There are No Castles Here

The game for when all you want is to go home.

  • Another definition of “game” requires that it creates a sense of entertainment, distraction, or escape: it is meant to take your mind away from the literal world and into a fictional one
    Flicker/Alex Geslani
  • Your body has forgotten how to work and so you are quarantined, relegated to the inside of an iron lung: the vibration of the motor tingling at your back, the sound of air pushed in and out like the bellows of your fireplace.
    Photo by Flicker/Daveiam

You have made your way through this terrible sugared landscape, overcoming every obstacle — every gnarled step, every labored breath.”

It begins with a fever, congestion in the throat. Most of the world won’t have symptoms at all, but already you are special — the sort of special that creeps its way out of your lungs, up through your spine, and into your motor cortex. You feel so sick that you crawl into bed, and it isn’t until several days later that it occurs to you that you can’t crawl back out. It seems as if things couldn’t get worse, at least until your body forgets how to breathe.

It begins in 1948 with a diagnosis, with your condition getting worse. You’ve always felt invincible, but now you are starting to question yourself, this unrefutable fact. You used to climb trees hand over fist and now you are nothing but a shaking frame, a rasp. It’s a disease you’ve learned to fear, the symptoms like religion: something you cannot see or touch, yet you always feel it upon you, inside of you. You are sick and you do not know what to do but you pray for a solution, a miracle cure. You remember the horror stories your parents told you: the quarantine signs banning children at the city limits, the public swimming pools closed for entire summers out of fear. You’ve been brought to this ward because you will supposedly get better, but you know the truth: you have been brought here to keep the healthy ones safe from this mysterious virus, from the contamination you carry.

It begins with a rainbowed trail past a coppice of Candy Hearts, a sign that reads 127 Miles. Where it goes, you are not sure. You are not sure you are up for the journey: the calipers on your legs dig into your skin, unforgiving in their attempts to keep you on your feet, your bones electric in the pain. You’ve only just begun and already your limp is noticeable, but what other choices do you have? You move forward past a forest made of peppermint, a gingerbread tree adorned with plums. By the time you reach the Gum Drop Mountains, you see no point in going forward, no reward that could be worth this pain. You see no possibility that gets you to a destination you cannot yet name. You have 120 miles to go.

Or perhaps it did not start in 1948. Perhaps it began much earlier: In 1789 when the symptoms are first described in a medical journal. Or in 1908 when the virus is first discovered by transmitting it to monkeys. Or with the first mass epidemic in New York City: every toy and stitch of children’s clothing incinerated in the fruitless attempts of containment. Or it began in 1935 when a doctor safely tests a live-virus vaccine on himself, or several months later when the 12,000 orphans he inoculated start dying off. Later, upon learning the results of his experiments, he is quoted: “Gentlemen, this is the one time I wish the floor would open up and swallow me.” You should not be asking is where did it begin, but rather, when does it stop?

When we talk about games, we are talking about simulation: imitating a world or scenario with the purpose of discovering the outcome. We win information from an environment without consequence. Game is somewhat difficult to define: sociologists claim that it must contain elements of fun, uncertainty, non-productivity, rules, and an awareness of its own fictitiousness. “You” are a part of the game, a character in its world. There are rules to be followed that are easily understood and qualified. There is a power in knowing what you can and cannot do, to knowing that losing is the worst that can happen.

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