Dear Reader, In Act 2 of Hamlet, the titular character says, “The play’s the thing/ wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” Though Shakespeare was referring to a staged play—and he certainly didn’t intend for a group of students in 2020 to read so deeply into one line that it became the first thing in their magazine—I’ve thought a lot about this quote since it serendipitously came into my life at the same time as we started working on this very magazine you’re holding. We are always at play. Whether that means performing one’s identity, pressing play on a song, fantasizing about a crush, reminiscing about childhood, or thinking about a game’s role in one’s life, everything, it seems, is play. Play is the thing: one of the few things we share with everyone else on Earth, and it is through play that we hope to capture the consciousness of our world today. This theme was originally on the list of potential themes for our Fall 2019 magazine. We loved the idea of performativity—especially in the context of specific spaces. Ultimately, we shifted our focus to spaces, and “play” was left behind as a lingering thought. I am so happy that we’re able to pick up, and run with, “play” for our second magazine of the year. Our Spring magazine features 13 pieces—some poetry, prose, a playable RPG, and a comic—that are all concerned with some aspect of play. Inside, you’ll find a reflection on the nostalgia cycle, an essay on childhood play, a poem about following raccoons both online and IRL, and a meditation on Pokémon’s role on personal memory. We are so lucky to be able to include these pieces, as well as many others in our Spring magazine. I am, as always, forever indebted to my amazing team for offering their time, expertise, and care. Thank you to Keith for your patience, hard work, and hours spent next to me and my “bops of colour” playlist. Thank you to Hadiyyah for your insightful edits and enthusiasm. Thank you to Leo for your incisive editing, emotional support, and for calming me down when I was really concerned that no one wanted to write for us—you were my rock throughout this whole process. Thank you to Amy for the cover, even though you refused to do another “Strand pink” illustration. Thank you to all our illustrators for your beautiful visual translations of my garbled ideas—our magazine would not be the work of art it is without you all. Thank you to all our wonderful contributors for your thoughtful pieces—it’s hard to create, it’s even harder to share. And finally, thank you to my wonderfully supportive and passionate masthead. This little book would not exist without you. I hope that these stories will be engaging and inspire you to go out and play, or perhaps, realize that you have always been playing. With love, Rebecca Gao Editor-in-Chief
TABLE OF CONTENTS HERE, THERE
PLAYER 2 PRESS START
LOVE LETTERS TO GIRLS I’VE SMILED AT VAGUELY THINKING IT MIGHT BE TRUE LOVE
“MAYBE THE 80S WILL BE RADICAL”
PLAY FOR PLAY’S SAKE
PLEASE PLAY AGAIN
THE DEPARTMENT OF SOUL STUDIES
HOW DO WE PLAY?
THE PLEASURE AND COST OF PLAY
IT’S ONE THING TO FOLLOW RACOONS ON INSTAGRAM AND ANOTHER TO FOLLOW THEM IN REAL LIFE
LEXI MARTIN AND T WILLIAMS
A WORLD WITHOUT WORDS
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF MANAGING EDITOR
REBECCA GAO LEO MORGENSTERN
KEITH CHENG, REBECCA GAO, AND AMY JIAO
WANDY CHENG, MIA CARNEVALE, EMILY FU, REBECCA GAO, MAIA GRECCO, AMY JIAO, YOON-JI KWEON, NICK SCHLOESSIN, AND FIONA TUNG
KHADIJA ALAM, ELLEN GRACE, JULIANNA HE, STUART JONES, ABBIE MOSER, AND EDEN PROSSER
COVER & TABLE OF CONTENTS ART
A playlist for homes Words by Jadine Ngan Visuals by Nick Schloessin
1. There’s a place I’m going / no one knows me The first time I hear the only Matt Simons song I know, I am sitting on the floor of my childhood bedroom. A girl I have only met twice has punctuated an Instagram montage of coming home from OCAD—landing fresh from Pearson Airport, driving across the Lion’s Gate Bridge towards purple mountains, greeting friends with hugs and tears on Robson— with the beat of a Catch and Release remix. That night, I get my first sense of what missing Vancouver might taste like, and it makes my throat ache.
2. I went out looking for love when I was seventeen “Seventeen”: I play it on loop all of my first month in Toronto until the words taste like freedom. Troye Sivan sounds like summer, I always say; I am learning that this city is forty degrees in early September—unapologetically, bewilderingly so. The Chinatown restaurant I find myself in with five other first- years charges for extra plates, so we split our pad thai into tiny ceramic teacups and laugh about how this is it—the college life. That night, I fall asleep in a city where fewer than ten people know my name; after that first week, I never see most of them again.
3. I needed space, so I left home / but now I’m desperate for the things I know Places of in-between—buses, trains, airports, airplanes—can be so lonely. It is only on my first flight home that I realize I can’t fall asleep on airplanes without my sister spilling out of her seat and sprawled all over me, the armrest between us slid out of the way. I push the window shade up and watch the Rocky Mountains sweep by beneath a canopy of stars; I think about high school physics, and how Ms. Wilson taught us that if an object returns to the exact place it came from, its displacement is zero. Zero displacement is not how this feels; I skip through every song in my library ‘til I get tired and Greyson Chance is singing “Low.”.
4. Moments, living with your eyes half open / you’ve been thinking ‘bout these changes “You have a nice day, darling, you look beautiful.” I barely hear her over Lauv singing “Changes” in my headphones. I turn to see a woman I don’t recognize in a red coat and black felt hat, brushing by me in passing on College Street. For over a year, Toronto felt cruel to me. That day, I start to believe that maybe it can be kind.
5. Take me back to the basics and the simple life Charmain is from Edmonton; we live with Renata from Singapore and Ingrid from Calgary in a small house near Kensington Market. On a weekday night, Charmain strums her guitar to a tune that reminds me of the West Coast, and I begin to understand what Renata told me last May—that home wasn’t confined to Singapore anymore; that Toronto was growing into a home of a different sort; that it would happen for me, too. At the time, it seemed incomprehensible. But Charm and I bond over our love of Troye Sivan, and we play “EASE” on a January evening at a coffeehouse full of friends. When I sing that line about my mama asking how I’m doing all alone, I am more grateful than sad, and that feeling sits with me strange, unfamiliar. Like if I tried to hold it in my hands, it would slip between my fingers. I tighten my grip on my guitar and try to take it all in.
6. You turn me into somebody loved Home. How is it possible that the French don’t have a word for this? Home, home, home, home. I roll the word around in my mouth until it begins to lose shape. Listen to a little of The Weepies to remind myself how it feels to walk along Azure Road under a setting sun, seagulls shrieking overhead—through the alleyways and under the evergreen trees, on my way to my mama’s salmon dinners and my sister’s long hugs. Open my eyes and wonder if I’ll feel that way about this city when I leave —“the blue of distance,” Rebecca Solnit writes. “Something is always far away… the far become the near, and they are not the same place.”
