I Don’t Have Dreams Anymore, I Just Game
Sometimes the act of sleeping terrifies me. I know it’s necessary–in fact most days it’s the only thing I’m looking forward to. I enjoy the post-sleep feeling, waking up to a world that feels wholly new. Thoughts of yesterday and what’s to come not having made their way back into my brain. There’s a sense of freedom in those first few minutes where I can let myself forget about who I am or the world around me. I am the beginning and end of my universe. But, when I lay in bed and think about the action of ‘falling asleep’ I am filled with a sense of dread; The slow transition from consciousness to unconsciousness, the way I can feel my body start to become rigid and immobile, the numbness of limbs. It doesn’t feel natural to have this reaction to sleep, to be so extremely aware while my body begins to shut down for the night. Sleep is a natural bodily function, everyone does it, everyone needs it. I wish I didn’t need sleep, I wish I could just live and function and be conscious eternally. I wish I didn’t have to die.
“Look at us–a bunch of deathless freaks, meeting like this” – Die-Hardman, Death Stranding
In 2019, a video game called Death Stranding was released for PS4. This game would forever change my life and by that I mean ever since I played it, I’ve been obsessed with it in a way that borders on unhealthy. If you’ve seen pictures of Norman Reedus and Mads Mikkelsen covered in oil it was probably a screenshot of this game. Emphasis on probably, I have no idea what happens in The Walking Dead & Hannibal fandom circles. In Death Stranding the protagonist, Sam Porter Bridges, is something that’s known as a “repatriate”. It’s a term that essentially means ‘immortal’. Sam’s connection to the world of the dead was severed at some point and as a result he cannot die. His soul can leave his body when he succumbs to severe injury but it gets stopped before he can fully cross over. When Sam “dies” his soul arrives at a beach, a metaphysical shoreline that acts as a border between life and death. The natural order of things would dictate that he is at his end, all living beings arrive at this beach eventually, they all make their way from sand to water. Step-by-step as they make their final pilgrimage to somewhere unknown, somewhere they belong. Sam would join them, a look of awe on his face as he wades his way through these same waters. He could finally be free from his burden, reunited with those he’s lost, but he can never join them. He’s lost something vital, something integral and that makes him different. This endless sea where all souls drift and coalesce into a single mass rejects him. The sand beneath his feet giving way as he is suddenly thrust back into his body, back into the world he wishes he could escape from. He is alone, a deathless freak. I can understand his struggle, being rejected by that which should come naturally. I am a sleepless freak trying to place myself in the shoes of a deathless freak. If I can follow him on his journey, become him, maybe I can understand my own. Closing my eyes as I let myself meet with Sam on the beach, blurring the lines between my reality and his. Wading through the waters and sinking into his body. Becoming one.
“Sam Porter Bridges. The Man Who Delivers” – Fragile, Death Stranding
I’m awake in my private room. Lifting myself out of bed is as easy as the press of a button. It’s quiet and solitary in this space I’ve created. Everything I could need to sustain myself is right here. I almost don’t want to leave. But a journey west must be made. I am a porter. I can’t stay here isolated all day. Soon, I’m going to have to be a person. I make my way into the world outside, tools fastened to my back ready for use whenever I might need them. I breathe in the fresh air from a world that is born again after every rainfall. Night never comes here. The rivers are fresh and unpolluted. It’s freeing and it’s new. It’s not a world that encourages traversal over long stretches. I travel the distance I’m supposed to, I make the deliveries as I’m told and at the end of the day I return to my private room. Back in my own bed, staring at the ceiling above me as I let myself drift away from today into the next. Inescapable thoughts that filled my head, existential dread over what’s to come. Sleep is simple here. I’m isolated even in my isolation. This is what I look forward to most days. Sitting here staring at this screen, through the eyes of another.
“I haven’t been outside in a long time. It’s just too much to take in all at once” – Mama, Death Stranding
A new day, feeling like a new existence. I enjoy this moment of conscious tranquility as long as I am able before I remember the inescapable truth: I have to be a person. Yet that truth seems almost harsher today, as if the universe is punishing me for enjoying myself for too long. Today’s journey is somehow even more taxing. My distance traveled, my deliveries made, injuries sustained. All were within the normal range. I should be capable of more here and yet it’s as if the strain is exponential. Everything is constantly moving. I can barely keep up. My eyes red as they strain to keep focus. A tinning sound enters and leaves my ear. Sweat drips from my furrowed brow as I lift my hand from the controller to wipe my face. I can feel it again. This world is necrotizing beneath my feet. The strain of degradation is evident on everything I see and touch. I can feel my cells dying one by one. How can I live here, how can anything live here? Just merely existing is enough for this tax to be levied against you. Why does this world have to erode too? I can’t be a part of it anymore. I won’t. I must remove myself from this world within this world. I need to go back to sleep. All the noise of the world outside of here can be repelled. I’m safe. I’m alone here in this bunker. My stamina won’t be drained.
“Living is no different than being dead if you’re all alone” – Amelie, Death Stranding
It’s difficult to know how much time has passed since I’ve confined myself to this room. Sitting in this same spot, staring at this screen. Everything can fade and degrade but as long as my eyes can remain transfixed nothing needs to change. I can be alone, not truly alive but not really dead. I can be at peace here. However the world I once knew refuses to be so easily forgotten. Rumbles manifest not from my controller but from outside my door. Feet hitting the floor as my youngest sibling runs around the house. The roars of a garbage truck outside my window. Daylight breaks its way through my black-out curtains. My private room is being breached, the walls of isolation I’ve built are beginning to crumble. I’m not ready to leave yet, I refuse. The word outside does nothing but drain. My heart begins to race as I remember the pains of what sent me here in the first place. The senseless noise and light that demand my attention begin to coalesce into one tinning sound.
*DIE* *DIE* *DIE* *click* *click* *click* *DIE* *DIE* *DIE* *click* *click* *click*
Alarms going off demanding that I reckon with their source. I look towards my bed and see my phone lighting up and buzzing. Missed calls, unanswered texts, emails that need to be delivered. A whole life that is going unlived. All that ties that keep me suspended in this isolation begin to unravel in a single moment as I am plunged back into the reality I’ve been avoiding. The world in which I belong. A sleepless freak and a deathless freak still have to reckon with the world around them.
“See the sun set. The day is ending. Let that yawn out. There’s no pretending” – Cliff Unger, Death Stranding
The world demands I must be my own person. Channeling my struggles through Sam Porter Bridges makes the truth all the more evident. We’re always going to have to step outside. The blood this world demands of me must be spilled. It’s a ritual I must perform daily in order to live in a world where I don’t belong. The knife plunging into the skin gouging out hours at a time so that we may have another day of lucidity. That is what sleep is. The slow transition from night to day as the sun creeps over the horizon beginning the cycle anew again. We are all living things. So know that while the choice to step outside may always be inevitable it will always be uniquely yours.
Nathanial Torres is a Latinx writer and a life-long gamer born and raised in Southern California. They are at times a poet, a performer, and a comedian. As a writer they seek to engage with all creative formats that inspire them. They hope to continue to pursue their creative endeavors while also finding the time to game.