Sex + Love

Secrets and Save Points

Thanks to him, I can no longer play one of my favorite video games.

Illustration by Cynthia

Somehow I can’t let it go. I’ve tried playing Secret of Mana with girlfriends, boyfriends, by myself. I’ve tried confronting it with alcohol, or studying it with sharp sobriety. I’ve emulated the game on my Mac, played fan-translations with extended dialogue; I’ve shoved it into my tobacco-stained Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) more times than I can count. I’ve sold it off, only to repurchase it at a greater cost.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I dated a guy in high school for almost two years, and it was the worst two years of my entire life. A nameless shame kept me stuck to his side, bound by my own insecurities, naïve and traumatized. I spent every single afternoon defending my innocence, deflecting his advances, gasping for air as he pinned me with kisses I didn’t want.

I should have left him. But I didn’t know any better. All of my friends had boyfriends, and most had long ago lost their virginities. Making out was supposed to feel good; I just needed to overcome my inhibitions. Sure, I knew most girls didn’t sweat when the school bell rang at the end of the day, most girls didn’t cry when their boyfriends felt up their shirts, didn’t drive home dry-heaving. The only time I got pulled over by the police in Chicago was after leaving his house. I blew through a stop sign. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

He demeaned me with constant clichés, trying to get in my pants with the grace of an after-school special. “You would if you loved me,” he said, pressing his knee between mine. Another time it was, “Are you gay or something?” More often than not, it was “Please, I need this.” I was never date-raped, but I was constantly dodging. I don’t know why he didn’t leave me. Maybe the only thing left for him was the conquest.

We didn’t have sex. But we did play Secret of Mana together. And I’ll never forgive him for it.

Secret of Mana is a top-down action role-playing game with bright, chunky, primitive graphics, made by Squaresoft before they merged with Enix. Like in The Legend of Zelda, you explore a giant, interlinked map and fight enemies. But unlike in Zelda, you’re not alone. In Mana, the main character is accompanied by two A.I.-controlled sidekicks. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have a friend over, you and your buddy can play simultaneously, marching through the shining countryside, carving up rabbits and wolves.

Secret of Mana is the only Super Nintendo game I still own. I can’t let it go. It sits atop of my yellowing SNES, dusty and threatening. I know it’s an incredible game. I love the music, the charming fights and simple swordplay. But I can’t play it, thanks to him.

It was the way he played the game. Like most role-playing games, Secret of Mana lets you name your protagonists. In defiance of the fantasy setting, my boyfriend christened the hero Asshole. The girl was Bitch. And the cheerful sprite was called Lump.

As we wandered through the world of Mana, saving villages and finding adventure, I was constantly being demeaned by the non-player characters. Every townsperson would call out Bitch when asking for my attention. When I couldn’t handle the humiliation, I’d switch to Lump, who was largely ignored by the shop-owners and innkeepers. Shame or silence. We’d play for hours; it was easier than trying to keep coming up with things to talk about until curfew.

What’s worse, my boyfriend and I didn’t so much enjoy the game as we did break it. When we realized that there could only be three enemies onscreen at once, we cheated through harder sections by keeping weak villains alive. We leveled up for days on Howlers in the Ice Forest, so that the following sections were just speed-runs. We skipped large portions of dialogue, and any time I started to drift into the world of the game, my boyfriend would yell something inappropriate at the screen. Or at me.

Maybe if I’d just acquiesced, it would have been easier. Why didn’t I like making out with him? I mean sure, obviously, the guy was a jerk. Another easy answer would be: I like girls, and was slowly going through a complicated sexual awakening. I came out to my parents as soon as I got to college.

But the truth is more muddy. In the years since high school, I’ve dated men and women. The longest relationship of my life has been with a man. Maybe I never was gay; there’s a part of me that wonders how much of my young identity was a response to those two terrible years with that boyfriend. Yeah, sure, when I sleep, I dream of girls…but how much is attraction, and how much is reaction? Did I stop dating boys because of him? Did I stop playing SNES because of Secret of Mana?