Words by Erica Sung Illustration by Yoon-Ji Kweon
y brother and I were never the closest growing up, with multiple factors stacked against us: our sevenyear age gap, our subsequent lack of common interests, and the slight bumps in communication due to our uneven bilingualisms, and my brother’s hearing disability. The few times I did feel close to him, however, were when we played video games. Truthfully, I didn’t love playing them. For the most part, I was too young to understand what was going on and didn’t have the coordination to press the right buttons to perform the right “combo,” whatever that was. So, I wasn’t very good at them either. Yet I liked being able to bond with my brother over something that set aside our differences. This past January, I followed him on his trip to Los Angeles to support him at the Annie Awards, considered to be the world’s highest accolade for animation. The film he made in the third year of his animation program was nominated for, and eventually won, the award for Best Student Film. On our way back to Toronto, I watched as my brother browsed through the animation category of the in-flight film selection and began to watch, before realizing that it did not have closed captioning. Although to me, the lack of captions is an inconvenience, because they assure me that I haven’t missed anything important, I realized that to my brother, they’re an assurance that he hasn’t missed anything at all. Because most in-flight media requires the use of
earphones, which my brother cannot use, he could not watch one of the animated films that was just honoured at the same ceremony as his own film. He told me that he finds video games to be a more accessible form of media, because most of them provide subtitles by default. They allow him to engage in the story without getting caught up in trying to make sure he’s understanding everything. When watching television and film with closed captioning was more difficult, before streaming services were available, my brother didn’t express much interest in watching movies at all. Playing games with rich storylines like The Last of Us, Catherine, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead series made him develop an interest in visually driven stories. When we played video games together as kids, I’m sure I wasn’t the most helpful teammate or challenging opponent, but my brother still had the courtesy to plug in a second controller for me. He made an exception for one mission in Call of Duty in which I was being so obstructive that he opted to operate both controllers at once. He did so successfully. Throughout our childhoods, we went through the consoles of a PlayStation 2, a Nintendo DS Lite with a broken hinge, an Xbox 360, a PSP, a PlayStation 3, and a Nintendo 3DS. All of them now collect dust in the cabinet of my brother’s former room in our family home, along with all of the games we grew up playing. Some of my earliest and fondest memories of
elementary school can be triggered by the theme songs to Sonic Heroes, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai Tenkaichi 2, and Metal Slug. Besides first-person shooters and fighting games, my brother and I were also avid fans of some games exclusive to the Nintendo DS. However, having only one DS, only one of us could play at a time. There were instances when I tried to get through entire chapters of games while my brother slept and took caution not to accidentally overwrite his save file, lest I incur his wrath. Considering my brother has seven whole years and a head of height on me, he used to be the scariest person in the world. Still, playing these games meant we had something to talk about. Despite the similarities in our upbringings, I often felt a disconnect with my only sibling because our experiences were so different. We never went to the same schools, we were never in the same phases of life at the same time, and we hardly had any overlapping interests.
When we played video games together as kids, I’m sure I wasn’t the most helpful teammate or challenging opponent, but my brother still had the courtesy to plug in a second controller for me.
In retrospect, I think one of the reasons my brother was able to enjoy video games so much was because of these games’ commitment to providing closed captioning. He’s congenitally deaf and has been wearing a cochlear implant on his right ear for about fifteen years, before which he used less serviceable hearing aids. (Bilateral cochlear implant is currently under review for public funding after Health Quality Ontario’s 2018 report and recommendation.) Because of this, my brother is someone who greatly benefits from closed captioning, although he has more often had to get by without accommodation. Before all of this, though, when my brother and I were kids with no idea of where we would end up as adults, I still valued what video games meant to my relationship with my brother. Even if we didn’t speak much while we played games, or while I watched him play from the opposite side of the couch, it was still something for the both of us to do together. On our frequent long road trips with our parents, after the battery of my iPod Nano waned on me in the eighth hour of countless rounds of Vortex and Parachute, I would glance over to my brother with our Nintendo DS in his hands, his index finger resting just behind the top screen to support the broken hinge. When he realized that I was trying to get a look at the device to follow along with the story of the Ace Attorney game he was playing, he shifted in his seat to let me see better.
Love letters to girls I’ve smiled at vaguely thinking it might be true love Words by Julia DaSilva Illustration by Maia Grecco 10
I thought I saw you when I stepped to the counter the third morning in a row, and you waved my hand ready to pay away as you slid the faded blue mug towards me, “It’s fine” you caught my eye between the swish of your ponytail and the glint of gold at the rim of your glasses “It’s fine” I caught on the second time, but it wasn’t because you were waiting in the bakery across the street (I thought I saw) hair chopped short uneven as the flustered words I offered for a cream-filled cookie, melting as I left like the “It’s fine” I crammed into my backpack with the crumpled bag,
I thought I saw you on the streetcar, later, combat boots on the seat in front of you so that that checker of streetcar-board was all yours (I was bubbled small into my seat) and I thought we caught each other in the windows, looking out to flicker in. Was it your Dixie Chicks t-shirt that flipped my playlist to “Cowboy Take Me Away”? When did the air become so full so charged that graphics can make music and let us off at the same stop but heave us apart into the night?
