Someone booted up a Switch and said “hey, check this out.” The game was Crawl, an asymmetrical dungeon crawler with up to 4 players. Couch co-op games are far too rare these days, but you really can’t compete with playing side-by-side with a buddy. In Crawl, a 2017 game from Powerhoof, you are a lost soul, damned to wander halls infested by eldritch-ish monsters. One player begins as the human slayer, gallantly, desperately trying to escape the nightmarish (and adorably pixelated) dungeon. The other players are ghosts, able to set off the traps in generated levels and use spots of power to turn into monsters. Monsters which you can level up and evolve periodically. Whoever slays the slayer gets their human body back, and continues on, trying to fight their way to the final boss, controlled by the other players. As my doomed co-workers and I played, trash talking and screaming and giving little weird gamer sounds of triumph, suddenly I wasn’t some defeated cog in a faulty machine, I was a brave, desperate warrior, fighting ghouls and witches and weird rat folk.

Powerhoof

A metaphor for the human condition.

Defeat. Crushing, brutal defeat. All your effort, wasted. All your dreams, crushed to less than ash. Where will I go from here? What will I do next? How can I survive? If you’ve ever lost a job… or a video game, you know this feeling well. I lost both in one day and it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had. When I had started, it was a dream job. Working in the entertainment industry at a gaming media company. Getting to talk about games all day, get to write about games, heck, you must write what you know, so that meant playing video games. For work. My child self, looking at my adult life, would be disappointed that I had not learned to fly, but excited that I got paid to play Zelda a lot. At first I was worried if I would find my place there, like any new job you worry if you’ll find people to connect with, if you’ll make office friends. Those worries melted away in the unifying crucible fire of long work days and project managers that gave off the vibe of Steve Buschemi in that “how do you do, fellow kids” meme. That kind of pressure forges friendships. We bonded over the art, the passion, that is video games.

Powerhoof

TFW you lose your job.

So when the news came that yup, this was it, we were all getting let go, it was pretty freaking sad. Most of us were in the middle of work projects we were passionate about making, ideas in the nascent stages which would now never come to pass. It’s, as the French say, a huge f*cking bummer. Not just because we were losing our jobs, which is on the same level of stress as playing Elden Ring with a broken controller, but because we were losing our friendships. You say “We’ll hang out!” “Let’s grab drinks soon!” knowing, in your cynical wisdom that comes with getting your first gray pube, that it’ll never happen. 

You remember feeling Senioritis? That sense of anxious lethargy which makes focusing a Herculean task and raises the energy barrier for getting anything done up to impossible heights? That was me and my fellow co-workers on our last day. We’d come into work unaware and had quickly been told that most of us were going to be let go, they’d let us know one-on-one throughout the day. We dazedly made our free Keurig pods, thinking that they might be our last, heavy with the knowledge that the guillotine of unemployment was going to be dropped down on us. As we stood together in the office, cluttered with nerd memorabilia and camera equipment, we decided to abandon any pretense of work on that final day. And so we gathered, as people do in times of crisis, and did the only thing we could. We gamed.

Powerhoof

Crawl gets it.

What would I do now that I was losing my income? Go back to being a housekeeper? Finally bite the bullet and turn my latent drinking problem into full fledged alcoholism? Or speaking of eldritch horrors, move back in with my parents? None of that mattered as we played round after round of Crawl. I was not great at the game at first. I’m mostly a solo RPG or turn based strategy kinda guy, but the first time I slew another player, I felt like a god. Did I win? That’s what’s great about Crawl, if the slayer escapes, it feels like you win. If you defeat the slayer, it feels like you win. As the day passed and we battled on, periodically someone would be summoned, and they’d leave for a little bit, get fired, and come back. The dazed “I just lost my job” look disappearing as they slid back into a seat and grabbed a controller. They were re-animated, just like the ghosts in the game, finding a glowing spot of power and transforming back into a creature with substance.

By day’s end, none of us had jobs anymore. But we had something else, not even close to a replacement, but something we could never have taken away: a kickass day of gaming with friends. And despite my cynicism, we got something else that day. Those brave souls who played beside me? We still game together almost every week. Sometimes it really is about the friends you make along the way.

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