartender does not moonlight as a crime fighter or a spy. They are a bartender, quietly nerdy, sociable but slightly introverted, taking in the socialites and the unsavory alike, mixing them a drink, and giving them a stool for a handful of minutes.
Over the pandemic I’ve found similar games, Coffee Talk and Kind Words, which offer me samples of an expectationless quiet. They are games that feel all the more important now that the quiet is the only thing immediately visible in the road forward. Something to help me enjoy the space, unburdened by the constant buzzing of my own mind. That perhaps at the end of all this I won’t feel the strong need to fill my days with something, anything, to help chase away the quiet.
Perhaps a comfortable nook, with gentle rain and the whisper of air.