Dear 19-about-to-turn-20 year old Johnny,
The impending decade should be the best decade of your life. It should mark the time of independence as you finally chase that dreams of living on the mainland, living in London or Brighton.
2010 at 19 years old, your first full year as a full-time member of staff at a place where you only joined as a member of the community a year-and-a-half earlier and make aspirations to write for them. Pat and Steph are two of the best people ever – even if you irk Steph once or twice over MSN because you’re a massive idiot – but you’re excited all the same to work with them and at VG247 as you go into your twenties, especially with a redesign on the way. As you start your twenties, you find yourself sorta quasipromoted: not quite promoted, but you get a new job title in the same role and you get a pay rise.
Basically put, 2011 is the start of your twenties. Your twenties are set to become a defining period in your life. And by all accounts, it will be awesome. It should be awesome… right?
Friend, I need to sit you down. You’re gonna wanna grab a drink for this. Are you comfortable? You’re going to need to take a big gulp of this. Ready?
Johnny, your twenties are, for all intents and purposes, a massive blowout. And I don’t mean ‘blowout’ in a get tanked and drunk way. I mean it is an incredibly bad time. But that comes later. For now, 2011 is the only good all-round year that is brilliant.
Personally, it’s not too bad. In fact it’s great. It could be better. You have no love life, which is a bit of a kick, but otherwise, it’s such a fantastic year. You produce some of the best work of your career. Although your main focus is on news, you start dabbling in other areas you’ve not covered before in such extensive ways and certainly not for VG247. You start getting handed bigger responsibilities. For a day or two during the year, you basically become defacto Editor-in-Chief of one of the biggest games websites in the world. All that two years after joining the site.
Six months after losing your passport in Cologne during gamescom in what was the worst time of your life (oh don’t worry, that gets topped), you’re ecstatic that your second passport is approved like if it doesn’t get approved, it’s basically the end of the world. Once you get your passport, the next day (you post a really crappy selfie you look really bad in), Pat asks you if you want to go to Utah in the United States to go see Skyrim and other Bethesda games as part of its pre-E3 event. You lose your shit — you’re going to the US for the first time. It’s one of the most eye-opening trips you ever have – personally or professionally (the most eye-opening one comes eight years later) – as you socalise with cool people, writers you look up to. Johnny, you have fucking dinner with Tom Bramwell. TOM FUCKING BRAMWELL. Yes, you met him a few months earlier at gamescom, but here you are having dinner with the person who basically got you into this industry – your actual hero – on this trip along with the rest of the UK contingent on this trip and you think to yourself, ‘I’ve fucking made it’. You also tell Todd Howard he put on a great demo of Skyrim as you check out of the hotel and wish him the best for finishing the game.
Skyrim becomes the biggest game ever, basically (for two years at least). There’s also that image of Bethesda’s UK PR boss dressed in a referee shirt and looks like he’s about to reenact the Montreal Screwjob that encapsulates the trip. But anyway, I’m getting off-topic.
You start dabbing your hand into long-form writing out of previews, writing stuff that grows your confidence as a writer. You write a semi-profile piece on Naughty Dog and its 25 year history at the end of 2011. You get such a positive response to it. You get a massive, massive thrill when you’re told Amy Hennig – AMY FUCKING HENNIG – shared your piece on Facebook. She’ll end up following you on Twitter a few years later and while you don’t usually care if famous people or people who you think are cool follow you – at most, you’ll go ‘oh cool, x is following me’ (this is even the case when the actual Ric Flair follows you until he unfollows you a few weeks later) or at most have the Final Fantasy victory fanfare theme play in your head if someone really cool follows you – you actually find yourself giddy and excited at the fact the creative director of one of your favourite games ever follows you on Twitter (expect that to happen a few times over the course of the decade, though).
You come back to the ‘scene of the crime’ in that you return to Cologne for gamescom a year after losing your passport. And not only do you keep an eye on that bastard thing like a fucking hawk until you leave Germany (though sorry, friend, you lose it again in 2019 just as you’re on the verge of having to apply for a new one and as a result, you have to declare it lost to get a new one until you find the bastard thing in a coat pocket weeks after getting a passport that gives you reduced time on it, two years, rather then the usual ten years), but it turns out this one goes a lot better than before. You’re at your most productive and not only that, you get to finally meet a really close friend you’ve known since the PlayStation forum days, now with both of you working in the same industry.
