As moral anecdotes go, Cicero's story of Dionysius, Damocles, and the perils of ruling is pretty effective. Damocles wonders what it would be like to be king, so Dionysius, the king, lets him rule for a while, but at dinner, Damocles sees a sword hanging over his head, held up only by a horse hair. Frightened, he looks for an explanation, to which Dionysius explains that, while the power of being a king is great, there's a constant fear that comes with it.
Sometimes, I think it might be neat to be king, especially since I'm already living with the sword over my day.
See, Cicero made one minor error with his story: it's not just kings who live in fear.
Nearly every day I wake up now, I find myself coming close to screaming. It's this huge, single wave of anxiety that washes over to me until I start swearing, on the verge of tears, swinging at the wall or my pillow or something. It's a huge ball of anger and fear all rolled up into one awful, embarrassing mess.
Throughout the day, I get messages from friends, asking where I am. Why I haven't been involved in the fiction group I'm in, why I haven't posted much on TAY. Why I haven't been myself. When not doing that, I'm searching for jobs, though my options are, due to some chronic pain limitations, very restricted. I feel like a shipwreck survivor in the middle of a shark-infested sea, treading water, knowing that stopping may lead to my demise, but knowing that my action may bring it about too.
For the past year, I have lived in a constant state of fear, anxiety, and a great deal of physical pain. I'm losing weight, now, because I'm too nauseated from the stress to eat most days. This fear is a constant, dominating, destructive force in my life. It is the only thing I see from the time I wake up to the time I collapse after a brutal day. It is the single defining factor of my existence. I have no hope of getting out of this, no power to affect change for the better in my life. The only thing I have left is praying that someone, somewhere, decides to help me.
At my worst, I question why I am still alive.
Damocles, at least, got to be king.
It's always struck me as odd that people criticize certain games for being empowerment fantasies, as if this is somehow an improper concept. Generally, this seems to be tied with the observation that children quite frequently engage in power fantasies, and thus, the following assumption is made: "power fantasies are for kids."
But y'know what? Here I am, an adult, feeling completely, wholly, and utterly powerless, and I look at a bunch of kids pretending at being way more awesome than they are, and I realize… hey, these kids? They're not freaking out about life. They're able to deal with it. The power fantasies show a hope for the future—these kids, quite often, just want to be adults, to be free to make the choices adults make, and stuff like that. Power fantasies are a way with dealing with powerlessness.
Say what you will about kids, but they're nowhere near as stressed as I am.
So me, I like my power fantasy games. The other day, under this immeasurable stress, I simply cast everything aside and powered my way through Bulletstorm in a single sitting. And y'know what? For a good four or five hours, I felt like everything was gonna be okay for once. I needed that.
The next time you find yourself wanting to decry a game as a power fantasy, consider what that means for other people. It might seem silly to you, but for some of us, it's a life-saver.