“It’s fine,” I thought, because this weekend we have arranged to meet at that same cafe, and I will trade my coffee for iced tea. You will fill me like an almond croissant, and then you will wash me from your hands. I will think for one shy slumber party’s worth of cider, that I am past smiling at you at poetry readings then turning back to my notebook ignoring the flicker flicker—for one morning of helping you name your cactus I will think I am past reading into your
“Hope to see you back soon” like it’s the fantasy book you sold me (you spent so long scanning the shelves) “New Releases” (that’s what tripped us up), —that I am past playing games no one sees I am playing— but it will turn out that helping name house plants is not after all
as good as a marriage. It’s fine. If you’re reading this and we’ve exchanged brief smiles, someday someday, it will be the smile you pour like bottomless coffee into my over-caffeinated heart when you come downstairs and I say “Honey, I’ve baked bread” and you say “Honey, it’s six a.m.” but the flicker of your smile lights the oven and the coffee pot and the electric air stops flickering holds warm as the summer streetcar that rolls me into your life (I think I see)
“Maybe the 80s will be radical” Superimposed childhood nostalgia
n a 2016 interview for Vulture magazine, Matt Duffer, one half of the creative team behind Netflix’s Stranger Things, said of the show, “[it] will appeal to people who grew up on these movies, and they will see those movies in our show. But it will also work for an entirely new generation.” And work for an entirely new generation it has. Stranger Things unmistakably draws on references from the 80s. Pulling from summer blockbusters like E.T., The Goonies, and Poltergeist, the show itself functions as a sort of megamarathon blockbuster event, especially considering the release strategy of the Netflix platform. Films and series based in the 80s were to be expected in the mid-2010s, considering the 30-odd year nostalgia cycle in cinema. Although not an exact science, the motivating force behind these revival pieces is the shift from a generation of media consumers to media producers, some of which inevitably draw from their childhood cultural milieu. This current nostalgia
cycle, as opposed to those of the past, does not only function as a grainy VHS of your dad’s greatest movie-going experiences, but offers a new childhood for those currently experiencing their own. The largest demographic of fans for two recent behemoths of 80s nostalgia, Stranger Things and It (2017), are not those that lived it first-hand, but their children. And it asks the question: what has changed for today’s youth that makes the pull of others’ childhoods so strong? In the span of 30-odd years, the way we think about raising children has changed drastically. The image of children leaving their house to play freely and unsupervised or to meet up at the local spot has all but disappeared. The dominant way of thinking with regards to free time is now characterized by organized playdates, always with an adult present, or an after-school activity professionally designed to encourage developing acceptable hobbies and skills, which will hopefully translate
Words by Sonia Scarlat Illustration by Wandy Cheng SPRING 2020
into success in adulthood. The number of parenting handbooks being published has risen, and with them comes a set of guidelines to ensure your child will grow up to be the most well-balanced version of themselves they can be. It is, of course, a noble and loving pursuit, but it is erasing a major part of childhood development— freedom. In Man, Play, and Games, Roger Caillois outlines the many forms games take in our lives. Distinguishing its six core characteristics, Caillois asserts that play is always free. Play theorist Sutton-Smith disagrees, stating that in leisure-based Western society play is constrained by an expectation to use free time ‘wisely’, and so is transformed into yet another goaloriented practice. This is certainly reflected in the way children are regulated during their ‘free’ time. Moreover, without falling into the fallacy of generationalism, it is important to note the substitution of digital spaces for the outside world in the
realm of play. Superficially, video games seem to be based on freedom of choice, like many childhood games, but they are actually highly regulated and do not truly allow for this freedom, as exemplified by another nostalgia-fueled piece, the interactive Black Mirror movie, Bandersnatch. Digital spaces are in fact what sets the 80s apart from other recent time periods as a vehicle for nostalgia. The 80s are, in many ways, the turning point of many aspects of our culture. Children began to be watched more closely, and the rise of arcade and video games presented new avenues for play. And yet, the philosophy of the 70s was still present in the fact that most children were allowed to roam freely around their neighbourhoods. A distinguishing characteristic of the retro pieces popping up today is that they draw not from great historical events, such as the depictions of the Vietnam War in 90s films, but rather from film itself, pulling from huge cultural landmark blockbusters marketed towards children. As such, many stories’ central characters are the very children that would have been seeing these films in theatres. For instance, It’s (2017) acclaim is not due to its largely conventional application of horror tropes, but the coming of age story within it. In fact, this is the core narrative of other 80s nostalgia pieces, most notably Stranger Things. Even Riverdale, as egregious as its referential nature is, holds a certain power over today’s children through its caricature renditions of the 80s “Biggest Hits.” But, once again, nostalgia is nothing new. In The Future of Nostalgia, Svetlana Boym offers a typology of nostalgia, asserting that the strongest periods of nostalgia often occur following revolutions. And although the cinematic nostalgia cycle is often tied to the time it takes for the established working directors to reach a time where they begin to ruminate on their childhood, it does have its
roots in great cultural shifts as well. In the case of 80s nostalgia appealing so much to newer generations, I would argue that it does have something to do with the enormous technological shift we’ve experienced. The 80s are a period of in-between. There is the familiarity of the first waves of video games and on the other hand the possibility of free
the first of these, deftly submerging its protagonist into the world of the internet. But this new generation will not truly be able to look back on itself, with all its clichés and period-specific speech, until it becomes outdated. It remains to be seen what truly dominated their formative years and its impact.
This current nostalgia cycle, as opposed to those of the past, does not only function as a grainy VHS of your dad’s greatest movie-going experiences, but offers a new childhood for those currently experiencing their own.
play. As such, it is both foreign and familiar to generations born into a digital space. All of this is not to say that play has been completely replaced by online games and YouTube videos, or that childhood has disappeared forever. Fundamentally, children play, learn, and grow in many of the same ways they always have. However, they are now growing in a restricted environment, and must in some way feel robbed of the formative experiences other generations had. The strong interest in nostalgic materials, whether in film or fashion, functions as a highly specific response to a highly specific symptom of our transforming childhoods. However magnetic the pull of these false childhoods is, there are still currently real ones being lived. And if the nostalgia cycle is to be counted on, we may start to see them represented on film in the next ten-odd years. Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is arguably
What this current nostalgia cycle of film and television truly offers the children of today is not a costume to try and recreate, but a moment in time where they can distinguish their own upbringing.
Words by Tamara Frooman Photos by Rebecca Gao
(Content warning: suicidal ideation and depression.)
here is a Joan Didion passage I almost chose for my high school yearbook quote. One thing in my defense, not that it matters: I know something Carter never knew, or Helene, or maybe you. I know what “nothing” means, and keep on playing. I spent a long time mulling over these sentences, molding my tongue around their syllables, turning them over like cards I was palming in a magic trick. Keep on playing like light across water, like liquid sun dappling the surface, refracting asymmetrically. Selfperception warps over time. When I reread my old journals I am unsettled by the version of myself I find preserved in the pages. In these entries I write things like: “Sometimes my moods remind me of constellations, as if I could connect them with silver slivers of thread into something worthwhile—I could tightrope between them through the chemical imbalances, trapeze swing from one to the next.” I write: “How can I tell you I’m not okay again? I talked to no one yesterday. I feel like a ghost.” I write: “Someday I will forgive myself for those wasted years.” When I reread my journals I realize the optical illusion at play. The pauses are my earliest memories. They began like a record loops, binding me to a moment. I found myself unable to move forward with time. When a movie is paused, the outside world continues. It is the internal world, the diegetic world, that is frozen. The diegetic world is not real, we would say. It can be paused without consequence. When I am depressed, I am also not real. When I cease to interact with the outside world it continues to occur, continues to exist within time. But try telling the
characters in a movie that reality exists elsewhere. The first pauses happened at night— in the darkness I lost the thread of time, I couldn’t see the world so I thought it had ended. Even once I started living into the morning, I kept getting stuck outside of time. With toys I would re-enact a single moment—one motion, again and again. No lack of energy was expended in setting up the scene: each element positioned just so, frozen in place. The background, the scenery, the audience, all arranged. The momentum, a lion’s leap, a ball’s arc, sustained ad infinitum, perpetually on loop, audience with rapt attention. Keep on playing for the audience, spellbound. Maybe depression always seems theatrical from afar. When a death drive subverts the survival instinct, everything becomes performative. But I did know what nothing meant, dramatic as it seems. The words resonated with me. In high school I started detaching from the moment, becoming untethered in time. In the middle of conversations I would simply cease to exist. How to make sense of this as a 15-year-old? I did not have the words to articulate what was happening. I thought I was slipping away, fading. How to make sense of this numbness? In these moments my internal monologue echoed, annexed off into cavernous thought: All I want to do is go home and lay in bed for eighteen hours and then rearrange the bookshelves and go back to bed unshowered, eating nothing but cereal, cold soup from the can why does it take so little to undo you throw you over the edge again send you careening off the cliff into the breakwater if I could just see one flower I would be okay again one flower growing out of the earth one sunrise but I can’t wake up in time I can’t see the sun anymore.
