These Lost Three Years

Today, I put my 360 in a box, and shoved it under a floor tom. It rests next to a box of unmarked wires and a ripped up box set for the Sarah Jane Adventures. My room is full to bursting of stuff, the kind of stuff that gets left behind, while we try to find somewhere to leave it for. But with nowhere to go, the stuff simply multiplies, making me anxious with its ever encroaching permanence.

When I left for the first time, I thought I wouldn’t be coming back. Everything was coming to an end anyway, and at the time, it didn’t seem so bad. The people I’d found who kept me going would be going on alone, and I’d be doing much the same. We were growing up, leaving home, moving on. I knew that I’d be coming back from university as a new person, to a new home.

Yet three years later, I lie on the same bed, my hair often catching itself on the stickers a child once fixed to the headboard. I never made it through my course, my mother never made it out of the street. The boxes we once packed sit sagging in the corner, now mostly dead weight which won’t even make the journey. My family is defined these days by an all too common working class depression, one where it’s always been like this, yet you know it’s gotten worse.

Before adding it to the pile, I turned my 360 on, because I wanted to say goodbye. I used to play it almost every day, chasing the tangible rewards of achievement points because I wanted to have something to show for my time. If my deeds were not being recorded, I may as well have not done them at all. I wanted a display as justification – to myself, to others – for how I chose to fill my days. Three years later, it sits gathering dust on the side of my desk, slowly transforming from something of mine into stuff.

As all things do inside my head, its meaning fades and it remains only as evidence of what I know is true. An older console sits downstairs, broken and forgotten, in a room we never open any more. It’s always been like this.

But it hasn’t. On the screen I see my old display, all that I have achieved, stamped and dated by a computer that doesn’t erode as I do. I read the words I wrote for my profile years ago, and they do not feel like my own. They’re coarse, defensive, the uneasy sarcasm of a kid still unwilling to express themselves. They hurt to see, for many reasons but none more than the fact that they are true.

Because these boxes are different from those I packed before. They don’t start to forget when I do, they don’t smooth the edges down into a narrative that solidifies with time. They record, they store, they do not change. The data paints a picture of a person who isn’t me – someone who plays differently, who writes differently, who thinks differently. Before I unplug it, and store it away, I am forced one more time to accept its truth, the truth it is maybe the hardest for me to accept: I have gotten better.

It’s something I hate to admit, because it’s something I cannot feel, lying in this old and broken bed in an old and broken house. With depression, when the defeats are enough to break you, it’s easier to pretend there were never any victories at all. Victories like this very website, the friends I skype at night, all the writing I was well enough to finish. While it hurts, I force a smile as I put the box away, and for just a moment, I think of all the things I’ve found in my lost three years.

I wonder, in the future, how many more of us will look back at all these moments being recorded, trophies being unlocked and screenshots being saved, and find ourselves face to face with our younger selves? Will we take one last look at these little truths as we put our past in a box, and leave it to settle in the mind? What does it mean to have our past choices codified in the guise of a reward?

Until today, I had a gut feeling against the increasing trend towards externally rewarding and monitoring our engagement with art. for the existence of these systems certainly frames that engagement in a different light. But whilst that is a fair critique, it ignores the agency I have in my life. My way today will not be my way tomorrow, I will grow and I will change, then when the changing is done, a little piece of me will still remain, in a box neatly stacked on a shelf.

And unlike the stuff it stacks against, one day in the future, I will take it out, load it up, and remember what it was like to be me.