Don’t Forget To Save Your Memories Of Me Too: A Reflection Of Loss And Video Games

by Shaun Cichacki

Trigger Warning: Mentions of Suicide/Death.

Every year, on the day of his passing, I make it a personal goal to play Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation 1 from start to finish. The first time I tried this, it was something that felt, in a way, like an opportunity to grieve the loss of a friend. Watching my brother and Jeff play through this game together had an emotional impact on me, as I was quite young when the first title in this now-storied and revered franchise was released. To me, this game looked like something straight from the future, with detailed character models, full voice-acted cutscenes, and a story that still resonates throughout time.

It was as impressive back then as it is now, and while the landscape of the gaming world has changed tremendously since then, it’s something that players can still return to and enjoy. I needed to take the opportunity to experience this game for myself and find out why Jeff and my brother spent countless hours sneaking through the snowy landscapes of Shadow Moses. While it took me a moment to accustom myself to the controls, which feel slightly dated and antiquated by today’s standards, it all began to click.

Fast forward 10 years later, and the time has once again come to partake in this adventure, but with more meaning than ever. It also marked the 10th anniversary of Jeff’s passing, so once more on February 5, 2020, I took my PlayStation 1 out of storage. After hooking everything up and starting the game, it almost began to feel emotionally exhausting. There are only so many times you can play through a game or watch a film or read a book over and over again until the joy and experience become monotonous, at best.

However, while the pangs of nostalgia have hit me hard, another franchise that I had not touched for countless years decided to turn back up into my life at a time when I needed it the most. A simple game, about catching ’em all, instrumentally helped my trauma in grief in ways that I could have never expected.

The Metal Gear Solid Saga

The year 2010 was one of the most exciting of my young life. I was about to graduate from high school, I was hoping to move on to college, chase my dreams, start life off on a whole new foot, and find my calling. However, it seems that life itself had different plans for me, as I found out some news in the earliest months of the year that would absolutely change the course for years to come.

On February 5th, 2010, my cousin Jeff decided to take his own life. The memory of the moment that my family and I had found out is something that is permanently etched into the core of my mind and is unfortunately something that will never burn away. While I had dealt with death before in my life, this one hit harder than anything else had, and brought just about everything to a screeching halt.

While not immediate family, my cousin Jeff was an instrumental part of my learning to love the art and craft of Video Games. Watching my brother and Jeff play through the first Metal Gear Solid game on our PlayStation 1 is almost a core memory to me, and sparked an eternal joy of the medium that would continue to grow as I, too, grew.

Although the passage of time has allowed wounds to heal a little more, there is always going to be a permanent hole missing, knowing that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this. However, with a few specific games holding precious memories that helped our friendship grow over the years, being able to honor Jeff’s life through personal memorials has grown to become something of a tradition.

The Pokemon Yellow Saga & Continued

Jeff-Magikarp-Pokemon-Scarlet-and-Violet

Another memory that immediately springs to mind results from a moment of my childhood that has become something of a molding point. As a child that grew up during the boom of Pokemon, with my first experience being the original Red & Blue (1996), Pokemon Yellow (1998) was the greatest thing to exist.

Pokemon Yellow was basically the same adventure that players have already partaken in once before, but with a new companion on your quest: Pikachu. Players explored the Kanto region once more, battling the same monsters and Gym Leaders, but it felt fresh and new without exploiting the respective weaknesses of the standard Starter Pokemon.

Tackling Brock without using Squirtle felt like the hardest challenge, especially as a child. Sure, you could more than likely catch a Pokemon in the Viridian Forest that could help you out tremendously, but everyone was over the moon about Pikachu at the time. Plus, the added difficulty of taking down the Gym Leaders was something special and felt monumental when it was finally accomplished.

But that’s not what this story is about. It’s about the most useless, waste-of-time Pokemon available in Pokemon Yellow that Jeff fell in love with from the moment that he saw it: Magikarp. This absolutely moronic fish that I now have tattooed on my left forearm as a way to remember one of the greatest memories of my childhood was, of course, the first Pokemon that Jeff latched himself onto.

Growing up in this era, the absolute allure of Pokemon was hard to ignore. Creative monster designs that are instantly merchandisable, alongside a beautifully animated show on television with voices for your favorite monsters, were something magical to children, including us. Magikarp was featured a fair bit in the original run of this particular anime, and Jeff absolutely fell in love with the stupid little fish. Something resonated within Jeff, which resonated something within me, and Magikarp became a Pokemon for us to bond over, even with the 5-year gap in our ages.

The End of An Era

Old-Snake-MGS-4

The hardest part of the Metal Gear Solid franchise for me to deal with, after partaking through the entire series, had to be the ending of Metal Gear Solid 4. As someone who had begun associating the specific character of Solid Snake synonymously with the visage of my departed cousin, nothing could have prepared me for the final moments of this journey.

The emotional weight of the franchise took its final toll on me, right before the ending credits begin to run for this particular adventure. A grizzled and battered Solid Snake, affected harshly by the effects of FOXDIE, partakes in what may be the last journey of his tortured life. After defeating Liquid Ocelot in what may be one of the most exciting boss fights of the entire franchise, Solid embarks on his own personal quest.