I know what nothing means, and keep on playing. Every day I fall further and further out of the habit of being human I don’t remember how to function anymore all I do is put up empty picture frames like a fucking maniac my fingers hurt from typing but I haven’t responded to any messages so what have I been doing? Just the crossword all winter again? It’s not even that any of the days are so bad it’s just they’re nothing there’s nothing left of me. Why do I always come back to this how hard could it possibly be to just get through the fucking day? I don’t play with plush toys anymore but the audience still factors in. The audience is maybe my future self or maybe my past self or maybe some other iteration of me, but it
is always a way of communicating to myself certain motivations for playing along and keeping up the act. In the end, keeping up the act becomes the act. When I stopped being a person, I didn’t see the point of being a body either. Why bother? The ‘why not?’ was what saved me. I promised myself ten years to reassess. The ten years are almost up but I’m not counting down anymore. Some days I wake up knowing I’ve already lost the round. But I’m getting better at living life like it’s a Tim Horton’s cup at the end of winter: most days you get “Please Play Again” but it’s worth it for the hope of a donut somewhere down the line. Sometimes it’s okay to skip a turn, to wait out the storm, refuse to leave the house in the downpour. It is the rain that will dissipate, not you. Somewhere in my mind still, on loop, the lion leaps on a living room floor in a halfforgotten house. I keep on playing.
Playing alone Words by Charlotte Stewart Illustration by Emily Fu
he defining feature of an only-childhood is playing alone. As the solitary offspring of my parents, I conjured for myself a rich world of make-believe, the nooks and crannies of which—depending on their content, and to a dwindling extent as I aged—I shared with my parents and no one else. In it, I was an
undercover agent, teddy bear surgeon, mayor of insects, and Ken and Barbie’s marriage counsellor. Through dedicated personification efforts, I rendered from the inanimate a colourful cast of characters (read: surrogate siblings) to share this world with me. Though I was a sociable child and played happily with
the other kids at my school and in my neighbourhood, playing alone for me was just as captivating as playing with others. Beyond simple fun, it offered a form of escapism and produced a fantastical lens through which to view the world that I have carried into my adult life. As child psychiatrist and psychoanalytic theorist D.W. Winnicott describes, play occurs in the liminal space between inner and external reality. It is a feedback loop in which the physical world reflects into the imagination, and the imagination tinkers (literally, through the body, and figuratively, through subjective perception) with the physical world. In the time and space of play, what felt real to me shifted to include what I knew to be unreal. What I could see, feel, and experience expanded. In the steaming tea of the empty cup and the ancient stone wall of the blanket castle, I discovered the back door out from the politics of daycare, the grind of kindergarten, the tribulation of the third-grade spelling test—an alternative narrative to my parents’ fighting, separation, divorce, and continued fighting. Much of my play included inhabiting various personas—in other words, the application of my imaginative energies towards both who “I” was and how “I” acted in the world. While usually these guises were plainly fictive (see above; see also unicorn, fairy, mermaid) I once presented myself to my father as another child, offering her as a replacement for myself. Unsurprisingly, though much to my chagrin, he did not accept this self-produced changeling, but instead insisted upon my return. My confusion and distress in this moment resonate with Winnicott’s assessment of “the precariousness of play”—that is, the danger that arises from traversing the “theoretical line” between inner and outer realities (50). The consequence
here was a rejection of the subjective reality of “myself” at play, which stung powerfully despite the simultaneous loving affirmation of the objective reality of myself. It was perhaps then, at the tender age of five, that I had my first encounter with the experience of being perceived and accepted as neither who I wanted to be nor who I said I was. Nevertheless, my play continued to involve elaborate narratives acted out by myself and extensions of myself in the form of dolls, toys, and household objects. Raggedy Anne? My most talented ballet student. Stuffed cat? My skydiving instructor. Stove door? The smiling mouth of a hot-bellied dragon. While I no longer “play” with the everyday objects around me, to this day my car, plants, bicycle, and hiking backpack all have names, a quirk that I suppose is rooted in the childhood game of creating company. Likewise, the habit of telling myself stories about the inanimate things around me has transformed into making up stories about people on the subway, in the street, and sitting in front of me in class—which, far from the melancholic efforts of a loner, feels like a mode of making the strange(r) familiar, of drawing unknown people closer to myself through fantastical empathizing. While hardly barren in the objective sense, my young social life in the realm of the subjective was made by the necessity of my only child status multifarious and rich. The imprint of this on my adult life is, I think, a large capacity and fondness for sojourns into the unreal if only to make the real a more exciting place to be in. Further reading D.W. Winnicot, 1971. “Playing: A theoretical statement & Playing: creative activity and the search for self” in Playing and reality. New York: Basic Book Publishers.
The Department of Soul Studies An adventure for Dungeons and Dragons and similar tabletop RPGs
tâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s midterm season and your party of brave student-adventurers is finally desperate enough to attend office hours. You meet one of the professors of Soul Studies in their office, but they are very busy. They require a task of you before they will adjust your grades and graciously permit you to pass their course.
5 4 4a
Department of Soul Studies 1. Wealth and Hellness 2. Library 3. Belltower 4. Tutorial Labs
5. Lecture Hall 6. Student Cafe 7. Heart House 8. Chapel 9. Soul Storage
Words by Lexi Martin and T Williams Illustration by Amy Jiao SPRING 2020
Which professor do you need help from? Roll a six-sided die (1d6). 1-2. The Esoteric Professor of Occult Astrography. Begin in the Belltower office (3): They wear a long lab coat stained by a thousand experiments and never look up from their telescope. They have tenure. Couldn’t care less about student life. 3-4. The Liturgical Professor of Exorcism and Insorcism. Begin in the Chapel office (9): She’s a priest and will perform weddings for the party if needed. That’s it. 5-6. The Infernal Professor of Ethics and Contract Law. Begin in the Wealth and Hellness office (1): He’s a devil and wants everything in writing. Will provide extra help in exchange for parts of your soul. What task do they ask of you? Roll 1d6. 1-2. Disrupt a rival professor’s lecture before they can demonstrate their latest theory. 3-4. Steal a set of rare books, the Encyclopedia Tyrannica, from the library. 5-6. Collect 10 souls (bodies optional). Bring them to a lab room. Await further instruction.
