Content warning: This article discusses drug abuse and issues relating to it.

When I think back to my childhood, so many of my fondest memories are connected to video games. Like many of us who engage with the medium today, I’ve been playing games for as long as I can recall. My affinity to them never wavered, and as a clumsy, unsure kid, I had little inclination to make room for much else. I couldn’t have imagined a time that they’d no longer be a part of my life, and I felt that way right up until the day that I didn’t love them anymore.

It wasn’t because I’d grown tired of their schtick, or considered them to be a waste of time. It was because I’d discovered a different kind of recreation, and my affinity to it was immediate. Soon I had little inclination to make room for much else.

My new recreation was one that starts with experimentation and naivety, but it didn’t take much practice for it to become the pastime of choice. Soon after that, it felt less like a choice and more of a necessity. I guess that’s when you’d start to call it an addiction. I still hesitate to do so in my case, but that sounds like the rationale of an addict.

219680_20160529035439_1Throughout the time I was using drugs I remained entirely functional, and I appeared to be in complete control to any casual observer, but really, I was barely making it through each day; time seemed to stand still, but weeks raced by in a heartbeat. Maintaining the pretence of normality was exhausting, and that exhaustion was beginning to wear me down.

The way I was living had killed my passion for everything I once enjoyed, including video games. My desire to engage with the medium just evaporated. Their narratives confused and bored me, and I didn’t have the patience to interact with mechanics or face any level of challenge. They caused me frustration and discomfort, and those were feelings I needed no more of. I didn’t want to play by anyone else’s rules, so I just stopped playing.

But there were times when my body was exhausted, yet my mind needed a gentle distraction. For many of these moments, I turned to the last remaining thread that tied me to video games — I played Proteus a lot.

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Proteus is a lo-fi, minimalist exploration game that takes place on randomly generated islands. Each one is different yet immediately familiar. Your only task is to move about the island and experience it as you please. There are otherworldly creatures living amongst vibrantly coloured trees and flowerbeds. There are mysterious statues and structures arranged with purpose. And everything that exists there has its own unique musical melody to share with you when you become close. The absence of standard gameplay elements allowed me to wander around its environment without any obligations, and there’s no obfuscated narrative that must be discovered. All Proteus asked of me was my presence, and in return it gave me a space where I could just be. So I turned to it when everything else felt uncomfortable and forced.

Quite simply, Proteus is sublime, and from the first time I played it during one of these lows, I was able to sleep. I found my lullaby.

I’d always climb to the highest peak of the tallest mountain, where you could see every corner of the island, and watch the sunset. As you begin the climb towards the summit, the symphony of the island’s life fades away, and the lonely howl of the wind takes its place. At nightfall, I’d slide down the steepest part of the cliffside, which created enough momentum to propel me past rows of tombstones that stood solemnly in the valley.

That brief thrill leads me to a moment in Proteus that’s as wondrous to me today as it was back then. A whirlwind of fallen stars has formed on the ground, and when you approach it, time begins to race by. Days begin and end in seconds, stormclouds travel towards the horizon faster than jet planes, and comets are born and die instantaneously. It’s as chaotic as it is mesmerising. Enter the cyclone of lights, and everything fades to white.

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When the world comes back into view, I find that an entire season has passed me by in an instant. It’s winter now, and the trees lie dormant, the mountains capped with ice. Standing within that tornado of light, as time rapidly circled its endless loop, I thought that I had kept up with it. Weeks had raced by in a heartbeat, but I was standing completely still. I thought I had known the ground I stood on, but I was so distracted by the display I didn’t notice that everything had changed right in front of me.

I loved these moments, but I was particularly fond of the game’s bittersweet ending. At the time I never thought much about why, but looking back now, I think I understand why it resonated with me so strongly.

It begins with walking around the now frozen island for the last time. All of the wildlife have gone; and I hope it’s because they’re in hibernation. The bare trees still sing to me, but it’s a somber tune this time. Life on this island has faded, and I know it’s time to leave this place. Then, without warning, I begin to ascend from the snow covered ground. I rise up through the dense fog that hangs above the treetops, and I can no longer see the place that I came from, the place I found comfort in. The fog swells, and eventually it swallows the highest peak of the tallest mountain, where I once stood. A place of warmth and colour and vibrance has turned gray. When I look back down, I know there’s nothing for me there anymore. So I look up to the sky.

219680_20160529034848_1I was tired. The cracks in my facade were starting to show, despite how I strained to conceal them. I knew I couldn’t continue to live the way I had been. I wanted to keep the same time as everyone else again. I stumbled in the beginning, several times, but eventually I began to make some better choices; not perfect choices, just better ones. In time, I managed to regain some control over my life. Of course, it wasn’t that simple, it never is, but thankfully, my situation hadn’t become so dire that I felt it was inescapable.

My ability to enjoy the things that I love returned almost immediately — including my passion for video games. I considered that a triumph, because the moment I stopped caring about games was when I allowed the first piece of myself to fall away. The pleasant distractions that each of us enjoys — whether it’s video games, books, or something else — are more than just our pastimes of choice. They form a small, but vital part of who we are. If we lose that, who have we become? But at the same time, I’m aware that many people, perhaps just like me, lose far more than I did, so I can only be grateful for how my situation played out. 

Proteus wasn’t the catalyst for me getting my shit together, obviously. It’s just a video game after all. But whenever I needed to exist somewhere else for a little while, Proteus was somewhere I felt unconditionally welcome.

Like I’d awakened on the game’s frozen island, I had felt the biting coldness of a place that I could no longer stay. So now, I’m doing whatever I can to rise above, and leave it behind.

If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction or hardship as a result of drug use, speak with them, or speak to a loved one yourself, and seek assistance together.

 

About The Author

As an Australian, Simon enjoys paying slightly more for games, and occasionally isn't allowed to have the really naughty ones. When he isn't writing about video games, he studies journalism so he can actually one day be good at it. He also experienced an existential crisis after writing in the third person.

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  • primo

    I really enjoyed reading this and I’m glad you were able to beat your addiction.

  • Simon Rankin

    Thanks, that’s very kind of you. Glad you enjoyed reading it.

  • Col. Forbin

    This spoke to me, thank you for this.

    • Simon Rankin

      I’m very happy to hear that, and you’re more than welcome.

  • Sand Dick

    Really touching article. Proteus is a game that seems very boring to some people but for others means so much. I’ve never dealt with drug addiction but I can understand where you are coming from in regards to just existing in Proteus. It is like therapy.