- Game Title: Dead Cells
- Completion Date: April 2021
- System: Nintendo Switch
- Score: 8 out of 10
- My One-Sentence Review: Quick, pure action, with enough flexibility in how to approach the world to make the game exciting and re-playable many, many times
- Music I Listened To While Writing: Relaxing Video Game Music for 3 Hours (check out 8:33)
According to this calculator, I am 2,000 weeks old as of May 17, 2021.
I once read a blog post on waitbutwhy that focused on the number of weeks we spend on this earth. It used charts and graphs to convey the author’s points, such as marking the week an average person achieves specific life goals – goals like getting your first job, getting married, buying your first house, and having your first child. It was fascinating and eye-opening. I remember seeing this picture with many circles, each of which represented one week. There were a little over four thousand one hundred circles in total, which is the current average life expectancy of a person (or about 78 years – also, a fun and encouraging fact, it’s been increasing every year for the last several decades).
I would say that this post had the intended affect on me. Once you see the weeks of your life put on a single chart that is not as large as you would’ve thought, it gets your brain thinking a little bit differently about that period of time that goes from Sunday to Saturday, which seems to repeat over and over again, with no discernible difference from one to the next.
And, just as we tend to see the weeks of our lives as an unending chain, I can’t help but think that we also think of larger periods of our lives in the same way, wondering if that stubborn thing that we dislike will ever go away, or whether that thing that we’ve been longing for will ever happen. And when we’re waiting for this change to happen, it does seem as though we’re stuck in a loop of unending weeks that repeat themselves, always attempting to maintain the status quo.
However, after some time, those periods do end, and a new period begins. Some call it a phase. Some call it a season. Some call it an era. Whatever it is, I can’t help but think that our lives are built by this odd ebb and flow of seasons that seem as though they will never change, only to find that they always do – and years later, they seem like they were only there for a moment, and then gone. A vapor.
. . .
I recently finished the game Dead Cells, which I enjoyed a lot more than I thought I would. It was one of the rarer times when I actually wanted to keep on playing a game after the credits rolled. Generally, I’m very much a “grass is greener” type of person when I’m playing a game, meaning I’m always thinking about the several dozen other titles that I haven’t started yet (yes, I’m working on that problem – no, I haven’t made much progress).
As with almost every game I play, the choice of what to play next is a near-impossible decision. The issue, as I’ve talked about, is the sheer volume of games there are nowadays. It is literally impossible to play them all. Even if one were to play only the ones that scored, let’s say, a 90 or above on a review site like metacritic, it would still be impossible, or at least would take so much time that there would be no room for much else in life.
I know it sounds silly, but I sometimes really do long for the days where you just went to your local game store (or blockbuster) and chose from a finite number of titles on the wall. It was largely decided based on the picture on the game box. It seems so simple now, and yet it seems to me that it might have been just as good as any of the ways we decide on something nowadays. Of course, you had to beg your parents to rent/buy the game, so when you got anything at all, you were perfectly happy. Then you grow up, and you have (a little) money, and $20 or $50 doesn’t seem to be as much as it used to, and then comes all the trouble. There’s a near-infinite possibility of stellar titles, and what’s worse, nobody except for you really knows whether you’ll love a game that everybody else loves, or love the game that nobody else loves. It’s all a giant, subjective mess of internet opinions (and those are the worst kind of opinions, aren’t they?).
. . .
In Dead Cells, you play as… well, as far as I can tell, a clump of long-dead cells that just refuses to die. The plot is vague and yet still has enough life in it for you to get the idea. In fact, some might like this kind of plot since it gives plenty of room to use your imagination to fill in the details. What is pretty clear, though, is that there is a plague infecting the land, and nobody has any idea how to stop it. You have already succumbed to the virus, but (for some reason) you come back to life. This is a happy coincidence, since you’ll be dying and coming back many, many times before you can make it to the corrupt king and put an end to his shenanigans (no, there aren’t many details about what those shenanigans are, but let’s just assume that he’s been using his power for some nefarious purposes – that’s what corrupt kings do, right?).