The camera pans into a cemetery, with him laying a bouquet upon the grave of Big Boss, his father whom he thought he had killed on a mission during the events of Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. A quick salute to the man who he had thought was gone, Solid Snake mentions “This… is my final mission.”, and retrieves a gun from his pocket.

Ensuring that one bullet is loaded into the chamber, Solid Snake falls to his knees and places this gun into his mouth. While disturbing, the realistic chatter of metal scraping upon teeth invokes the true fear that he, alongside the player, is experiencing at this particular moment. With a slow and dramatic pan toward the top of the screen, the echo of a firearm can be heard, and the worst can only be assumed from this point.

Those that argue against the validity of video games being considered art should be required to view this scene, as it is one of the most emotionally heavy in any medium. Even recalling this memory, tears are welling up in my eyes, even though fans of the franchise know that, in a bizarre twist of fate, Solid Snake’s story does not end here. At this moment, the franchise had done more than its fair share to solidify the thought of emotional power through trauma, and the way that games can change your outlook.

Metal Gear Solid has become something of a comfort food to me now that the emotional ceiling has been removed. It has become something more joyful since this moment, and while it still can cause me to become overcome with emotion, it feels great to get those tears out for one of the most authentic people that I’ve ever had the opportunity to know in my life.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All, Magikarp

Jeff lived about 3 hours away from us, and would occasionally come up to stay at my parents’ house with my brother and me. There was the standard pickup/drop off that would have my parents and his parents meet somewhere in the middle to bring him home, but these always included a phone call to his mother or father before the parting journey home. While I may have been around 5 years younger than Jeff, he still would find time to check in on me and find me playing Pokemon or watching the Pokemon anime.

Something about the simplistic nature of Magikarp took him by storm, and with his overly imaginative mind, decided that he needed to create a simple little sing-song rhyme to say to his mom before he went home one day. While on the line with her, he muttered the phrase “Magikarp-Karp-Karp, can’t I stay, one more day?” in a very peculiar singing voice. This became, in a way, his calling card to us before he would leave, and would always strike a particular joy within me.

When he passed away, I was 18. I was too cool to play Pokemon anymore, and I didn’t want to jump back into the games. They looked graphically dated, and my friends at the time were more into Call of Duty than a simple kids’ game like Pokemon. I hadn’t kept up to date with much after Ruby and Sapphire and hadn’t even thought about the franchise in quite some time.

The Hind-D Incident – February 5, 2020

Metal-Gear-Solid-Hind-D-Fight

Throughout the years, much time was spent thinking that I had exhausted all of the possibilities of what there was to see and experience within the low-poly walls of Metal Gear Solid 1. However, it was time again to partake in the fabled encounter of two twin snakes. Knowing what was coming up shortly, I took the opportunity to save my game using the CODEC screen, before equipping my STINGER in a battle of bad blood.

For those who may not have played Metal Gear Solid, every time the player saves the game via CODEC call with Mei Ling, they’re treated to a random quote or piece of trivia knowledge about a film that the cinephile director Hideo Kojima loves. However, Mei Ling decided that today, of all days, she was going to drop something on me that would completely erode the small, fragile glue that held my psyche together on this emotional journey. After my game had been saved, she said;

Don’t forget to save your memories of me too.

Mei Ling, Metal Gear Solid (1998)

That was when I realized that this whole journey had been building up to something more than I could have ever expected. Yes, it was an absolute sheer coincidence that on this day, of all days, this particular message could have been displayed. But to me, it was the final breaking point that allowed me the opportunity to grieve and experience the game in a new light. To this day, and continuing further into the future until I no longer can, this is a tradition that I will gladly embark upon once per year, as a way to hold on to the hope that I’ll have a chance to see him again.

Jeff – The Paldea Champion

Magikarp-Capture-Date

Then, on October 12, 2013, a new generation of Pokemon titles hit the market. Pokemon X & Y were the first Pokemon games I purchased in over a decade, and I set out on the quest that I carry on until this day: either capture or hatch, a Shiny Magikarp and name it Jeff. While the Pokedex Entries are cruel towards this particular Pokemon, it’s something that I feel the need to do with each subsequent release.

With the most recent Pokemon titles, Pokemon Scarlet and Violet on the market, the hunt began once more. However, this time, I had the care and support of my [Pokemon? What team?] team to help me through this journey, asking how everything was going and partaking in their own hunts for me to claim something that I longed for once more. After a total of 484 eggs with no luck, and multiple Mass Outbreak resets, I finally found the most recent Jeff to bring along with me. However, this particular Magikarp may be a little different.

There’s a special trick that players can utilize to, in a way, exploit the game. Players can go into the menu of their Nintendo Switch console and reset the time and date to reset the Mass Outbreaks until they finally find the Pokemon they’ve been searching for.

As a bit of morbid curiosity, I decided to reset my time to February 5, 2022, to see if the RNG Gods were going to be kind to me this day. And kind to me, they were. Located near the eastern entrance to Mesagoza, the area where the school is located, was a Mass Outbreak of Magikarp. While this tradition may take countless hours, the final result was worth every second of the adventure.