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At the Gates of Hades: Acquiring a Void

Published onJan 11, 2021
At the Gates of Hades: Acquiring a Void

I’m going to tell you a secret: I’m not very good at games.

Here’s another secret: I study the archaeology of videogames, but I often avoid games with overt historical or archaeological themes because I’m scared I won’t know if they’re accurate or not.

And here’s a very poorly kept secret: I love Hades (2020), a game I am bad at…which is based on ancient Greek mythology.

A lot of people have already written about Hades as allegory for the pandemic experience. After all, it is about repeatedly trying (and failing) to escape hell. The irony is: Hades was an escape from the pandemic for me. When my thoughts were racing, I could turn on my Switch and focus on endless runs of it instead. For a few days during betwixtmas I was caught in a seemingly endless, blissful feedback loop of death, enhanced damage resistance, more death. Hades handed me a flask of digital annihilation, I chugged it down then screamed: ANOTHER!

In his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami writes:

But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.

Playing Hades, for me, was about acquiring a void. Despite the pandemic truncating my ability to socialise and see loved ones, I still often felt overstimulated and burnt out just from existing. The freedom of not being claustrophobic under the weight of my own thoughts seemed like a gift from the gods.

Then the void started to take shape—and that shape had three heads.

You may have heard of Cerberus, the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades. In Supergiant’s Hades, Cerberus still does this but performs a much more important role as an emotional tie between protagonist Zagreus, his father, and his mother. It would be generous to say that Zag and his father Hades have a dysfunctional relationship. When I came out of my emotional void, I found myself pierced by a single line spoken by Hades to his son seeking his mother: “Tell her Cerberus is doing very well.”

Cutting through all the pettiness, rage, and grief is this shared softness for their beloved pet. To say that this story of the house of Hades hit a little too close to home for me would be an understatement. It reminded me of own relationship with my family and our one unfailing consensus: our love for our pets.

Now, as I glimpse the finish line of this piece, I can circle back to the sense of inadequacy and fear that I started with. My fear of failure has held me back. Though I sometimes need to acquire a void, I need to make sure it never acquires me.

So if you’re reading this and you’re wondering where I ran to next, just know this:

Cerberus is doing very well.

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