Here, thanks to the wonder of a connected world I learned that the much loved entertainer Robin Williams had taken his own life at the age of 63.
Like many I took it as a hoax. Another internet joke – but this morning when I awoke, the worst was confirmed. It’s a strange thing when someone that has been in your life through television and film passes away, like the prankster uncle you never got to actually meet. He brought so much joy to many people, especially for me growing up with a heavy dose of Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Jamangi and Toys – and that’s me being purely personal.
He was also beloved for his mature roles in films like The Dead Poets Society, One Hour Photo and Goodwill Hunting. Williams had that pure universal talent and appeal and it doesn’t surprise me that even ISIS members are on Twitter remarking on his passing.
Those who have known him their whole lives, which must go into the millions upon millions, all now share in a collective mourning.
I don’t want to talk about the circumstance for his passing; if it was indeed suicide due to depression it’s not a subject I know enough about to write about. and actually I don’t want to write about – there will be plenty other people on your social media feeds and in news articles that have something to say about depression. I would like to talk about him.
Williams was an avid gamer – going so far as to name his daughter Zelda and stating that Ocarina of Time was one of his favourite ever games. As I write this, articles on gaming interest sites are bringing up lists of his favourite games and highlights from his Reddit AMA. This morning I re-watched the adverts he made with his daughter for the 3D remake of Ocarina of Time (maybe with a slight something in my eye).
I always found this funny as one of his lesser mentioned films ‘Toys’ depicts Williams as the son of a toy maker who needs to grow-up to challenge his militarist uncle’s control of the company – as he uses it as a platform for combat simulators essentially to train kids in the use of military hardware. In a forgotten rather grand article I tried to write on the use of video games to help war veterans overcome PTSD, desensitisation to violence and the rise in the use of unmanned combat drones – I found myself continually coming back to thinking about ‘Toys’.
It seemed as if the largely unsuccessful film managed to make a few strangely accurate predictions. The film had a mostly negative attitude to video games or, at least, violent games. So when I found out Williams was a big fan of the Call of Duty series I couldn’t help but feel a sense of irony. I know he probably didn’t have much to do with the script but I find it interesting nonetheless.
In the better known Hook it was almost a flipped role – he was an adult that was too grown up. His roles always had the edge to them of someone that was stuck in-between the mind of a child and that of an adult. Maybe that was his mass appeal; kids related to his wacky humour and adults could appreciate the idea of someone that still held onto that certain magic and imagination that somehow creeps away as we get older. We have a man that is not only nostalgic to us via film or TV – but also he himself was almost characterised by it.
Gamers are an eclectic bunch and we play games for different reasons – we have people who play purely for entertainment, people that play to socialise, some for escapism and now people that play professionally to put Mountain Dew on their table (and we all hate each other). However, there is one reason that I think is more subtle: Nostalgia.
Gaming has come a long way, it has been part of my life since before I could read and I’m sure many of you reading this can say the same. Plugging in the aerial socket, tuning the television, corded controllers that were slightly too large. Rainy days sat in pyjamas in front of a budget CRT screen. Eagerly pouring over pages of video game magazines; putting ticks next to the games you wanted but ultimately your parents could never afford. Visiting a friend that had a PC and watching in awe of the then ground-breaking graphics. This is all sappy as fuck but it tied into the fabric and formation of a young child that went through puberty to an awkward teen, then into a slightly less awkward but definitely still awkward adult – and that adult is me.
When I play a freshly purchased video game from Steam or the bargain bin, I still get the same little buzz of adventure and excitement I would get as a child. It’s not as strong anymore, but it’s there: The now slight tender connection to a less worried, less hairy me.
I remember one Christmas morning and opening up The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The striking black and gold cover. I embarked on an adventure as Link and I remember it was one of the greatest adventures I ever had. I don’t know how many hours I gladly sunk into that game.
It’s comforting to think that somewhere else, on the other side of the world, sat a man who was keenly connected to his inner child and had given me hours of entertainment as a child, beginning his own adventure as Link too.
It is with great sadness we all say goodbye and give condolences to his family. But we should take his example, and not be afraid to remember our childhood, or what made us happy and what makes us happy.
And ultimately we should try to make others happy, as he did for millions. He will be sorely missed.