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D2 and the Permanence of Virtual Worlds

Hello everyone, it’s been a while.

The last time neocities heard from me, I was coming down of a really terrible experience with LSD, and it really shook my life up for a few months. I’m doing okay now, but for the better half of a year I wasn’t as present as I used to be. I’m sure one day I’ll finally sit down and give my retrospective thoughts on psychedelics, but for now something a bit different.

At the end of 2018 I made a post about my withdraw from my personal hobbies, and a rapid switch towards a more social lifestyle. This remained true until a few months ago when the ~big event~ basically shut down everyone’s life around the world. I, like numerous people have taken the opportunity of complete isolation to delve back into my old hobbies. Especially now, where Québec has extended lockdown rules, and it’s getting too cold for it to make sense seeing people outdoors. While a pretty miserable experience overall (don’t even get me started on school), this has been a big positive for me. I’m not so much reading again (my coursework still fills that gap), but I am doing more photography—an win considering my creative output had come to a trickle before COVID. Most of all though, I’m playing video games again, and a lot at that.

Video games have, for the majority of my life, been a casual obsession. From a young age, I’ve taken a lot of solace in being able to escape into virtual worlds. I think a lot of this has to do with the medium’s tendency to tell its stories around the player (not universal but common). I’ve spent a lot of time exploring it’s history, and played a wide host of games across generations. I end up playing some truly obscure stuff, games that have a fanbase that you could count on a hand.

A month or two ago, I finished playing D2, a forgotten Dreamcast game by Kenji Eno, a game director who once was talked of in as high a regard as people such as Hideo Kojima and Yoko Taro are today. The relative obscurity of WARP (Eno’s company), especially outside of Japan, might have a lot of causes. For one, WARP chose platforms that enjoyed much less success on a worldwide stage, with D originally being made for the 3DO, and most other titles coming to Saturn or Dreamcast. Of course, WARP’s work is known, and there are figures talking about it online currently, but it’s far from popular.

Whatever the reason for their obscurity, these games haven’t quite been forgotten, but when you play them, you get an odd feeling. Something I can only really describe as feeling like you are the only one in the world who has experienced what you are experiencing. Of course this isn’t true, people have played these games. Yet as I am moving a character down snowy desolate paths in D2 with only the ambiance of the wind in the background to keep me company, the game produces a visceral reality. One that so little other people discuss, it seems as if no one else has felt it. When I play a game like this, I wonder how many people have observed certain textures, models. Who has read the flavour-text of this or that? Who else has stood in this corner on the edge of this plateau? Who else has even seen the end of this game?

When I play a popular game, say Persona 5, I note the community of other people around me discussing it, and I think that helps pin down the experience as tangible and existing. D2 on the other hand feels as if it could very well be a dream that my mind conjured up one night. Something that dies when I finally finish it, and something that only I and a few others will ever recall. This feeling of death of the world I experience is exacerbated by the idea that I may never load the game up again. That parts of a disc wont be read again. Or even that the hardware I’m using will fail to work in the future, and the work that someone else put so much time into will evaporate into history that can’t be revisited.

This thought also occurred to me with a game called “Nostalgia”, which I’m currently making my way through. While perhaps a mediocre RPG that isn’t remembered for a reason, when I play it, I can’t help but feel a bit sad that the world the creators imagined goes underappreciated. I think this may just be me attaching to much emotional significance to what are ultimately commercial electronic media: yet the nature of video games—if done correctly—is to immerse the player. To convince them of the world they create. As such, I grow attached and have trouble letting go, more so than with other forms of media.

So I talk about these experiences, download the soundtrack, make screenshots, create small mementos of my experience so that I can look back and say I experienced something and feel it’s existence later on. I think this is part of what appeals to me about photography. In that it’s draw it’s ability to capture an impression of a moment which feels permanent.

Of course, nothing is permanent. In my last post I wrote about my experience with LSD, and how at one point, in my frantic anticipation of death, I grasped for any belongings that I had which tied me back to the memories I had cultivated throughout my life. Although at the time I was experiencing pure delusion, I think there is some truth to the experience. One of the things that we will all eventually have to confront is the impermanence of memory and experience. This fear is I think what is ultimately behind my melancholy when thinking of these things.