Forced Pause

On invitations to slow down

Forced Pause

I feel like a shit friend at the moment. My days are relentless: I get up in the morning, I get myself and the kids ready, I work or study between 9-3, I squeeze in housework and dinner, and then in the evenings when the kids are in bed, I’m either gaming for work or doing more studying. I had an essay due, and on top of that, my kids have been poorly and not sleeping well, and I’ve had a chronic nerve pain flare-up alongside a bit of late-night anxiety.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. I chose this life, and I love it (except the nerve pain, which can get in the bin). I get to study and write about the things I love, and I get to be a mother. And I love all of it. In a lot of ways, I’m thriving. But sometimes, the universe aligns in such a way that I feel completely incapable of doing it all.

And the thing is, I know I am capable. It just doesn’t feel like it in the moment, you know? I let things slide. I went for almost two weeks without speaking to either of my sisters on the phone, which I hate, because I miss them. And my friendships: I just let them slip down my list of priorities. I neglected these women that I love so much. I let them get on with their lives without offering support or solidarity because I just went quiet.

I'm trying to make up for it this week, but it has got me thinking about how I act when I’m busy. I get this feeling of total overwhelm: I feel like I don’t have time for anything, even just stopping to breathe. It’s not the healthiest way of doing things. I need someone to sit me down and remind me to pause for a second.

I’ve been playing Jusant now that my essay is done. It’s a gorgeous game, isn’t it? Kind of rhythmic, almost. A calming trek across a beautiful, slightly otherworldly landscape. I haven’t figured out what the story is about yet, but at the moment, that’s not the point. I’ve played games before that involve climbing - the newer Tomb Raiders, Uncharted 4 - where I’ve actually really enjoyed the mountain-climbing aspect and wished people weren’t shooting at me so I could appreciate it more. Jusant works for me because it has removed some of the urgency. It’s slower, more meditative.

What I like about it is that, occasionally, a cutscene starts, and you can just … look at stuff. It’ll show you the small details. The people have created homes in the mountains, using the space as best they can, inserting beds and kitchens into the nooks and crannies of the rocks. In the cutscenes, you can appreciate it. There’s nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it. You can skip them, but I don't, because I feel like I’ll miss something.

It’s nice. I love games that allow for this breathing space. To sit there, to allow the controller to relax in your hands, to let the feeling wash over you for a minute. Jusant isn’t the first game to do this, but it seems to have arrived just when I need it the most.

The first game I ever played with one of these invitations to slow down is Life Is Strange. I loved True Colours, but the first game will always have a special place in my heart. At one point, Max and Chloe are hanging out in Chloe’s room. You, as the player, have a sense of deep foreboding. Playing around with time is never a good idea, and this moment, I think, feels kind of melancholy, even on the first playthrough.

Music plays, and you get to have a nose around Chloe’s room: at the posters of bands she loves, at her edgy graffiti on the walls, at her piles of clothing and her scraps of paper and her cigarette lighters. What hurts about this is that Chloe, despite all her bravado and her use of the word ‘hella’ (literally makes my ears hurt when I hear that word), is just a kid. She’s vulnerable and painfully young, messing around with stuff that is way too big for her.

Watching this scene now, my mumishness kicks in. I want to embrace her and tell her that maybe she should stop pushing everyone away, that maybe her rebellion is just her running from her problems, that maybe she should just slow down.

I’ll be honest, I got this screenshot from Square Enix’s website. Am I allowed to do that? I’m not sure. But it is an actual pain in the arse to get screenshots off of my PS4 so this is what I have resorted to

Of course, that would be pointless. Chloe’s own mother is doing that, and it doesn’t work. But having this little moment to be in Chloe’s space is like living inside her brain for a minute. I know everyone talks about environmental storytelling but it really is excellent here. I’m a writer, and I like telling stories. I literally cannot tell a story like that: I don’t have the capability of bringing something to life, visually, of creating a space for a character that doesn’t exist. When I see it done well, I really appreciate it.

That moment always stuck with me. When I played True Colours, any moment in which I could just sit there and listen to the music and watch, I fully enjoyed. I really think you can’t fully appreciate these games without just sitting there and watching for at least a moment or two. It allows the last story beat to fully sink in before you’re launched into a new one, and in games as deeply emotional as these, I think you need the break.

I wrote about Mother/EarthBound recently. Chris bought me the fan translation of Mother 3 last Christmas, and it kind of sent me off down a rabbit hole. I love these games. I had no idea what they were like, and how influential they were.

Anyway, I’ve mentioned him before, but Super Eyepatch Wolf’s video about Mother 3 is what put me onto the series in the first place. In this video, he talks about the power of hot springs in the game: if you want to heal, you have to stay put in there for six seconds or more.

Mother 3 is probably the most bonkers of all three games I’ve talked about today, but it’s a deeply emotionally charged story. It’s actually really nice to take these few seconds to just sit there. They didn’t need to put them in there, you know? I could have just dipped in and out and skipped onto the next thing. But it’s a great example of how games can create these little peaceful spaces. A quiet pocket in which to breathe before moving on.

I’ve been meditating this week. I hate it. I hate slowing down. I hate being quiet. I hate having to touch base with myself in that way. And yet, I kind of need it. I need a real-life pause to absorb what has happened and prepare for what is coming next.

For ten minutes a day, I’ve been lying on my living room floor, looking at the Christmas tree, and listening to these guided meditations. Every now and then, the calming voice of a stranger asks me how I’m feeling. And my answer is usually

like my back hurts




really fucking stupid

I want to fast forward through the long pauses. Skip past the preamble and get to the golden moment of inner peace or whatever. But I guess it doesn’t work like that.

Ugh. As a general rule, I hate doing things that are good for me.

Anyway, I’ll report back. If you see me floating around all zen-like in a few weeks, then you know it’s worked out, and I will become a meditation evangelist.