My grandmother died on New Year’s Day. So just one week after I made the 1,500 mile trip from San Francisco to northern Minnesota for Christmas, I was back for the funeral. It was yesterday.
The trip was familiar. Same airports (SFO, MSP, and DLH), same airline (Delta), same in-flight snack (cookies), same gate (C20), same fast food restaurant that I neglected to eat at (Chik-fil-a). Same. Same. Same. Only the reason for the trip was different. There were no Christmas presents to look forward to this time.
I made sure to come back for Christmas because Grandma had been in rough health for years, and her steady decline made it pretty obvious that this would be her last holiday season. I knew when I left a week ago that I probably wouldn’t see her alive again. It was a sad feeling, but we could all tell she had given up. She was ready to go, and it was only a matter of time.
So when, after a surprising heart attack, she died three days later, it was only a little bit of a shock. I left for my parents’ house the next morning. On the way, I needed an escape on the flight. I retreated into video games. I retreated into LittleBigPlanet on the PSP.
I rarely use games for escape. My life in general is pretty great; I play games for the thrill of success after mastering specific mechanics, or the adrenaline rush of fear brought on by an approaching zombie, or just the ability to see something digitally that I’d never have a chance to encounter in the real world. But on the flight from California to Minnesota, I needed something to take my mind off what I was going home to. I needed something to occupy both sides of my brain to solve problems and think outside the box while also testing my reflexes and hand/eye coordination with some tricky paltforming. I needed Sackboy.
The PSP LittleBigPlanet just has this… innocence about it. There’s a narrator with a soothing voice, letting me know that everything will be alright as long as I jump, grab, and climb through these fantastical levels, helping out strange characters in an attempt to get them into my parade. There’s an incredible soundtrack that pays homage to many of my favorite artists and genres – and even makes music I wouldn’t normally enjoy listenable. There are puzzles that put Mario to shame and jumps that could never hope to. And there are hundreds of things to collect, hidden all over the world. So many hundreds of things to collect.
And this is what I latched onto. So many hundreds of things to collect.
In the level select screen, you’ll see that each level has three possible trophies: Complete the Level (just get to the end), Ace the Level (finish it without dying), and Collect All Gifts (find all the hidden items throughout the stage). This gave me a goal. This gave me something to work towards, anything to keep my mind off the impending funeral. By the end of the flight, I was on the final level of the game, with most of the trophies. After landing, I had to hurry to catch my connection, then I was back into it. LittleBigPlanet and its trophies gave me a way out.
In the two days leading up to the funeral, sleep was hard to come by. So I’d fall back into Sackboy’s world until long after everyone else had fallen asleep. In LBP, death is nothing more than a few seconds of inconvenience. “Just try again,” it would silently encourage me. “You can do it.”
By the day of the funeral, I had all but one trophy. There was this ski lodge level with so many secrets, so many red herrings, and so many areas hidden far beyond where a reasonable person should explore. I covered every inch of that ski lodge, flying high into the nigh-neverending sky with my blue balloon, willing this piece of plastic in my hands to please take me away from all my troubles. Please float me off into the sunset. But it didn’t. It can’t. It’s just a game.
It did, however, keep my body and mind occupied while I slowly came to grips with my new reality. Grandma isn’t here anymore. She isn’t hurting, she isn’t sad, and she isn’t waking up every morning wishing she didn’t. She finally gets to see Grandpa again, her husband of nearly 50 years.
And me? I finally got that last trophy.
Rest in peace, Grandma. You’ve earned it.
(Image credit: the-lagz)