Garret was playing his Halo 6 video game like he did for a couple hours each night. He chatted with his pals on his headphones as he aimed and shot at armor-clad troopers.
“Hold on you guys, my wife just walked in.”
He turned and slid his headphones off half-way. She stood in the doorway with purse over her shoulder and roller suitcase beside her.
“Wait, where are you going?” he asked.
“I'll say it one last time; you have a lot of un-dealt with trauma. You need to stop hiding behind your 'video games,' She said it with angst." They both knew those words included all the things he did on the computer after she went to bed.
He spoke to the microphone, "give me a sec, guys," and put the headphones on this desk.
He said to her, “I've already told you this. I don't see how my past hurts either of us. I make money for you and the kids. I don’t abuse them or anything like those kids did to me. I work hard but you don't even want me to have like an hour each night to relax with the fellas?” He gestured toward his screen. "You're blowing this way out of proportion."
He knew he did have other little vices that she didn't need to know about. But it didn't affect them. He played a little game where he undressed people with his eyes at work, because it gave him that little hit he needed throughout the day. He also watched lots of pornography when his fam went to bed. He chatted with some people online, posting nude-ish pics for each other. Men and women. Which made sense with what the older neighborhood kids had done with him growing up. So, why could he be blamed, he was just doing what he had learned to do. He had tried to stop but it was just part of him.
But today, as his wife stood in the doorway with her purse overflowing and car already running in the driveway, maybe it did matter.
“I’m going to my mom’s house and I’m taking the kids. If you want a chance at making this work, I need to see you’re actually trying, taking disciplined steps to get that stuff out of your life.”
The door slammed, echoing like a wave over him.
He turned around in a daze. “If she really wants to leave I guess she should." He told himself. "This is me.” He sometimes thought he should stop some of it, but he couldn’t really rationalize the monumental effort it would take to reverse years of habits that, as far as he could tell, didn’t really hurt anyone.
He pulled his headphones back on.
“Everything okay, G-bot?!” It was his gaming friend, Grinder who was always on the video game when Garret was. Grinder blasted an alien as it popped out of a hole.
“I think my wife is leaving me,” Garret adjusted his microphone and replied as he threw a grenade into the hole.
“Life is better off without hoes!” Grinder added. “Don’t become like Zero. His wife threatened to leave and he’s never on anymore.”
“I… I didn’t realize that. Are they still together?!”
“I’m guessing so!” Grinder threw his emptied gun at a drone. “He’s definitely not spending his time on here anymore!”
They finished out the round and Garret leaned back. He adjusted his microphone again and asked, “Hey Grinder, how much would you say you play this game?” Garret was just curious what someone’s personal life was like who got to play all day long.
“Bro I’m only on here in the evenings. I play Body Snatch from like 8 to 6.”
“Oh, uh cool. What do you do for work?”
“I’m trying to win a tourney this year. That will set me up for life.”
Garret had played with a couple gamers who won tournaments. And Grinder was not good like them. Especially for playing as much as he did.
“Oh how do you make money, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I have some leftover money from my dad who passed away. It’s awesome. I get to smoke weed and play video games all day.”
“How old are you, if I can ask.” Garret always guessed he was in his 20’s by how he talked. “Any family?”
“I’m 60. Just taking care of my mom, now.” Garret wondered if that really just meant he was living at his mom’s house. Grinder continued, “Wife left years ago. After she asked me to change I bumped down my video games by about an hour each day, but she said that wasn’t enough for her. I tried to do more but it was too hard to stop. Plus, my gaming pals were waiting on me. They let me be me. So at least I can say I tried. Trust me; Life is way better now anyway.”
“Yeah, totally,” Garret replied. His mouse moved secretly and clicked the "leave game" button. It went to the menu screen. His eyes were large.
He scrolled through his chats and found an old chat with Zero. Garret thought for a minute and then typed, “you available to talk, zero? Wife threatening to leave.”
The video game notified Garret that Zero was away.
He waited, wondering what to do. “Well, at least I tried.”
He caught himself. He looked around him, wow, he hadn’t even noticed she had taken everything from her home office next to him. He had been pretty good at winning in the video game, but his life was deteriorating outside of that little box on his desk. An unusual thought came to him. “Now I need to win at discipline.”
It seemed out of the blue but it made sense. If he was going to reprogram the decades of pathways in his brain, he'd need a long consistent effort. Uggh, this felt unnatural. He breathed deeply and thought a little harder. How can I find Zero?