Dead Cells is a rogue-like game (actually it’s probably a rogue-lite, but let’s not get technical). In a rogue-like game, you play as a person or creature who fights his or her way through a procedurally-generated (i.e. random) dungeon. In a strict rogue-like game, a person will keep doing this over and over again, dying over and over again, all the while getting incrementally better at the game until, one day, with enough perseverance, they beat the game. With Dead Cells, however (and many other games like it), you gain small bonuses every time you traverse the dungeon, and so, each time, you get a little bit further along. Those small bonuses, coupled with the experience that you gain after every traversal, will eventually be enough for you to make it to the end.
. . .
Here’s the thing about Dead Cells, though. There were many times in the game that I felt like I was making little to no progress over the course of several runs through the dungeon. Sometimes I would make it pretty far, and would almost feel like I was going to get to the next boss or area. The next time, though, I would die much earlier than I had the previous time. In those times, I found myself thinking, “Will I ever get past this?”
I think, by now, you’ve probably cracked the code into what I’m getting at. Dead Cells can teach us lessons about life (take that, all you “video games rot your brain” know-it-alls!).
I think it’s fair to say that we humans like to divide our life into periods, epochs, eras, sections, seasons, or whatever other name you want to use as a divider. In each of those phases of life, we have the same feeling. The feeling and the thought is, “This will never end. It will be like this forever.” But this isn’t true. I can tell you, as one who has persevered through Dead Cells (and several different phases of my own real life), each season will, eventually, end.
. . .
Each of life’s phases has its own challenges. But, when you leave one phase and enter a new one, you usually realize that the new phase isn’t exactly what you expected, and the old phase had charms that you didn’t realize were there.
. . .
The first phase I can really remember was Kindergarten through 2nd grade at Macomb Christian School. Obviously, as a very young child, you don’t realize all of the very difficult things going on around you, and you don’t realize how much energy your parents spend keeping you unaware of how difficult things are. So, even though my parents had not-quite-enough money and other normal family issues, I remember having good times with my friends, having sleep-overs, and playing the original Zelda and Double Dragon on the NES at my friend’s house. The only challenge I remember was trying to convince my dad to let us have a pet dog (or cat). We went through so many, I don’t think I could remember all of their names. I remember we had quite a few dogs named Brandy. We probably made it to Brandy IV or V. Other than that, and the stresses of school (which probably weren’t nearly as bad as I thought they were), I have very fond memories of these times. But then, real life happened, and I left childhood behind.
Starting in 3rd grade, my parents put us into the public school system. Knowing how much private school costs, I can’t blame them for doing this. However, it was a challenge going from private to public school. The culture was so different. The kids knew a lot of words and a lot of things that they shouldn’t have known. I didn’t know any of these things, and so I was alienated from many kids very quickly. Therefore, I wasn’t really able to make many friends. In fact, I can’t even remember anyone’s name from any of my 3rd to 5th grade classes.
In 6th grade, because my dad started working in a new city, we moved to Lake Orion. I was moved again to a new public school (Lake Orion Middle School), where things were slightly worse than they were in 3rd-5th grade. In those grades, it was challenging to make any lasting friendships. In my new school, not only could I not make friends, but people liked to actively pick on me (and others). I can remember vividly in art class, one of the tables would throw crayons and pencils at the kids at our table. I remember talking to my dad about being bullied, and he told me to stand up for myself, and to defend myself if I had to. It seems reasonable now, but at the time, it seemed ridiculous. How was I supposed to stand up to a group of bullies? I remember one night, I wrote on a pad of paper, “remember, you’re tough”, as a reminder of my conversation with my dad. I can say with certainly that the following day was no different than any other.
It should come as no surprise, then, that when my dad asked if any of his children wanted to go to Oakland Christian School, I immediately said yes.