You get close as friends over the years and even in 2016 (don’t worry, we’ll get to that) they are the closest thing you have to a best friend at that time. In fact, that person saves your life. That’s not an exaggeration. You confide in them two massive secrets that get out (again, we’ll get to that), but they are massively wonderful about it and you’re lucky to have them. But then you sort of take it for granted, basically leaning on them to talk with them often to the point they become a defacto therapist and you both start drifting away. You still see each other at one or two events and chat a bit whenever, but otherwise, you’re not as close to them as you were before despite basically them being your longest friendship. You don’t actually know if they drifted away from you because of said friendship being taken for granted or other reasons. Nevertheless, you should do the thing I’ve not done yet: apologise for that and stop taking things for granted. Even if, like me, you still don’t quite know how to get there.
Gamescom goes well. You then find yourself in London for the first time a month later. Eurogamer Expo. You then meet up with people you’ve gotten to know on Twitter and from there, you have some brilliant days, one of the weeks of your life. It makes you realise how much you want to move to London. You become more determined after hanging out at the social events in London – Roxy O’Connor’s nearly don’t let you into its place were it not for a trick you used (quite how you used a photo of your passport on your phone as ID and for it to work as it did because you’re fucking petrified of losing it again after what happened a year earlier in Cologne, you or me will never understand), while the StickTwiddlers party the following night has you giddy at what could be. You feel like on top of the world after that week.
The rest of 2011 goes well and while again you have no love life or much of a social life because of ‘that thing’ (we’ll get to that) and being a socially-inapt idiot outside of those trips to the US, Germany and the mainland, you’re still otherwise happy with how things went that year. You’re excited to see how 2012 holds up as a result and the hope it’ll be another good year.
Johnny, 2012 is the beginning of the shit river that is the majority of the 2010s and 3/4 of your 20s. And it only gets worse.
Basically, at the end of 2011, you and your cousin – the person who means the world to you at that time – have a massive falling out. And you don’t speak for three years. It’s only when a certain event happens – we’ll come to that – you (slowly) reconcile, but at the start of 2017 (literally the first day of the year, New Year’s Day), something happens which blows up the relationship you are slowly rebuilding and then you discover later in the month that they’ve been telling people you’re bi.
Oh yeah, you realise that you’re queer, friend. And it comes at the worst time too, and I’ll get to that, but you eventually realise that and slowly start coming out to a group of people including that super close friend from above and few other queer ID-ing posse you’re close to. Later on, you come out to Michael, Joanne, Leanne, Eibhin (Eibhin, by the way, is your nephew, born in 2014 from Michael and Leanne) and Anthony (Joanne’s new beau – forget that other one) while Claire and Brianna stand on looking because they already know for reasons (Brianna becomes a big part of your life, especially post-2014).
You find out a few hours later just before coming out publicly the following day that cousin has been telling people before you even came out to your family. Wonderful. Still, the response to you coming out publicly is overwhelmingly positive and despite a member of your family becoming a homophobic shitheel to you one day, you – mostly – feel at peace now that everything is out.
But that blowup between them and you at the end of 2011 would go on to define a big aspect of 2012 and how you see most people going forward. Friend, for a variant of circumstances, you’re let go from VG247. It just fell apart, but you realise it was also the right thing to happen. That doesn’t mean it didn’t suck, but you accept it for what it was and you’re still on good terms with Pat to the point where you come back a few times to do freelance work, though you make a decision down the line that looking back on you that you regret as you hear interest in another outlet in you only to turn out it was nothing.
It’s because of that interest you turn down the opportunity to do news again for gamescom that year for VG247 and from there, it never happens at the site that has an apparent interest in you or in doing regular news for VG247 again. But the day you’re let go, you also find out something that massively breaks your trust in people to the point it makes you stand-off ish a bit and become heavily reluctant to trust other people from there on out. For that instance alone, it’s probably best you didn’t do news for VG again, but it still stings. Besides those two major flashpoints from those two people, there’s other instances too where you feel ready to start trusting certain people only to realise they’re being asses too, although they’re minor compared to those two above. Still, there are people who care for you, even when you find yourself in your lowest ebb.