He remembered how some of the of guys teased Zero and had nick-named him “Lawrence of a Rubio.” when they overheard his wife shouting at him, “Lawrence Rubio! Get your butt in here for dinner!”
He went onto Facebook and did a few iterations of a search. He finally found one that looked like it could be Zero. There was a video and sure enough, it was his voice.
He friended him and sent another message. “Hey Zero. This is G-bot from Halo 6. Someone told me your wife made you stop video games. My wife just left and was saying something similar. Could use your advice.”
He pushed send. He had hope this one might actually get to him. A little discipline, and using his brain felt good.
A moment later Zero replied. “Hey G-bot! Man, then drop video games immediately. Video games pale in comparison to real life.”
“Thanks, but I think it’s a lot more than video games, man. Stuff I’ve done since I was a kid.”
“I get that. It was similar for me. Women can see when there’s something wrong inside us far before we can. Pornography and shit like that? That’s pretty common with gamers I think. Late nights in front of computers. I get it. But I have a solid solution for you.”
Garret waited for a minute. Apparently Zero wasn’t just gonna offer the info. “I’m ready.” Garret typed.
“I don’t know if you’re ready, man. You really gotta be desperate to make a change in stuff like this. You didn't even ask for my solution.”
“I think I want to be ready.” Garret replied after 30 seconds.
“But not very much.”
“I’m not hurting anybody. It’s her choice if she can’t accept who I am, baggage and all.”
“No, bro. Women can sense when there’s something in our life that is destroying us. She’s not worried about accepting you. She’s thinking about saving you. And herself, and her family.”
After a long time Garret finally typed, “Well, how do I want it?”
“Maybe you should picture yourself in Grinder’s shoes. Remember that guy?”
“Yeah. Was just playing with him.”
“You ever seen him in person? I met him once at a tourney. Dude is obese, oily, and smells like they left milk out in the sun. He lives in his mom's basement, with tissues and lotion nearby I'm sure."
“I wouldn’t become that, though. I’d date again.”
“Would you really, though? You’re choosing to be a person who only does what is easiest. If you wouldn’t get out of your seat to sit with your family for dinner, getting out of your seat to plan a date with a stranger is going to be even less likely to happen. Most end up like him, or some version of that. I’m convinced that would have been me.”
“Okay then. Let’s say I’m ready to give it up. What is your trick to give it up?”
“It’s like a video game.”
Is he for real? Garret thought. Video games are what we're trying to get away from.
Zero continued, “It works because types like you and me like video games. It’s like you’re playing a first person shooter, like Halo or something. But instead of aiming at something, you imagine getting points and armor for what you avoid looking at.”
Garret thought about how he enjoyed undressing people right now.
“G-bot, I don’t know if you’re a Christian, but when you do this you’re getting points in a different kingdom. Level upping is becoming a more disciplined righteous man. You're more full of life, more healthy and whole. That’s the goal of this game called life. And it starts with our eyes.”
"Like not looking at Porn?"
"That's a big part. But do you know why porn has such a hold on you? It's because when we let our eyes indulge, it puts in us the desire for more. Like the sirens in the Odyssey."
"What if it... already has it's claws in me?"
"If it already has it's claws in you, you have to do a major cleanse, and go through the withdrawals. Drastic measures. Throw away your computer, get a flip phone, or whatever the gateway is. But after that you gotta look away from that shit every time it presents, before it gets a hold back in you."
"But I can't avoid seeing some stuff that pops up."
"True. First glance is free. But then after you see it's something you'd enjoy looking at a little too much, you can't look back. Then picture those coins going into your cash bank, like in Halo. Just reward yourself by believing you are becoming stronger and better, more armor, more weapons and money. But you're becoming better in ways that really matter-- every time you practice this avoidance target practice."
"Okay, I think I can do that. And I can really practice when pics come up online."
"For me real life too. It's lingering on people in the airport; I travel a lot. And underwear pics that pop up on social media. That stuff is such a sinister gateway. And you don't even realize it because it feels like desires we have a right too. Natural desires. But they kill us, bro."
"Alright, thanks for your thoughts on this. You might save my marriage."
"Hey, let's keep in touch. You're gonna need support and community or all the discipline you can muster will be a lost cause. I'll give you my phone number and we can check in every couple days if you'd like."
"Um, wow. Okay, let me think about it. But I think I like this idea."
"Don't let this thing get the best of you, G-bot. We got this. Life can be so much better."
Raw Spoon, May 8, 2023