pulling you along —
Looking at this photo I’m struck by how my perception of late has been altered by playing video games – not in a necessarily good or bad way, but in opening up my eyes to the possibilities that exist in the world around me, and I wonder where in reality that might take me.
A little backstory: I decided a few months back that I wanted a new laptop because the one I purchased last year just wouldn’t play my favorite game, Guild Wars 2. I was aiming for a Macbook of some kind until I discovered by reading a lot of review online (and I do mean a lot!) that Macbooks, while powerful in their own right, make mediocre machines at best for gaming. After researching my options and looking up some more reviews and best-of articles, I pulled the trigger and purchased a gaming laptop. I also got to choose a few free games after I set it up, as a promotion from the company that made the video card, and one of them I chose was the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider.
Tomb Raider was so engaging that over Christmas week I spent many wee hours playing the game, and I completed it. It was a kind of visceral experience, partly because of the graphics, which were the most realistic I’d ever seen to date on a machine in my possession; I started out with a sense of trepidation, and I actually felt the physical reactions — the quickening heartbeat, the bated breath, the cold flush — as on several occasions I fell to my death, was crushed under rocks in a cave, attacked and killed by wolves, stabbed, shot, beaten . . . obviously there’s unlimited do-overs here, but it did little to deaden me to the experience of the next one.
Instead, I began to see opportunities. I went from being hunted to becoming a stalker and a warrior. I was up against nature, the supernatural, and the depredations of a cult of shipwrecked mercenaries on this island in the Devil’s Triangle. I was on a rescue mission, but almost nobody here wanted me to succeed. As I explored this crazy place I wondered: how small was the ratio of time I actually spent with my feet on solid ground?
So back to the point, my perceptions changed as I played, and it came to me suddenly as Mme. Ross, Little Miss, and I sat around the supper table last night watching this episode of Bob’s Burgers on Netflix. Bob had been volun-told to join a field trip to the zoo as a sort of chaperone, and then decided to break loose with his daughter Louise and her bus buddy “Regular-size Rudy” to find trouble. After some predictable taunting from Louise, they found themselves at the top of this overlook against the wall of an unfinished exhibit, with simulated jungle below, when a zoo worker comes along and takes down the log they had used as a ladder to get up there. Then Regular-size Rudy has an asthma attack, and they have to get down, and they’re like how? I mean, you could see it was probably a good twenty feet up. At this point I told Mme. Ross how simple it was: Bob was going to have to go down to the lower level (which was connected to the upper by stairs,) hang from the edge and drop down. Then he’d have to catch each kid as they dropped off. Risky, but as long as he didn’t break anything it was doable. That’s when I realized I had internalized Tomb Raider. Then as Bob sights a rope going from the overlook to some point just above the ground, I raised my arms and went, “zipline!”
So now I look at this photo and I don’t think about how crazy this guy must be, which would have been my reaction prior. I used to be afraid of falling, but now I’m not sure anymore; now my mind goes back and I think about how I’d jump out over some abyss, and I’d swing my climbing axe to catch myself on a wall. I get that some of the physics of that video game are likely impossible — after all, how can you feel the sheer triumph of climbing a crumbling precipice and a burning Asian temple under the (imagined) pressure of time slipping and the (very real) dramatic music underscoring that pressure without realizing that the odds of success in the real world would be a very slim margin indeed?
But to a climber who has been there and done that (climbing, not necessarily risking his life) it must seem a routine to climb something like what we see in the picture. They’re probably not afraid of falling, but they trust in their gear and they trust in their own experience, capability, and strength. To that guy it’s not difficult to leave the ground behind, it’s simply a challenge that makes life worth living: exploring the world, both horizontally and vertically, and finding those incredible places where most people don’t go.
I don’t want to be that guy — I want that guy to be me.