A repository for games and ennui.
This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #87, the Rebellion issue. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
I grew up in the South, in and around Birmingham, Alabama. People hear you’re from the South and paint a picture of you – redneck, racist, bigot. You get used to it and, as you travel through life, you meet the people who make those names stand out. In Birmingham, things have changed quite a bit since the 1960s, but that’s another story.
My mom is from the South. She was born here and has lived here her entire life, but not my dad. He was born in Vermont and grew up on the Southside of Boston. As it was, I grew up with y’all and you’se guys, sometimes wandering into usedta could and pahk the cahh territory. The end result was a startling lack of twang and a bunch of mixed phrases.
As a kid of the South, the North was an interesting place to me. I knew how they felt about people down here at a very early age, as my in-laws weren’t all that tactful (note: the South is tactful and polite in both its kindness and dislike). During one of the visits, an aunt that hadn’t been down before was amazed we didn’t use outhouses.
My parents were separated when I was very young. My dad lived near us until I was about 12 years old and then he moved up to Maine, to be near his parents. I didn’t see him very much, but every summer he would come down and we would drive up to Bangor. We would spend a few weeks together, then I’d go back home. During this time, my dad became enamored with sailing. He managed to get a 28-foot sloop and we would sail on occasion around the extremely cold waters of Maine.
One of the places people like to sail off of the coast of Maine is a little town called Bar Harbor. It’s the kind of place that you would swear fell out of a Stephen King book.
One of the places people like to sail off of the coast of Maine is a little town called Bar Harbor. It’s very quaint and beautiful in only the way a New England port town can be. They serve fresh lobster and draw you into their little shops for branded knick-knacks. It’s the kind of place that you would swear fell out of a Stephen King book.
The trip there had been bad for me. I spent almost the entire afternoon laying below deck and dry heaving. My dad, who had been balding since he was born, forgot to wear his hat and looked like a lobster for a few days. Otherwise, it was a perfect Maine afternoon. We had lunch and spent a little time shopping. Since I had been so sick, my dad arranged for me and my sister to ride back home in the car while he sailed back.
Time, as always, moved along at a steady pace. Dad sold his house and boat and moved back to Birmingham. He developed prostate cancer some years ago. They managed it as best they could for a very long time, but it ended up taking his life. He had lived near me in Alabama for several years before a charity offered to buy him train tickets to my sister’s house in Maine, so that he could spend his last days where he had grown up.
I travelled up to see him at the end of May of 2015 and at the beginning of June he slipped into a coma-like state. When I called, they’d hold the phone next to his ear. They said he smiled when I’d talk. By the time he passed, I had been expecting and dreading it for weeks.
I was foolish as a younger man and held a grudge against my dad for moving away when I needed him. Over the last decade, I realized that mistake and wanted to spend as much time with him as I could when I could. Life gets in the way of such things. When he was gone, I was thankful he was at peace, but there was, and is, a big hole in my life that I still can’t fill. Why didn’t I talk to him more? Why didn’t I ask for more stories? Why didn’t I ask for more everything?
I’ve actually been to Bar Harbor, which Bethesda has said this DLC is based on, and I know what it’s like. I’m not sure if I can play it.
A few months later, Fallout 4 was released. The setting for the game is Boston and has quite a few Boston landmarks and city flavor. I explored the city and looked for places I visited with my dad. It was nice and nostalgic, but we never spent much time in Boston together. Then Bethesda announced the upcoming downloadable content for the game. Among the titles, one stood out – Far Harbor. In the game, Nick Valentine gets a case about a missing person in Far Harbor and you take a boat up to Maine to solve the case.
At first, I was pretty excited about the thought. I’ve actually been to Bar Harbor, which Bethesda has said this DLC is based on, and I know what it’s like. It’s also supposed to be the largest DLC Bethesda has ever made, which is also exciting. I’m not sure if I can play it.
Boston, I think, was neutral enough for me to decouple that part of the world from the places I haunt in the back of my mind. I haunt the hotel room where I was too scared to fly and had to get my mom to pick me up, making my dad very angry. I haunt the moment I didn’t go when he called at the last minute and wanted to see me one more time before he moved to Maine. I haunt his old house in Maine and the summers I spent playing Street Fighter II on my SNES rather than spending time with him.
And, I haunt Bar Harbor. I see him with his lobster-red scalp and transition lenses, so dark in the bright sun. I hear his laugh as he claps me on the back, saying “I love ya, my boy!” I smell the mixtures of the sea and his cologne as I hug him.
Far Harbor was released some time back and I haven’t played it. I don’t think I’m ready. I might not ever be.
Jason McMaster is a writer and editor with a lifelong passion for games. When he isn’t working on Unwinnable, he’s either on his PC or playing a board game. Follow him on Twitter @mcmaster