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A Balloon Made of Skin | 2015 | Danielle the Amazonian


One can acquire everything in solitude--except character.  

-Henri Stendhal

Non-Player Characters

I was misled. Despite apparent evidence and seemingly mechanized movements, other people are not non-player characters whose existence is little more than presenting barriers or giving me quests in exchange for items, experience, and money. These other people are playing ten thousand different games on the same board I am, which can present certain challenges to the play. For the most part, they are not trying to interrupt my game but get ahead in their own (which doesn't necessarily preclude interfering with me; we may have contradictory goals). For the most part, I cannot imagine what their games might entail, though I can appreciate the ostensible challenges before them given their furrowed brows and harried glances.

I have found it easy to fall into the irritation that comes from the misapprehension that the other person is playing our game-or at least, the game to which we feel invested-the wrong way intentionally, though this is impossible. They wouldn't know how to play our game because it is individual to each player. Only I know the rules of my game-and I admit to be winging it in hopes of finding the invisible walls and salubrious glitches in the physics engine.

The overarching goals of my game seem to be:

  1. Figure out the rules of my game.
  2. Figuring myself out so that I may play this game with a bit more finesse rather than failing to press the right buttons.
  3. Writing better.
  4. Being a better author.

I can imagine these would be foreign to most people. Where is the "rack up a high score in sex," "Get in good with my god," or "make all the money"? I cannot imagine caring that much about any of the above. I have stacked most of my points into the "writer" technique (though whatever eldritch gods clutch me to their etheric bosoms likely prefer I write well enough to one day summon them forth and, fingers crossed, I make a respectable sum from my novels before that happens to further justify my efforts).

I am aware that my level up screen would look to many people like their game over, and vice versa. Standing before crowds to justify my existence fills me with joyful fluttering, since it means they care about my writing. To many others, I just described their personal hell.

I can say that the game becomes easier when I see other people as interacting players instead of pieces. For instance, much of the strife I see with men is the cultural indoctrination that women are sex token. If women refuse objectification by not investing in their daily appearance, being lesbians, being other disinterested or, god forbid, growing older, some men act with horror and annoyance because the women aren't playing right. They do not understand-perhaps they cannot understand-that these women are playing by the rules of a different game, one that is lost by acceding to the rules of a creep shouting from construction scaffolding about what he would like to do with her.

All that said, it is difficult not to cringe when people seem to be playing their games so badly, intentionally inflicting anguish on themselves in hope that someone will show them pity, likely because of unresolved parental issues. There are few things I deal with on a regular basis more gut-punchingly sad than someone who is continually ruining their life because they want to get revenge on their apathetic parents. I have been the other party, spoken at because they are not speaking to the person who actually needs to hear them. It digs at me, since there is nothing I can say in this dialogue tree.

This revelation came to me all at once on the whirly-swings at the Dutchess County Fair, which is as good a place as any for revelations. Being spun against centrifugal force, looking down at hundreds of people having individual experiences, my veins well lubricated with grease and sweet, these things have a tendency to shake loose. As a writing, it is mildly torturous to see so many people with whom I will never have a significant interaction and I well understand that urge to just categorize these souls as cardboard in a fit of sour grapes. Yes, I might have to mentally negotiate how to approach the swagtastic boy or the woman in the git-r-dun tank top, but they are playing their games as best they can. I cannot know all the intricacies of their existence, all their successes and defeats, what demons they bicker with while stuffing their faces with cotton candy and llama kisses. Even my companions tonight, people I know well enough to love, are half-enigmas to me because the rules of their games may preclude nattering out every private thought they may have for public consumption, unlike some people I could mention. I love them in part because they let me look in their eyes long enough to divine their struggles and, if I am lucky, join their party for a few misadventures.

Soon in Xenology: Danielle

last watched: Hannibal
reading: Hyperspace
listening: Jill Sobule

A Balloon Made of Skin | 2015 |

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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