After spending more than two weeks trying to update my laptop so I could participate in the Existential Gamer project, my editor and I gave up.
We settled on the only platform I’m professionally forced to update regularly, my mobile phone. Within seconds, a simple game called Lifeline had been downloaded, and the next week was ‘consumed’ trying to keep Tyler—a stranded astronaut—alive.
The concept of the game is simple. Tyler provides an elaborate explanation of his current circumstances. I answer basic prompts that either lead him to his death or keep him alive. Of course there are plenty of details to his sob story: His ship, the Varia, crashed on the surface of an unknown moon, and all of his crew mates are dead. He has spent countless hours trying to establish contact with another ship, to no avail. Then, finally, he gets through to me. And boy is he feeling chatty.
As his ‘lifeline’, my phone buzzes every few hours with updates—accompanied, of course, by additional unwelcome details.
Let’s be honest. The only reason I kept Tyler alive was to claim in this piece that I’d played the game from start to finish.
The first time around, I killed him within hours. See Tyler really wanted me to research whether or not it’s safe for a human being to sleep near a damaged rocket ship engine emitting low-level radiation. His other option was a night spent sleeping on the cold floor of the blown-open ship’s hull. Shut up and risk the cold, like a man, Tyler.
He froze to death that night. Great.
But two hours of Lifeline was simply not enough to write about. So I had to start over.
This time I tried toning down the sarcasm and amping up the patient sympathy for this fake astronaut taking over my phone with notifications about his whereabouts and various states of ill-being.
Tyler began reminding me of a former coworker. Somehow she had gotten ahold of my gchat username and started flooding my work laptop with updates about her current predicament—the increasingly awful atmosphere at the newspaper we both worked for. Much like Tyler’s, her messages painstakingly detailed every thought and feeling she was experiencing, her passive-aggressive boss crowding her much like the hostile aliens in Lifeline crowded Tyler, causing him anxiety and threatening to suck his life force right out of his body. The treacherous darkness and rocky terrain of Tyler’s world resembled the maze of cubicles my coworker found herself trapped in. Both pinged me endlessly, looking to me for leadership, expecting me to save them from those fucking evil aliens / our satanic gargoyle of a boss.
So I skimmed. I paid just enough attention to keep Tyler alive and mildly commiserate with my coworker.
“I’m freaking out,” they both shrieked simultaneously.
“Keep calm and breathe,” I answered Tyler.
“Ignore her, you’ll be out of here soon,” I told the co-worker, who had just been assaulted by another flurry of emails from the gargoyle.
“You try breathing when you’re stuck on a giant spinning rock and being chased by an army of aliens,” Tyler retorted.
“How can I ignore her when she’s attacking my inbox!” My coworker whined. (I soon disabled her notifications and blocked her on gchat.)
This brings me to the depressing truth beneath all of this: by playing mildly interested spectators rather than active participants, we all get through our various travails.
Tyler was rescued. The coworker got her dream job. I quit the newspaper and am now happily working for Uber and pawning off my belongings.