The hexagon pulsed and span as it spiraled down a pit of alternating lights and darks. My fingers flickered left, then right. The music just begins to pick up and I die, my brave little triangle getting hammered by my nemesis, the wall. I glare, grunt, smash the spacebar and do it again. And again. And again. And again. Each trial lasts a handful of seconds at most and always seems to end right when the music starts getting good. At a certain point in this endless, all too brief, cycle of birth and death I had to ask myself, what the hell am I even doing? Why have I dedicated so much time to mastering this stupidly difficult task that serves absolutely no purpose? Why?
It’s an important and terrifying question; one which I believe extends far beyond dancing around a geometric heartbeat to pounding rhythms. In order to answer it, I believe a good place to start would be to ask, why do anything? If we ask ourselves why we do anything, the answers always tier down in a series of steps to one ultimate frustrating question. I’ll walk you through an example.
Suppose you’re talking with someone who hates their job, so naturally you ask them, “If you hate it so much, why do you work there?” His answer is an obvious one, he needs the money. Most of us would be satisfied with this answer but it is an incomplete one because all of its potency for satisfaction hinges on the answer to another question, one which we assume is obvious but not you with your higher standard for truth. That oh so obviously answered question is, do you need money? To which of course he says yes. With a frustrating obtuseness you ask him, “Why do you need money?” He cocks an eyebrow and leans away from you a little with a stare that carries a mixture of confusion and harsh judgment. How does someone not know why someone needs money and how can someone be so stupid that they can’t answer that question for themselves, he wonders. After a moment’s pause, he leans forward and puts his hands together. With the patience one explains something to the simple with, he tells you slowly that he needs money to pay for his apartment and food. But the answer is not yet complete! And you with your incredibly annoying compulsion to analyze excessively simple unnecessary questions with a rigor far beyond what the question warrants, presses on and asks, “Why do you need food and an apartment?” He doesn’t react. His mouth says nothing but his eyes say, “are you shitting me?” before he blinks, then blinks again. Simple is too generous a word for this man, he thinks to himself. Clearly he is talking to some kind of half-conscious vegetable that doesn’t comprehend that he needs to eat and have shelter to survive. With a great sigh, and even greater courage that is increasingly rare in this day and age, he plunges into the previously unfathomable abyss of ignorance your question represents. For a solid 8 hours he explains to you the great complexity of the human body and its various organ systems. He draws diagrams of cells and their constituents on a napkin, outlining the functions of proteins, lipids, RNA and DNA in the body. He tells you about the different layers of the electron shell and the molecular structures that form the chemistry of the human body and how the food you consume breaks down and enables the necessary functions that allow human life to persist. In summary, ragged and panting after his exhaustive and utterly comprehensive explanation, he says, “you need food and shelter to live.” The dead-eyed, soulless and utterly merciless disgusting creature that you are, immediately replies, “Why do you need to live?” It is no wonder that we hate children that constantly ask why.
“Need” is an interesting word. It implies something that is necessary. Something that you need is a thing that is an unavoidable pre-requisite for something that you want. Something that you need is not a goal in and of itself. If there is nothing that you want, then you don’t need anything. In this sense, there are only desires and the things necessary to acquire those desires. So the better question is not “why do we need to live?” but “why do we want to live?” But as insidious as the question why do we need anything is, the question of why we want anything is still far more difficult. Needs can always at least be explained as being some link in a chain of causality, we have no convenient framework of explanation for wants. Wants are in a sense, baseless. Some wants can be explained as something you need in service to some greater ultimate want but these ultimate wants that stand independent and not in service to something greater than themselves exist without explanation. The founding fathers referred to them as “truths we hold to be self-evident.” God referred to himself as the great that-I-am. They are primary. They are principle. They cannot be engineered because they are not caused. One cannot set some kind of causal chain in motion to create one. They can only be discovered, found already made. And we are blessed that we have them at all, for there is no necessity for them to even exist.
I play Super Hexagon for the same reason that I live, that I do anything. Because I want to. And I am so infinitely lucky to want anything at all. A life in which nothing brings you joy is a conceivable one, and even more frightening, likely a short one. I live because I want to live. I tap my foot to the beat, fail, and restart because I want to. I want. Damn is it good to want.