1. Wealth and Hellness: Bleak despite motivational posters. In exchange for 1 part of your soul, the staff will do one of the following after a 1d6 hour wait. - Restore you to full health - Cure a Soul Mutation - Refer you to a specialist The Infernal Professor works in the office. One-way slide to Soul Storage hidden beneath the professor’s desk. 2. Library: A maze of bookshelves, desks, and stressed studying students. Can navigate if character knows Dewey decimal system; otherwise need a Librarian’s help. Librarians will shush anything louder than a whisper three
times, then attack viciously. Will skip the warnings for anyone trying to remove rare books or with late fees. 3. Belltower: Tall and erudite, rung when the department is in peril. 1d6 Lost Souls float around it, trying to add more to their number. No railings on a thin staircase. Astrography Professor’s office is found at the top. 4. Tutorial Labs: Sterile laboratories, cabinets full of science. All connected by vent system large enough for people (or other things) to crawl through. 4a. Cages of Lab Horrors lie open. One is still trapped. 1d4 more unseen, waiting in ambush. 4b. Experimental Soul Weaponry lab. Soul Gun: 1d6 damage, Charisma save versus soul loss on hit. Hell Gun: Sends ensouled targets to hell on hit. Firing the gun is a sin which dooms the wielder to damnation. 4c. Micro Rapture Laboratory: recreates the conditions of the end of days to test theories of bodily resurrection. 5. Lecture Hall: Packed with students. A professor (roll for which) is demonstrating their Resurrection Machine. Won’t let anyone leave once they’ve entered until the lecture concludes. They have removed the soul of one undergrad “volunteer” and will put the soul back in. This takes 30 minutes of lecture, and the process will turn the “volunteer” into a hostile Doppelganger. Secret door at top of the hall leads down to Soul Storage. 6. Student Cafe: A food fight between 1d20 Undergrads is underway. Players will be caught in the crossfire. Today’s Menu: “Meat”“Loaf”: Works as improvised weapon. Deals 1d8 damage. Coffee: Scalding. Acidic. Melts through wood.
Boomberry Pie: Explodes on impact. Starts fires. Cookies: To die for. Universally accepted as currency in department.
Lab Horror: 13 Health, 13 Armor, 1d8 bite, save vs grab, save vs soul loss. Hard to describe. Sees souls through walls, crawls through vents
7. Heart House: A fleshy, soulless chamber. A huge, beating, dripping heart hangs overhead. Killing the heart turns off the electricity for the whole department. Drinking the heart’s blood restores 1 health but causes 1 Soul Mutation.
Librarian: 10 Health, 11 Armor, 1d4 ruler, shushes violently (save vs fear), reads code of conduct aloud (Intelligence save vs sleep)
8. Chapel: Only those with a complete soul can enter. Seemingly nondenominational; fountains of holy water. Home to the Liturgical Professor’s office. 9. Soul Storage: Dim and cold, jars of souls and soul pieces are stacked on tall, easily toppled shelves. A one-way slide leads here from Wealth and Hellness. Drink a flask of soul fluid, regain 1 part of your soul and gain a soul mutation. Whenever players enter a new room, roll 1d6. On a 5 or 6, there is a random wandering monster in addition to whatever’s going on.
Undergrad: 3 Health, 11 Armor, 1d6 damage bookbag. Roam in packs of 1d6. Professor: 20 Health, 11 Armor. 1d8 thrown book. Liturgical Professor’s attacks deal +1 damage per missing piece of Soul. Infernal Professor’s attacks inflict temporary Soul mutations. Esoteric Professor, on death, summons black hole that consumes all in 50 foot’ radius. Book Golem: 15 Health, 13 Armor. Slams twice for d6 damage. When you hit it, make a Wisdom save. On failure, speech only understood by other academics. 10’ tall. Attacks silently.
Doppelganger: 7 Health, 12 Armor, 1d6 dagger. A soulless construct who imitates students. Allergic to art. Lost Soul. 4 Health, 11 Armor, 1d4 attack steals soul and inflicts 1 soul mutation. A floating almost-person, looking for all its parts.
When you lose a piece of your Soul, lose one of the following at random. 1. Technology: You can’t use tools 2. Language: You can’t speak, read, or write 3. Magic: You cannot use or be affected by magic 4. Skill: You can’t use non-magical abilities 5. Hope: You can’t help anyone but yourself 6. Community: Nobody will help you Once you lose all 6, you die. Soul Mutations (1d12) 1. Magical effects don’t end on you. 2. Animals can’t see you. 3. Every change you make in the world (e.g. picking a lock) is undone an hour later. 4. Water burns you, take 1d6 damage on contact. 5. When in a circle like a ring of salt or small objects, you can’t leave. 6. You can’t break promises. 7. Your blood is visible through walls. 8. You turn into a small bird at night. 9. When you kill someone, you possess them.
How do we play?
Words by Tara Costello
very time I am asked to choose what I do in my spare time on a Buzzfeed quiz, I find myself stuck. I like theatre, but that isn’t really something that I can pick up and put down when I want to. I like to read, but I barely have time for even class readings. As a UofT student facing the pressure to perform well, most of my spare time is spent trying to be productive; working hard rather than playing at all. In an attempt to discover how I play, I decided to ask other members of the Victoria College community the same question. How do we amuse ourselves or spend our time in recreation, if any time at all is dedicated to such fun? I need to find out what I do to play, or I will never find out what hit song from 2012 I am. When I questioned my respondents, I was curious to know how exactly they defined “play”. Is it spontaneous, pre-planned, or something simply in opposition to work? I asked three people how they play, using the definition from Dictionary.com which defines play as “an exercise or activity for amusement or recreation; fun or jest, as opposed to seriousness; to conduct oneself or act in a specified way; to amuse oneself.” Here is how they play.
ALYSSA MARCHAND (FIRST YEAR):
Okay, so, for playing: to be doing the exact opposite of what we do in school. I try to do something where I don’t have to think, at all. One of the things I want to do over reading week is to go sledding. We bought crazy carpets at a dollar store to go sledding on one of the hills in a park, or by Robarts. If it snows, we’ll build snowmen, maybe? Also, swimming. I feel like when I swim, I don’t have to think about anything else. I can just like, drown all my thoughts out; which is nice, to not be thinking about a thousand things. In the common room we play board games, like Tapple, and even though it gets really intense and we argue, we’re arguing about the most idiotic things, and it’s not related to anything I’m doing in class. I use play to take a break from work or school, and to not think about the things I have to think about in that environment.
