Grand Theft Marbles

Let me tell you about mental illness, and see if it isn’t contagious.

I had a terrible bout with insomnia last week, something I used to have chronically as an adolescent, and now thankfully only get two or three times a year. Not being able to fall asleep is much worse than the actual lack of rest, but sleep deprivation is one way to seriously fuck with your mind, and the mind doesn’t heal faster than any other part of the body after being damaged.

Because everybody else was asleep, I figured that this was the perfect time to play some Grand Theft Auto IV because I fucking love that game and we’re at a point where my son shouldn’t be watching it even if I promise to obey all traffic rules and state laws. After a few story missions, I was ready to cause some wanton destruction, and for some reason, I never get tired of watching the ragdoll physics after running into a pedestrian with a fast moving car. People drop their venti lattes and go flying over the hood with a satisfying “thwemp” as steel meets flesh, and then spin helplessly to the pavement. It’s so fucking devastating and you have to stand in awe of such a brutal act and how in the actual physical world, this event is typically borne from simple carelessness and called “an accident.” The realization that you could break a body so badly just by manipulating a few wheels and levers is somewhat insane, and yet people walk on the sidewalk in a trusting unspoken contract with every driver on the road. It speaks tons about what we’ve achieved as a society, what we’ve built, and what I will now undo.

Who knows why the ambulance was summoned in the first place? Either I rammed some guy into the side of a building with a truck or shot some people standing in the street. I honestly can’t recall, but I do remember that when the paramedics arrived, I shot the first one who emerged and jumped in the cab from the shotgun side and kicked the driver right out on his ass. From that moment, every pedestrian became a target and I hit as many as I goddamn could because they went “thwemp,” and then they went flying. I’d like to say I was taking out some latent aggression or relieving some stress or laughing hysterically while I did this, but I honestly felt nothing but frustration at missing pedestrians and not feeling sleepy. And yet I could not bring myself to stop.

Things started getting really nutty once I found the park with the fountain. There was a wide walkway going all the way around the fountain, wide enough for three ambulances if you really squished them in, and several people were standing right on it, so down they went: “thwemp. thwemp-th-thwemp.” and yet amazingly after completing a full lap around the fountain, there were once again people standing around it. Undoubtedly to help those whose blood now stained the cobblestones in the afternoon sun. Thwemp, crush, splat scream, ah. They all got hit by the ambulance, too. Around and around I went, siren blaring, running down person after person after person. They kept coming back, and I kept mowing them down. Although I was wanted by the police, it was not difficult evading them simply by staying on my fatally predictable course, counter-clockwise about Thwempwater Fountain, which is what I decided to call it. Who was going to challenge me? Police cruisers began getting trapped in the water, and nobody possessed the firepower necessary to pursue on foot or even disable my vehicle. And so the ambulance pressed forth through seas of the invisible dead crushing and pummeling up to ten housed souls with each pass.

This continued for over ten minutes and though I was now counting bodies like sheep, I was no closer to finding the peace of slumber. I could not feel the pain of imagined injury or the tickle of such comically random violence, but still could not put the controller down, either.

Sometime after abandoning the fountain caper I was killed and found myself outside a hospital. Nice of them to stitch me up and put me back on the street again. There was even a brand new shiny ambulance waiting for me right there, but instead I reentered the hospital and just immediately opened fire killing patients, orderlies, receptionists, and the police officers who showed up for the party. I killed them all until they killed me, and then I was outside the hospital again, still in full possession of all my weapons. I went back in and realized that nobody showed any signs of recognition. There was no, “Oh fuck it’s that dude who just fucking murdered 15 people including doctors in this very hospital and had to be treated and released and he’s got a gun!” So I started shooting them to remind them. The first dude I shot was sitting on a bench near the front doors and looked amazingly like the first guy I shot on my last trip to the hospital. Then went the outpatients, the receptionists, and bang bang bang it was all over again in a few minutes. Dead. Revived. Outside. Inside. Bang bang bang. Dead. Revived. Isn’t this where…

…we came in? I don’t know or want to know exactly how long this cycle continued, but it was at least as long as my merry go round the Thwempwater Fountain, and that makes me supremely uneasy now. It’s a typical parental fear for one’s child to walk in on them having sex, but I’m far more worried about my son waking up in the middle of the night and finding his insomniac father sitting in a dark room with a dead stare playing GTA in this horrible way with no indication of ever stopping.

This was the way I used to enjoy all of the GTAs, to be honest. I still remember playing the first one for the PC and the joy it brought me to kill countless cops and splatten pedestrians across the sidewalk only to speed off in a fast car that I didn’t buy. In college, I would get high and play this way, narrating the character’s exploits in my mind like it was some kind of really fucked up TV show (all the while wishing I had the motivation to get the equipment together to actually make said fucked up TV show). When I finally got a PS2 and Vice City, forget about it – my friends and I played the game nonstop, and only took story missions when we tired of stunt jumps and murder sprees. I still can’t believe we ever finished it. And I really thought I would grow out of it, but I guess not. Deep down, I’m still the kid whose favorite dream is the one where he finds himself in a store and realizes he’s dreaming so he can lay waste to all the merchandise shelves. And I have to wonder if by enacting such useless violence if I am actually trying to access some kind of nostalgic well of happiness I was able to sip from in my youth that seemed so god damned eternal back then. I thought I would always respect criminals, hate cops, shun laws, and endorse anarchy, but is it really all right to still state those beliefs? Do I even earnestly believe them anymore? I don’t think I do, except for the hating cops part. In the end, we all play games to escape the bonds of loathsome old reality, but we sleep in order to do the same thing. Also, sleep is refreshing in a way that plowing through crowds of fellow human beings never was.

The next time I’m snubbed by the sandman, I’m going to read a goddamn book. Are there any good paperback GTA novels out there? Fuck it, I’ll just write one.

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