Escapism Squared: High Times With a Video Game

[Editor's Note: What follows is a story about someone who took drugs and writes honestly about her experience. We do not endorse the use of drugs and warn you to be mindful of the risks of any substance that's subject to abuse. We accept the reality that many who play games use drugs or have tried them. We wanted to bring you a story about it.]

"How many of these am I supposed to take again?"

I held a piece of foil dotted with a dozen candy-colored pills. They were meant to treat common maladies, but that's not what we intended them for. The idea was that we'd use them as a complement to the newly released Dyad, the trippy-looking tunnel shooter.

"All of them. Wait, no, this is your first time. Eight?"

"That's, uh...a lot of pills."

"Don't worry about it—I've done it before, this is safe. I'll be like your spirit guide."

But this inexperienced dork didn't take the word of a drug veteran. No, I took it to the Internet—my safe realm of comfort. Wikipedia. Urban Dictionary too, because that seemed like a good place to read about illicit drug usage. Ah, the wonders of the Internet: a place where I can read up on how to best make stupid decisions.

If taken in enough quantity, the pills acted as a dissociative capable of producing closed-eye hallucinations which were sensitive to music. Perfect for a psychadellic game with a good electronic soundtrack, right?

As far as drugs go, this is largely considered as ‘kiddie' as it can get. It was the sort of thing my friends would mess around with in high school, often meant as a switch from the tried-and-true teenage favorite, weed. I wasn't one of those kids. While my friends were busy experimenting with their sexuality or downing a bunch of substances they shouldn't have, I was hitting the books. My objective: earn scholarship totaling as close to $280,000 as possible to be able to afford fancy private college.

College was my way of partially distancing myself from protective, strict parents that would get upset if I so much as came home late after school. It was also almost this holy ground in my head, where I'd be able to get away from the poverty I grew up in. Where I grew up, girls were likely to get pregnant before hitting 18. Boys got lost in the gang scene and tended to end up jailed or dead. It's not like I wasn't offered drugs and alcohol or around them while I was growing up, but the possibility that they might act like a road to ruin—that they might keep me stuck with everyone else without a future if I wasn't careful—seemed too risky.

We're all a little lost in our early twenties, but some of us more than others.

That didn't change in college, even though I had ample opportunity. Bored rich kids going to school in the middle of the woods? The likelihood of that environment not becoming overrun by drugs and alcohol is laughable. But by that point, the scene was too alien to me, and kids who saw Andrew W.K. as a hero seemed too adamant about excess and overindulgence, which made me uncomfortable. We're all a little lost in our early twenties, but some of us more than others.

***

Writing about it now seems almost silly, childish—this was my first time getting high? On THAT? Not acid, not even something exciting like ecstasy or something dangerous like heroin? Really?

I guess. Here's the thing about my college experience: it turned out to be so taxing on my personal health, that I ended up graduating with a feeling that I threw my life away for something that wasn't worth it. At least, I don't think putting so much effort into going to a nice school was worth getting there and having a bevy of professors who refused to read my work or would tell me I didn't have a future.

That wasn't what I fantasized about. I didn't imagine college would ‘save me' by making me a depressive wreck who couldn't sleep, who developed trouble being in a room with more than a couple of people—if I could even work up the energy to leave my bed—and who would cry at the smallest thing.

I started to think about all the things I hadn't done yet, that most people had—in their teens no less. I felt less worldly, felt like I was missing out on something. And if I didn't find the answer in academia or in pixellated worlds, maybe it was out there somewhere on the street, in a bottle, in a group of people. Somewhere I hadn't been yet.

I started drinking, noting that it felt like a weight was lifted off me when I was inebriated. I think I felt happy, and that wasn't something that someone with dysthymia like me experienced often. Even the smallest, stupidest thing became hilarious and exciting. More than that, I could talk to people in a way I couldn't before. It felt like a revelation. But then there were a series of events that set off an avalanche.

I'm no stranger to having love cloud my judgment and cause me to make stupid decisions, though I'd like to think I've grown up a little in this department. I'm the girl who traveled via Greyhound for two weeks to meet someone off the Internet who I was enamored with. I've dropped everything around me and left the country with barely any money, planning to camp outside the city of someone whose love I wanted to win back. I'd left school without permission mid-semester to go visit a significant other for a month. More than once, I almost dropped out to go live with a love interest. Heck, as a teenager, I almost went to school in Canada just to be near my then-boyfriend.

This was a little different.

"I don't think I can be happy, I don't think I'm meant to be happy," someone I loved said to me.

"What? No, you can't believe that, what are you talking about? Of course you can be happy. We've all got to believe that, else what is the point?"

"No, really. Look at all the endless clusterfuck that follows me no matter where I go."

"Yeah, but..."

"No, listen, it's okay. I don't think I can be happy, but I can make games for people like me, people who need certain places to exist that don't. I can make the world I want to live in."

A couple of weeks later, that person boarded a plane to go across the country along with a good friend. Feeling alone was predictable, I expected that. What I didn't expect was to feel haunted by the idea that someone I loved didn't think they could be happy. It upset me. It made me feel powerless—not just in my ability to help them, but in thinking about my own happiness.

Escapism Squared: High Times With a Video Game

When you're a teenager, it's likely you'll wallow in how terrible the world actually is. For me, it almost seems like the realization was deferred. I took my circumstances and my mental health as temporary conditions, and hoped that there was something better waiting for me.

