Love, Hunt & Battle: Finding Your Inner Zen Through Gaming

Something haunted him. I’d heard his story told before, probably over a span of ten years, but it was the first time that I was face-to-face with him. The bandages on his wrists would slip and he’d immediately grab at them, as if covering up the scars would keep the truth from reaching the surface.

We’re at his wife’s funeral and his young son is standing by him. I only catch his eyes for a moment, but I can’t read him. Remorse? Pain? He quickly storms away and maybe I’ll never know. I do follow him though.

I wasn’t at someone’s funeral. This was sitting in my living room playing God of War. I have returned to gaming after a ten-year hiatus. The catalyst was quitting smoking and needing new habits. I talked about that when I told you all about my Juicero. Like all demons, they don’t go away with hard work; you must feed the spaces with other cravings. Mine became gaming again.

Link drew me back. The commercials for The Breath of the Wild on Switch gave me flashbacks to idyllic summer days playing Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64. I never got to finish that particular game and something about seeing the commercial had me standing in line for a Switch console. The day I went they were sold out, but I was too far-gone to walk out empty-handed and was sold on a PS4 (making a mental note to cancel my premium channels on Xfinity to balance it out).

I spent that evening playing Unchartered 4. The graphics had definitely changed since the last time, but the experience was the same.

After a particularly grueling day at the office that ended with a 90-minute drive home on Highway 80, the muses spoke to me. I was meant to quit my job and become a full-time Twitch streamer. A very short-lived early mid-life crisis. By the time I pulled into my driveway, I was over it, but it begged the question, why did this pastime make me so happy?

I followed one player on Twitch that had created a 9–5 out of it. She played PUBG (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds) for eight hours straight close to every day. Her story inspired me. She was mopping vomit off of the floor of the bar she was working at when she saw her reflection in the mirror and knew it was time to follow her dreams. She went home and began doing what she loved the most — playing videogames and never went back to work again. That’s exactly what I was going through! Given, there was a ten-year age gap and a lifetime of experiences and obligations between us, but I understood exactly how she felt. It was my time, but I needed to find my niche. Spoiler alert — this doesn’t end like the film The Wizard. I still have to go to work, but I have learned more about myself. Did I want to work in the gaming world or did I just want to escape into gaming to avoid my life? This is where my journey took me:

God of War

It was the story that sold me on God of War. They had me at runes. Kratos had been gone for ten years and he re-appears in Northern Europe with a family. Having him face the Nordic gods after demolishing Mount Olympus woke up my inner geek. A great quest will always grab me.

With the previous God of War games, I thought it was about a jock with rage issues that blamed God and everyone around him for his domestic violence assaults. He was hot, but there was nothing about him that grabbed my attention.

The latest version of Kratos shows someone just too bone-tired to argue and only fights to make it through the day. If that isn’t the epitome of everyone that crosses the Bay Bridge on weekday mornings, I don’t know what is.

When I faced off against the first big bad, I spent an hour unable to make a dent in my opponent. I died a few dozen times and almost gave up on the game. That’s when I figured out that there are different skill levels. The game had defaulted to the hardest level; I quickly changed that to story mode and things went a lot smoother.

Kratos reminds me of my ex. They’re both quiet, strong structures that you feel safe around, but at least with Kratos, when I get annoyed with his stoicism I can march him towards a boss enemy that will mop the floor with him.

I play God of War in small doses. I’m there for the cut scenes and I wish there was an option of just watching all of the cut scenes together without having to beat each level and essentially the whole game, but that’s part of the journey.

Krato’s first wife was a sympathetic character that he carries around this guilt for. Is Faye different? Did she heal a broken man or was he already on the path to redemption when he met her. These are the questions that go through my mind when skeleton soldiers come running at me when I’m exploring a new area. I want to know what happened.

I’m blown away by the work that went into God of War. The characters, the artwork and the music. The trailer alone looks like a film. Is this the road we’re headed down? I have noted more detail going into the creation of this videogame than some blockbusters I’ve recently seen. Is this where storytelling will live in the future?

I don’t have any answers and I haven’t finished the game. I’m enjoying it little by little, but I’m also enjoying it at about 30% capacity. I’m a C student. I don’t read the journal entries. I don’t keep track of the weapons, spells or anything extra that I can grab to enhance my strength or agility. The only thing I put a little extra effort into was designing his outfit. You collect jewels that you can then pay a merchant to change your outfit. I love a well-dressed man so I picked out a little something to cover-up but still show off his upper torso. I did feel like a jerk afterwards when I realized that I hadn’t bought anything for the kid and that I was out of money and couldn’t afford anything anyway.

