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I don't remember where I got the game Illusion of Gaia. I don't remember when I started the game or where I gave up. I just remember the feelings it stirred in me and the lessons it taught me.
Starting out in South Cape I was instantly enthralled by the simple pleasure of being there. A town with houses to explore to find little red jewel trinkets. Long jumps off of rooftops that seemed so thrilling compared to the small jumps on tiny ledges you saw in games at the time. The wind blowing in your hair when it should and not blowing in it when you were in a house. You got to impress your in game friends by pulling a stone idol with psychic power, sure, but it was all enchantingly ordinary despite having a hint of the surreal and fantastical.
When a strange girl shows up to your house she is simply greeted by your family with a smile and you have dinner. Such a strangely ordinary life inside a video game was something impossible and enchanting. This world existed for some reason outside of adventures.
Throughout the game you will always carry with you that this world desires an ordinary and peaceful life, but soon a group of guards rushes into the house and takes the girl who turns out to be the princess back with them to the castle. All of a sudden ordinary takes a back seat and the game begins it's wonderful and horrifying journey to the end.
Where the end is depends on your resolve, and my resolve was shattered on the first boss.
As the red head of what looked to be Satan himself rose from the ground, what little I saw of him convinced me that he had to be impossibly huge. The concept of beating something like that was overwhelming. Dodging through the energy ball bouncing around the room and the fire flickering over the floor was too much and soon I had failed and failed hard. I didn't want to continue. I was afraid of the impossible monster and afraid of failing again and again until I could beat him.
Crying in the room at my father's house years later I knew a deeper fear. My mother was a scary figure in my life. She had complete power over me and my sister's lives and had told me in no uncertain terms that what happened in our household was not to be talked about. We were at my father's house for the summer and I had finally broken down in front of him and told him about what my mother did to us and how she made us feel. I had triggered the slow erosion of her entire connection to my life.
I felt bad for making almost a calculated ploy for my freedom. People tell me it took courage to speak up about how miserable we were with my mother. Still, I've always been told that men don't solve their problems with crying and telling someone else. I was cheating because I couldn't defeat my mother on my own. I could not stand up to her and prove to her that she was wrong. Every time I talked to her after that point she maintained her mental illusion that she wasn't responsible for what she had done. She was lost forever and would never see the truth. I had cheated and removed myself from the confrontation over my fate because I was weak.
Game Genie deliver us from evil. I can't even remember if I cheated at to defeat Satan, or at the impossibly hard vampire couple later in the game. All I know is I saw the ending, and at that point in my life I didn't beat games fair because failure hurt me. It made me feel inhuman and pathetic to retry the same task over and over because I could not win the first time. Each and every time I brought myself to fight the monster legitimately and failed I felt like I didn't deserve to go any further.
Eventually I just gave up and cheated. I no longer cared if I deserved what the game had to offer I simply was going to take it however I could.
With each 'victory' I gained as I moved through the games story I saw wonderful and terrible things. The pyramids, slavery, the great wall, kidnapping, betrayal, beauty, friendship and hopelessness. Things a game had never had the courage to talk about to me before.
When I saved the world in this game it was not because the world needed saving to win and I was the 'chosen one' . It was because I had been shown friendship I had never known, hope and fear like I had never experienced, and I wanted to keep that world alive. This world deserved a second chance even if I had to admit my failure as a person and cheat the gods themselves to attain it.
You beat one boss and another is always just around the corner. I had been preparing mentally for my next challenge in life. I had read books about the Dalai Lama, about inner peace and forgiveness. Still I was overwhelmed by a sheer sense of impossible frustration when my father, on whom I had modeled my entire idea of what a good man was, finally gave up.
He cheated on his wife and retreated into self pity and possibly substance abuse and I was afraid. I was afraid of myself and my horrible anger, afraid of having to decide who I was now that my similarity to my father was a liability, afraid that cheating to escape my mother had simply delayed the battle for my soul. Maybe I had just made my inevitable slip into bitter madness simply wait for the other shoe to drop.
As I told my father I would be staying with Barbara, my adopted mother and his wife, I was not sure if I could win. I don't know if I could ever make him realize that he was in the wrong and needed to change his ways, but I held my anger in and did not discuss it with him. I knew that any attempt to bully him into being better with my anger would just be my fear in disguise. I had become, and am still, afraid of becoming my father.
I hold the capacity to cheat myself. As I took the Game Genie shortcut through Illusion of Gaia a feeling of being unworthy ran through my heart with each brilliant moment of the story. Still I knew where it came from. I was afraid that the game would never deem me worthy of seeing it's wonder if I played it right. I am afraid I will never be good enough at life itself to see all it's biggest wonders without short cuts. Still that will not stop me from using every opportunity I can.
I will cheat myself. I will seem to be needy, manipulative, selfish. I will look weak and pitiful and I will seem lazy and stupid. I will do what I have to in order to avoid the paths that I know I am not strong enough to take. I want to see all I can of life and I will deprive society of it's attempts to 'separate the wheat from the chaff' because even if I am chaff I will not be silenced or stopped.
What I will not do is what my father did. I will not knowingly and willfully cheat others. I give others honesty, sometimes harsh honesty, but I will never see hurting another person simply because it benefits me as the right path. I will always look to the forgiveness the Dalai Lama spoke of in that book because all it takes to become a bad person is to be in the wrong mindset at the wrong time. I want to help people be good, and I want to be a good person as well. Even if it means looking foolish.
You don't save the world by looking like a hero, you save the world by defeating that which is threatening it. The world we live in is threatening itself. People tear themselves and others apart because of fear, anger, pride, and hopelessness, not because being terrible makes them happy. You defeat that which ails mankind by teaching people, like Illusion of Gaia taught me, that there is hope that can conquer fear. There is understanding that can conquer anger, there is forgiveness that can conquer pride, and the hopelessness these things create in mankind will be defeated when people can learn to trust and be worthy of trust.
At the end of Illusion of Gaia, when the saved world becomes our own I could not help but feel glad that I cheated. Did the game have to have boss fights that were so hard it drove people away from the wonderful story?
I was made a better person through the lessons of the game even though I did not have to work as hard for them as others. Is a challenge required to live a wonderful life?
It's hard to say, but challenge is what we get in our lives regardless of what we want and I will best those challenges that attempt to stop me in any way I can. I don't care if I am too weak. I don't care what I do and don't deserve in life. I want to live my whole life and I want to see the world.