Why I will always be grateful for how they helped me cope with depression.

Rabbit Holes is a recurring problem series in which writers pay homage to the diversity and ingenuity of the ways in which we procrastinate now. To plant your personal rabbit hole, send an email humaninterest@slate.com.

Earlier this year, before COVID-19, I was awake late playing an escape game from one of my favorite creators, TomaTea. As with many escape games, the concept is simple: you are trapped in a room or a series of rooms, and you must solve several puzzles to get out. What I especially liked about TomaTea’s games was how consistently pretty and calming they were. They all have names like Tropicool or Ginger Joy. The colors are vivid, the music rings out. Even though my preference for escape games is small, games that I can play between tasks in about five to 10 minutes, TomaTea’s virtual escape rooms evoke the feeling of a long vacation or vacation. Why would I ever want to leave? Sometimes my one escape game turned into several, my five minutes into an hour.

My brother saw my laptop screen that night and asked me what I was playing.

“An escape game,” I say.

He replied, “Did you know that Flash games are ending soon?” “


That’s right: Flash plug-in support will cease at the end of this year, following Adobe’s announcement in 2016 that the product would be phased out. Countless free internet games, the games we have played on our web browsers in a matter of minutes stolen at work, school and other tasks that we are supposed to do, will ultimately be unplayable. Steve Jobs, who refused to allow Flash on Apple mobile devices, will finally rest in peace.

In the face of this coming extinction event, there are already organizations like Kongregate, the Strong Museum, and Flashpoint that are preserving thousands of games. At the very least, the most popular or influential games on the most popular platforms like Newgrounds and Armor Games will be saved, although there is no guarantee that many less popular games on less popular sites will be saved. preserved.

But as the disappearance or increasing loss of relevance of many other digital pillars of the 1990s and early 2000s – LiveJournal, fanfiction.net, Blogger – the end of the Flash plug-in signals the end of a particular era, a more free. It was a time when we could make ghastly websites on Geocities, write worst fanfictions on LiveJournal, and for the more discerning among us, make games with often endearing graphics on the Flash plug-in, a software program. which is — or was — universal. Granted, a lot of these games probably don’t need to be saved. Their gameplay mechanics can be glitchy and unintuitive, or maybe they are outright scams of more popular games. Yet, there was something beautiful about that early Internet, where these things could simply to exist because the developers thought, Why not?

I am not one of those technicians. My only real creative talent is in words. But playing games, especially when I entered college during the Great Recession of the 2000s, became my escape route. Instead of trying to leave, however, I tried to stay in these bright little rooms for as long as possible.

In college, I was among my peers for the first time, and at 18, anxious and undiagnosed depressed, I could no longer rely on my prodigious memory to take English lessons. I received my first 80 on a piece of paper, a little nightmare that I couldn’t quite comprehend. An older student I admired – someone who, like many at my college Agnes Scott College (affectionately nicknamed “Agony Spot”), seemed incredibly smart and accomplished – once introduced me to the Bubble Spinner, warning me: “It’s super addicting.”

I quickly became addicted. It was not a deceptive game: you aim for tiny bubbles on a rotating rainbow colored bubble game and try to match the color of the bubbles you shoot to a bubble on the game. you match, the bubbles burst. The goal is to eliminate as many bubbles as possible.

During my fall finals in 2009, I proudly posted this on Facebook:

Facebook / Anna Cabe

Another student posted in response: “You are the perfect student of Agnes Scott.” To this day, I’m not entirely sure what I’m most proud of, the paper or the Bubble Spinner score.

Flash games would come back into my life when I entered my second school year. Doctoral school, more than anything before, has totally detached my sense of myself: my perception of my talent, my confidence in my ability to be good, my own belief system. My untreated depression and anxiety, improved by a good group of friends and a sense of belonging to college and two sunny years in Indonesia where people around me believed in a healthier life balance, returned to life in the pressure cooker that was top school in the snowy Midwest.

At one point, when Facebook helpfully reminded me of my sacred twin victory in both Bubble Spinner and Writing Paper, I had to respond:

Screenshot of the author's Facebook post referring to the previous post, saying
Facebook / Anna Cabe

Other circumstances led, if not to a nervous breakdown, to a realization that I should use my health insurance and my two free therapy sessions at the campus counseling center. My own roommate, seeing me particularly depressed and practically vibrating with anxiety, said to me, “Look, why don’t you play some of your games? “

Because of course I had started playing games again. I knew my roommate could hear the music and sound effects from the other room. When my first piece of news didn’t land in the studio, when I felt isolated from others, I found myself seeking solace online. The usual distractions, reading articles and fan fiction, did not succeed. YouTube was not cutting it.

But Flash escape games, point-and-click adventure games, were perfect. I have browsed so many varieties: PastelGames, Vitamin Hana, Primera, Bart Bonte, Funkyland, Carmel Games. I escaped from Baba Yaga’s house. I prevented myself from escaping from a secluded hut when I transformed into a werewolf. I found my way out of art studios, nail salons, public baths, tea rooms, and bakeries. Compared to modern games that demand hard-earned money for “boosts” and constantly add new levels to keep players enthralled, these games only required minimal brainpower – just enough that I didn’t think twice. not bored I wasn’t thinking of all the ways I was unsuccessful or unhappy yet offering nothing in terms of emotional disruption, stress, fear beyond the simple anxiety of trying to resolve a puzzle.

Eventually the weather improved, and so did my mood, thanks to therapy and a prescription from Zoloft. I found my writing rhythm and a group of friends who I felt comfortable with. I started working for my program’s literary magazine and joined alumni service committees. I found my community, and with that, beyond the usual boredom between writing and socializing, I no longer felt the need to spend hours in these digital worlds.

So when my brother told me that the Flash plug-in was about to disappear, I felt something was giving way. Something I had counted on until now during my dark days and always, without really knowing it, the thought would stay there.

I know Flash Player is a notoriously unstable security risk, and it’s probably for the best to have it removed. But life in the real world is also notoriously volatile and fraught with risk, especially now, amid an uncertain economy made worse by the pandemic. Although I am fortunate to have a supportive family and access to health care, I still struggle with my depression and anxiety. I don’t have a foolproof five-year plan that ends up having my own house, with real pets, real furniture, and a mortgage that I can comfortably pay each month. How can I, when I have two jobs and I’m self-employed, manage, when I can’t find a full-time job with benefits?

So when the new archives for these games open, you bet I’ll be there, taking a little vacation from reality, from my own anxious brain, in these colorful, heartwarming, locked rooms – these remnants of a spirit. more optimistic and cowardly internet, rooms I want to be trapped in, if only for five minutes.

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