Where do memories live? How long can they lie dormant? What selects what sticks and what doesn’t? Where does Quake live inside me?
Scrounging around for feelings last week, making room on my Windows machine’s hard drive, I saw that I had access to the new Quake remasters. I don’t play FPS games on keyboard & mouse anymore due to RSI that showed up ten years ago, but Quake and the original Team Fortress were such formative experiences for me that I wanted to revisit them.
Dropping into the game was bizarre, truly surreal; like stepping not just into a past home but a former body, the movement disorienting and then immediately familiar. The level I always remember as first wasn’t; the very first level I hardly remembered at all. But there it was, as the second level: the room with boxes behind, and a little bridged canal before a door ahead. I knew these places, intuitively; many details elided, but so many details present. I knew where secrets lay — but not all of them. I played through the entire first campaign very quickly, and maybe the strangest moment was entering a little dead-end room with 3 alcoves. I knew something was there, poked into 2 of them without firing, and then in the third felt a tickle of memory, shot the gun… and a secret door opened ahead.
What are we? Seriously. What the fuck is the human mind? How do we exist, that fully 20 years can pass, and a simulated space in a video game can still be retained, somewhere inside, as a tactile experience detailed enough to remember that this corner of a complex geometrical space contains a secret? While other secrets, and even basic layout, are forgotten? Returned to strange?
We are drowning in imagery, stuffed with narrative, and still there’s never enough.