MARIE SONG (FOURTH YEAR):
On the one hand, it feels like play is kind of just, stuff that’s not school, because school is work and so everything else gets to be play. I’ll kind of redefine play. I feel like in play you do this thing where you’re having fun and you’re goofing off but it’s also a chance to explore stuff and learn stuff, so in a way, play becomes the time when you’re really like testing the limits of yourself and your world. Work is when you put what you’ve learned during play into practice. So, the fun goofs that you do in class, that’s play. You can test the limits of your knowledge so that when you do the actual assignment, you’re taking all of this new stuff that you’ve learned about yourself and about whatever subject and like, doing shit for real. There’s like goofin’ off and chillin’, like watching Netflix or something like that, but I don’t think that that’s how I play, you know. Like I don’t feel like I’m really learning or exploring anything or like, really testing anything. Play is stuff you do where you can make mistakes. Play is really something that’s active, and not passive. That’s play, baby. Just building and exploring.
SHAINIYA BALACHANDRAN (DEAN’S OFFICE):
I try to incorporate [play] into things in my everyday life. Because it’s fun to play, and it’s fun to remind yourself that it’s okay to play. So, I go to a high energy yoga class, which is not what people usually think of when they think of yoga. It’s called electric yoga! There’s a lot of fun music playing, and the instructor gets you to do things like dress up for Halloween, and she often likes to connect with people and chat throughout the class; sometimes asks them how they’re doing, or what they’ve been up to. It’s nice that it’s both a wellness time where I can go and get a solid workout in and feel good about the physical break that my body got, but I also feel like I had a lot of fun. And I also think that’s just the approach I take to any physical workout that I do. If I ever go for a run, where it’s sort of like—and this might be a dated reference now—but Phoebe in Friends, where she’s going for a run and just having a good time. It’s something where I can go and have fun and leave, and I feel good when I walk away from it. And then I think there also can be play at work. Like, I don’t think that work and play have to be so separate. I’m lucky to have a job that I love, working with students that I love to work with; working with students can be fun.
I began my interviews with the idea that at UofT, the expression “work hard, play hard” doesn’t actually include “play.” The answers above may represent a small data pool, but their large range speaks to the limitless quality of the definition of “play.” We play when we are with friends, when we do fun activities, and even while we are working or studying. Play cannot be limited to a single medium, despite the categories on Buzzfeed quizzes. As I reflect on these interviews, I am hopeful that I will be able to find amusement in any activity I pursue. And I find myself with a firmer resolve to work hard but play harder. These interviews have been edited for clarity and length.
The pleasure and cost of play Words by Dhvani Ramanujam Illustration by Maia Grecco
ow many play partners do you have?” “Are you into the edge play?” “Do you want to go to a play party with me next week?” Whether you’re describing play as a set of activities or kinks, as a descriptor for a sexual partner, or simply a verb that acts as a call to action, play is inherent to BDSM. Perhaps the most familiar way of thinking about play’s relationship to BDSM is in the concept of the role play: the idea of constructing sexual scenarios and identities to act out particular fantasies. Role play is, in some ways, the adult way of dressing up and making up stories; it allows us to flex a creative muscle that might not have gotten much use since childhood. It presents an opportunity to imagine better versions of
worlds and characters that we might not be able to live out in our real worlds. It’s a chance to centre desire, in a society that often stifles our impulses of towards pleasure, in favour of making us more productive. Role play can (if only temporarily) liberate us from the endless mundanity of capitalism. I’ve always been drawn to role playing, to fantasizing in general, as a form of escaping the mundane. When it comes to BDSM and role play, I’m also attracted to what this form of play in particular can offer me— what it can help me escape from. I mostly identify as a submissive, but sometimes play as a switch. My partners and I, in the past and present, set up various power dynamics and let certain scenarios flow from those dynamics, before introducing particular forms of sexual activities or “play”.
As a South Asian woman, my body is often susceptible to a sexual politics that demands respectability. In role play, I’m anything but “respectable.”
I’m drawn to the games, to the theatricality of it all. A scene in BDSM is constructed like a delicate dance. There are decided roles and rules; negotiated boundaries and limits; the use of props; a setting, real or imagined; a basic plot and outcome. A basic punishment scenario, for instance, has a dominant and a submissive. They’ve decided the submissive has misbehaved, and must be punished—maybe spanked—for a broken rule. They decide on the level of punishment. Perhaps the dominant has certain implements they want to use, or they simply will use their hand. They decide that the punishment must be private this time; , in the bedroom. The goal is for the submissive to learn their lesson— before being taken back into their dominant’s arms. Yet even though a scene has it’s given ingredients, not everything is predetermined. With sexual role play, there is always room to be surprised. A particular phrase or implement might add an unanticipated intensity to the scene. A breadth of new or unforeseen emotions may be brought to the surface. The balance between pain and pleasure can alternate
in unexpected ways. It’s the mixture of the planned and unplanned that makes role play so exciting; the ability to perform personas you might not ordinarily have access to and yet still, be surprised in the ways that you can be acted upon. As a South Asian woman, my body is often susceptible to a sexual politics that demands respectability. In role play, I’m anything but “respectable”; I put my own pleasure and desire first, and that itself makes me powerful. But my power also grows with the subversive nature of role play: through the kinds of roles I opt to perform, play within BDSM allows me to break with constraints that demand me to have a chaste, pure body where my desire is controllable. Instead, I let my desire run wild. My tongue is vulgar, as are the movements of my limbs and the sounds they elicit. The crassness of the spectacle I create during sex becomes a form of resistance against any effort to subdue or control my body. But it’s the cathartic release that makes play so euphoric. Vulgarity, hysteria, those particular sets of emotions and behaviours that the daily grind forces us to keep at bay. They are finally let out in the open, even if it might only be in the openness of
bedrooms, of sex lounges, and play parties. In submission and masochism, I find joy in the pain that predates or mingles alongside pleasure. Taking a punishment, for instance, reminds me of all my body is capable of doing and taking. Crying, letting my tears fall after an intense form of punishment, allows me to release all the anxiety that has built up throughout the day. In role play, I
But it’s also capitalism that reminds me over and over again that the power of sexual role play is only a temporary form of escape from the daily drudgery, and that it, too, is just as susceptible to commodification.
