Illustration by Popularium. Source images LucasArts
When you’re a junior in college you typically don’t consider the threads that hold your life together.
I’m the goddamn Indian John Cusack.
Yet I find myself in an existential crisis after the relationship I’ve had for the last four years — my only “serious” one — comes to an abrupt end. Yes, I am a cliché. I’m the goddamn Indian John Cusack. Give me the boombox.
Weeks pass by, then months. Everything becomes onerous. I can’t fall asleep. Once I finally do, I can’t bring myself to get out of bed. Everything is a senseless, worthless, pain in the ass. Including eating, which I guess is okay since I could stand to shed a few pounds.
Luckily for me, the one thing this low-to-middle grade depression hasn’t yet zapped is my desire to learn. I am able to take breaks from my own sad existence by diving into my studies. As lame as it might sound, I’ve got a hard-on for my operating systems class. It’s incredibly difficult, which is perfect: it keeps my mind off of her. The semester goes by in one big blur, as days turn into nights into days, like a Vegas casino. This effect is what the underground labs at Soda Hall are famous for, and tonight my team finally wraps up our final virtual memory manager code test around 1:30 am. Another project done.
I should be relieved.
I mean, it’s the weekend. In theory, I can finally relax. But now all I feel is that same lack of purpose and the depression slowly seeping back in. I’d found a perfect distraction, and the idea of having time to myself is unnerving — almost scary. Being stuck in my own head has become my worst fear.
On the way back to my apartment I pass a Blockbuster Video. Oh shit, I have an outstanding rental in my backpack. It’s a game for the Xbox called The Knights of the Old Republic (or “KotOR”), set in the Star Wars universe — an Xbox exclusive from one of my favorite game developers, Bioware. And it has been in my backpack for 12 days, completely forgotten.
Suddenly, I have purpose.
Suddenly, I have purpose. I need to play the crap out of this game over the next two days before it’s due back. I can do this.
As I approach my apartment, I hear music and shouting from within. An after-party of some sort, assembled by my “fun” roommate. With lots of people. Ugh.
I walk into the living room and am fucking Norm from Cheers as a few of the partiers celebrate my arrival with a round of mystery shots. I put on my party mask and give out high-fives before walking into my room and finding three strangers, two girls and a bro, passed out on my bed.
Alright. Now that sleep is completely off the table, it’s KotOR time. I rifle through my backpack for the unmistakable blue, gold, and white Blockbuster cover, crack the case, and remove the disc from within.
4000 years before Episode I.
I turn the Xbox on, noting the dust that had started gathering within its ridges, and slide the disc in. A couple of my friends are making out on the couch. Whatever. I plop down on the carpet as the familiar Star Wars opening crawl takes over the TV screen, filling me in on events that occurred a long, long time ago. 4000 years before Episode I. Whoa. That was unexpected. That must be the “old” in Old Republic.
The game then drops me on the Endar Spire, a Republic ship under attack. I am an engineer trying his best to keep the ship functional under heavy fire. Interesting. And apparently I have amnesia, and don’t know who I am. Also, not a lightsaber in sight. Hmm…
The ship begins to fall apart, and I need to make my way past the boarding Sith soldiers with just a blaster and my brains. The first time I encounter an enemy, the gameplay pauses, allowing me to strategize and queue up my actions. The combat system is similar to Baldur’s Gate II, but in glorious 3D instead of the standard 2D isometric view. That’s cool.
An occasional guest stops to watch for a few moments, typically asking me why I’m not joining in the drunken festivities. I grunt and continue to make my way off the ship.
Suddenly I’m wrapped up in a complex political storyline. I travel from the megapolis of Taris to the Wookie-infested forests of Kashyyyk trying to figure out who I am and how I, a simple engineer, am connected to the legendary Star Forge that the Sith are using to build their weapons. This is intense.
But then I’m broken out from my virtual reverie by a very very cute girl named Cassie, who asks me to explain what’s going on in the game. I try not to be too taken aback as she plops down on the floor next to me and listens closely while I, trying to sound as cool as I can given the situation, explain the game.
I’m playing this awesome game while performing for this super cute girl — which makes the game like 1000x better.
She asks questions. She seems genuinely interested. She climbs up on the now-vacant couch, lies down, and watches me play. I have an audience. A friend. And, stretch goal: a fan.
And just like that, I’m playing this awesome game while performing for this super-cute girl, which makes the game like 1000x better.
For the moment, I don’t want to be anywhere else.