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Trivializing Death

Heya friendos. It’s going to be a bit of a sad and existential one today, so if you’re not in the mood for it, I suggest you skip this issue. If you decide to read on, be warned that we’ll be discussing grief, mortality, cancer and death, both in real life and in games.

Trigger Warning: Cancer, Death

How Am I Doing?

I’m doing pretty good, all things considered. A friend of mine passed away this week. It came as no surprise, he’s had a brain tumor for years now, but it’s sad nonetheless, especially considering how young he was.

Initially, I believed I handled the news rather well. I’ve had friends die before and was able to shelf those feelings quite quickly. A little too quickly maybe. On previous accounts, it feels like I’ve always been able to find some kind of logic to death. Be it questionable choices, unhealthy lifestyles, battling addiction, or old age, those all feel like understandable reasons. It’s still sad of course, but at least my brain can make sense of it. In a way, they prepare you for the grieving process.

But, this time around, I found no such crutch. I tried to shelf my feelings quickly, like previous times, but waves of sadness kept creeping up on me. Even though it was a long time coming, there is no understandable reason for a young person to die of a brain tumor. No scientific explanation or persuasive argument can make it make sense to me.

If anything, it made me realize that those understandable reasons are just a way for me to trivialize death. To make it more mundane and easier to digest. Maybe these waves are echoes of those times when I pushed my grief aside. Well… this time I’ll let it wash over me.

What Am I Doing?

Ironically, I’d been working on death mechanics of my roleplaying system this week. I received the news while writing about how players roll dice to see if they lose their lives or not. Immediately, the whole thing seemed trivial. There is no way for a schematic in a rulebook to accurately describe how it feels to lose a loved one.

I tried to get back to work a couple of times, but every time I found myself injecting dark thoughts into my designs. On all fronts, it tonally clashed with the direction of the project. A bit of darkness seeped into everything I tried to touch like a kind of creative poison. I didn’t really know what to do about that, so I contacted a creative peer of mine, who I remember went through a similar thing.

He told me a part of his experience that paralleled mine and left me with a beautiful quote: “I’m not afraid of the dark in my art, I’m just afraid of the darkness itself.” My takeaway from the conversation was that I shouldn’t fight my own self-expression. Grief and mortality are perhaps the most explored subjects in art.

I wonder then, why video games are so bad at depicting death. If you can respawn, reload, and retry endlessly, how can death ever carry the weight it does in the real world? I’ll have to ponder that, but I’m in no state to make any insightful statements about that yet.

In fact, I think I’ll leave my professional work aside for a while. In Korea, I picked up an ink and water brush in an attempt to get back into traditional art. This seems like a good time to explore some shades of black.

Why Am I Doing? (this)

I sometimes hesitate to post these… more personal newsletters. It’s hard enough to write about things like grief and depression, let alone plaster it onto the web for the whole world to see. It makes me feel cheap sometimes, as though I’ll only take the time to process my feelings if it has any value to an “observer”. Or if it has somehow to do with my creative process.

But, I’ve grown fond of my little journal. If anything, it forces me to sit down and let my thoughts flow out. Then, I bottle them and filter them, through a lens that makes them readable for people. But it also makes them readable for me. It’s so much easier to crystalize my emotions this way. I guess that’s just how my brain works.

Maybe I have it the wrong way around. Maybe my creative process is just a way for me to channel my feelings instead. The responses my newsletter garners make me think that even a subject like this resonates with someone in the world… Maybe especially a subject like this. And well, if it helps me and it helps other people as well, I will keep doing it!

Stay healthy folks. Tell your friends you love them.


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