A Materialist’s Last Moments

I am trapped. Held prisoner in a small metal box. My body is free to go wherever it may, but I can only breathe what air is in this safe. I can only eat what food is in this safe. I can only drink what water is in this safe. I’m parched, starving, and beginning to suffocate. The air is stale and my lungs are empty.

I see the safe every day. It’s in my own home. So close and yet so far. Without the key, there is no escape. No escape at all. I breathe the last of the air, and I die of asphyxiation. I drink the last of the water, and I die of thirst. I eat the last of the food, and I die of starvation. I die again and again, yet I somehow live.

The reaper of souls approaches, in whatever form he may take, and I know my demise has come at last. Yet, before he takes me, he produces a small metal object. Thin and flat, with an unevenly serrated edge. This is it. This is the key. He releases the lock, and opens the safe. He takes something out: A stack of money. He holds the bills in one hand, and with the other he conjures up a flame. Benjamin Franklin’s portrait crumbles to ash. I feel air re-enter my lungs.

He now takes in his right hand a stack of paperwork from the safe. All manner of bureaucratically binding documents and dossiers. A sinister fire reduces the paperwork to nothing but ash. And I see before me a glass of water.

The third item is a cell phone. Again, fire reduces it to… well, a slightly singed cell phone. So instead he conjures up a hammer and smashes it. Still having no luck, he carefully dismantles it instead and responsibly places it in an e-waste bin. Now, regretting my $80 case as it disrupted the flow of an otherwise dramatic moment, I see an appetizing meal appear in front of me.

I’m ecstatic; I leap to claim my reward – my reward for putting up with life’s misery. Finally, I get to enjoy myself! But he stops me. He stops me and says, “This is hardly an appropriate time – at the 59th second of the 59th minute of the 23rd hour. The fact of the matter is, you are dead. You’ve had your time. To breathe, to drink, to eat; you’ve had every chance.”

The food is gone. The drink is gone. The air is gone.

The “Bad Guys” Are Really Nice People, Once You Get To Know Them.

When I was in elementary school, I played a whole lot of Starcraft and Warcraft II. I also played the LEGO Star Wars and Indiana Jones video games. In these games, while I enjoyed playing through the levels and accomplishing objectives, I also took a certain pleasure in idling and enjoying myself just by watching soldiers milling about their posts. After every victorious round of Starcraft or Warcraft, instead of going to the score screen, I would always click “continue playing”, and just build up my base to cover the entire map. I’d train up as many units as I could, and order them to patrol around my base. In the LEGO games, I spent many hours in Free Play mode (where you can play as any character that you’ve unlocked) dressed up as a Stormtrooper, Darth Vader, a Luftwaffe pilot, or a Russian spy, so that the enemies would see me as one of their own and I could just hang out with them.

This was further perpetuated by the dozens of easter eggs in the LEGO games which more humanise the enemies. For example, in the 6th level of LEGO: Indiana Jones, there’s a door which (if I recall correctly) can only be opened if you’re playing as a German soldier, and inside this door, some enemy soldiers are holding some sort of celebration, with balloons and cakes and all that sort of stuff. Similarly, in the second LEGO Star Wars game, in one level on board the Death Star, there’s a secret room accessible only to Imperial troopers or officers, where you’ll find a bunch of Stormtroopers relaxing in a hot tub.

I bring this up because I recently decided to try out Dungeon Keeper. Not the mobile port, but the original. (Well, the Gold Edition, actually, but you get the idea.) Assuming that you’re unfamiliar with the game, it’s a real-time strategy in which the player is in charge of a D&D style dungeon, and must orchestrate the defence against so-called “heroes” who would destroy the dungeon and loot it for treasure. The main substance of the game is not so much in directing battles as they occur, but rather in preparation. The majority of the game consists of digging new tunnels, fortifying walls, enticing new minions to join your ranks, and training your warriors.