At Oakland Christian, I did manage to find a few friends, some of whom I still consider close. It was also during this time that my friend invited me to be in his band. So, for most of my time in high school, I tended to hang out with my band friends (none of whom attended Oakland Christian) more than the people in my school.
Even though I had gotten a few friends, I was still objectively and perpetually uncool. I look back on it now, and it seems obvious that by changing only a few things, it would have done a world of good for me. Not taking someone’s words too seriously would’ve helped a lot. I wasn’t able to take things as a joke. I took everything personally, probably because my self-esteem was absolutely awful.
Not a whole lot changed for me in my college days. It felt like a very long stretch of not really knowing what I was doing. I attended college at Oakland University in order to get a Computer Science degree. I wanted to make video games for a living, even though I had no clue how they were made. For instance, I remember thinking about the game Final Fantasy 7 (no surprise there) and wondering how the game worked, from a developer’s point of view. I remember thinking about the battle screen. There was a menu where you could choose between several options such as Attack, Magic, Items, etc. I remember trying to understand whether I would be a person in charge of creating the menu itself (the image), or the one responsible for what happened when a player pressed the different buttons on the controls. Of course, now that I’m older, I realize that there are so many other things involved in the creation of absolutely any product – the actual drawing, animation, and programming probably makes up less than ten percent of the work involved. But my young mind couldn’t understand those things back then.
Throughout college, I continued to play shows with my band, to go to classes, and to work at my job at Stop N Save software. I spent most of my time either playing in my band or playing video games.
After college, I struggled to find a job. I worked at Steak N Shake as a waiter for a few months, then got a job at Borders. I had to get up very early (I stocked books starting at 6 a.m.), but I had a decent schedule. I also managed to make some decent friends at work. I remember this time, however, also as a time of extreme loneliness. I didn’t see my college friends all that much. I worked and I went home. Also, my degree was useless.
Eventually, either by luck or by God’s providence, I was hired at a company called UGS (Unigraphics Software). My first assignment was to do some training, which all new college hires did. The training was in Cincinnati, Ohio. The idea of travelling away from my home was terrifying to me. When I took the job, the hiring manager told me that I would likely be travelling around the country. Nothing sounded more lonely to me. The idea of spending most days of the week in a hotel room by myself literally gave me several panic attacks. However, I didn’t have much of a choice (unless I wanted to work at Borders for the rest of my life), so I took the job.
I was in Cincinnati for two months while I was training. There were twelve of us new college hires, and I think it helped a lot that we were all in the same position. All of us had found our first “career jobs”, and we were all isolated from our friends and family. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt like I had a small group of very close friends. We quickly starting doing most things together (working out, eating, watching movies, etc.). Still, to say I was happy wouldn’t be true. I was still completely unsure of everything, and terrified of the future. And there was also forming in me a very serious question. The question, put simply, was “Who am I?” When removed from everything else in my life, the question came springing forward. During this time, I remember listening to Daft Punk and thinking, “Maybe I’m a person who likes Daft Punk – but is liking Daft Punk enough to define me as a person?” This question, and others like it, started to make their way to the forefront of my mind, and wouldn’t leave for quite a while.
Once I got back from training, I started working as a consultant at General Motors. I spent most of the next several months in a deep depression. I really, really hated my job. Everyone I worked with seemed so serious all the time. “A job is a job”, I thought. “We do it because we have to. Why get so serious about it? Just do the job and go home.”
I lived with my friend in an apartment complex in Troy, Michigan. I remember that I would sometimes drive to Birmingham, only a few minutes away, and walk through the city by myself. Of course, I would’ve gone with friends, but I really wasn’t close to many people who I felt comfortable calling to just “hang out”. I think I did this because I was so lonely that being surrounded by thousands of people helped me, at least a little. Still, it was only a band-aid on a very deep wound. I spent my days just existing. I remember trying to find moments during the day that “meant something”, even though I didn’t really have a good definition of what that was. I remember going to Starbucks on my lunchbreak to read, and I wondered, “Is this a worthwhile moment? Is this the part of my day that defines me? The part that I’m choosing to represent who I am?”
