The first sign that the pandemic isolation was getting to me happened in early April. I sat alone in our dimly lit living room, the TV playing a never ending playlist of something on YouTube that I had stopped paying attention to hours ago. Instead, I laid on the couch, my screen hovering over my face and revealing the unending doom and gloom that comes from countless people all trying to find an escape from the confines of their pandemic prisons. For many that doom-scrolling came in the form of sharing the countless stories about the crashing economy, whether masks were an effective coronavirus deterrent (they are), and whether or not Tom Hanks would escape Australia. For me, it’s when I started paying close attention to my sponsored Facebook ads for dumb products. My distraction, as it turned out, was retail-based. I just started buying…. stuff. Anything.
And as George Carlin once famously quipped about home, “This is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all; a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there. That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is- a place to keep your stuff.”
A place for my stuff everywhere, because there wasn’t any more room for my feelings–both negative and positive. Random video game sales? Done. PlayStation-branded shwag that I don’t even have a place for because my wife and I are still technically unpacking? Got it. Subscription boxes to services I don’t need, sending me stuff that only provides a release from the moment of purchase? Sure. After all, it was all easier than acknowledging that for all intents and purposes the outside world was persona non grata.
And I still feel that way, even as my own country attempts to fight the dichotomy between returning to some level of normalcy and watching everything fall to pieces. And yet, my game library grows and I think it a distraction–a return to an old normal where my most pressing cares were getting a hold of the next game I’m going to write about for a review or wondering if twenty dollars is too much to spend on a gun skin in Valorant.
It’s all distraction. All of this stuff in my house and, at times, I no longer feel like there’s any room for me within the walls. I think it’s because I’m just so damned tired of having an opinion on the events of 2020 that just seem to continue coming like a waterfall. And yet, escapism feels irresponsible. But I can keep buying things. Stupid, small things to put on a shelf or see in alphabetical order in my games library. There is room on my Steam account for the second copy of a game I already own on console but, seemingly, not enough room to find what this “new normal” for life will be for us all.
I’m a pack rat by nature to begin with, so perhaps this is all just me falling back on comforting tendencies. Like my mother, I also have a habit of purging unused items in a way that even Marie Kondo would find harsh and cruel. Maybe that’s why my game libraries almost feel like weights around my neck, as I continue to amass titles that I can’t bring myself to play. Instead, falling back into old favorites that, for brief moments, allow me to shut the outside world down. Even that has diminishing returns, as 2020 has stretched on and our collective abilities to accept that there is no waiting out the storm wears us all a bit too thin.
I think that’s what has made the approaching console cycle change so strange to both cover as a professional and await as an avid consumer. There’s this stop, start, stop again pulling at me that is completely ready to drop big money on new hardware because that’s what the plan was for this year regardless of any pandemic. And yet, I think about retail workers suffering through the hardship of either working in compromised jobs or losing income. I think about the absolute mess that game development as an industry is in, split between working at full bore and holding off on projects that seem to get further and further away.
Mostly, I think about how I’m thinking about all of this less, because our ability to empathize is a muscle, one that can only be stretched so far before it needs to return to a “natural” state. I feel like a bad person for wanting to not have to care about the outside world for a spare moment. And so, I buy stuff I don’t need, to place it into a house with no room, to create some kind of semblance of normalcy and avoid feeling everything at once.
There’s always room for your stuff, but increasingly every day I feel like there’s less and less room for me.