Dragon profile

The night I moved back into my parents’ house, I slept in my sister’s bed. The steadiness of her dark, burnished Havertys furniture against a wall she had painted crystal sea blue, gave me the feeling I was on a ship protected from the abyss of an ocean. I placed a pillow on top of another and laid back, pulling the green plaid covers up to just over the tip of my nose. It was quiet. My parents in their rooms, asleep. The neighborhood outside a neatly-curated homeowner’s association. To my left, the bedside table lamp burned like a small moon in the night of the room.

I stared across the bed, wishing the night could stretch on forever, that tomorrow would never arrive. I wanted to forestall the moment when I had to face all of the hopelessness that I knew somehow the daylight would bring. It was easier to hide, in the dark. Easier to forget all of the ways that it felt my father had cut my feet out from underneath me, had left me unable to survive in this world that felt too much to bear, too colossal for someone as small as me. Before I curled into a fetal position, reaching out a hand to turn off the light, I remember thinking, it won’t get easier.

Over the next few days I moved about in a daze, not quite present. I cleaned my old room and bathroom, not quite ready to return to them completely, seeking to prevent an influx of all of the bad memories I had left there. I unpacked boxes that were once housed in the storage unit I used to sleep in when I was homeless. I had just transported them from the dorm-style apartment I had entered that day with a police officer as my escort, safety against the violent roommate I had left behind.

Inside one box, I found my Xbox 360 and Dragon Age: Origins. I hadn’t played it in a few years and had almost forgotten I owned the game and console. I hooked it up to the TV in my sister’s room. She lived with her husband in a big house on the other side of town, drove a shiny, red Mercedes to the clinic at which she was a primary care physician, and was due to give birth in 3 months. Meanwhile, I couldn’t even find a part-time job. I used to be a pre-med student, shadowing doctors, volunteering with children, and working on my application to medical school, fulfilling my parents’ dreams. Until my father’s anger exploded one too many times and I gave all of that up, moved out, cut connections, tried to start a new life, and failed in every way. Landing me back here in my parents’ house. I had no friends, degree, prospects, nor ability to pull myself forward in life. I gave up.

And I turned on Dragon Age. The missions were concrete goals I could work towards and succeed at. Even if they didn’t matter in the real world, I felt fulfilled. I spent that summer running through the different iterations of the hero. Sometimes I was a Dalish elf mage, leveling up primal spells and causing massive damage. Other times I was a rogue human noble, skilled in evasive maneuvers and dirty fighting. Or a warrior dwarf commoner, master of my sword and shield. I was invincible. Nothing could bring me down. Get killed in a battle? Psht. I could go back to my last save. Downstairs, my parents would be fighting. The sounds would filter underneath the door, causing the anxiety and depression I battled to amp all the way up to an earsplitting pitch. Until I turned up the TV’s volume. And then silence, inside of my head. I could then lose myself in the new romance I was forming with one of the NPCs or the lore of this alternate land. It was a comfortable liminal space of not truly living.

I spent a lot of my time in Dragon Age seeking out the nooks and crannies of buildings and places on Ferelden’s map for lore to read. Nothing was more exciting than to approach a book, sign, statue, phylactery or some other object and see a pop-up box of lengthy text. I wanted to study this world and write notes on its history. I was enthralled by the imagination of the game writers, and the thought of them made me wonder what I could do with my own love of reading and writing. So, I re-enrolled at the university I dropped out of when I left my family. I took classes in English and Creative Writing. I was a recluse. I couldn’t seem to make friends, older than most students as I was. Depression and anxiety still twisted me into knots.

But I had the game. The loading scenes were long so I used that time to read poetry, nonfiction, fiction. I wrote reading responses and parts of essays. Sometimes I turned the game on and didn’t play, the sound of the music in the background provided me with peace as I worked my way through assignments. The game was my anchor. A central point I returned to for solace when life became harder than due dates or finals. I spent money I didn’t have on game add-ons, playing my way through The Stone Prisoner, Warden’s Keep, Return to Ostagar, The Darkspawn Chronicles, Leliana’s Song, and finally, Dragon Age II. They provided me with a safe space to grow and heal.               I graduated in 2 years with an English, B.A. I acquired a full-time job that allowed  me to move out of my parents’ house and would pay for my graduate creative writing classes. I sold my Xbox and Dragon Age games to GameStop the following year. I didn’t need them anymore. I now had new missions that I knew I could achieve.

Photo by devra, used and adapted under CC.