The nurse who loved me: the Nintendo 3DS’ bedside manner

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What? Why are the sheets wet? Was I drooling? Jesus, that’s sweat. Who’s sweating in my bed? It’s getting all over me. Oh, I’m sweating. It’s me. Right, I’m sick. Is that good, that I’m sweating? Doesn’t that mean I’m hydrated? God, I hope so. I can’t drink any more water. Why are my lips so dry? How long is that D20-sized clot of pain going to throb behind my eyes?

It’s still dark out. I can’t believe I woke up before dawn. Looking at the digital clock — oh, shit, the digital clock isn’t turned on, did the power go out? No, no, it’s on, I think. I just have to squint because my eyes are all bleary and I can’t see anything. It’s 7 o’ clock. Why isn’t it light out yet? I have to change these sheets. I’m wearing my clothes? I went to bed in my clothes? I don’t think I can get up just yet. I feel like I’m going to be sick. When did I last eat? Maybe it’s 7 o’ clock in the evening. It is. 7 o’ clock in the evening. Last I remember it was the afternoon and I was just going to lie down for a second because I could see the dark wave coming. What happened to Tuesday? Or Wednesday? Did I have something I had to do today? Is it still Tuesday?

Where’s the DS?

After the jump, the sickness unto Wesker

I used to be a stoner. Long ago. I like to think I outgrew it, but the fact of the matter was that I got bored of it the way some people get bored of fishing or cheeseburgers. The last time I smoked weed was, gosh, probably ten years ago. I was just passing along a bag of weed from one friend to another friend. They didn’t know each other. They were two degrees of separation apart. She wanted some, he knew where to get it, I was just the friend-of-a-friend go-between for each of them. But before delivering it, the curiosity got to me. It had been years, but I figured I’d try a few hits. I did the whole thing with aluminum foil pricked with needleholes and a cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper. If you’ve smoked, you know the drill. A coke can, a piece of fruit, a two-liter plastic bottle, whatever. If you haven’t, surely you can appreciate how need can make McGyvers of us all. Maybe you had to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew. Same thing.

While the sweet thick smell of high school and early college curled up around me, I watched Day of the Dead, the third of George Romero’s classic zombie movies. I hadn’t it seen since I was a kid. I was amazed at how good it was. The acting, the effects, the story, the emotion, the narrative arc, the cinematography, the music, the thematic undertones, the attention to detail, the message. Did I mention the acting? The character playing the main scientist was brilliant. Why didn’t he do more movies? Why wasn’t this guy in serious dramas about important people? I resolved to remember his name and bring him up anytime the conversation turned to underappreciated actors.

And that’s the last time I smoked weed. Altered states of consciousness make it easier to enjoy things, but that’s not always a good thing for the people around you. It’s why stoners will tell you things like Koyaanisqatsi isn’t boring and that Pee Wee Herman series was funny.

So I want you to keep that in mind whenever I talk about Resident Evil: Revelations, a game that got me through a merciless 48-hour bout of mind-bending flu. I could see it coming. My nose started running. It was that simple. Sniff. Then a short time later, sniff again. Allergies? No, because there’s the telltale tickle in my throat. It was like looking out to sea and seeing a dark wave rolling up higher and higher, getting closer and turning the sky dark. All I could do was hold on and wait for it to wash over me.

Except for the last chapter of Revelations, which I’m about to sit down and power through after I write this, I played every moment of the game with a high fever, and the excruciating pain behind my eyeballs of a balloon inside my skull blown up twice as big as my head, and aching muscles as if I’d been in a minor but traumatic car wreck the day before. When the two comic relief characters have their moments in Resident Evil: Revelations, the synapses in my brain were firing unaccountable paths to the conclusion that these guys are the contemporary videogame equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, every bit as eligible for Tom Stoppard to spin around them a darkly comic tale of existential despair. Grinder and Quint Are Dead. Jesus, would my fucking head just go ahead and explode already?

A lot of people talk about using their mobile gaming devices when they’re mobile. Which is great if you have a commute or spend lots of time on airplanes like Alec Baldwin. Ironically, I spend most of my time on mobile gaming devices when I’m as absolutely sedentary as I’m ever going to be: in bed. I used to read books in bed. Sometimes I still do. I have a stack of good intentions next to my bed, and I’ll knock it down a volume every few months. But the PSP and DS and iPhone have taken their toll. When it’s time to go to bed, I usually wind down with something mobile. Did I say wind down? Ha! Given the games made these days, winding down can easily mean playing games until 5am. I’ve just taken it from the living room into the bedroom.

What time is it? I should take off my clothes already. Or change the sheets. This can’t be good for me, getting all moist like this. Oh, what does it matter? Surely it’s as bad as its going to get, short of something inside me going mysteriously and terminally septic. Wait, wouldn’t that feel like this? Like this ball of pain in whatever undiscovered cavity sits behind my eyeballs? Hold on, isn’t that where my brain is? How far behind your eyes is your brain? It can’t be that far, since aren’t brains roughly head sized? Do I have brain fever? Is brain fever a real thing? I should get out of bed and Google that.

