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The New Economy

He awakes from his recurring dreams with pangs of having lost something irretrievably. He awakes from his recurring dreams with a sense of unease, and in them, he is trapped in an oarless rowboat on a lightless night with distances further obscured by fog and mist that occasionally part to reveal a foreboding forest’s silhouette. The sound of water gently lapping against the boat takes on an unsettling tone in the setting of his dreamscape, and he drifts along on the dark waters shrouded in trepidation. The fog thins, revealing a shore where a crowd of people have gathered, distant and indistinguishable. They are as ephemeral as the fog, like translucent ghosts, glowing softly, and as he drifts closer, he can identify extended family members, friends, and anyone of import in his life. They are there scanning the sea, and as he drifts by the shore with outstretched hands, grasping, he screams soundlessly as he is carried farther out to sea. He tries to paddle with his hands, but they glide through the water as if through mist. Surrounded by the utter darkness of oblivion, he lifts his hands up to his eyes but can’t see a thing. He jolts awake in panicked breaths. He doesn’t need to be Freud or Jung to interpret his dream.

“What do you think your dreams mean?” his therapist says.

“I don’t know.”

“Are you experiencing a sense of isolation or loneliness, David?”

He regrets having told her his dream, which he only did to stop her probing and kill time. His parents had insisted on therapy when his grades plummeted and his antisocial behavior became alarmingly pronounced. It seemed to them that their once vibrant and gregarious son had withdrawn into a dark and unreachable space. His emotional outbursts had escalated in intensity and frequency, culminating in him throwing a kitchen knife at his younger brother, missing the target not by much. His parents had overreacted, telling him no electronics for a month; rather than being subjected to this tyranny, David grabbed his laptop and couchsurfed until his parents coaxed him back home. To his parents' queries about why he reacted in such a frightening manner he said he didn’t know. In reality, his shit little brother deserved a sound beating for using his gaming keyboard and mouse without permission and spilling grape juice on them in the final month to level up his esport rankings. Similarly, he knows exactly what his dreams mean.

When David kept skipping school, snoozing in class, and neglecting his homework, the principal, concerned about his graduation prospects, arranged a meeting with his parents and recommended counselling. Now here he sits in the purgatory of a psychologist’s office.

“Well, I feel that your dream implies that you are trying to reach out to someone for assistance, that you feel helpless and powerless about your situation. Is this true?”

“I don’t know.”

He knows his therapist means well and he is overwhelmed with a desire to unburden himself to her.

“Hello, my name is David and I am an addict” his fantasy begins, and he smiles at the comedy of this scenario. David is far past the denial stage, and he is afraid his gaming addiction is sweeping him away in an avalanche; he feels like an ant caught in an antlion sand trap, futilely trying to surmount a disintegrating surface. He remembers being mesmerized by a video of an antlion his Science 7 teacher had shown the class. The antlion creates a funnel cave of sand and buries itself in waiting for insects to fall into this trap, and in one scene, an ant is trying to climb out of the sand, but the pit is sloped at such an angle that grains of sand collapse, sliding downward, taking the prey to its demise. David feels like that ant. However, he cannot quit gaming just yet because he is on the cusp of becoming a champion-ranked player, along with so much prize money and sponsorship prospects. Achieving his ranking has been costly, however: his girlfriend broke up with him, he got fired, and his grades continue to suffer. Yet, he feels compelled to continue with his destructive addiction even though he knows the consequences of his compulsions. He is so far down the antlion funnel, he cannot see an escape.

“Do you think your dreams are correlated to your gaming addiction?”

“No. I know my gaming addiction is the causation of my dreams.”

The therapist recommends a 30-day live-in, treatment program. David, despite his reservations, agrees to give it a try on the condition that he can quit at any point.

When David returns from his treatment, he feels a sense of peace he hasn’t felt for too long. His parents have arranged a welcome home party, and David feels happy talking and laughing with his friends and family again. When his brother asks if he can have his computer, David laughingly says sure. After the party, his father asks David if he can talk to him for a moment. His father’s tone of voice frightens him. David follows him into the living room and his dad tells him to sit.

“Son, while you were in rehab, these letters and packages came for you. I was going to throw them away without showing you, thinking they were advertisements for new games or something, but I decided to open one of them and see what it was. I hope you don’t mind”

His father hands him a pile of letters. David skims them quickly. The letters are sponsorship offers from video game companies, product endorsement offers, and invitations from top ranking gaming teams. Most of them were offering contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus signing and tournament victory bonuses. David’s rankings had skyrocketed before the end of the season as a result of his binge playing before the start of his treatment program. David looks up at his father. His father is intently staring at David.


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