But probably not for the reason you think.
Of the many things I was excited to see at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), a new God of War game was not one of them. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the games, per-se. My God of War edition PSP might even give the impression that I’m a fan of the series, though that would be a misdiagnosis. It was a purchase that was motivated by price rather than by the particular theme. I did play through Chains of Olympus, which came included in the bundle. For those that are curious, I enjoyed the game.
When Sony opened their show with the reveal of their next God of War entry, I was excited. Not for the game, really, but for the fans. I knew gamers would want this, even if I would probably never play it myself. Grandiose orchestral notes gave way to video, and it was hard not to smile at he sight of an elder-Kratos stepping dramatically from the shadow. Soon, he and his apparent offspring took to the forest. Sony made it easy to get excited. Sure, it all felt a little cliché, but the game also looked fun.
A few minutes later, when Kratos’ son fired his bow, missed the troll his father was wrestling with, and instead sunk his arrow deep into Kratos’ shoulder, I laughed. Kratos was being a bit of a jerk to his son from the onset. He kind of deserved to be shot.
. . . Little did I know, Sony was about to show something that would change gears entirely. And it was something that was about to make me cry.
One year, two months, five days, and sixteen hours ago (but who’s counting?), I had to do one of the hardest things I’d ever done in my entire life. It’s something that may be trivial to some of you, and something I hope that many more of you haven’t had to experience, but it made for a really, really terrible night.
A few weeks prior to that, my wife and I noticed that our Charlie was having trouble walking up stairs. She was thirteen years old, but I wasn’t really sure if that was “really old” or just “not young” in dog years. I’d had her for her whole life, but it felt like I had for for my whole life as well. When I was given her as a puppy, I was still in college. I was still single. I was still trying to find my way in the world (okay, so I’m still trying to do that.) I had her when I started dating Tara. When we moved in together, Charlie went from being “my” dog to being “our” dog.
(She was still really my dog.)
So when Charlie started having trouble with her back legs, we thought it arthritis was setting in. We scheduled a vet visit to see if there were any medications that could help. There weren’t any signs of arthritis, but they prescribed an anti-inflammatory to see if it would help her struggling leg muscles. It didn’t; Within a week, she could no longer stand.
The follow-up vet visit did little to ease our minds. There were two possible causes for her current condition. One was an apparently common and relatively harmless thing called “Old Dog” Vestibular Disease, in which older dogs suddenly have dizziness and trouble walking. It goes away on its own after a week or two.
The other possibility was cancer.
The only way to know which of the two conditions it was — aside from spending thousands of dollars we didn’t have on CAT scans — was to take her home and monitor her condition. If it was the harmless “old dog” thing, she’d get better. If it was cancer, she’d get worse.
Spoiler alert: She got worse. When I got home from work on Friday, April 10, 2015, I found her lying in the same spot we had left her that morning. Her breathing was heavy, labored. If she was in pain, she wasn’t showing it, but it was clear that she was dying. She hadn’t gone to the bathroom in 3 days, and she couldn’t eat. I called the vet, and he agreed to meet me after hours. I had to put her in a laundry basket to carry her to the car. I took a picture on the way to the vet. It would be the last one I’d ever get to take.
Charlie, no longer able to stand, had to be carried to the car in a basket. She enjoyed the ride a lot more than I did.
I held her close as the vet administered the injections. Within moments, her breathing slowed, grew quiet, and then stopped entirely. The room was silent; She was gone. The long drive home was probably the loneliest I’d ever been, but the numbness helped me hold it together. When my wife finally returned home from work, and I had to tell her that Charlie was no longer with us, we cried together. For the next week, I barely ate. I just wasn’t hungry. I missed her, and still do.
Despite some major faux-pas on the part of his son, the duo have survived the troll attack and located their initial prey. An arrow has felled the deer, and now father and son were knelt beside the wounded beast. The son timidly holding a dagger, and wrestling with his father’s command to “finish it.”
Suddenly, this gameplay demonstration for a franchise that I didn’t particularly care about became all too familiar. I could feel Kratos’ son struggling with this responsibility; knowing what he must do, even though it hurt his heart to do so. Like the vetrinarian who had helped me that night, Kratos moves in to guide his actions. Together, they plunge the knife into the animal’s throat, though for me, all I could see was a syringe.
Even the deer’s dying breaths perfectly mimicked Charlie’s last moments. And then it was quiet.
I was sitting at my computer, crying. Not because of what happened on screen, but because of all those complex emotions and memories that scene had evoked. Videogames are powerful in that way. Even games about bathing in blood and gore as you slaughter countless demons, demigods, or whatever the hell it is that Kratos (and now, his son) fight. When developers can so potently capture a moment, and convey a mood or idea, it’s magcal.
And sometimes, it’s also sad.