William DeMuth

I have been thinking a lot about how I wanted to commemorate my late grandfather. My grandfather was 89 and in hospice, so his death was not unanticipated, but the echoes of sadness that followed were severe nonetheless. I thought today instead of my Monday Musings I would just share a small memory about my grandpa.

I know it is common for grandparents to spoil their grandkids, but mine really took it to another level. I remember one occasion when I was nine. On nights they’d babysit me, we’d occasionally go me to the Roseville Mall where we’d grab dinner at Chili’s. I would get the chicken fingers with corn on the cob. The golden batter tasted sweet, meshed onto the cones of processed meat, like it was almost a dessert for a meal. Also, the corn was cut into smaller chunks for my tiny hands.

This made me feel special. It was nice when people knew you were a child.

My grandparents would ask me all sort of questions about my friends at school, what I was studying, and how my parents were doing. After dinner we would go to Toys R Us where they would let me pick out a present. This didn’t happen often in my life, just a few times over the course of my childhood. I was incredibly lucky to have this experience.

Toys R Us seemed endless to me as a kid. I loved the video game area, where none of the games were out for you to look at or handle. They were far too precious a commodity for you to interact with physically. I loved that the store valued them as much as me. Instead you’d find the game’s title next to a crude graphic with a price, on a small slip of paper. You’d then take the scrap of a barcode up to a desk outside a locked room, which I assumed was one of the most magical places on earth, where a grumbling employee would retrieve it for you. It would take them a small eternity, but they’d finally return, often times with the wrong game.

This particular visit I focused on the now famous RPG Chrono Trigger, which has been voted one of the greatest video games of all time. At this moment in the game’s history, it was full price and just released for $80.00. My grandfather gawked at the price, but was eventually worn down by my grandmother. Having my own children now makes me respect this generosity even more so when recollecting it.

Chrono Trigger had a huge effect on me as a writer and person. I don’t know that my grandfather will ever know how much this gift meant to me. I have been combing my memories for more important fragments of experience with him, but I’m slightly embarrassed to say I can’t find anything more essential. There were many influences from media as a child, and some were strictly literary, but gaming had a profound effect on me, and if it was not for my grandpa I never would have had some of those formative moments. Watching powerful and emotional stories take place in the worlds of Final Fantasy and other Squaresoft creations made me realize that even in settings of pure fantasy and science fiction, you could create an emotional connection with your audience.

This has become a primary motivation for me as a modern storyteller.

As my grandpa fell into the void between life and death, like some hidden gate had been twisted open beneath his bed by a primal force, all I could think about was this memory. While I watched him die, pawing at his skin like his physical body was questioning why it was still there, I realized how lucky I was to have him in my life the times that I did.

Thank you grandpa. I will miss you. RIP.


Catcher in the Rye

It is odd to think you might have a mental ailment associated with a fictional Mel Gibson character.

I think one of the scariest things about accepting you have depression is realizing there is some actual undiscovered behavior to support that claim. I’m not talking about suicide, substance abuse, self-mutilation, or any of the major monsters that stick their faces up like those puppets you pelt in the midway of neon carnival. I’m talking about the subtler symptoms and actions. The eccentricities that cringe under new light of an actual diagnosis, like exposed worms beneath a silver-moss rock on a midsummer day.

For me, the clearest example of this phenomenon in media is from the film Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson. His character is plagued by a sort of compulsion to buy paperback copies of Catcher in the Rye whenever he sees it. He doesn’t know why he does it necessarily. He hasn’t even read the book. This habit is dwarfed by the obvious mental illness Gibson’s character exhibits in the film, though the two are closely related. Something about buying the book brings him comfort, and familiarity. It produces a moment of peace in an otherwise constant string of chaos and shadow-fire, which hangs on your shoulders like a ghost from a Thai horror film.

My abnormal vice is the Nintendo DS. By my accounts, I have bought, returned, sold, and repurchased a Nintendo DS, 3DS, or DSI eight times in my life. Considering they run on average between $100 – 200 dollars from most major sellers, this has been a sometimes costly addiction.

The first time I bought a Nintendo DS, it was on a Black Friday in 2006. A friend who worked with at the movie theater chain had suggested going to Circuit City for a special on the Zelda-themed Nintendo DS. He was a good salesmen, because he convinced me to wake my dad up at 5 am and wander the wastes of capitalism looking for deal I could only afford that day.

Black Friday has the weird combination of elements here in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The sun was still sleeping. The air was cold. Winter was rising in the north like a frost-warped behemoth. The air has a sour tinge of exhaust from all the traffic, like the oxygen was on its heels from the amount of carbon monoxide in the air. Circuit City was a gleaming palace of red light in the gloom. After waiting in line for hours, moving some construction cones away from a treacherous pit so I could even park on the same black, and listening to people complain about the wait despite it being common knowledge that this is the busiest shopping day of the year, I got my Zelda Nintendo DS.

