“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” -Heroclitus
“I like that you still call her the bank manager”- Stu Horvath
For the first time in several months I played Payday 2 with Stu Horvath. After we knocked over a jewelry store that I called a bank we moved onto the grandest prize available in the PS4 version of the game, a big bank, The Big Bank.
At our peak, Stu and I could knock over some levels with the speed and precision of surgeons high on meth we’d cooked ourselves in a motel we were robbing. No one would call the cops because we’d killed them all. Sometimes it didn’t matter because we’d robbed the place so fast that we were leaving as soon as the SWAT team got there. We played fast and loose and climbed our away to the level cap.
Then one day, we stopped.
There wasn’t a specific reason for it. No plan to. In fact, we had plans to keep going until we could get everyone in the Unwinnable network at the level cap. We had plans to keep going until we could rob the secret vault that takes several hours to rob. And then one day we all got busy and moved on.
But we’re back now and hitting the same notes that we’d always hit. After months of playing dozens of other games all of the familiar patterns came crashing back along the shores of my mind. I’d always called the manager of the Jewelry Store the “bank manager” and that became the call out. It’s not a good call out but it was just what I said. I called her that again without a thought because that simply was what she was, the bank manager, a fact.
Maybe we couldn’t experience the game as we had months ago but it didn’t feel that way. It felt familiar, the way that a jacket found in the back of closet feels as it hangs on your shoulders. Sure, we’d forgotten a lot of the buttons. We’d not really even remembered the specifics of some of the levels. But none of that mattered, as soon as the masks were over our faces we were back.
Games so rarely afford us the opportunity to feel “back” in this sense. This isn’t nostalgia. We’d not longed for the waters that had since rushed passed us. We’d not really even wanted to go back. I asked to play on a whim, bored and a little lonely one night. This was a happy return. We’d ducked back into a dive bar we used to like. We’d forgot how great some little hole in the wall was. One doesn’t feel nostalgic for Kraft macaroni and cheese, but you do feel comforted by, well, comfort food.
Payday 2 isn’t a very old game. It’s still being supported with patches and updates. It’s not gotten a lot of love on the PS4 but that’s okay. One day support for it will stall out, maybe there will be a Payday 3, maybe in five years there will be some 12K remake. But “Payday 2” as I know it isn’t a discreet game that exists. It’s an experience formed with a specific group of people, one that I hope I’ll always be able to step back into.