Messages From Beyond
I encountered two interesting (albeit morbid) thoughts in the same week. The first was an essay on Kokatu. The author lost his father last spring and is currently musing on what he should do with all of his father’s game save files. It made me think about my own game save files and what I would want to happen after I’m gone.
I mean, I’ve worked hard on my Hay Day farm and solving the puzzles in LEGO Dimensions. I hope someone would come around and keep those games going for me, or at least enjoy playing inside all of my hard work once or twice, despite the fact that I would break everyone’s fingers if they touched those game save files while I was still alive.
The essay is really about what we leave behind and the stories those files tell. His dad played hours of Civilization, which begs the question “why?” Because it was fun? Because it was a place where he felt in control? I know my love of Hay Day is tied to the low-stakes organizational nature of the game. Cleaning my house is big and unruly: Do I want to save or toss this paper? Taking care of my fields in Hay Day takes a swipe of the finger. The game behaves in the same way, day after day after day. In an unpredictable and often-times scary world, Hay Day is a sunny place where it never rains, crops never die, and the townspeople live in friendly harmony. The exact opposite of watching the news.
I hope someone keeps these save files as well as all of the maps and notes I have stored in a box that go with hundreds of interactive fiction games. But those are my wishes; once I’m gone, I don’t know if those things will matter to anyone else.
The second thought came in a podcast. In “Messages From the Beyond” on Note to Self, Manoush and her team speak to a mother who is using Safe Beyond, a service that allows you to record emails, voice notes, and videos and will deliver them certain dates or on set events in the future after you’re gone.
The woman in the episode is recording messages for her children as she battles cancer, though she changes course towards the end of the episode when her kids let her know that they will not be able to handle receiving an email from her on their wedding day if she is not at their wedding.
The podcast producer asks the hard question, one that inadvertently comes up in the essay above, too: Are the messages for the creator or the receiver? If the creator wants to make them, should the receiver have to read them? Or if the receiver says they don’t want them, should the creator stop even though she has a need to leave her words behind?
I don’t like the idea of surprising people and having a message pop into their inbox when they least expect it, but I do like both the idea of leaving messages behind as well as receiving messages after someone is gone. Of course, I don’t trust other websites and their machines, so I could see myself only doing something like this via paper or digital files on my computer with many backups. And then marking the envelopes with messages such as “to be read on your graduation day” or “to be read whenever you miss me.”
It would make me feel better to know I left behind those notes and that people will still get to connect with me after I’m gone. But I’m not sure if the people I would leave them for would want them. Maybe it would make it harder to let someone go.
I think it helps if it’s a natural extension of what you already do while you’re living. For instance, when the kids went on a camping trip this year, I filled their bag with little notes marked “to be read on the first night” or “to be read when you’re missing home.” One of the kids had a hard first night, and I had to drop off a new handful of notes to be read because they opened up all the remaining notes to get through that first night. So maybe they would want notes after I’m gone.
But maybe those camping notes only worked because the kids knew they were a paper bridge between seeing each other again. Words to hoist them over the divide until we’re on the other side of the trip. And, clearly, death would not be like a camping trip at all.
Unlike the save files, which were made solely for myself, these notes would be reaching outward, speaking directly with people I love. They would tell people information, much in the same way those save files tell a story, but those words would be meant for them vs. ideas that they inadvertently stumble across when boxing up a life.
It was food for thought during a long drive.
Would you want to receive notes after someone was gone? Would you be okay if they came to you on random days and you never knew when you’d receive one? Would you want to leave other people notes this way?