can experience fear, power, anticipation, loss, pain, pleasure, euphoria, and all at once at that. What I often hate so much about capitalism, is how tired, how exhausted it makes me, until all I have left at the end of the day is exhaustion with no more room for any other feelings. It renders my world grey. Role play is my escape from it, into a space where I can experience the whole spectrum of emotions—a world of colour. Role play reminds me, over and over again, how to really feel. But it’s also capitalism that reminds me over and over again that the power of sexual role play is only a temporary form of escape from the daily drudgery, and that it, too, is just as susceptible to commodification. BDSM seems to be gaining more mainstream credibility and legitimacy, in part to (not necessarily accurate) recent media depictions of the community. Yet ironically, I worry about the rising costs of accessing this sexuality, and then in turn how it makes play increasingly expensive and therefore inaccessible. I cherish role play in BDSM as an escape—a window for creativity, to let my imagination run free, and to let my body perform accordingly. But if it takes a certain level of funds to fulfill our imaginations and our fantasies, then in some ways I wonder if this form of play loses its power. Engaging in BDSM and the larger community is not a cheap thing, especially in this city. Sex toys and implements are not cheap. Lingerie is not cheap. Erotic photography is not cheap. Fetish events, or entry to sex clubs are not cheap. Kink workshops, though very instructive and useful in learning new skills, are usually not cheap either. If BDSM is organized around certain techniques, rules, and props, but it costs (a lot) to accrue those skills and paraphernalia, then is play even accessible? And if it isn’t, how subversive can play be?
Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s one thing to follow raccoons on Instagram and another to follow them in real life Words by Miranda Carroll Illustrations by Yoon-Ji Kweon
I laugh, relaxed on the couch, at Instagram raccoons. At their bad-posture-spines and their chubby bellies. How sweet, a paper towel roll over its nose or playing, like a human, with a television remote control So adorable reaching from under the porch with their black gloved hands Grabbing a snack. I like it I think we have the same spines but, Different habits I take melatonin so I can fall asleep at a regular hour, I put cream under my eyes to avoid dark circles, I wash my face twice a day Scrolling, I see my friends at lunch, with more friends at a party Scrolling, I see a raccoon looking vicious The light-up-the-night-flash contrasts with the black yard Teeth are bare white, shiny and Pointed at the tips like fresh mountains. It’s mostly menacing with lovable eyes A cat-dog baby wearing black-rimmed movie star glasses He purrs. I feel like I’m there. I like it It’s one thing to follow raccoons on Instagram and another to follow them in real life, But I am heading into the night. Dressed in grey fleece, black gloves, and a hat, Peeping around, I’m looking for their feeding ground. Did I forget to wash my face? To watch my posture? In my hunt I curl over and toss on the grass a leftover banana peel, A crust, scraps. Tsk tssks tskk—a raccoon? I see him under that alpine hickory You want a nibble? Reach out that paw and grab it, He does, he looks at me as if he wants me to take a bite too, I do. We have a meal together—he calls over some more friends. Their teeth are bare—noshing into my potluck snack. We eat together And continue into the night, not like on Instagram, Like a new group of friends. I like it
A world without words Words by Jasmine Ng Illustration by Fiona Tung
y father passes me a pack of gum as he drives us to school. My brother can now sit in the front seat, and he turns the radio on to 96.3FM. In a rare moment free of advertisements, Mendelssohn’s Octet in E-flat major plays. The notes become tinged with the mint of the chewing gum. Another piece plays, then an advertisement, then another piece. My brother diligently names everything. Bach Violin Concerto in E major,
Beethoven Violin Concerto in D. I clutch at the names that are already slipping from my mind’s grasp. My favourites, the ones I hear the most, the ones I play on the violin—those names I can remember. But the countless others that drift through my mind exist to me as faces rather than names. I know them instinctively. Their melodies tumble one note after another out of my mouth when I sing. I long for Bobby McFerrin, who sang “Air on
the G String” alongside Yo-Yo Ma, his voice gliding past the cello’s own in a mesmerizing dance. He lives in the world of doo-doo-doos and da-da-das. A world without words. Evenings are for jazz, my father says, and the sentence settles in me like an age-old truth. He puts the radio on to 91.1FM and I swing gently in the hammock of the beat. The snare drum rustles like autumn leaves. The tinny trumpet buzzes to unpredictable heights like a bee. I try to picture these people I hear. I imagine Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Louis Armstrong playing live. With notes that break and find themselves again, with air that flows impossibly deep from their lungs. I’m lost once again, forgetting the names of famous standards and who played with whom. That is until my mother gifts me an album by Nikki Yanofsky, and I play it so often that I can sing every song by heart. I try to learn everything by Ella and Sinatra, hoarding the words until no more can fit. But even with my newfound words, I don’t have peers to talk to about jazz. At this point, I don’t mind, because jazz stays in the evenings for me. I stumble into middle school and the world no longer spins on the same musical axis. No longer is there classical music in the morning and jazz in the evening. I don’t know who Rihanna is, or Taylor Swift. People share their earbuds on the grass and hum in the hallways. There’s a radio station I’ve never tuned into, but I hear it when I carpool to ballet. My friend’s mom twirls the ends of her butter-blond hair as she sings along to “We Found Love”. Embarrassment niggles at me. I spent so long listening to classical pieces I couldn’t name. I worked so hard learning the words to songs nobody knew. I dedicate myself to learning the lyrics to songs playing at convenience stores, at shopping malls. I’m keeping up, I think. It’s all a matter of knowing what people like. High school changes the tempo tenfold. Suddenly I am hearing words like “indie” and “folk-rock”. The girl in the plaid shirt and thick eyeliner loves a band called Kings
of Convenience. The chain-smoker blonde recommends I try country, but not the bad kind. The boy with the bangs in geography class laughs when he sees my iPod only has 90 songs. With his laughter echoing in my ears, I decide to listen to everything bouncing off the concrete walls. My best discovery is that I like most of the music I hear. I add almost everything to my iPod, from Mumford and Sons to Passion Pit to The Strokes, but often only two songs from each. Somewhere around 13, I start playing guitar with my mom’s friend, and he teaches me to play Led Zeppelin and Metallica. I don’t feel meek anymore and revel in driving rhythms and trickyfingerings. I polish rock and heavy metal like a shiny badge I can point to if someone asks, “what music do you like?” It’s a lie, of course. I don’t know enough about any genre or musician to answer the quick-fire quizzes teenagers love to administer. Inadequacy sprouts and takes hold as I fumble for the words to describe my music collection. My music taste is a mosaic with no design. There is too much colour and too little concept. I am not the girl in the plaid, nor the chainsmoker, nor the boy with the bangs. They have pitched their tents in camps I cannot commit to. I wonder who I can be. University is a reprieve. I discover Motown and funk and soul-pop. People here have insightful opinions on Mariah Carey, while others teach me the nuances of rap. I keep listening to different artists, looking for something to appreciate in each. When people ask me, “What music do you like?”, I find the truest words I can: it started with classical music, but then… I rewind my journey and revisit classical music, matching pieces to their names—an exhausting but rewarding online adventure. I challenge myself to learn bossa nova and funk guitar. I organize the rest of my music into categories based on mood. I stop worrying about genres, artists, and my lack of expertise. I start listening to whatever pleases, soothes, or stirs me. But I always reserve the evenings for jazz.