Due to this, a large part of the game is simply watching your minions mill about and prepare, while you consider the layout of your dungeon and the like. There’s something about this which I find mesmerizing – like the Pipes screensaver from some of the older versions of Windows. This interest in watching a military at work outside of combat has largely influenced me to this day, and is certainly one of the reasons that Empire: Total War is among my favourite strategy games. While the gameplay is relatively hands-off and slow, there is the benefit of watching regiments of uniformed men marching about in even formations.

Perhaps I’m reading into this more than is reasonable, but the LEGO games, since I played them at such a young age (although I am still quite young), really cemented the idea that “hey, maybe the ‘bad guys’ aren’t actually bad.” After all, they need their R&R just as much as anyone else. Marching around in that plastic suit and being shot at all day, I can hardly blame them. This brings me to a point which I hadn’t planned in advance, but now that I consider it, I think it’s certainly noteworthy: The LEGO video games – at least the two I’ve been talking about – really contain some valuable lessons which ought to be learned at a young age. Perhaps being given the option to play as the “bad guys” is really an important thing to have. However, I don’t want to be misinterpreted, so I’ll reinforce that being allowed only to play as the bad guys is really far from ideal. The benefit is not in seeing the other side’s perspective, but in seeing both sides’ perspectives.

So, I’ll wrap this up with one final thought: Video games are – or rather, can be – an effective way to teach a child one of the most important abilities: seeing things from another person’s perspective. It’s one thing to point at the Galactic Empire or Nazi Germany and say “these are evil people; they are the villains,” but it’s an entirely different and, I’d say, better thing to say “these people had a different idea of what’s right and wrong. We generally agree that they were wrong, especially those in charge, but the majority of them were ordinary people like any other, just forced into unpleasant circumstances.”

Safe Haven

But up here, you will find none of that. This is my realm. My safe haven from the world. I go here in troubled times. Alas, I’ve yet to find a way of bringing others here… Perhaps this is the way. Writing. So come along! I invite you, dear reader, to accompany me on a journey through my imagination. For the most part, I do this for my own mental health, which has not been in top form of late. Perhaps if my id sees more than just a lone boy traversing this subconscious domain, he will relent.

To begin, I propose we visit the safest part of my realm. This place is free from the troubles of the world. There is no entrance, no exit. One can simply be here, or leave, at will. It is sunny, and on the warmer side of comfortable, without being too hot. There are a few cirrus clouds in the sky. The air is of wonderful quality, with a hint of some scent that you find enjoyable. Perhaps it’s lavender, or perhaps Earl Grey tea. In fact, it may even be diesel exhaust, or chlorine trifluoride if you enjoy that sort of smell. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and this is a more literal example.

We see a trellis, entangled by ivy, providing shade over a small pond. In this pond are lily pads, and some sort of fish. Being purely imaginary, some details are inconsistent from one visit to the next. The fish, for instance. There is not a fixed number of them, and they are not a definite species. Next to this pond is a wooden bench, which could comfortably seat two people. On either side of this bench are small tables, so that whosoever sits at this bench may have a beverage by their side without having to hold it in perpetuity. Around the pond, the ground is covered in lush green grass, which, while clearly kept trimmed, is not perfectly mowed and as such is uneven in places. There are also flowers among this grass. Very colourful flowers, at that.

A few metres out on all sides from the pond, the grass ends. In fact, the land ends, too. It drops away endlessly. This is an island floating in the sky, yet also exempt from the troubles inherent in high altitude – wind, low oxygen – that sort of thing. There is no railing or fence, but that is not cause for alarm. One cannot fall from these islands. This plane of surreality is mine and bends to my will, and my will is that none may come to any harm in this place.

On two sides of the island – could be any two sides – there are bridges. Small bridges, built from stone and wood, which connect to two other islands. The first of these islands is slightly larger. As before, the grass is lush and dotted with flowers. This one has a tower on it. A small tower, made of stone, with medieval-style ramparts and arrow slits. Inside are two hammocks, some storage chests, and a ladder which leads to the roof of the tower.

This tower is cozy. Inside, one feels like a toddler who has built themselves a grand fortress by draping sheets over furniture and forbidding their sibling from entry. That is to say, whosoever enters this tower has the utmost confidence in its fortification, with not even the tiniest shred of doubt that it is indeed safe.