2012 isn’t all bad, though. Eurogamer Expo 2012 is another success and the StickTwiddlers party gives you belief that maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay in the end (lol nope). And you make your debut for Official PlayStation Magazine UK that year too. And the Games Media Awards that year you attend just to say hi socially for folks. It’s a good night: you see people you’re excited to hang with, James Binns introduces you to Kieron Gillen and you have a few chats during the night (and it’s where you get your OPM assignment basically). Oh yeah, you suddenly start realising that same night you start developing feelings for someone you met earlier in the year and welllllllllllll… that doesn’t go well.
You have those feelings for someone and you hold onto them for nearly a year before you blurt it out to them as they are leaving the StickTwiddlers party at Eurogamer Expo 2013. It doesn’t go your way (you know it won’t go your way because you feel out of your league but you say fuck it anyway), but they are very very nice about it, they give you a nice hug and that’s it. That entire Eurogamer Expo 2013 defined around that moment because you decided four months earlier after your soon to become annual May trip to London you were gonna tell them. Nevertheless, you live, you learn, you accept and move on. And hey, there will be more Eurogamer Expos to come that will be as exciting as this one in 2013. There’s always next year, right?
Johnny, there’s no way to sugar coat this so I’m going to bluntly say it: Mammy dies. And as a result, 2014 is a massive write-off.
She’s rushed to hospital in September and is given last rites that night, but she makes it through that night. But because of the situation at that time, you decide to cancel your trip to Eurogamer Expo that year. And this is something that goes on for a few months before the end subsequently comes in November. That’s how you reconcile with ‘them’ before everything goes down there at the start of 2017.
It’s also during this period when Mammy is in the hospital where you realise your personal identification of being bi/queer is valid thanks to Mandy and Orla (you know Mandy a teeny bit by the start of 2011, but you become closer as friends over the years and they basically become your queer godfriend in a way in that they basically inspire you in terms of queer identity, queer politics and just all-round queerness; Orla you won’t get to know until 2012 but she’s also a kickass person too). And while this is all happening at the worst fucking time, you feel relief that your specific interpretation of being queer is real, is worthwhile and is absolutely very much valid.
Although she never gets to find out about you being bi, even up until those last few days, she remained proud of you: she gushes to anyone who listens about a six-page piece (!) you do for Official PlayStation Magazine UK (!!) on a game that replaces Metal Gear Solid 3 as your favourite game (!!!), a game that was announced at the tail-end of 2011, The Last of Us by Naughty Dog (!!!!).
But it only gets worse from there. We both know Mammy was an instrumental part of our lives. And it hits. It really hits. 2015 was okay. That podcast you start in late 2014 where you talk to people in the industry about their favourite game as you go through the stuff with Ma is two seasons deep, a third to begin, when you’re nominated for an award for it.
Unfortunately, that same day, you feel massive impostor syndrome as the day goes on to the point the next morning, you have two massive panic attacks. The first one, though, is the one where you genuinely think you’re going to die. All the stress from the past year, working on writing and podcast, the pressure to live up to the promise you made to Mammy that you would make the masterplan work as well as the pressure to live up to other people that think what you’re doing is a massive waste of time. All that despite hosting and producing an award-nominated podcast as well as a well-received opinion piece that OPM commissions from you to write about games and how they help the grief process (something Matt Pellett still asks you if you want to do a month after Ma dies as you email him literally the day shit goes down in relation to her to the point you ask him to can the piece). It starts taking a toll on you.
You go to London, you go to the awards, you lose and that’s it. You go to Brighton to meet Tom Bramwell and Korina Abbott for drinks and dinners respectively and it means a lot at that time to see two people who mean the world to you when you’re clearly still going through something. And then you go home after a final night in London that you hope turns into something but doesn’t (although you do go to Dalston to Loading to check out Marioke and catch up with the One Life Left crew because you want to salvage something at least). Those are basically the only highlights of 2015 (well, besides the four-day charity stream Twitch stream for Macmillan because you want to acknowledge the incredible work they did for helping with Ma, Da, you, Michael, Kevin and Joanne).
Then the first anniversary comes up. And you’re so out of it emotionally that for the week leading up to it, you basically become a mute. You don’t talk at all or very, very rarely. Even when someone tries to talk to you, you basically keep stum. It’s a hard week. But you get by that and you get by 2015 otherwise unscathed.