And if I didn't find the answer in academia or in pixellated worlds, maybe it was out there somewhere on the street, in a bottle, in a group of people. Somewhere I hadn't been yet.

I noticed something curious in my field. All these brilliant, brilliant colleagues and developers are terribly sad. And I couldn't even really talk to anyone about it, because that's just how it is. Don't you know, Patricia? Creative fields and depression practically go hand in hand. Plus, the smarter you are, the more capable you are of knowing how much the world sucks. Duh.

Like I'm just supposed to accept this, resign to it, swallow it. I couldn't. You know what I could swallow that made things easier to handle? Booze. How do you just plain accept that the people you love have something wrong with them that you don't think they deserve? Worse: does this mean I won't ever be happy, either?

There was a period not too long ago where you'd be hard-pressed to find a day I wasn't getting drunk, absurdly drunk. Large bottles disappearing in a day drunk. You'd think it was more alcohol than I needed, but no, it was just enough: I was trying to externalize what I was feeling, exorcize it from me. Like I could just throw up all this stuff I couldn't come to terms with. Out, out.

So when someone offered me the opportunity to feel something else—while playing video games no less, I jumped at it. Escapism squared. It was me changing things up, doing with a drug what I normally would have done with alcohol.

***

I took more pills than I was supposed to—YOLO, fuck it, who cares? We crowded around the television and booted up Dyad. Mostly, I zoned out to it—there's a certain calm in letting your mind go blank while you stare at pretty pictures. Well, not completely. I kept wondering when the drugs would kick in, especially given that earlier dabbles with weed seemed to produce no effect regardless of how much I took or what quality it was.

And then, finally, when it was my turn at the controller, things started feeling way off. Like I had to put extra effort into moving my arms and legs, which didn't seem to belong to me any more. That's why it's called robotripping; the body feels detached. In the same way, as say, having your mouth go numb after the dentist can produce an obsessive fascination with otherwise normal sensations, I started flailing my limbs—bewildered at how different it felt.

Intricate, endless patterns that seemed to channel themselves into a tunnel, much like Dyad did-only more ornate.

I, uh, wasn't very good at Dyad in this state. And I was playing really low key stages, including one where it wasn't possible to die! But it didn't matter. Once I started hallucinating, it felt like my consciousness was melding with what was happening on the screen, like I just intrinsically understood what Dyad ‘was.'

And then Dyad started living in my head. I closed my eyes and dropped the controller, much to the chagrin of my friend. I slumped over on the side of the couch while they took over. I got off the couch and somehow ended up face-first on the floor.

I don't know what other people see while robotripping, but I saw endless patterns—like the kind you see on fancy carpets. Intricate, endless patterns that seemed to channel themselves into a tunnel, much like Dyad did—only more ornate. This fascinated me, because under normal circumstances, I can't really ‘visualize' things. When I read descriptions in a book, not much materializes in my head. Perhaps if you've read my writing closely enough, you'll notice I don't really describe how things look, either.

I was seeing all sorts of crazy things all jumbling into each other. For a moment I thought I understood where creativity came from, how artists saw the world. But any time the music from Dyad stopped, so did the images in my head. Or worse, if someone was losing, Dyad started playing horrible sounds that made me feel like the world was ending. So I lumbered over to my room, turned the lights off, put some music on, and collapsed onto my bed.

Thanks to my blanket, I think I know what Freud goes on about when he talks about how we all just want to return to our mother's womb. The funny thing about me in an altered state was that I couldn't actually escape my neuroticism. So I briefly went into a manic state where I started writing and editing pieces, and collaborated with some people on websites and other work.

Me: "Okay, now that we're done with all this, I can go back to passing out. Sorry, I'm really high right now."

Them: "What? Are you serious? We just did all that and you're high?"

Me: "Yes. Bye. I'm sorry."

Thank god that was a colleague who was a friend!

I've spent the last two months largely sober—feeling equally lost, but slightly freer than I did before.

Then came that dry, cottonmouthy hangover—and the need to eat. So me and my roomate headed down to our local corner store, where we got nutritional things like popsicles and chips.

Me: "You know what's amazing? You know what's amazing?"

Roommate: "What's amazing?"

Me: "I don't care about anything at all right now. Not a thing. Everything seems so far away and disconnected from me. I don't even...oh my god," I say as I stop mid-street.

Roommate: "What! What! Why are we stopping?"

Me: "I don't even care about HER any more. I...I need to remember this feeling. I need to hold on to this."

***

The next day, I sobered up—and sure enough, any time I thought about this person, I remembered how detached I felt while high. Hypnosis? Who knows. But I think my opinion on what ‘real' love is has changed. I don't think the authenticity of the feeling is a useful concept anymore. You feel what you feel, and regardless of why you feel it or what changes that feeling, I don't think it's any less valid or ‘true.'

But beyond that? Honestly?

I'm not sure how to parse the excessive drinking, or my drug escapade with Dyad. I'm not sure where I'm at nor what to make of what's led me here. I know I liked some of what I experienced. I have a box of the pills at my desk that I look at sometimes, because I crave being able to see something when I close my eyes again. But I've spent the last two months largely sober, and I'm not pining after a particular person anymore. I'm trying to focus on myself and my work for now—feeling equally lost, but slightly freer than I did before.