It was in this time that the greatest revelation of my life came to me. Looking back on it now, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Although on the surface, things seemed normal (I was a recent graduate who had just found a job and was now living in an apartment with a close friend), in my mind, I simply couldn’t go on any longer.
One night, a friend of mine from my tight-knit Cincinnati group was in town and wanted to hang out with me. We spent the night driving around to different restaurants and bars. I don’t remember why, but I ended up spending the night at his hotel room (I think I probably offered to drive him to work the next morning). I remember waking up in the morning and just thinking, “I don’t know what life means anymore”. This wasn’t the first time I had thought that, but my next thought was a first. I remember thinking very clearly, “Without God, life is meaningless.” It was probably the first time in my life that I really, genuinely thought something like that, and really felt it. This is a strange thing, because I had grown up in a Christian home, went to a Christian school, and had Christian friends all my life. But for some reason, this very basic statement had never entered my mind the way that it did that morning. And the strangest thing happened. For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. That peace stayed with me the whole day, and the next day, and the next.
It was around this time that some friends of mine from several years before invited me to a college group at a church. It also happened to be around this time that another old friend of mine started a Bible study at his house. And so, I very quickly found myself, instead of aimlessly walking the sidewalks of Birmingham, going to a church or bible study at one house or another. I’m almost sure that none of these people understood (or even understand to this day) how much they helped me overcome my intense loneliness and confusion.
Eventually, I was going to some type of church function pretty much every single night. Instead of being lonely, I was now extremely busy, and by this time I had made several very close friends. It was also around this time that I met my wife.
. . .
My wife and I were engaged within one year of dating, and were married within one year of being engaged. I really wish I could say that the rest of my story is a fairy tale, but real life doesn’t seem to work that way. Only shortly after we were married, I started to have the worst anxiety and depression of my life. My anxiety was based on the spiritual concept of God’s authority and justice. I can’t tell you necessarily why my mind went to these subjects at this time in my life. My only guess (which is really a testament to how humans work) is that my mind ran out of other things to worry about, and I went to the only “problems” that I had left.
With a lot of time, effort, and discussions with my close friends and family, I was able to overcome some of the toxic thoughts related to these subjects. However, it is very likely that some portion of these issues will stay with me until the day I die.
. . .
The current phase of my life is my life as a husband and a father.
On May 19, 2013, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Nathan. Being a parent is a life-changing experience, as I’ve discussed before. As of very recently, my wife and I are now parents of three wonderful children.
I’ve said many times (though not necessarily here) that to be a parent is to live two different lives at the same time. In one life, you’re infinitely happy to have this little life in your hands, enjoying every moment you have with this little miracle that God has blessed you with. In the other life, which you live in parallel with the first, you are a person at your wit’s end, desperate for just one deep breath. At times, I feel like a swimmer who’s come up for air, but doesn’t quite get enough, and he is forced to go back under the water for his next stroke.
And now, as I was previously faced with loneliness for a large part of my life, I find myself in the opposite situation. Surrounded by four other humans at all times, I frequently wish for just a few moments of quiet and isolation. And now, I can remember so many quiet times in my room where I would play the latest Final Fantasy game for hours and hours. Nothing existed besides the game and me.
Of course, there’s no way I would trade what I have now for what I had then. I’ve been so blessed to be surrounded by people I love and people that love me. There is no greater thing in the world.
. . .
My wife and I talk often about how it will be when our children are grown up. Just as we are desperate for a moment’s rest now, we will likely be longing for those times when we were just a small family, living together under one house, our children’s innocent smiles the only that mattered.
. . .
Life happens in stages. Each has its own good and its own bad. As humans, we will always crave and desire the next thing. But, let’s be careful not to dismiss things too quickly. I’m certain, if we really examine our current circumstances, we might find that there’s more good than we thought – and I have no doubt that when we get to the next season of life, we will probably miss a few things that we didn’t even realize we had.
I wish you all many happy seasons.
Game On, friends.