When Robin Williams committed suicide a few months ago, I was shaken. The nation – one might be more accurate in saying the world – mourned a bit collectively. It was beautiful and awful at once. For someone of my generation – Generation Y, an older Millenial, Generation Don't Give a Fuck, whatever you wanna call us – Williams had been an ever-present personality. From Aladdin to Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumani to Patch Adams and Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a surrogate father and friend. When my friends and I discovered his more serious, darker works, like Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings, and The Fisher King, we loved him even more. He was a very adept actor – brilliant in his comedy and melancholy alike. He was the modern personification of the sad clown. Someone once told me that the funniest people are always the saddest, a notion that, when I relate it, causes folks to mourn Williams anew. I don't for a moment doubt it. But this is not an epitaph for Williams, who would probably prefer it if we collectively found a way to laugh about it instead.
When I heard Williams was an avid gamer, it surprised me. I'm not entirely sure why it surprised me to find out he enjoyed gaming – I'm a casual gamer myself – but the notion that he loved World of Warcraft stuck with me. The fact has occasionally cropped up in the forefront of my consciousness, unexpectedly, in fact. My own mental health is questionable at the best of times (for better or worse), and downright self-destructive at the worst. Since Williams' death, the idea of suicide has festered, like an angry pimple in its obsequious deference to my mood, a mood that has grown increasingly dark of late. [Now, don't get me wrong. I am not now suicidal and I do not want any well-wishers or pearl-clutchers throwing words of warmth and love my way. That's not the purpose of this. Not even remotely.]
Williams, a gamer, played, I suspect, for the same reason any of us play: enjoyment of the game. I've played videogames on and off most of my life. We had an NES, followed quickly by a Sega Genesis. Eventually, my brother brought home N64, and many a controller was sent to its demise from hours of GoldenEye (slaps only?). When I was just about the right age for it, we were given the Sega Genesis companion game to – coincidentally – Disney's Aladdin. I spent hours on end furiously beating the keys to the shiny black controller, even getting my eight-year-old self soundly grounded for a month when my father over heard me shout "FUCK!" because – if memory serves – I just couldn't get past the third magic carpet level; the lava always caught up to me. I couldn't beat the game, and it was killing me.
A friend of mine in Mrs. Backus's third grade class loved the game too. And one day at recess, he gave me the Pandora's Box of my little videogame romp through a fictionalized Persia: A, BB, AA, BB, A. The level-skip Cheat Code. Of course, I immediately ran home and tried it. As if my own Genie had produced a wish it worked!
I sat on it a while. Then, I started using it, but only for the really haaaaaard levels. Like, the wicked bad ones. Just the flying carpet ones. But slowly, the Cheat Code crept into other parts of my playing. Slipped too many times into that same spike pit? A, BB, AA, BB, A. Ran out of life on the Mini Boss I beat yesterday? A, BB, AA, BB, A. Ten minutes to dinner and I wasn't where I had wanted to be? A, BB, AA, BB, A.
Then, one day, I just Cheat Coded my way to the end. I sat in the afternoon light watching the credits roll, thinking that maybe I'd get the same sense of satisfaction from A, BB, AA, BB, A-ing my way through Aladdin as if I had beaten it myself. The satisfaction never came. Oddly, as if I had decided the challenge had been enough, I never went back to the game. I will probably never know if I can beat the third damn level with the flying carpet.
The most well-known cheat code in videogame history is the Konami Code: Up, UP, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A. There's practically a cult around it, and it's been around since 1986 (first used in a NES game). I have an interesting relationship with cheat codes. Sometimes, I think they're a lazy crutch, other times, they can reveal Easter Eggs and other goodies. Sometimes, I just don't want the oddamned game to defeat me, and it gives me just a little bit of an edge, the ability to say, "HA! You can't actually stop me." But then, one way or another, the game ends. With the exception of maybe Civilization, the game will end (and in the case of Civilization, it will reportedly eventually continue on in perpetuity in a dystopian fascist state). Essentially, it will never even matter if you played.
So, no one gets out alive anyway. In essence, Williams used the ultimate Cheat Code. He just opted right the fuck out of playing a game he didn't even opt into playing in the first place. He made his own exit, hitting the credits before his final level(s) had to be played.
I can't say I blame him. The appeal of the Cheat Code is undeniable in the hardest moments of a game. At the same time, if I find out other gamer revealed infinite lives in a game by using a Cheat Code, I am at once jealous and indignant. How very dare you?! I have to keep on playing this bullshit as it is!
Then, I suppose, comes the resignation that I'm in this thing right now, no sense in throwing in the towel before I give up on that damn magic carpet. But that is the ultimate question of using a Cheat Code, isn't it? It's not whether or not the game will end, but how much control we'll have in the final moments, just before the credits. If I had my druthers, we could opt out of selected levels in life, too, like I did in Aladdin, and only pop in to kill the Mini Boss in level 10, or snag Abu away from the clutches of Jafar. Then again, that only works until you're slapped in the face with a flaming boulder.