But I honestly need to prepare you for just how awful 2016 is. 2016 is so fucking bad, it overtakes the year Ma died to become the worst year ever. It. Is. BAD. Absolutely fucking bad. I feel like I can not understate or overstate just how bad it really is. Basically put:
- You feel the most loneliest you’ve ever been as you pine for the people you care for about so much. Not family, just friends you really want to see again but are unable to because…
- You don’t want to leave the house. You only leave the house to go to the corner shop that is literally 50 yards away, but otherwise, you refuse to leave
- You become that much of a hermit. You don’t leave, you keep your curtains closed even in broad daylight, you’re screaming at anyone and everyone who comes to your door besides Da and Joanne
- You receive no commissions for the full year and you barel have enough energy to produce and finish up Season 4 of My Favourite Game before it really takes hold
- You… you basically have the feeling of wanting to die. You don’t do anything because you’re too much of a wuss, but those thoughts are there in passive form at least: a tree coming down on top of you, a car or lorry veering into you as it loses control, etc
You have no idea how to handle all this. Ma was the closest person we had in our life who we could turn to, even when we were not a good person when she had no idea how to cope with us and our big ware (oh trust me, we’ll get to that) and there’s no one in your life who you feel you can go to about this sort of thing. You don’t know how, frankly. Even the literal one or two people you trust at that time with your life, you don’t know how to approach them with this.
Basically, you lose the will to live. You don’t care at that point what happens to you. But then, one day, something happens that you don’t forsee coming. And it’s probably the one good moment out of 2016 out of everything that happens before that point and everything after it (because the end of 2016, fucking hell, you honest to God won’t know how you survived that period for reasons as well as the whole telling You-Know-Who about being queer at your literal lowest ebb ).
Joanne is about to go on holiday with Anthony. And she’s over to pick up one or two things and check in on you, what with the funfair/show still out at that time. And although she doesn’t say anything directly about your deteriorating mental state, you know that she knows there’s something there.
For some reason, the conversation you have naturally falls into what’s happening with you and what should be a five, ten minute conversation goes on for an hour (or it feels like an hour at least). At that point, you talk with her and you’re somewhat encouraged by what she’s saying to the point you start seriously looking into an official diagnosis. It’s only when later that night you talk to your close friend from the industry on the phone that you decide it might actually be time to do it.
Johnny, I know it’s weird for you to hear this – and it’s honestly weird for me to say this, for what it’s worth, considering how many fucking battles and fights we had with her growing up (and there’s still the odd one now and then) – but truth talk: Joanne saves your life. That close friend I reference above (you will know who) saves your life. They both save our life. Be grateful to them for the rest of your days. Even if Joanne fries your head in so many fucking times after.
You go to see Doctor Doherty. Claire helps you out in that regard a bit. You get an official diagnosis of depression and anxiety. But even when you get that diagnosis, you get that aforementioned relapse from earlier. And your meds start kicking in around the time of the second anniversary of Ma’s passing and it makes you beyond frustrated and tired as you try and get sleep and go to bed at a decent time only to wake up two or three hours later (at best) with all the energy of the Duracell bunny only to then fall back asleep an hour-and-a-half to two hours later.
You are literally counting down at that point to the end of 2016 in months, weeks, days and minutes. You have the one thing to look forward to again, even if it is the most stupidest thing to look forward to. At least games that year are very good.
2017, you have certain things happen. Obviously, the whole coming out thing, the family shit that goes down, etc. But other things too. And they actually serve as a slight uptick in how things would go. For a start, you’d write a book. Oh yeah. You. Write. A. Book. About games. And it gets published. Johnny, YOU WRITE A FUCKING BOOK ABOUT GAMES. It’s otherwise a still bit of a meh yeah, but a meh year is still massively better than the year before.
2018 starts the same way 2017 does on New Year’s Day: family. Thankfully, in a good way this time. Michael and Leanne – you’re not gonna believe this (seriously, when Leanne tells you they’re doing it considering how many times they’ve said they wouldn’t, you literally don’t believe it at first) – actually end up getting married. For real. Compared to the New Year’s Day the year before, it’s actually a nice day and it’s a day for everyone you know in Derry to basically come together and basically have a defacto piss up.
2018 is a much, much better year than 2017. For a start, you join the now business-oriented reboot of GameDaily as a freelance newsie. And it’s there you meet some of the best people ever as well as properly work with James Brightman for the first time. But your boss is a wonderful person who you’ll come to know around 2017. Amanda Farough, Johnny, is straight up one of the best people. I can not emphasise that enough. She is wonderful.
