I bought a Switch, a Nintendo Switch to be precise. At the age of 29.
Now, to break away from some of the stereotypes:
✔ I don’t live in my parents’ basement
✔ I’m not escaping from reality in a “man’s den”
✔ I’m married
✔ This is a pastime with my wife
✔ I am gainfully employed
✔ My work is meaningful
✔ I adventure out in the real world
✔ I have friends
But, in many ways, for years I ran from these stereotypes that scream “not useful!” And, in so doing, I ran from part of what makes me, me.
Growing up, video games were a part of my world. One of my earliest memories with my dad is of him playing Super Mario Bros. on the OG Nintendo Entertainment System.
I was enthralled at his hopping and jumping skills. The ways he effortlessly triggered those plastic buttons to make an 8-bit Italian plumber save the princess and kill the dragon.
“Beat the next level, Dad!” I’d exclaim from the living room sofa.
And so he did. And then so did I.
The first game that I felt was my own was when my brother and I received a Christmas gift of the Super Nintendo — packaged with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. That game kicked my 8-year-old derriere.
I left it behind for one of the other games that we received, finding the first dungeon puzzle just too hard for my mind to wrap around. I hate leaving things unfinished, so you know it was a tough cookie.
But a year later, I returned. And fell in love with storytelling. And puzzles. And gaming in my own right.
The years would go by, and with them the numbers and iterations and makes of gaming consoles. N64, Game Boy Advance, PS2, Xbox 360. Now, my dad would watch me play Donkey Kong 64 and Halo and Final Fantasy VII, and jump in with us for some multiplayer — that is, until the 3D renderings made him nauseated from motion sickness.
Into high school, some of my best memories with friends were setting up two TVs in their unfinished basement, wires trailing like Snake across the floor, Mountain Dew filling styrofoam cups, Tombstone pizzas heating in the oven above. Halo nights, with no way for anyone to blame you of “screen looking.”*
*screen looking (adj) — ¹ occurs when one glances at an opponent’s four-square corner of the television to get an idea of where they are hiding/moving; ² the most hated action of anyone playing a first-person shooter, other than the now modern online edition of glitching or better broadband speeds.
Then college hit.
For one, I just didn’t have the time with 15-hour semesters and 20+ hour work weeks. Weekdays were classes and work. Weekends were papers and projects and work.
My childhood perplexity of wondering why anyone would never want to continue following the stories of Link or Samus or Master Chief was answered. There are only 24 hours in a day.
But there was something else that crept into my young adult-ing heart. Pragmatism.
This notion of doing things that are useful with quantifiable outcomes. This idea that slips in statements like “That degree choice won’t make a lot of money” (said to me by well-respecting adults when they heard I enrolled in journalism and media studies).
As I matured and graduated with a bachelor of arts and then a master of arts with additional certifications, this concept solidified and outweighed the childhood love of simply storytelling.
The unintended consequences though were an inability to be still, to daydream. I had a mentor ask me at the time when the last time was that I had a day of rest and recreating; it took me too long to come up with an answer.
This hurried lifestyle ultimately led to wearing a Holter monitor for three weeks. It was prescribed in an attempt to catch what felt like heart palpitations after a series of panic attacks.
Turned out, it was all in my head and my body was trying to tell me something.
That was seven years ago. Since then, I have started taking that mentor’s advice to heart, no pun intended.
I stopped being involved with four different volunteering opportunities. I gave myself permission to have nights home after work instead of feeling guilty for fear of missing out, or not “making my mark in the world” — serious thoughts there, folks.
I read Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero. I listened to The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, narrated by Jeremy Irons (essentially having Zack Snyder’s Alfred read you bedtime stories).
I ignored the impulse to post daily to Instagram to keep up with the ideal image I had in my head of what would be most successful and allowed myself to be okay with only posting when I truly had an inspiring quote or uniquely-angled shot that I didn’t want to pass up. Simply for the beauty in the words and art.
I gave myself permission to run during lunch breaks, believing that the fresh air, sunshine and bilateral stimulation would — yes, make me more productive the second-half of my workday, but more importantly— care for my soul. I gave myself time to enjoy food for its expression of tastes and flavors rather than its utility of calories in as quick an amount of time as possible.
With each of these practices, I was rewiring my mind and mending my soul. I was undoing, brick-by-brick (1994 style), this notion that life was only about the useful.
It could also be about the beautiful. So then, I — we (my wife included) — bought a Switch.
In many ways, this act was the biggest of them all. Because in so doing, I was not only creating an outlet for my wife and I to have a good laugh river rafting in Super Mario Party, I was recovering part of my identity that centered on beauty and not utility.
I left behind that identity for the usefulness of “growing up.” Of not being a “nerd.”
But I imprisoned a part of me, a storytelling part of me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been storytelling since I was inspired by C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to create my own take of it and have people teleport into movies by jumping into VHS sleeves (think Blu-ray disc container, for those of you who don’t know what I am referring to — though that soon will be obsolete with cloud hosting).
And it didn’t stop in college with journalism or my work in intercultural relations and community education, but what I am discovering is that I was storytelling with one hand tied behind my back.
I wrote with an utility as an end rather than originating in beauty and wonder and childhood. To take in a sunrise and not ask, “I wonder how many likes I could get with this?” To write about culture or self or media and not start with the premise of “How much money might I get from claps?”
These aren’t bad in and of themselves. We are human and desire to make an impact. But “impact,” it can’t be the source to sustain.
Culture rooted in results will inevitably be barren. Ironically, culture (and humans) bring so much more when coming from a place of wonder and mystery and beauty.
So, yes, I’m a creative. I’m a mentor. My life has impact. And my life simply exists, just is (let that word in all of its present-ness and groundedness be refreshing to your soul), in relationship to others, this good earth and a God who designed me to cultivate beauty.
I’d forgotten there’s a whole to me, useful and beautiful and all the in between. I’m thankful it switched —
— couldn’t help the pun. What can I say, I’m a nerd.