There’s a cutscene in Resident Evil: Revelations that is the 9/11 of Resident Evils. Yeah, that’s right. The 9/11. Now Resident Evil has its own 9/11. A utopian city with an iconic tower is beset by terrorists who use the technology of the ruling faction to destroy it. When I’m not delirious, I don’t use the word impactful because it just sounds stupid. But this scene was impactful. I was convinced the name of the city, Terragrigia or some such thing, would be every bit as meaningful as Rapture or, uh, what are some other famous videogame cities? Liberty City doesn’t count because it’s just New York with a different name. Is Ultima Underworld a city? What’s that city in Oblivion, the one with all the stupid loading screens that made me not want to go anywhere near it? Is Crackdown the name of the city or the game? What’s that game where you save Crackdown from violent gangs?

If I do have brain sepsis, at least the corner of my brain that remembers Resident Evil controls is still firing on all cylinders. I’ve long since stopped chucking a grenade when I just want to knife slash a crate. I can even walk backwards a little while shooting. I’ve also got better guns now. The structure of a Resident Evil game is that you get your ass kicked for a while. Just long enough to hate the fuckers. Then you get a shotgun. Oh blessed holy first shotgun of the game, how I love thee, come to me in my hour of need, delivering me from mine enemies, my rod, my staff, my holy boomstick, my Bruce Campbell of the ball, my golden throated siren of the subwoofer. Resident Evil is a revenge drama. Just wait till you go back and replay those early levels. Hey guys, remember me, the easy prey who only had a pistol that took ten shots to kill you? Ho ho ho, now I have a machine gun. And grenades to spare.

I can play for maybe an hour at a time. Or maybe just fifteen minutes. Who can tell? Every time that balloon in my head swells up too much for me to see straight, I clap the DS shut. It’s a reassuring soft sound, like someone wearing mittens clapping. It’s not the clap of shutting a flip phone after you’ve made a dentist appointment for next week or found out that your deadline was just moved up three days or that your car needs a new transmission. It’s the reassuring “I’ll be here” clap of shutting a flip phone after you’ve called a girl and she’s said, yeah, sure, come on over when you get off work. And then an hour or five minutes or a couple of hours or even the next morning, I open my eyes — was I sleeping, or were they just shut for a while? — and fumble around on my bedside table among the bouquet of white kleenex flowers and that bottle of water that’s still that full. That’s all I drank?

Wait, where’s the DS? Oh god, where did it go? Did I get up and carry it off into the house somewhere? Is it in the kitchen? In this state of mind — on some level, like some director’s commentary turned down way low, I’m aware that I’m really sick — I might have even put it in the refrigerator. What happens to a DS in the refrigerator? And will it harm my food? I should write a blog post about that. People write blog posts about putting things in microwaves. I’ll do one for videogames about putting them in the refrigerator. I am a goddamn genius. I’ll try putting them at different places in the refrigerator, like in that little butter compartment in the door or in the crisper drawers at different settings. I’ll study the effects over time. I’ll determine if games run faster or slower, or whether I can fly farther in Tiny Wings, or if I can at last discern any meaningful strategy in Mario Kart. Maybe I can sell this to The Escapist or Kotaku. It will be my debut on Kotaku. Tom Chick Studies the Effects of Cold on Videogames. A million hits!

There it is. The Nintendo 3DS was on the floor because I had to plug it in. It folds open so crisply, so firmly, every bit as decisive and steadfast and reassuring as it shuts. The precise moment where I stopped is patiently waiting for me. Sometimes I think I’m playing Silent Hill. Resident Evil has already ripped off all the zombie movies and The Thing and now it’s resorting to ripping off Silent Hill with these smooth skinned plastic nightmare monsters that are, frankly, absolute triumphs of creature design. They have, like, blades for arms and claw heads. Who thinks of such things? The people who make Resident Evil! The dogs have stubby wing stubs. The pulsing eggman pulses like sacs of spider eggs. Jill Valentine kills them all, because she’s a self-assured, well written, vividly realized, strong female character. Wait, where are the normal zombies? Why can’t I just have normal zombies? This creature design is terrible. Look, ammo. I need ammo. This game is perfect. It anticipates my needs. No, I need more ammo than this. I died. The checkpoint is back this far? I don’t care. This game is utterly genius. I have to stop playing for five minutes. When did it get light outside? Was I supposed to be somewhere today?

Does the 3DS have Doppler effects? Because that’s like 3D sound. I can jam this 3D slider all the way to the top, because I’ve already got as bad a headache as I’m ever going to get. I’ll even go into the options screen and set the maximum extreme uber 3D depth so that it looks like the hit point bar over a monster’s head is 300 feet in front of the monster itself. Let’s see you reach your hit point bar now! I shoot you. I shoot you. I’m online now with someone named Hiro. We’re playing one of the levels I’ve already played, but it doesn’t matter because I’m leveling up and unlocking weapons. I wish I could talk to Hiro and tell him that how close I feel we are, him and me, even though he’s probably in Japan and might not know English. That would just make us closer. We would communicate through the actions of our avatars, Jill Valentine and whoever that guy is he’s unlocked that I don’t have yet.

I was hoping I could use the word febrile while I was writing this. That’s a great word. It looks like that’s not going to work out.

In one of my dreams, which felt like places instead of dreams, I was playing Rayman Origins, a game I’ve been meaning to play. I’ve been meaning to play it so much that it’s literally physically sitting on my actual dining room table ready for me to open it whenever I get out of bed. I’ve been meaning to play it so much that I dreamed about playing it. And let me tell you this one thing more than anything else I’ve told you about Resident Evil: Revelations, which is one of the finest games ever made: it was awesome.

Tom Chick is feeling much better now. The picture at the top of this article is from an indie game called Mirage.