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When Video Games Get Stuck In Your Head

"Hey, Portal 2 came today! I'll just pop it in real quick. You know, check it out while the wife is getting ready for bed. Just to see if it's worth keeping."

***

4 a.m.

I stumble upstairs and into bed, realizing I've forgotten to brush my teeth only after I've already gotten comfortable. Next time, I reason, I'll just leave a portal in the mirror so I can brush my teeth from bed. That would also come in handy if I need to take a leak during the night. I wouldn't have to stand, bleary-eyed and legs shaking like a new-born calf, to roll myself down the stairs to the bathroom. I could just unbutton and arc the urine stream from portal to portal. But wait, I suddenly remember, I left the exit portal in the mirror, not in front of the toilet. I'm going to have to portal over some of that blue bouncy gel first, cover the far wall with it and reflect the stream off of that and into the bowl.

No, it's totally normal that I just laid down and now I'm faced with an intricate logic puzzle revolving around urine and OH GOD I'M PEEING

Some small, timid, rational part of my brain pokes at the wall of nonlogic: You've gotten your realities backwards.

I shake my head, trying to clear out the incessant portaling keeping me awake. Just try to run through something boring, man. Do the budget in your head: Cell phone bill is $150, and that's due on 3rd. Internet is $60, due on the 7th. Car payment on the 10th, but the check doesn't come in until the 12th, so we're just going to have to portal the car bill over here to the 15th and goddammit.

Or you could just portal all the bills to the garbage can, and BAM! Time to ride some go-karts.

***

Jesus, why does it always hurt to wake up? My mouth tastes like a combination of ass and a Subway sandwich -- and Subway sandwiches already taste like a combination of ass and olives. I can feel my heart beat, thick and heavy. How do people do this every single day? It can't be this bad for everybody. Some assholes must just spring out of bed in full running gear and greet the new day like a dog greets a long-gone owner. Those dirty sons of bitches.

All right.

OK.

Just suck it up. Be a man. Move that leg.

That leg is not moving.

We have to figure a way out of these oppressive blankets. Wait: If you shot a blue portal on the floor here, right next to the bed, and then shot an orange portal upright against the far wall there, you could just roll out of bed, fall through the blue portal, and the momentum would shove you through the orange portal - standing and maybe even moving a little. Yeah, yeah! That'll work. So OK, here we go, firing the portaaaaaw shit.

***

Despite my legs creaking and groaning like the hold of an old sailing ship, and the dull burning of my eyes as the lids scrape cruelly across them, I manage to make it down to the bathroom, wash my face and brush my teeth before the wife knocks on the door.

"Can I start getting ready too?" she asks. I roll my eyes, take a step back and dutifully shoot a portal to the door, and another to the shower behind me. I stare at myself from behind. Jesus, you idiot, you put a portal on the inside of the door.

On the plus side, it's the only time you'll get an actual, in-person view of your own ass.

Wait, portals are a real thing, right?

I thrash awake.

"What's wrong, honey?" She can tell I'm not fully sleeping.

"Portals. I keep forgetting whether or not I can do them," I reply, my brain still half-submerged in sleep.

"You can't," she answers helpfully. "You can't do portals. Did you stay up all night playing your game?"

"Yeah. Don't use the orange one right now; it leads to the toilet."

"What?"

***

It's morning. Late for work again.

Shit. Shit. I haven't had time to make coffee yet. Do I push the late window a few more minutes to gain some much-needed alertness, or try to minimize the damage by leaving right now, and risk sleep-driving into the median or sideswiping another school bus?

And then an idea: The wife's leaving now. I'll just shoot a portal onto her car, and step through it once she's passing through downtown. Hell, I can walk from there in five minutes! I can do both! That's it! Just use your head, buddy. That's how you're gonna beat 'em.

Moments later, a tiny, mousy voice: No portals.

Nope. Not a thing.

***

Doing 75 on the freeway, holding a cup of hot water with grounds floating on the surface.