And there’s one other thing that happens in 2018 which makes you go insane in happiness. It also happens too in 2013, but it means more on this occasion. Are you sitting for this? Can you be calm for this? Actually, it doesn’t matter, go nuts.
You write for Eurogamer.
I’ll repeat that for you so it feels even more real. YOU. WRITE. FOR. EUROFUCKINGGAMER.
In 2013, you write a profile piece on Jennifer Hale. You go fucking bonkers with happiness when you read the email from Martin Robinson accepting your pitch after so many failed pitches at him before to the point you think it will never happen. And despite the irony too it’s published a year to the day since you announced you’d left VG247 – one of the shittiest days ever in your career – leaves you with one of the most proudest days of your career.
For this one in 2018, you have a call with Donlan. It’s not even meant to be about work or pitching him something, rather it’s just a personal call as he checks up on you (this takes place at the end of 2016) and you find yourself naturally just telling him about a Journey piece you want to do (Remember when I said there’ll be one game that gets added to your top ten games of all time? That’s it. Remember? It got announced at the end of your teens). You’re not actually pitching him, it’s just you talking about one of your dream pieces and what you want to do as you get set to start writing again. And then just out of curiosity, you ask him if it’s something he’d be up for commissioning. And he does.
It takes a lot longer than expected because of the fact that you’re writing the book, but it gets out days before your ninth anniversary writing professionally in the industry. And it is just the best possible feeling. You feel so proud that in some form or another, you will have written about the three games that mean so much to you for the three outlets that inspired you to get into writing about video games. It’s a monumental personal achievement.
But I have to tell you something in relation to it: The Masterplan doesn’t pan out. Ever. Much as you try to make that ‘work for Eurogamer and live in Brighton’ dream happen and live up to what you – and I – promised to Ma, it doesn’t happen. No matter how hard you try to make it happen, it just doesn’t. You’re scared of telling people – even despite having that meeting in 2015 where you basically open up to someone about it who could make it happen – but something happens where you basically go for broke anyway and basically publicly admit to it on Twitter.
Unfortunately, out of anything in this letter, that something is probably the hardest thing that happens during your twenties. But context first.
The first half of 2019 is a really surprisingly good period. Joanne and Anthony get married and you’re all fucking losing your shit to Maniac 2000 at the reception. But you have a massive shutdown and breakdown the night after because of a culmination of things that you should probably discover for yourself. But the wedding weekend on top of five years worth of mental gremlins and shit at that point is your breaking point. You find yourself sobbing for about an hour in your hotel room and bathroom before you finally show up to drink in the bar with your family. But you’re still a heavy mess. Laura spots you and takes you aside, even in a massive drunken haze, to talk to you. That means a lot.
After that, though, it’s a really good period.
You’re putting in good work with GameDaily, you end up going to London for the first time in three-and-a-half years to your first EGX event in six-and-a-half years and your first EGX Rezzed ever. You get some commission work. You meet the absolute most wonderful people. The industry party is legitimately one of the best nights of your life, let alone career. It feels like validation. It’s just a wonderful night. And it’s also at Rezzed the seed for an idea is set in your head for something that becomes a lot bigger than even you expect.
And then, July. And July is the tale of two opposites. In the best and worst possible ways
You’ll be going to Berlin on holiday for what is essentially a four-day trip. All three full days you’re there for, you’ll be hanging out with Kristin. She’s someone who you slowly start getting to know from around 2013, but she becomes one of your closest friends. She is an absolutely incredible friend and is just… even now, I have no words to aptly describe her, but she is the best person. That Berlin trip also changes your life in ways you can never begin to imagine even before you get there. And even though you aren’t able to do the main thing you went to Berlin for in the first place – don’t worry, we’ll find a way to do sometime down the line – it is still one of the most life-defining periods of your life. It was perfection.
On the opposite end of the spectrum – and I chose that intentionally – the day after you get back, the autism gets outed. It’s no-one’s fault here besides yours/mine for not doing enough to keep it from getting out, although you do fucking explode a few days later at someone in the family for it (take a guess at who). But you go into one of the worst mental health spirals ever. That thing we worked so hard to keep private, the one thing that we never ever wanted people to know about besides a literal handful of people who are the closest people you know and the people you trust most, the thing that we wanted kept private in the fears it would affect what people would think of you, would ruin potential work possibilities or would use it to take advantage of you. It was out. It is out. The mask that we would wear in the hope we would come across as normal was gone. Honestly, it’s hard just even trying to pretend to being normal now. In so many ways. It’s just baffling how hard it is. Equally as baffling is just how many people don’t seem to get how it all works at least with you.
