<p>Gabriel Filippa writes about relationships, video games and growing up in a digital world</p>
I’m an addict.
The first time I tried MDMA I filled my nose with so much powder I ended up at the Monash Medical Centre in Clayton. I snorted it off keys, credit cards and CDs. When my cousin told me she couldn’t build a mountain of it in front of me I swore at her and told her to call her friends, family – fucking anyone.
I lost a couple of years to marijuana. 19–22, I suppose. I smoked so much I thought The Matrix was for real. I smoke tobacco. I drink too much. Alcohol, yes. But also Coke, Solo, Pepsi – whatever I can get my hands on. I end up at the dentist, staring up at the light in those cheap sunglasses making all kinds of promises to myself.
Somewhere in that decaying tooth lies the answer to all my?compulsions.
As a kid, I collected Batman toys. I never opened them, just left them all in their boxes. All these budding superheroes were stuck in cardboard prisons. They were not out in the world, travelling, kissing girls or building their fortunes but locked in a kind of somnolent reverie reminiscent of the doped-up version of myself 12 years later.
Later, once acne hit, I was addicted to Roaccutane – a drug originally used to treat skin cancers. I started ordering it from overseas and double dropping. I’m a self-medicating specialist. It’s a profession that’s had lingering effects. I get sunburnt easily and sometimes my kidneys hurt. My skin is great.
Now I’m a 27-year-old-man obsessed with Magic the Gathering. I stand in games stores and ask questions about items behind the counter – booster packs, limited edition placemats, card sleeves. I look into my wallet and sweat and rub my nose and ask about prices. I make deals. But the one obsession that links the child with his Batman to the man with his cards is video games.
It’s a reverent experience.
I sit cross-legged in front of my machines and study their contours. I load discs using white tissues so there’s no human contact. I switch on the PS3 and listen to the subdued strings pre-empting my online artistry. I scroll the menus as shapes manifest along the screen like translucent umbilical cords. I feel like I was born in this electric womb, destined to forever return to the yoke of my greatest triumphs. Like the time I took on Tartarus in the control room of Halo 2. That perfect lap in Burnout. The time I butchered Allies in Stranglethorn Vale.
When people tell me bad news, or managers call me into their office, or someone’s telling me I’ve upset them – I’m pulling at my beard thinking about Dark Souls. I’m thinking about those little red triangles that appear when you spot someone on Battlefield. I’m thinking about how the PlayStation controller’s joystick feels like my dog’s nose.
When I’m told to get off my phone I’m thinking about the times I’ve been up all night, struggling to sleep. When I lay in bed contorted and anxious and unhappy until it lights up. It distracts me. Shows me the world. Puts the pinprick of my existence into perspective. It talks to me. For as long as I want it to. About news, politics or plants. It saved me in Venice. In Seville. In Bangkok. Sometimes it shows me pictures of girls.
My heart settles. I leave the Valium on the shelf. I fall asleep sorting through decks on my Hearthstone App.
Because gaming is my tumultuous love affair. I scream in equal parts joy and pain. Phones, glasses and controllers get flung across the room. I sweat, shake and swear. Later on, I’ll lie on the bed and smile, apologising profusely over the headset. Sometimes I’ll stay up until 4am, sorting through problems. Or I’ll stagger around the room in my underwear begging resolve. Rethinking the relationship. Wondering whether it’s all worth it.
But then I remember the good times. I remember that gaming is an addiction that’s never put me in hospital. It’s comforted me before operations or after bad breakups. It is my great narcotic. For the treatment of anxiety or existential weariness.
It’s a picture of my brother and I, strolling through a graveyard off Nepean Highway, laughing and swearing, throwing PokéBalls at an Ivysaur that’s just appeared behind someone’s tombstone.