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Cope by Colors

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Nintendo Switch

Jul 27, 2020 – by Nate

“The most important thing in life is learning how to cope.”

I was in my early 20s when I was given this advice. Which means it flew right through my lush-haired head. The septuagenarian behind the wise words was one of my all-time favorite humans, who had emerged from all sorts of struggles only to bristle with charm, warmth and unending puns. Over and over, he repeated to me and my girlfriend (his daughter): "Learn to cope." Our response was to go live in a van on a remote island.

Nate hippie spamvan
My cousin Katie was excited she could stand up in the SpamVan.

For as long as I could hold a pencil, I’d doodled. Constantly. In the '90s I fell in love with making zines. During those days in the van, my passion for doodling and zines evolved into an inevitable culmination: comics. Suddenly I was a cartoonist. Like programming computers (another lifelong tendency), I relished honing a new skill that played across disciplines. It kept my brain whirring. It was a form of self-therapy. I discovered I could process all manner of life's ups and downs by finding the funny in moments that ranged from ridiculous to rage-inducing.

In 2014 (my hair slightly less lush), a friend lured me back into video games by way of a refurbished Nintendo WiiU. I soon discovered a goofy ink-themed shooter, Splatoon. Teams of four inklings (half-squid, half-kid) compete in various urban environments (highrise walkways, warehouses, sea ports, bridges, etc), attempting to cover the most surface with your color of ink. Gameplay also includes modes like riding a tower as it inches along, getting as close to the enemy base as possible without getting splatted. You play online against people across the world, mostly teenagers. Weapons include big brushes, slosher buckets, and giant paint rollers. It's colorful, frantic, and utterly addictive.

A couple of years later, as the 2016 election cycle raged on, I found myself escaping to battle Japanese youth more and more in that inky escape. When I realized you could see your daily play stats on the WiiU, I was shocked to see not dozens, but hundreds of hours racking up. What was I doing? Was this coping? Should I be concerned? I decided to process my embarrassing addiction via comics.

Stay fresh 1
Stay fresh 2
Stay fresh 3
Stay fresh 4

In the year that followed the election, my mom's cancer returned. Then my fiancée had a brain aneurysm following back surgery, and spent 6 weeks in the ICU in a medically induced coma. I had pre-ordered the Nintendo Switch when it was announced, and the day I drove out to fetch it from a suburban Chicago Best Buy, I texted my fiancée, "Picking up my nerd box." There was no reply. I ended up spending the next 6 weeks escaping into Zelda: Breath of the Wild while at her side, hoping with my every molecule that she would emerge okay. Not four months later, we would get married at my childhood haunt, Snoqualmie, Washington, beside the falls we all know from Twin Peaks.

Snoqualmie falls
Snoqualmie Falls

During her recovery, Splatoon 2 came out and I immersed my squid-kid in ink with renewed fervor. I felt like we'd all been living through an emotionally abusive relationship with Trump's incessantly destructive and divisive kakistocracy, which defies logic and reason on a daily basis. I wracked up my Splatoon hours by an order of magnitude.

And then 2020 happened. A once-in-a-century pandemic, forcing us all to stay home for months on end, didn't help my gaming tendency.

Is it coping or escapism? Does it matter? I have still managed to be productive—coding, writing and drawing almost as frequently as before Splatoon came into my life. I pepper my inking sessions with frequent breaks to vent and play and splash around in the colorful urban inkscapes. And now, with my lush hair decidedly out of the way, I can hear my favorite septuagenarian's words more clearly than ever. To play is to cope!

Watch for me knocking over a full ink bottle on the drawing at around 0:45.