The Bond of Gaming

Imagine a scenario where you are playing a game on its normal difficulty and you’re a quarter of the way through the game. You’ve been having a good time, especially for the last couple hours. Suddenly, your avatar’s speed is crippled to an agonizingly slow rate, with no explanation as to why. Every single motion that you try to make your character initiate seems as if it’s a monumental task when it’s something as simple as moving forward.

On October 16th, 2007 this type of nightmare mode was selected for my life. I was dead asleep after an exhausting day of classes. Out of nowhere, I heard my cell phone emit the tiniest beep – the indication that someone is trying to call when it’s charging. I glanced at the alarm clock and noticed that it was two in the morning. Wondering who could be calling, I flipped open the phone, groggily mumbling a greeting.

I was surprised to hear my father’s voice on the other end. He told me to put my feet on the floor. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at this point; however, my legs swung over the edge of my mattress and my bare soles were pressed against the cool tile floor of my room. My father then proceeded to tell me what had happened, while my brain began to process the severity of the situation, wondering if this was some sort of demented joke. In the background, I heard a preternatural wailing and realized that it was my mother wracked with grief. All doubt left my mind: I had to accept that my brother, Derek, had died in a car accident.

Sleeping was barely possible after I finally got off the phone with my parents and sister. Somehow, I managed to grab a few precious moments where my mind was shut off. Once I was awake again, every action felt like I was being restrained by an unknown force. Where once there had been the simple understanding to get up and eat breakfast there was now a complete lack of motivation to even leave my bed.

All my life I had escaped to the fictional realms of video games, movies, literature, and television; now it felt like I was the one in the fictional story. Sure, you hear about people dying every day. That doesn’t mean you even begin to consider that the next time it could be someone you know, let alone a person that was a part of you.

My brother and I did many things together; however, none were as prevalent as our gaming bond. Our first memorable games were games like Doom and Commander Keen when we were undoubtedly too young to be playing some of them. We both vehemently begged our parents for our GameBoy Pocket complete with Pokemon Red and Pokemon Blue.

After that we went and got ourselves a PlayStation and spent countless hours playing each other in Madden. Once we tried to play an actual fifteen minutes per quarter game and quickly understood why the game is defaulted to five minutes apiece when the scoreboard displayed Cowboys: 105 Bills: 35. He then attempted to sever my toes from my feet with the use of the controller and brute strength. Strangely enough, I miss those moments, even if the assault would typically end with him shutting off the console before the game could register that my profile achieved victory.

Diablo II was another game that he and I poured countless hours of our teenage years into. He loved playing the Necromancer class and found the gameplay very addictive; however, he never paid attention to his health in the game. I took it upon myself to tell him when he absolutely needed to heal. I had my own character, of course, but essentially coaching him through the levels seemed more fun to me.

When Halo 2 came out, my brother and I bought an Xbox and the game the same day. We had a strict understanding that we were going to cooperatively play the whole game together as soon as it was opened, or so I thought. He decided to fake being sick one day and our mother felt sorry for him and told him he could play while I was at school. I came home to the sound of Covenant troops being obliterated and would have throttled my little brother had he not handed me the second controller right away.

Even though I was the bigger gamer, my brother was the one who got me into World of Warcraft. Some of his friends bought it for him as a get-well present and told him he had to play it. Well, he enjoyed the game so much that when I came home for my Christmas break, he forced the trial on me and convinced me to start a paid subscription. He and I would travel the digital plains of Azeroth when the two of us had our schedules lined up. He always bragged about the fact that his warlock got an automatic mount while I had to pay for my character’s.

The problem is, for most of the games I used to play with my brother, the magic is gone now that he isn’t there. I have a severe lack of interest in Madden. I have an unopened copy of Halo 3 sitting on my shelf because it was meant to be a present for the both of us. I simply got bored with World of Warcraft when I tried to play it again. The only joy I had in most of the games I played alongside Derek was clearly the fact that the games gave us something to have in common, even as we started to break apart.

Today, what would have been my brother’s 21st birthday has been spent playing Darkspore, in an attempt to ignore the easily susceptible trap of depression. The problem resides in the game’s similarities to Diablo II that resurrect the memories of gaming with my little brother late into the night. Both Diablo II and Darkspore are games whose material has no intention of causing tears, yet I’m still forcing them back because of the strength of the gaming bond that I built with my brother over those unfairly short seventeen years of his life.

Somehow, I am still able to get up in the morning. I still am living my life and moving forward, always with my brother close to my thoughts. Video games are an integral part of my life still, from my job of designing and developing them – to the place where I come to forget about the rest of the world. Sometimes I think about how mediocre some of the games my brother and I played together were; it’s then when I realize that even those developers gave the two of us another link in this bond that not even death has been able to shatter. Happy Birthday, D-man. I’ll keep gaming for the two of us.


  1. wodells

    Beautifully written. I know Derek loved playing those games with you. He will always be there while you play.

  2. Your story touches me. Just short of her 30th Birthday, my sister in law died suddenly, leaving a 2 1/2 year old and 2 1/2 month old. We too, experienced that sense of disbelief. Even today (those two little ones are now young adults), there are times I think I’d like to pick up the phone and call her.

    What brings me comfort is KNOWING that even though the body dies, the soul lives on. With all of your virtual reality games, this concept may strike a chord. I believe your brother is still there, in some other form, cheering you on as you fight the gaming battles. Perhaps you’ll notice a way to reach a goal that never occurred to you before…that just must might be a nudge from him.

    And so, I hope that you’ll continue to invite him to join you in your games. You just might be surprised…

    Beth Abbott (a friend of Valerie Parisi)

  3. MOM

    You have a gift with the written word, you put it out there, which in it’s self, is no easy task. I love you for the boy you once were & the man you have come to be. We carry a heavy load in life, I am glad you have found that moving forward in your life will still be a wonderful, fulfilling journey for you, & from the talents you possess, nothing can hold you back! Love, MOM

  4. What a wonderful tribute to your brother and to the bond you two still share. You are lucky to have had him in your life and he is lucky to have had you.

  5. Touching and moving. This is beautifully written.

    Through the pain, you’ve accessed the wonder and joy of a brother’s love and shared it with us all.

    Thank you for that,

  6. PN

    Mark…appropriately introspective…

    This is a memory that will color everyday of your life.

    Be careful not to live your whole life in a game.

    Please say hello to your wife..AGAPE PN