December 17, 2010 is a date that will be forever burned into my brain like a rancher’s brand on his livestock.
I received a call from my wife that our two-year-old daughter wasn’t acting her usual self. We made the decision to get her to the pediatrician, where we were told that she was anemic and in need of blood — so much so that her doctors were unable to even draw any to test.
We rushed her to Children’s Hospital, where they confirmed that she was indeed anemic, but they still wanted to run some tests. We were assured that she’d get some blood and all would be well.
As a jury of doctors entered her room, the sinking in my stomach was almost too much to bear. She had Leukemia, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia to be exact. A week before Christmas, they admitted her to treat the anemia and then come up with a game plan for the cancer.
This was our Christmas gift. I’ve never been struck with so much fear — fear of the chemotherapy, fear of the unknown…fear of losing her. After three months in the hospital, her stay was over, and she could come back home; however, it had only just begun.
In all, my wife and I have three loving and spirited little angels (I’ve been cursed to live out my days surrounded by beautiful women), and games have always been a part of our lives. Personally, they’ve helped me cope and continue to cope with her illness, treatment, and the terror that I feel everyday while we battle this disease.
I thought about shooting the shit out of nonplayer characters in first-person shooter X, but when I saw the case to Shadow of the Colossus, I knew that’s what I wanted to play. As I looked at my character’s loved one laying atop her stone tomb, I couldn’t help but feel as though she was my little one.
I called for Argo; I was determined to take on the cancer each colossus represented to me. Strangely, the more I played, the better I felt…to some degree. That’s what prompted this writing — the healing games can provide. Far too often we get consumed with the violence in games without looking at the context. Rarely are feelings expressed how this form of entertainment can be therapeutic…violence and all.
I liken my encounter with the first colossus, Valus, to the day I received the news that my daughter had cancer — brooding, intimidating, and a mammoth obstacle. I felt small. The kind of small that makes you question your own strength and perseverance.
I dodged its enormous stone club long enough to position myself behind its body, leaping to the back of its leg and holding on for dear life. With each attempt to shake me off, my determination was not one of "this game will not beat me" but rather of "I will not let you down."
Ascending the creature to reach the glowing emblems on its body, I thrust my sword into each one — finally killing the beast. There was no joy or satisfaction, only more uncertainty. "Can I do this?" I wondered.
Not only in the context of the game but in my life as well. Am I strong enough to battle this disease with my daughter — to be unwavering in my determination? Similar to chemotherapy, the further you progress, the more difficult everything becomes. Upon returning to the temple and listening to Dormin’s monologue, I remember looking at my beloved’s body laying lifeless on the stone slab in front of me.
The reality that I could lose my baby girl and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it flooded my mind — my eyes swelling with tears. Will I see her graduate high school? College? Will I walk her down the aisle at her wedding?
That’s the moment I truly empathized with Wander. Prior play sessions had been emotionless journeys from point A to B. That’s not to say the game is bad (not even close), but I viewed it as just a game. When I stepped back and felt the emotion conveyed onscreen, I realized I was essentially playing a metaphor of our family's struggle.
As the months have passed and the various treatments intensify, I’m still just as heartbroken as when I first learned of her illness. With each hospital stay, however, another colossus falls and a little piece of hope is restored.