You Can Go Home, and This Time Be a Hero

I’m weaving mine on the way to the streets of Manhattan when I suddenly stumbled upon it: my old apartment, right on the corner of 8th Avenue and 23rd streets. I was amazed at how similar it looked. Of course, the burger restaurant that was here 10 years ago is no longer here, replaced by a fog-window shop called White’s Bookshop Café. Next up was the cinema, with giant speakers shaking our apartment every time a blockbuster reached its climax, also gone, replaced by Tom’s Cuts and Rapid’s Dry Cleaning.

But the bricks are the same shade, the same height of the building, bright in the sun on 8th Avenue in the same sunlight that I feel like a movie star every time I walk out the front door. I think about who I used to be, when I lived here: drinking heavily, hating my job where I was always “gay” and where my clients were-oil companies, pharmaceutical giants, chemical empires- literally evildoers. At this hour, things are different. I am here to fight the wicked. I turn and run to the face of the building, just stopping when I reach the top, where I can look and look for signs of transgression.

Did I say I’m Spider-Man? More specifically, I am Miles Morales. I played Spider-Man: Miles Morales, built on the legendary trail it followed in Manhattan. The achievement of Insomniac Games was a real surprise; I really feel like I’m in New York at the game but I’m also in my own New York.

Going (there, then) inside the game gave me a little twist, just to the right of my chest. The pain of nostalgia. But there are others out there as well.

Familiarity with it, of course, is enjoyable. If a video game world imitated ours, it would have become a digital scrapbook of sorts. A more interactive version of Google Street View. When I play Sleeping Dogs, I arrived at my old apartment in Hong Kong. I did the same with Watching Dogs‘Chicago, and it’s a vivid description that I have a dream about my horrible boss in Chicago. I use Assassin’s Creed II until show my husband what part of Florence he lived in before we met. I still hang out at games that I don’t have to be with, just to let go of my nostalgia. I can’t get in Tawo 5 (because thinking about high school gives me panic of attacks), but the simple wait about Shibuya brought me back to a Christmastime visit to Tokyo in 2006, and it reminded me of how young I was and full of wonder that I was before.

But this “something else” is more than that. Think about it: In almost every video game, what is the purpose? With rare exceptions, the goal is to win. The goal is to be a hero. the heroes.

Every time I visit a gaming world based on a “real world” location, I can feel what a hero can be there. The star. The winner.

I spent most of the first 30 years of my life being bullied. I am a strong, tall gay man from rural Pennsylvania. I was made to laugh at being gay before I knew what being gay was. I endured that, but I didn’t know that bullies would follow me until I was twenty. I went to London for graduation, and then, in my first advertising job at Old Blighty, my team had their own “Mike Voice” that they would use to imitate me, even if I was just a desk. This sound came with a lisp and incredible pulse goodness. It turns out that these creations are less creative.

Violence about my sexuality, my background, my appearance, my sound, my choices, my all I was followed all over the world, from my job in London to jobs in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Hong Kong, New York, Chicago, and Atlanta. I grew up strong, but I definitely never felt like a hero. I didn’t feel like I was winning. Like many gamers, many who have the worst of it, I have escaped my oppressors in the video game worlds.

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