Which brings me to the subject of parenting and what a game can tell you about yourself. I use the kid as body armor. It’s a videogame and large monsters that want to kill me bring out my fleeing instinct. The kid doesn’t run, he stays rooted to his spot cheering you on. When something comes flying my way, I run and hide and hope he’s smart enough to follow.

I will finish this game someday. I don’t know if I have the skill set to finish it myself, but I will find a way to complete this story because Kratos is just too darn interesting now that he’s older with more battle scars. When I purchased this game, they were nice enough to mail me this commemorative pin.

Fortnite

I’d seen so many memes about this game, but I hadn’t bothered playing it until I saw it streamed on Twitch. I signed up for an account and downloaded the free game on PS4. I spent the first half hour trying to change my character’s outfit, just to learn that we can’t choose whom we enter the island as, it changes every game unless you win or purchase skins.

There are three modes: solo, duo, and squad. I’m a loner, but I accidentally chose the squad mode my first go. I found myself in a waiting area and the next thing I was skydiving off of the battle bus flying through the sky. My parachute opened and I gleefully took in the sites. It was a beautiful island with hills and different, colorful villages. The vacation didn’t last long as I soon heard a teammate yell through my television to get down on the ground and help. I was being yelled at by my name. How was this happening? I signed up on Epic Games like I did my Netflix account and water bill — using my real name.

I didn’t have much time to laugh about this because gunfire started up as soon as I hit the ground. Equipped only with an axe, I didn’t know how to help my teammates. After two steps, I was shot in the stomach. What do I do? I crawl across the street and lean against a dumpster, staring at the sky where I had happily been flying moments earlier before death and destruction filled my life. There were three voices screaming at me to get up, but I just didn’t have the will to continue. Someone walked up and put a gun to my head. That was my introduction to Fortnite. It was mortifying and exhilarating at the same time.

Obviously, I return. It was the skydiving. I play solo the next few times and I don’t jump where everyone else does. Who jumps into the most congested, dangerous location in the middle of a war? No, I parachuted to the outskirts where I ran across the fields and danced. I even discovered that I could use my axe to cut down trees and structures. For a few lives this is all I do. I would dive, dance, and demolish the forest.

It was genuinely cathartic. Then I got blood on my hands. I parachuted to my usual hillside, but I wasn’t alone this time. Another player arrived and disrupted my peace by shooting at me. I’d been shot in the game before, but never right as I landed. Its just good manners to allow someone to properly land and put their parachute away before you try to kill them. Filled with rage, I ran at him with my axe and swung away as if he were a tree. I eliminated him. I didn’t even realize what I’d done until I registered that all of his loot was up for grabs. I picked everything up and looked around for other intruders. Then I continued cutting down trees and building my fort.

I began to memorize the different locations on the island. Like a tourist that turns into a local, I now know the sites and sounds of Fortnite. I build forts — forts that are reminiscent of Oregon Trail. The pros build structures with the main purpose of getting the upper hand to kill the other players. I’m too exhausted to try that hard. If someone eliminates me, I watch that player until the end. It’s actually where I learned the most about the game. My highest solo ranking was # 3. It was by accident — I happened to build my fort in the spot that became the center of the final battle.

You can also die in Fortnite by your own hand. Sometimes I will build staircases into the sky and hang out there. A misstep had me fall off of one my structures. That was the day I learned you could commit suicide on Fortnite. I’ve only done it one other time after building a particularly tall structure that I wanted to take a look at from the bottom. Though I learned that falling from these structures creeps out other players and is frowned upon. There’s an option to report players and I didn’t want to log in one day and learn that I had been banned from a game where players hunt one another down because it appeared I was self-harming. That’s just too much to unpack.

I will eventually walk away from this game, but I first want to build a very large fort and learn how to build a door out of it so I can stand outside of my fortress and admire. I’m not there yet.

In the meantime, while writing this article, I did win a game while a member of a squad. I didn’t help and throughout the game I didn’t know who my teammates were. I ended up on the wrong side of the fence and was so badly wounded that I could do nothing but crawl. We soon won the game, but I “earned” this win while crawling through enemy territory weaponless. What does that say about my skills?

Both God of War and Fortnite gave me a lot to talk about. I mentioned my new gaming habits to my 11-year old nephew. He listened to a lot of the stories I’ve mentioned in this article and then he nodded and said, “Auntie, let me give you a bit of advice. Don’t try to be Ninja [note: a popular streamer on Twitch]. Friends that try to be Ninja just end up dying a lot. Just be yourself and try to have fun.” No truer words, comrade.

A writer surviving in Los Angeles. When I’m not trying to complete my manuscript, I’m ranting about films and television on Twitter. Sabrinamonet.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store