CHRISTMAS BREAK: May Your Break Be Never Ending
The winter break is the best break you will ever have as a gaming child. Sure, summer break is nice with trips and lakes and blowing things up or building forts or trying to make out with people as you get older. Spring break is for college kids who’re too rich to have anything better to do with their lives than act like hedonistic idiots, and all those miscellaneous days off during the rest of the year are just a good time to marvel at just how much you can’t stand school and dread its return for the one extra day you have off. But winter break! Ah, winter break. The longest of all breaks, and ideally situated for the gamer.
See, everyone else whines about the cold, and the snow, and the ice, and gets presents that they can’t really use- oh boy, new swimming trunks! let’s go swim on the ice- or collectibles and toys that they’ll forget about or break in the first two hours after using them. But not gamers. No, no, winter break is our holiday. All the biggest games come out then. You’re out of school for a month straight. Your parents let you stay up late(r), it’s not like you have school in the morning. Your friends are snowed in or away on ski trips, and you’re not dumb enough to brave the snow to go watch an episode of The Sopranos anyway. So what else is there to do?
Play games. All break long.
For as many marathon sessions of gaming I’ve had in my life, easily half of them have happened over a winter break. Be it the time I played Warcraft 3 for so long that I fell asleep at the keyboard, or played Star Ocean 2 until my father had to scream at me to get off the TV, I’m no stranger to the winter gaming marathon. But there’s one winter break that stands far above the others, far above any other moment of sheer gaming endurance than I’ve ever had in my entire life. Winter, 2004.
Though I’m a little fuzzy on if I was in college at the time (surely I was), I’m absolutely positive that we were visiting my grandparents in New Mexico for the holidays. And that this was the year Knights of the Old Republic II came out. Everything else was a little blur. See, the thing about how Christmas works with my family is that our gifts are largely an open secret: we ask for things, and we get those things to a certain dollar value. So when I asked for KotoR 2, and Metal Gear Solid 3, I knew that I was going to get them. It was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately for me my parents wouldn’t let me bring both the ps2 and the XBOX and my brother insisted on playing Halo with me, so that’s the console that I ended up with during that particular break.
In hindsight, that was the best choice I’ve ever made.
Christmas day comes along and we open our gifts after a hearty breakfast of waffles and bacon. I get what I expect: money, games, clothes, cheeze-whiz (long story) and everyone else happily gets what they asked for on their list. We gather up our loot, have a huge lunch of delicious hams and potatoes and pies and oh my god pie and potatoes. Then everyone else goes off to nap or read or otherwise sit around and feel fat and awful.
But not me.
I knew this was going to happen. I knew that no one was going to be awake for until at least sometime well into the evening, and that meant it was the perfect time to start my gaming. After struggling with the ancient TV my grandparents used my XBOX was plugged in and ready to go, the start screen of Knights of the Old Republic 2 promising me untold Jedi powers and creepy dudes who really need a respirator. The game did not fail me on either front.
Hours fell past me like the snow drifting to the ground, quiet and unnoticed but piling up quickly. Four hours roll by, no one is stirring. Six hours: my dad makes a sandwich and watches me for a bit. Eight hours: my brother watches me and eats Oreos, sometimes reading a new book he got, mostly trying to get me to be less evil. “Shut up, brother,” I’d say, “I am a Sith master and none shall oppose me!” I tried to use force lightning on him. It didn’t work.
Everyone is bedding down for the evening. My dad tells me to go to bed soon. More Jedi fall beneath my glowing red blade, more monsters melt under the onslaught of my force lightning, and all thoughts of sleep and relaxation, food and bathroom breaks, empty my mind. I’m hardly aware of my body moving, shifting to get more comfortable, only aware of the dialogue and the lightsabers and the oddly compelling but utterly disturbing old woman with me. Worlds fell and I laughed and danced in the ashes.
Time was a concept for those who didn’t wield the dark secrets of the force.
A glimmer in the corner of my eye. A hint of light. My mind refused to process the sun for what it was, perhaps a fire, or an explosion, I thought. Surely not the sunrise. There’s no way I’ve been playing this game for nearly seventeen hours– “OH FUCK!” I bolt quickly save, slap off the TV and XBOX, and make my way up to my temporary bedroom in the shelter of my grandparent’s house hoping and praying my parents weren’t up or wouldn’t be woken up by my climb up the stairs.
And there was silence.
Sleep was an exercise in futility. All I could do was think of all the quests I’d left unfinished, all the powers I’d yet to unlock, all the cool lightsaber colors I’d yet to find. I wondered if my party missed me, wondered what their adventures would turn them into, had hopes and aspirations for all of them. I still thought the old woman was creepy. I hoped I got a chance to kill her.
Before, the hours were as difficult to grasp as a stream of water but now? The hours until I could play again- probably little more than two or three- weighed on me like a rock. I felt that time was moving over me, crushing it beneath its heel, taunting me with how much remained between me and my XBOX. My parents woke- showered, went and made breakfast. My grandparents had coffee. My brother joined them. An hour later- keeping true to form- I finally left my bedroom. Bleary eyed and exhausted. The usual chorus about being the last to rise greeted me, food was offered, and jokes were made about my messed up hair. All was ignored in favor of the XBOX. “So, uh, what’s the plan for the day?” I asked, hesitantly.
“Well your mom and I are going for a trip to the arts and crafts places, and Oma and Opa were thinking about visiting some friends?” My dad replied. My heart soared.
“Oh. So we’re on our own today?”
“Looks like it.”
It was a struggle to not leap for joy and kiss everyone there for this most precious of holiday gifts: solitude. Even my brother couldn’t dissuade me from my marathon gaming, his persistent pleas to do something- anything- else but KotoR 2 fell on deaf ears. There was only me and my XBOX and the Sith Lord I had become. While everyone else was socializing or looking at art or reading books, I was shooting people in the face with blasters. Leading a team to slay a rival Sith Lord. Conquering the galaxy.
Nine hours later it was over. The plot was largely not resolved, but my character’s journey was over. For now. I’d ignored food and water for largely a day, taken almost no bathroom breaks, showered not at all, and forgotten how to think outside of gaining light side or dark side points. The world seemed ethereal, dreamlike, fake. Obviously the real world was still in my XBOX, full of adventure and force lightning. And like a dream the effects of the world of Star Wars began to fade. Food entered my mind, and showers, and changing my clothes. Friends long ignored on the internet, books, music, family all slid into place where they belonged, usurping the Jedi who’d ruled my mind for a day straight.
But, still, for a time I was wholly and completely a Jedi. A moment in my life that was enabled almost completely by winter break. So. Thank you, Winter Break. May you always bring the best gaming experiences to those who have the time to really appreciate them.