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Horrid Plague Year: A Personal Account

A personal account of how small games made me feel real in a year where nothing did

Published onJan 09, 2021
Horrid Plague Year: A Personal Account

Lockdown for me began March 22. Bigger cities on the east coast had started locking down, and it seemed Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa, Florida would issue the order in the next couple of days. I felt the weight of the imminent lockdown bearing down, but I figured I’d see my girlfriend as much as possible before then. So I asked my parents if I could bike over to her house.

I think we want to get ahead of that order a bit. I’m sorry.

I knew why, I understood. I’m disabled, a medical mystery. Who knows what would happen if I caught the virus. I might be fine, or I might die. I’m lucky to have been born into a white, middle-class family who could comfortably afford my medical expenses. I still cried that night.

At first I tried to pick up different hobbies. Candy-making, gardening, carpentry. None of it helped, really.1 I floated along through the year in a dissociative haze, wishing I could sleep through to the end of all this, regardless of how nebulously defined “the end” might be.

In the third act of the year, I turned back to videogames.

I played Paratopic. The grayish-greenish sickly miasma over everything reminded me of the thick haze of smoke I saw in so many pictures of the West Coast. The world so empty of life, so often put at a distance.

I played Sagebrush. Its kenopsia2 is so suffocating I prayed every moment there would be a person. Any person.

I played “The English Evergreens David Bowie Is Running To,” a walking simulator from the Peak Bleak Blues anthology. I ran and ran, the boughs and needles of evergreens whipping across my face, the hills rolling, waving, like an angry sea frozen in time. God, I needed to run. I needed to run away. The heat of the Floridian sun kept me inside, viewing the world only through the window next to my desk, through the windows on my monitor. All through a filter, always in microcosm.

I played A Mortician's Tale, which firmly asserted my mortality and told me to embrace it. I couldn’t. Not for a while, at least.

I played The Shadows That Run Alongside Our Car. It felt like those precious two weeks where I rode home from rehearsal or a performance with a friend. Empty parking lots, politics, a boring sedan, and dark, quiet roads. Some of the last few times I felt truly myself.

I played a new life. It hurt and stung and there was nothing I could do. In July, it hurt and it stung and there was nothing I could do.

I played Cover Me In Leaves, one night so late and so sleep-deprived, so hopped up on soda pop and Ritalin that I couldn’t remember it when I woke. Just that I had changed. I was, for a moment, the Jesus of Suburbia. And I will not die in this town.

Every experience through the lens of this horrid plague year.

I don’t have a moral. I don’t know what this all means. But I know that games made me feel real.

Nate Kiernan:

This was lovely. There is something very intimate and tangible about smaller games, I feel as if I have similarly shifted very hard into them in search of connection. It helps, if only for a moment.

Blaise Paine:

Thank you so much! I think part of what makes small games so effective so often is that by limiting their scope, they can target very specific experiences. Big, multi-year, large team experiences can’t afford to limit their audience, nor do they have the internal consistency to focus on such specific feelings. I really appreciate your praise, KRITIQAL is some of my favorite games writing on the internet.