I don’t know if this strategy is effective. I still think about the things I should be doing instead, but moving feels better than staying still, so I keep riding. When you’re broke, your body becomes your last resort, a mostly reliable means to make money that also comes with great precarity. If you get injured in a low-wage job with no employment insurance, there’s nothing to fall back on. You pay with your health.
I feel this job in my body. My neck cracks, my shoulders pop, my ankles creak. Some nights, I ride until my legs turn numb and the wind whips tears in my eyes and the world becomes fuzzy at the edges. Then I have a choice. I can keep riding or I can stop and wait until my path becomes clear again.
But just as often, we allow ourselves to be borne along by the currents of what’s swirling around us without abstracting away from it. Getting swept up in a musical performance is just one among a whole host of familiar activities that seem less about computing information, and more about feeling our way as we go: selecting an outfit that’s chic without being fussy, avoiding collisions with other pedestrians on the pavement, or adding just a pinch of salt to the casserole. If we sometimes live in the world in a thoughtful and considered way, we go with the flow a lot, too.
I think it’s a mistake to dismiss these sorts of experiences as ‘mindless’, or the notion of a merely visceral grasp of something as oxymoronic. Instead, I think that the lived reality of music puts pressure on philosophers to broaden their conception of what the mind is, how it works, and to embrace the diversity of ways in which we can begin to grapple with the world around us.
The delusion isn’t that criticism is important; it is important, the more so as discourse increasingly takes the form of people screaming at each other on the internet. The delusion is that critics can ever transcend the subjectivity that makes good criticism so interesting in the first place. And if a certain negativity, even a certain schadenfreude, attaches to that subjectivity, well, would you rather have a pretended objectivity that observes all the proprieties and never risks giving offense?
In these times, the most important task of game journalism isn’t to serve a public interest but to ensure that fans can continue to identify some version of themselves in the games they have played, and ensure future releases will allow them access to even deeper levels of self-expression and understanding. In playing the next game, owning the newest console, having an opinion on the latest patch, we feel like we can become stabler versions of ourselves, all at the cost of clearing out space—both mental and financial—for open-ended consumption of a form without any purpose beyond this increasingly tautological pleasure. This process is necessarily dehumanizing. Games matter because you are here to play them, and you remain here to play them because they matter.
Maybe this is why, with video games, we break from the tradition of identifying people with particular pastimes as lovers—bibliophile, cinephile, audiophile. To love video games is to become not a ludophile but a gamer, a claim on identity rather than a statement of personal interest. Every fact or feeling in our lives that doesn’t relate to games is an extraneous detail, so much so that it can feel like one’s whole life might be beside the point.
While Johnson treads much of the same territory here as in his 1992 cult classic—addiction, crime, obsession, psychedelic transcendence—his final book is overall more concerned with what follows such madness. If Jesus’ Son proclaims, “Holy shit, after all the drugs and alcohol and violence, I can’t believe I’m still alive,” then Largesse responds, “Yes, but you’re still going to die anyway.”