The Heavy Pour

Buddies

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #129. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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Three fingers of analysis when two will do.

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My writing process usually starts with an idea coming to me at 2:00 AM as I struggle to fall asleep. Sometimes it ends there, too, if I don’t have the wherewithal to write down whatever intrusive little bugger decided to haunt my waking night-dreams. A lot of times I get out of bed to start writing then and there. I like to write on my laptop while sitting sideways on my couch, my back against the arm. I play records or put a Pandora station on, though the ads annoy me.

Lately I’ve been working in breaks to play videogames. Most of my game time is spent on my island of Illyria in Animal Crossing: New Horizons arranging and rearranging indoor and outdoor furniture. Like many people, I downloaded and started ACNH at the start of quarantine and have played nearly every day since – 365 hours or more, in fact. Recently I spent a couple hours putting in custom decking and arranging plants and produce for a farmers market stall next to Zucker’s house. Now he gets to think himself a little bit of an entrepreneur, as a treat.

I built a turquoise-fenced playground with a blacktop and sand pit and placed a pile of green leaves at the end of an elephant-shaped slide. I posted a sign bearing the park rules at the entrance so my animal friends can stay safe. I love posting signs. I’ve got whitewashed signs alerting visitors to paths that lead to beach access and another dark brown weathered one pointing the way to the orchard (very near the farmers market, naturally). Hidden away in a cliffside nook is another placard indicating the fortune teller is “IN.” Of course there’s a sign for the farmers market itself, otherwise how would you know that cocoa tree is for sale?

Like many people, I downloaded and started ACNH at the start of quarantine and have played nearly every day since – 365 hours or more, in fact.

The game isn’t just a working simulator – I also wander around a lot. The sunsets are legit. Sometimes I’ll walk to the west side of the island and stare at the evening horizon until a mosquito bites me and I slip out of my reverie. I like to run barefoot on the sand and cannonball off of flat gray rocks into the sea. Swimming is the best. After Pascal the otter comes inquiring about scallops and lays down some cosmic truths, I’ll swim with him a bit as he moves to make his exit. If I keep him in sight he’ll stick around awhile. He doesn’t seem to have anywhere particular to be either. It’s nice to have a buddy.

The last virtual space I liked wandering around in this much was the island in Dear Esther, which had the intriguing double whammy of being scenic and spooky. I played Dear Esther more than once and discovered the narration is presented in a different order each time. It makes the experience feel so much like a memory – the details stay the same but some seem more important when you go over them a second or third time and others seem not to matter at all anymore. Eventually, I noticed the shadowy figures that watched and followed me each time I climbed the cliffs to look out over the sea. Startling at first, but then I realized they must have always been there. I was never really alone.

Back on Illyria it’s a little after 2:00 AM and I erect a lighthouse at the top of a cliff, carry a lantern to the edge and gaze over the ocean. Most of the islanders are sleeping. Del the alligator is awake and watched me walk up here. He tells me he’s thinking of leaving to look for new adventures. Part of me wants to ask him to stay but instead I wish him luck. Del moved to Illyria after a real-life friend sent me his amiibo card in the mail. It was tucked inside an envelope with a hand-written note. Before March it had probably been a decade since I got a written letter in the mail but this was already my fourth piece of quarantine correspondence. I hung them on my fridge with tiny silver magnets. They’re all just silly notes, winking at their own formality but they’re also little signs proving my friends are still out there. It may feel like all there is to do is stay indoors arranging and rearranging the furniture in my apartment but my friends are still out there. We’re never really alone. It’s nice to have buddies.

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Sara Clemens thinks too much about things, generally. She runs a site called Videodame and retweets stuff on Twitter @thesaraclemens.

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