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When the Game Is Over, Where Do Our Avatars Go?

In a recent issue of Wired, Zak Jason writes:

In the 2003 Major League Baseball season, Oreo Queefs stood five-foot-zero, weighed 385 pounds, and, impossibly, stole 214 bases, obliterating the century-old single-season record of 138. A walrus with the legs of a cheetah, Queefs also regularly blasted the ball 500 feet to the opposite field. Over just two seasons with the Florida Marlins, he batted .680, hit 203 home runs, and was ejected for charging the mound 46 times. Then, before even reaching his super alien prime, Queefs vanished into thin air.

A few weeks ago, I received a text from the Marlins manager about what happened to the former Golden Glove winner. Queefs has fallen on hard times. The now 43-year-old lives with his uncle in a rented trailer in Nevada, where they run a failing off-off-Strip sausage stand called Queefs’ Kielbasa Kiosk. He is twice divorced, hasn’t seen his 15-year-old son in 12 years, and is on probation for attempted robbery of a bait-and-tackle shop.

In reality, Oreo Queefs exists only on a PlayStation 2 memory card, now likely corroding in a landfill. The manager is my childhood friend Chris, onetime owner of the EA Sports game MVP Baseball 2003. We conceived Queefs one summer night the only way two 13-year-old boys know how: (via) the game’s Create-a-Player screen. We chose his height, weight, speed, and batting hot zones. We watched with pride as he eviscerated the league. I haven’t played any of these games in a decade, but over the years my friends and I have updated one another on the lives of our created characters. They’ve all plummeted from glory.

The media has been overanalyzing why millennials can’t grow up ever since the oldest millennials have been legal grown-ups. Still, I can’t help but take the fact that at 32—an age when Jesus Christ was leading his friends and much of humanity to eternal salvation—my friends and I text one another during the workday about the video game characters we created when we were teenagers.

The writer Sam Anderson recently quipped that “the world of sports media is basically where American men go to avoid therapy.” As kids, we lived our dreams vicariously through video game characters record-shattering successes. As adults, we process our real setbacks and failures through their imagined setbacks and failures.

Layoffs, anxieties, illnesses, divorce, fertility issues—these are a few of the realities of adulthood that men are generally less than forthcoming about. Instead of discussing these directly, they cope through abstraction. When we talk about our created characters becoming has-beens, we’re (childishly) saying we’re not children anymore. When we bring them up, they finally open the door for us to talk intimately about struggles in our own lives. These children of our childhood are now ad hoc therapists of adulthood.

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