Outside the tower, there is a small cluster of aspen trees. Chances are, this is really just one tree. Did you know that? Aspen trees have the interesting property of being connected by the roots, sometimes. This means that what may appear to be multiple trees are actually one organism. These trees are on a small mound, which has a tiny opening wreathed in pebbles. From this opening comes a trickle of water, flowing fairly fast, following a bed of pebbles to the edge of the island, where it falls infinitely. As luck would have it, the water is sourced infinitely as well.

The other island is tiny. Miniscule, in fact. However, there is a far larger island above it, and a thick, sturdy set of vines or perhaps roots are left dangling just above this tiny island, as a ladder. Again, I should reiterate that this is, despite your intuition, absolutely safe in every way. Up this vine-ladder, one finds a small area of grass – (this island does have fencing around the edge, by the way) – parted by a path of flagstones, polished immaculately, leading to a house.

The house is made entirely of wood, except for glass windows and iron hinges on the door. There is a roof of sorts, although it doesn’t need to be solid, as it never rains here. Inside, it is only one large room. In this room is a large round table which could seat seven people comfortably for dinner. One corner of the room acts as a kitchen. The food is infinitely replenished, and the washing-up is done automatically. There is also a library. A few shelves contain books bound in leather, with gold text. This is not a distinct collection of books, but rather, if a book is needed, it will be available on that shelf. Beside these shelves are a couple of luxurious armchairs either side of a coffee table. The final corner of the room has a bed. It’s rather a fancy bed, made of ornately carved wood, with a canopy and curtains.

Outside the house, surrounding this island, you may notice many small islands around, not six feet diameter, any of them. Each of these islands has some ornate and mystical pedestal with a glowing crystal hovering just above, gently bobbing in the air. These will move around at night, to light any areas that need to be lit. Or, if no light is needed, the glow will dim.

Now, I’ve just realised that I have completely forgotten the most important part of this place: An unlimited supply of tea. Be it Tetley, Twinings, PG Tips, Bigelow, or, God forbid, Lipton, any sort of tea you could wish for is available on demand. Coffee, too, but that is naturally a lower priority. But of course, tea alone cannot always satisfy. As such, there is also no limit on the supply of scones, muffins, croissants, eggs, sausage, bacon, or anything else that goes well with tea. For the sake of being inclusive, I’ll also say that anything which goes well with coffee is available too, but I can’t cite particular examples as I don’t tend to drink coffee.

At this point, I’ve been writing long enough, and I started late enough, that I’m quite tired and can’t carry on. I do have more to say, but I can never resume a piece that I leave half-finished, so I will end this now and I may continue in my next post, which should be tomorrow. However, I cannot promise an immediate continuation, as I have no idea what I’ll be in the mood to write about tomorrow.

The Plight of Urban Society

Before the sunrise, they awake. The hour is small, but smaller yet is their will. Their sustenance is the product of industry and greed. Wrenched from the hands of nature, and not milked for milk, but for money.

They groggily start their cars. On the road, and on the verge of sleep. None are competent, and none are forgiving of incompetence. They curse the traffic, fully aware that they are part of the problem, yet doing nothing about it. A seeming eternity passes.

They are now at their place of work. For hours they stay. They work. They work and work and work, and their blood boils. The successes are never acknowledged, while the failures cause immense distress.

Hours have passed. Now, a brief respite. One hour for lunch, but it seems like one second. Back to work. Deadlines. Things must be done swiftly but correctly. Hours more. Hours and hours and hours.

But now, finally, they can return home. Another commute. Another traffic jam. It seems that it will never end. But home they come, and they arrive at last. Home, only to be greeted with paperwork. Be it taxes, insurance – whatever it is, there is always something.

A figure is incorrect. They have to call a customer support number. They are put on hold. They are given no help at first. Only after speaking to one person after another, for hours upon hours, does anything productive happen.

Now they have to cook dinner. No matter what, some part of it will be overcooked, or undercooked. The sauce is too thin. The sauce is too thick. Something will always go wrong.

Finally, to bed. Six hours of sleep, and the cycle repeats.