And that’s when 2019 takes a massive crater in a massive, massive way. After Ma dies, a few other folks in the family pass. Nanny goes less than two years later. Amanda goes less than two years after that. And then a year-and-a-half after that, Carol. And that one hits you the most out of the ones post-Ma for reasons that I don’t want to write to you about because even now, even if this is just for you, it’s hard to talk about in detail because it is something that affected me and will affect you when you encounter it.
You also get life-altering dental surgery that will affect your daily living for the better. Yup, it’s not the scenario I envisioned, but it happens. And if nothing else, you look a lot better and you have more cause to smile more in photos. Monaghan 1999 will be a distant memory afterwards and we have no fear left from it after the surgery happens, but how we end up in that position to actually require surgery is and will be our fault. But it is what it is and it will build the self-esteem greatly.
But something else happens that day too. And… well… I don’t want to tell you exactly what happens besides it happens a few minutes before you go under the anaesthetic because you’re terrified of dying (even though it’s your third time being knocked out and nothing has happened before). The reason for that is because, well, feelings are complicated. Love is complicated. And you’ll find that out a few times over the course of your twenties, but especially during that day and afterwards. For better or worse, it’s something you should experience for yourself by yourself without me telling you what it is. That’s the magic – again, for better or worse – of love. You gotta love it (heh). But I will say this: they are incredible and mean the world to you. That’s all you need to know.
Remember when I said that EGX Rezzed would end up planting a seed in your head and it would grow into something that would become much bigger than it is. It’s towards the end of the year that you start showing off to people what you would call Mapel, your vision of what you want a games website to be. At EGX Main that year, you would show it off more to outside the PR/marketing circle and the reception would be insanely positive. With seeing some awesome people, the industry party being wonderful, the reaction to what would become Play Diaries being incredible and even doing a talk on being queer in the games industry with some absolutely fantastic people that seems to be positively received, the show is a massive success and you already can’t wait to go back to London for the first big event of 2020 to talk up the site, organise new content and show off the business cards that – although you’d yet to get printed – you had designed and were excited to show off.
That does not happen. But I’ll get to that.
The week after, you go to New York. And honestly, the half-day from Dublin Airport to making your Airbnb in Chinatown is the single worst half-day you have in your life. The holiday debit card you acquire for it which has all your holiday money for it gets frozen and it’s a massive ballache to get sorted before it gets unblocked again. Pre-clearance TSA pulls you aside and the tone of their questions gives you such massive, massive anxiety to the point that even if you get through and they let you on (which they do), you have this massive temptation to tuck tail and get back on the next bus back to Derry because that mixed with your ASD and being on the cusp of a mental shutdown as a result = NOOOOOPE.
Because the card is still blocked at this point and remains blocked until the following day, you are on the actual cusp of a shutdown more in JFK than you were in pre-clearance in Dublin. Somehow, though, you exchange any sterling you have left into dollars to get on a train that besides a stop or two gets you into Manhattan and Union Sq/Madison Square Garden to meet up with Manda and Mike Futter who calm you down because HOLY RECOGNISABLE FACES, JOHNNY. They take you to dinner, pay for you because of the situation and also because of how wonderful humans they are. You manage to get to your Airbnb afterwards despite the ridiculousness of sorting it all out and the fact your phone is literally on the cusp of dying and that if it goes dead, you are fucked because it holds all the details to get into the place.
After that, though, it goes swimmingly. You have lunch with Tim Clark – who moved from the UK to the US a few years earlier – and talk about the business and about Pat (who goes off the grid subsequently a few years down the line), the card gets unblocked, you end up telling Manda and Mike face to face rather than on Slack you’re leaving GameDaily (and, although it is a holiday, it is the main reason why you wanted to go to New York because you owed them that much of courtesy) to do Play Diaries, you go to the top of Rockefeller Plaza despite a massive anxiety and ASD flareup, you go to a stop away from your AirBnB to Brooklyn and the Barclays Center – being built right now as you read this – to visit the spot where what would become your favourite wrestling match ever happens (I’ll give you a slight hint: Triple H basically builds his dream indie fed and it’s here where the match happens. One more hint: remember these words – the Four Horsewomen. You heard me), you visit Times Square and so much more.