I loved the system. It brought me back to gaming. It infected me with nostalgia for Nintendo, the companies primary marketing force, and it was simply aesthetically cool.

My DS didn’t last long though, in a few years I went through a period of financial hardship and I sold it to a random guy on craigslist. I remember seeing him and thinking he was the complete opposite of me. We met in some parking lot outside a gas station in southern Minnesota. It was April, the wind wailed like it was out of a horror movie, and the sun was caught behind this rainy overcast. He was thin, dressed professionally, and happy to be buying my DS. I was overweight, messy, and hating my life.

I didn’t need to sell it. It just made things more comfortable for me. I also thought I needed to change and mature. I was 25. I didn’t need video games anymore. I was a serious extension of the world. I talked about politics, healthcare, and financial numbers. I had a 401K started.

A three years later, I decided to buy myself a Nintendo 3DS for my birthday. I wanted to recapture the magic of when I braved the frost for my original gaming system. My life at the time, in 2012, was in shambles. I had left my job for school. A serious relationship I had invested a lot of time in was not working out. I loved the 3DS, but I returned it after a few weeks because of the same feeling from before. I should be better. I shouldn’t be investing in video games. I should be mature. I was 28 years old. No time for childish things.

Later that year, I wanted to get a normal Nintendo DS, and I found one on craigslist, only it was a larger and more advanced version of the system. It was a Nintendo DSI. I bought it compulsively, and for once I got to show myself off at a craigslist interaction as the one being together. The guy I bought it from didn’t care at all about who I was, or we were in comparison. He was simply selling a system his kids no longer played. About a year later, I fell victim to the same feelings of immaturity, and I sold the system to a couple and there kids again through craigslist.

Right before I met and started dating my wife, my depression skyrocketed while living with some friends in South Minneapolis. This was also the year of the polar vortex, where the ice and cold carved out the apocalyptic landscape like it was some sort of arctic wasteland from a Russian war novel. I was landlocked inside the attic I was living in. Also, my car kept getting flat tires because of the dramatic temperature changes, and I this terrified me from travelling everywhere. I ended up buying myself another Nintendo 3DS. It was a treat for me because of my dire straits, and because of a serious relationship I was in that had ended that previous summer. Again, I felt guilty about buying a video game system at my age, so I sold it to a nice mother on craigslist.

Two years later on Black Friday, after my children were born and my life had new meaning, I again felt the phantom force of the Nintendo 3DS pulling me towards a random purchase beneath the fluorescent lights of Walmart. I don’t know why I decided to get it that time. I was happier than I’d ever been. All the other times I had bought a DS I was miserable, incomplete, and not being honest about who I was as a person. My wife and family had changed the majority of this behavior. Oddly, I still felt the need to treat myself to a new electronic, so I reserved a copy of the 3DS and went to pick it up. A month later I sold it on craigslist to some 40 year old gamer through craigslist. I still felt guilty about owning the gaming system.

The final time I purchased a 3DS and sold it was in March of last year. After selling my Black Friday 3DS from last November, I realized I really loved the system, and I was spending a ton of time in the car, so having a gaming system was inherently practical. I had my iPhone, but I eventually got tired of all the flash games and Facebook posts. I needed a world that wasn’t interrupted by ads. I bought a New 3DS with some tax money. However, when I quit my job in July to pursue my writing career, I sacrificed my 3DS again thinking a little extra cash would help. It didn’t. I regretted the decision.

Now, presently, I own a Nintendo 2DS thanks to a friend of mine. I’m able to play Pokemon Moon while I drive the babies around or wait outside my stepson’s wrestling practice. I will not be selling this no matter how destitute I am, or feeling immature about loving video games. This is an inherent part of me I don’t need to change. Plus, I don’t have the energy to make this addiction and subtraction work anymore. When you have an addiction you always lose, you never gain, even if it is something as silly as a Nintendo product.

So why did I do it? In Conspiracy Theory, Mel Gibson has no explanation for his behavior, he simply has to buy a copy of the book whenever he sees one. When he tries to explicate this tendency he simply freezes up like a possum in a strong slit of moonlight. I feel the same way. Only questions instead of answers to more questions. Maybe I was using the gaming system to escape the current difficulty of my life? Maybe I was living in some nostalgic wonderland where memories of my childhood still feel warmer than today? Maybe reliving the video games of my youth made me feel in touch with my own sense of innocence? Maybe I wanted something new to keep me in touch with the modern world? Maybe I was returning to a simpler time where gaming was all I had to worry about, and not paychecks and retirement? Maybe I was simply wanting to have a nice piece of electronics in my life to make me happy?

Whatever the case, I don’t know why I do it completely. I can’t settle on any one answer like I could for a rational emotion or thought. I think my depression behaves like a hydra, which has multiple faces attached to one scaly body. All I can do is simply be glad that the compulsion isn’t a mind-altering drug or game of blackjack.

All I can do is know that it is there.