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The Good Path

Published onJan 08, 2021
The Good Path

On a Tuesday night in the middle of a global pandemic, I drove to pick up a restaurant order so that GrubHub would not take a 30 percent cut from my favorite Korean restaurant’s thin margins. On the drive home, I saw a new brewery had opened and people were seated elbow-to-elbow outside, maskless. I saw the fancy steakhouse had people filling the tables, maskless.

I’ve been playing a game on my phone called Lightracer: Ignition. It’s a science fiction game where you navigate an ark to save your species from the inevitable death of the universe. Your fuel is the planets along the way. My character is asked to make a choice. Do I consume an inhabited planet and speed up my journey to the center of the universe, or do I preserve the planet and slow my progress by a few in-game centuries? Act a little selfishly to the fictional aliens I encounter, and accumulate the resources I need a bit quicker? Or sacrifice for the benefit of those aliens, whom I haven’t met, and act for the common good at my own expense?

We have two-and-a-half-year-old twins who haven’t had a playdate since they started speaking in sentences. We wear masks to go to the park. We had Thanksgiving and Christmas meals by ourselves, in our own house, with brief video calls to friends and family. We are doing what we are supposed to be doing, maybe to excess.

Taking The Good Path, a little self-sacrifice, was my default option in games for a long time. It’s nice to be nice. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. But my free time for playing games is getting shorter and shorter. I’m a bit more interested in efficiency. I’m a bit less interested in soothing the feelings of a scripted character, or getting a “thank you” from an imaginary spacefaring civilization.

You know what the President of the United States of America did? You know. He told people not to wear masks. He held rallies, indoors, maskless. And when he got the virus, he got top-of-the-line medical treatments and walked away bragging that he felt stronger than before. I’m out here giving up a year of my life, a year of date nights, a year of playdates, a year of being able to see through my glasses without my breath fogging them up, because I think that will make this pandemic end just a little quicker. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we’re being asked to sacrifice for the common good.

Sorry, fictional planet of Detritus. All my goodwill is used up. I’m here to ruthlessly consume and move on. Self-sacrifice is too real to me right now. I need to feel a little bit of instant gratification. Out there, people are acting selfishly, and it seems like many of them face no consequences. I’d like to pretend to act selfishly, for once, just within the confines of this silly little videogame. I won’t face any real consequences for those actions either.

Pamela Winfrey:

All my goodwill is used up. I hear you, Zach. If it is all used up, can we manufacture more? How do we do that when the well is running dry?