Just before my seven-year-old goddaughter’s birthday, I bought a Nintendo Switch. It’s my second Switch, but my first one is in a box in Australia.
I haven’t played it for 18 months. I haven’t played any video game console since Mario and Rabbids, the night before my flight from Brisbane to Lima, via Auckland and Santiago.
Video games are my hobby, my way to relax and step back from the world. Since living in Peru I’ve never really had my own hobby and I don’t believe Netflix counts. My job was my hobby and I used all my spare time to channel my energy into research. That’s useful until you can’t manage pleasant replies to the people who surround you.
Last year when I was stressed, I played an old game on the internet called Runescape, and it helped for a while, but it wasn’t quite the same because of the limitation on graphics, and because it was the one game.
I’d been toying with buying a Switch for a while but I hadn’t because I’m returning to Australia soon. I have my Switch in Australia. But I’m also in Peru! It felt to me that I shouldn’t need a console while I’m travelling overseas.
Here is the problem. And it’s a mental health problem. For almost 18 months I have lived in a foreign country in a foreign continent, with a foreign language. I have lived. I have worked in a real job. I have immersed myself in it, but I haven’t quite fit into the immersion. Yet in my mentality I still see myself as travelling. I need a safe hobby!
I worried that maybe I would stay in a room playing games, or only remember Peru through playing games, instead of visiting cool places. Yet I’ve seen so much, and in a way, I’m tired. I’ve covered more than 5000 kilometres in the last month, and not by air.
Video consoles are far more expensive here, even taking into account the price exchange. It didn’t seem right to spend so much money on a luxury. I thought that by not buying it, I would show maturity compared to a year ago, when I wasted my first pay check.
Yet I bought the console because for a while I wanted to show it to my girlfriend. I wanted her to see a part of myself. I wanted to share with her my love for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and I wanted us to do something together that I enjoyed.
I gave in, finally after more than a month of contemplating it. I thought in the taxi while holding the console box that I would feel a surge of buyers remorse. I didn’t. I was excited. I thought then I would feel it when we set it up, turned on the TV, and saw the load screen. I didn’t. In fact, I’ve found that I can upload for free all the games I’ve bought online more than 18 months ago. I have one account, but two Nintendos. I can share my games across, and my expansion packs for Zelda, which I bought but never used because I moved to Peru. That is a pleasant surprise.
My girlfriend hasn’t played video games before, and it has been a joy, but a test of my patience, to watch her learn how to figure out the basic movements of controls. I’ve fought the urge to just take the controller off her when she doesn’t do things as fast as I’d like, and just let go and relaxed. I’ve watched her learn to ride a virtual horse. Just like in real life,they don’t seem to like her.
She used to throw me the controller when the monsters come out to attack her. Then she killed them when I was in the bathroom. Now she kills the monsters on her own. I am proud.
Legend of Zelda is an immersive world, with its own rules and ways to figure out how to interact with the world around you. And she often has ideas that I wouldn’t have figured out on my own. “Could you throw an apple to catch that horse?” she suggested after the first hour in the game, and my first reaction was “that’s dumb” and I realised, ‘wait. Is it?’ We tried it and it didn’t quite work out.
“Could you shoot fire at that honey to scare away the bees?” she suggested, and I thought, ‘hey, let’s give it a go’, but it also burned away the honey. Yesterday she helped me solve a puzzle involving throwing rocks off a bridge, that I never figured out on my own.
I wish I could play the game for the first time again, but with her I guess I am.
We’ve put the Nintendo on Spanish mode. It’s helping me, although she’s doing a lot of translation. New words I’ve acquired include ‘anciano’ (old man), ‘seta’ (mushroom), and ‘espada’ (sword).