Words by Nam Nguyen Illustrations by Mia Carnevale
eartgold and Soulsilver were the perfect Pokémon games. My favourite detail about them, and I can’t understand why the developers never reused it, was that your lead Pokémon would walk behind your character. Such a minor feature sparked such joy and immersed me so well in that universe—a reminder, dear player, that through this world’s trials, you will never walk alone. I haven’t played Pokémon Heartgold in years, but the nostalgia stays, entangled with my memories of you. You’re still on my team, you know. “On the night of a full moon, if shadows move on their own and laugh, it must be Gengar’s doing.” We became friends in Grade 10. For a semester, we and three other boys congregated at 9:35 each morning, too early for the cafeteria to bother serving food, and we fought to survive Lord of the Flies-style in this forgotten lunch hour compelled by our overcommitted class schedules. In the mutual struggle, we dubbed our quintet the USSL or “United Socialist Second Lunchers.” That’s how I got to know
you. Our unabashedly nerdy high school cultivated eccentric tastes and yours were no exception. You were an excellent student who worked hard but played hard too, in every sense: played Sporcle quizzes in the library, played tennis on the school team, played trombone for the jazz band, played Dota 2 online. Thus, I anticipated stiff competition when we started bringing our DS to school; I wouldn’t stand a chance against you without learning a lot more of the Pokémon Gen 4 meta. “The leer that floats in darkness belongs to a Gengar delighting in casting curses on people.” My post-secondary life has been less digital thanks to the dual analog experiences of theatre and social drinking. I was doing the latter at a trendy fusion bar in Queen West last fall when a friend mentioned that your funeral had been the previous week. We moved through the platitudes in reaction: “So young.”“It got bad fast.”“He was such a nice dude; great tennis player, too.”“But he’d just started that treatment. That sucks.” “Didn’t he trade me my Gengar? You know, the
Ghost-type Pokémon—a bit on the nose...” We drank to your memory which lightened the mood some, but your shadow followed me all night.
“Even your home isn’t safe. Gengar will lurk in whatever dark corner of a room it can find and wait for its chance to catch its prey.” Nintendo’s newer systems could definitely handle processing the game-changer of five or six moves-per-mon, but the limit is still four move slots, the number set by the Gameboy’s 8-bit hardware. Tradition keeps the game interesting, though. Four forces you to be selective about what you remember and forget. So, a quarter-century after the first games in 1996, four lingers in last November’s new games—the first Pokémon generation released into a world without you. “To steal the life of its target, it slips into the prey’s shadow and silently waits for an opportunity.”
“Deep in the night, your shadow cast by a streetlight may suddenly overtake you. It is actually a Gengar running past you, pretending to be your shadow.” I remember Grade 10 as the year of my first love, but you were there for all of it too, weren’t you? I’m ashamed of how much I forgot until recently. How you mock-hypnotized me, then commanded me to go ask her out. How you teased from a nearby seat on the bus back from that band trip the first time she rested her head on my shoulder. How you pestered both of us for weeks for every update on the relationship status. How flattered she was by my joke that I’d have to break up with you for her. I forgot so much. I did remember the time you said that just having a girlfriend put me up a tier in our high school in terms of “having game.” Did I rank, though, when it came to being your friend near the end?
We grew apart after the semester of the USSL—that’s life. But as I associated with new people, I think I started seeing you as too much of the unpleasant STEM-lord type, while I probably came off as the weirdo theatre kid. Maybe both perceptions are imagined, or maybe both are accurate. Still, the result was that one day after school in Grade 12, I came across you in the music locker bay—you with some of your circle and me fixing to join mine elsewhere, and unprompted, you uttered in a quiet, offended tone: “You know, you could stay here and talk to us.” I don’t remember saying anything before indignantly turning to leave. Now I worry those might be the last words we ever traded. “You can hear tales told all over the world about how Gengar will pay a visit to children who are naughty.”
Such a minor feature sparked such joy and immersed me so well in that universe-a reminder, dear player, that through this world’s trials, you will never walk alone.
Lately, my kid nephew’s been living with my parents, and I think he’s moving my stuff around. I haven’t been able to find my DSi for months, nor my Pokémon Heartgold cartridge. It’s stupid how crushed I am by that. “It apparently wishes for a traveling companion. Since it was once human itself, it tries to create one by taking the lives of other humans.” Last August, you posted on Facebook for the first time in ages, but not in happy circumstances. You’d broken silence to ask everyone to retweet you to get the attention of a clinic with an experimental treatment for the exact rare neuroendocrine cancer you’d fought for the last three years. What a way to get the news—I hadn’t even known you were sick. All I could do was share your tweet to my Facebook friends saying I had fond memories of losing Pokémon battles to you, and you deserved a chance to kick cancer’s ass too. Somehow, though, you did not deserve the effort it would take me to make a Twitter account to retweet you myself— sorry. You posted some days later that you’d gotten in contact with the clinic and would start a trial soon. Surely a cause for celebration, yet the accompanying selfie dampened my hope. Your face, intubated and emaciated, was a far cry from that of the athlete and trombonist I’d known. I couldn’t look for too long. “Should you feel yourself attacked by a sudden chill, it is evidence of an approaching Gengar. There is no escaping it. Give up.” Am I misremembering that you traded me a Haunter? It’d make sense that you did, and that’s
why I don’t trust it—my brain wants to curate a right-sounding narrative. You’d know better than anyone to not read so hard into life when we’re all just victims of the RNG (Random Number Generator). Indulge me for a second, though. I never said goodbye to you, after all. My real favourite part of the Pokémon game design is that some monsters only evolve when traded to other players. You can finish the plot yourself, but you’ll never truly complete the game without human connection, and what you gain stays long after the people you knew are gone. I can’t find my Heartgold right now, but I imagine one day I will, and I’ll open my old save to find the team that I battled you with all those years ago. There they are: Scizor, Tyranitar, Staraptor, Espeon, Gyarados, and Gengar. The Gengar was your Haunter once, but now it follows me. Some ghosts only walk with us to remind us of the people who can’t. They’re no replacement, but I treasure those ghosts all the same. I never finished my Pokédex, though someday I’d like to. “Gotta catch ‘em all,” as they say. But I wouldn’t have minded a few more battles with you. You deserved to win. Descriptions of the Pokémon borrowed from various iterations of the Pokédex.
VOL. 62 | SPRING MAGAZINE