The guy in front of me is driving a white Jetta, like a goddamn sorority girl, and he hasn't nudged past 47 in miles. Worse: He's doing it right next to a semi in the other lane that's struggling with the steep grade. He has formed a mobile roadblock constructed solely of incompetence and fuckery.

Really, man? For fucking ... really?! Why do people do this? Where did you even get 47 from?! I can understand, OK -- I can understand doing, say, 55. All the signs list that as the legal speed limit and you're going to obey those signs because, clearly, you have no balls. They're gone. They've migrated into your torso, got caught up in your bloodstream and have settled in the part of your brain responsible for reading numbers because that sign does not say forty god damn seven! NO SIGN SAYS THAT.

Don't.

Don't get frustrated. There's no point to it. There is a way out of this. They wouldn't design a situation without an answer. You just haven't found what it is yet. Take a step back, and think. Maybe if you put a portal on the back of this trailer, some of that red superspeed-gel will come along.

... or maybe you can just portal in some Preparation H for the GIANT, GAPING ASSHOLE THAT IS SOMEHOW INEXPLICABLY PILOTING AN AUTOMOBILE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

Or, wait -- maybe you're supposed to land a portal on that billboard up ahead, drive through the one on the trailer, and ramp out of the one on the sign. Could that really be the answer? That seems insane. That is some Dukes of Hazzard shit right there. You're missing something simple. Right? No? Well, hell -- it looks like you're gonna have to try it, because there's no speed-gel anywhere and sonofabitchyoucan'tshootportals.

DO THE SPEED LIMIT, YOU TESTICLE-LOBED CORNHOLE! GRAAHHH! THIS COFFEE-WATER TASTES LIKE A FUCKING WAR CRIME.

***

The boss is pissed off in his snide, passive-aggressive little way. "Oh hey, guy, listen: I totally understand that stuff comes up sometimes. It's not a problem! Everybody's late now and then, it's just that -- and I don't know if you even knew this -- but we had a presentation today. Which you were late for? Remember? You probably didn't realize. That would explain why you also forgot last quarter's fiscal reports ..."

"Oh shi- OK. Hold on. I think I still have the orange one up in the mirror. I'll just portal back home, grab the reports and ... ah ..."

"Portal? Is that a computer thing?"

"No. It's ... it's what the teenagers say. It's like, uh, it means like 'haul ass' but ... less profane. That, oddly enough, is the direction teenage slang is taking these days, sir: Politeness."

"Hey man, just checking in to see if you want your higher reasoning back. No? Cool. Ouuuuttyyyy!"

***

I close the door to my office, crumble into my chair and lay my burning eyes into my hands.

It's okay. It's all going to be fine. You just need a minute to get your shit together. You need to collect your thoughts, take a breath, get your hands on some coffee and just force-restart this morning. Then everything will be OK.

The pressure of my palms against my eye-sockets shoots little multi-colored balls across the field of blackness behind my eyelids. They sparkle, roam and burst. There are green ones popping to the left, and purple ones dancing to the right. Up top, little cubes fall out of the blue ones, and into the orange ones below, and on and on forever.

A knock on the door.

"Come in."

It's Johansen, from Accounts.

"Copies of those reports you asked for," he says, and goes to drop them on my desk. At the last second, his arm jerks sideways, and he throws them to the floor.

He stands, perplexed, for a long minute. He stares at me, staring at him.

"They, uh ... I couldn't put them there, because it would complete the line of paperwork, and I didn't want everything to disappear," he finally says, bending to retrieve the folder.

His face flushes red: "I just got Tetris on my phone."

You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Or you can just throw a portal up right here, open another one up top, and form an infinite loop of this column - then you'll never have to leave at all!

For more from Brockway, check out Chrono Trigger 2 : Benders of Time, Trippers of Balls and Why Ebert Is Wrong: In Defense of Games as Art.

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Robert Brockway

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