Press Start: One Life

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Like many my age, I loved video games as a boy. But I had a particular preoccupation with them that I reckon was borne of my parents’ initial refusal to keep them in the house. My obsession was such that I wouldn’t abandon an arcade game I had plunked a quarter into even when I desperately had to pee. This led to more than a few near disasters where I only barely danced sidelong through the bathroom door in the nick of time.

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In those days, three “lives” were the typical amount granted for twenty-five cents. On the understandably thin allowance given to me by my parents, it seemed stingy compared to the thirty you could get at a friends’ home console with the quick entry of a well-known cheat code, but the truth was that it grossly undervalued life and taught me to do the very same. It subconsciously cheapened life in my malleable adolescent brain, though not in the sense of making me violent (Lt. Col. Dave Grossman has an interesting take on this topic, even if it’s hardly one I that wholeheartedly agree with). Bear with me.

Instead of that tired hypothesis bandied about and peddled countless times by the usual parade of hand-wringing pundits, video games created a related-yet-different disconnect for me. See, it’s not the infinite numbers of onscreen bad guys meeting hasty and desensitizing deaths. No. Instead, it’s the player’s cheaply purchased resurrection(s) that do the trick. I didn’t respect my own fleeting life (if you ask me, a far more dangerous thing for a non-sociopath well averse to real world violence). I hadn’t acquired a sense of urgency or even a fear of wasted potential. After all, another three chances were only ever twenty-five cents away.


Then I got older, as boys and men are both wont do, year after blurry year. My interest in the escapism of video games waned slowly. But, it was only in my early thirties, after the death of my last surviving grandparent that the truth finally caught up to my psyche. Or rather, the other way round. And I realized that in my own indulgence, I’d been hypnotized. Unknowingly, but willingly all the same.

Turns out, as most people learn and internalize well before I did, you only get one life. One single life to dodge every onscreen enemy or hazard. One life to face every level. One life to face every boss monster. Even if you manage to play on “Easy Mode”, you still only get one life. We may not live equal lives, but we all get an equal number of them. And unless you believe in reincarnation, nothing on earth will earn you extra “continues”.

You have choices. You don't have time.
You have choices. You don’t have time.

So fly, fall, jump, dive, race, swim, run, and even kill bad guys where necessary. But don’t wait on a twenty-five cent resurrection to do so. Because to the very best of my knowledge, it won’t be coming. There are no continues, my friends; so live accordingly.

About Mark Allen

I write and drink whiskey.