The trip is affected by the amount of time the card is frozen until it’s unblocked, but after that, you salvage what you can from it. And you promise yourself you’ll be back from 30th in 2021.
And you will be back in New York. You will be back in Berlin. And you will be back in London. But it won’t be 2020. And chances are at this rate, it won’t be in 2021 either.
2020 is a writeoff. Metaphorically and literally. It is a year that sees a global pandemic happen. Three good things happen this year, but only three good things. One, your 29th birthday. You spend it – or rather the day after it – in Belfast with two brilliant people in the form of Vicky and Adam and is arguably the only day that you’ll have that is stress-free. Two, after nearly a year’s worth of work into it, you launch Play Diaries. It becomes a massive achievement for you to be able to reach that day and finally show off the work you’ll be putting into it in a few years time, even if you get a massive behind-the-scenes headache later that day. And three, an Irish games industry event known as Run for the Border where you hang with Vicky and Adam as well as mingle with some other awesome folks in the industry and one person in particular who’s incredible enthusiasm for what they’re working on inspires you with Play Diaries.
But after that, it all goes downhill.
You go into the worst your depression will ever be. Those passive thoughts will be back. You try to fight out of it, though, in May. You get a monumental opportunity to talk for an hour to Remedy’s Sam Lake for a Play Diaries thing to celebrate the tenth anniversary of one of your favourite games ever, Alan Wake. And it is legitimately one of the most fun interviews you get as you get to gush of it, a future Remedy game that ties into it called Control and Twin Peaks (oh yeah, Twin Peaks comes back and you really get into it for the first time) and how its most recent season is the best season of TV ever. It’s legitimately one of the most fun interviews you’ll ever get to do.
And no one will ever read or listen to it. Because you fucked up immensely going for a different recording technique by recording off your Mac (or attempting to) than the usual of the PC. The file never recorded. And despite an attempt to rearrange, it doesn’t pan out. It’ll live in your head rent-free for as long as you live. Lord knows its tortured me enough this year, so if I get to live through it, you get to too ahead of time. I’ll hope one day it can happen again. I hope you do too.
Unfortunately, the year only gets worse from there. You buy an electric scooter to help with messages during the pandemic. That’s good, right? Not when you break your ankle and break your elbow/arm, it isn’t. And especially when you have to have surgery on the aforementioned ankle. Oh fun.
But just as you think maybe this depression is starting to lift, especially after a month where you think things are going to be okay after all, you get an email that forces you to have a reckoning with yourself and examine you, your personality, being around others and your autism. It’s horrible. It actually sends you into a deeper, deeper spiral into depression that’s still here now. It’s horrendous and awful. But that self-examination needs to be done. We need to fight like hell and feel worthy of being here. Because we have to.
That’s on top of other things in 2020 too. You will lose friends because, frankly, you didn’t listen to warnings that someone was shitty (forgiving nature or not, you had a gut instinct telling you something was up – but you didn’t listen. And that’s on you). You will lose another aunt this year in untimely circumstances (Annemarie). You will wonder if being alone – family, friends, etc – is probably for the best for so many reasons because of this year. You will have a moment where you will walk to St Columbs Park at night and basically let rip at the sky and scream at the amount of shit that has happened to you this year.
2020 feels like the culmination of things I’ve gone through and that you will go through the next ten or so years. I can only hope that when I turn 30 on Saturday and that when you turn 30 in ten years time, it can only get better from here on out. It has to. We have to believe it will at the very very least. Because if not, what’s the point, then?
Our 20s have been – and in your case, will be – bad. There have been moments where its been too bad and even good and great at times. But otherwise, its a write-off. So lets take the learning experiences that we did have over these past ten years and use them as learning experiences as well as teaching moments. On growth, on being better, on love, on trust, on people, on life.
I struggled – and you will too – for a long time with surviving. But… no matter what, you keep something to fight for.
It’s a quote from that new favourite game you cover for Official PlayStation Magazine in 2014. But its intent and meaning is no less the truth as a result. We got to keep finding something. We got to keep finding meaning. Not because we have to. But because we must.
Happy 20th, buddy. It only goes downhill from here, but in doing so, it’ll provide resilience for the future.
And be kind to yourself. For Ma. For them. For you.