I can’t let go of the game until I can play it for itself, by itself, until I can erase my old save points and fill it with new ones. Or maybe it’s time to just let it go. ♦

17 Comments

  • insteadofanelephant November 11th, 2011 7:30 PM

    let go, let go! sims is better anyway.
    mustn’t let people like him have such a strong hold, isn’t worth it.

    -instead of an elephant

  • Maddy November 11th, 2011 7:41 PM

    That’s a really amazing story. I’m glad you got out.

  • Hedwig November 11th, 2011 11:08 PM

    I really identify with this.

  • dilemma November 12th, 2011 12:16 AM

    i can’t listen to fleet foxes for similar reasons…i listened to them the first time i made out with a guy who ended up not being worth it, but nowhere near as terrible as this boy is. i’m so glad you got out of that relationship!

  • thefawnboy November 12th, 2011 4:29 AM

    I feel I can relate to a lot of this,
    i mean I still feel this way often
    Next week I’m turning 22 and I havent
    progressed in feeling worthy enough to myself in knowing when to lose the baggage and unplug myself from the wrong ‘people’
    the kind that make u feel bad, sad and worthless, if not vile
    I hope I can regain my self esteem I lost somewhere along the way to put myself together as a truer version of me, a less tolerant to assholery and blatant meaness me
    As for “Asshole”
    I’m glad you unplugged
    I guess we can only truly value ourselves first, and ‘unplug’ when we realize what is going on
    I’m still working on it
    the best to you

    thefawnboy

  • freya2770 November 12th, 2011 8:51 AM

    Don’t let go! Secret of Mana is a great game and someone like that shouldn’t be able to ruin it for you.
    This is such a good story, though. I loved the bit about ‘drifting into the world of the game’– that’s exactly what it feels like when you get so involved in a game with an amazing story.

  • jinkies November 12th, 2011 12:56 PM

    Let it go and play other Square games or LoZ.

  • Pashupati November 13th, 2011 10:16 AM

    I’m not sure I understood it all, but it’s pretty sad…

  • mirandab17 November 13th, 2011 2:11 PM

    I feel so much pain for you. I can only, in some small part, relate to what you mean because of a few nights ago.

    I was at this college party, I’m a senior in high school, and yet I still felt really vulnerable… Sure, it was fun, honestly one of the best nights of my teenage hood if I do say so myself, but there was this one point, where there were just guys everywhere around me and my friend, and I knew it was because the night was coming to an end soon, and they wanted things.

    I kind of started to subtly shake. No one saw, I played it cool, I even really really REALLY liked a guy there but I just felt like I had to get out and get home. It was so weird. I can’t explain it. Some of my friends would just think i was ridiculous if i told them… I’m still not sure what happened there. Sometimes our body just sends us instincts…

    • fuethekid November 13th, 2011 7:26 PM

      That sounds so incredibly scary. It’s so fucked up how women have to even feel this way on a certain basis. As a cisgendered male, I’m so privileged that I sometimes I neglect it. Sometimes I get so scared for my niece, and I hope she never has to feel this way.

  • fuethekid November 13th, 2011 7:19 PM

    In a way I can relate to how you feel because I’ve wondered myself if I, as a gay teen, only liked men because I was always surrounded by my sisters gushing over abs, but it’s ok to question it. Haah call me naive but I’m sure everyone has some sort of attraction towards the same sex, whether it be romantic or sexual. Sexuality is complicated and I really appreciate how this article positively highlights it.

    Try playing the sequel, Seiken Densetsu 3 with a sweet gal. That way you can get over this asshole and enjoy a sweeter game.

    I’m sure that this is oversimplifying the issue, but Seiken Densetsu is soooo good. : )

  • GagaMcQueen November 13th, 2011 9:41 PM

    Wow. Well written.

  • mangachic November 14th, 2011 11:44 AM

    I’m so so so sorry you went through that and it’s fantastic you got out of it (even though stranger sympathy probly won’t help much.) What a despicable creature.
    Try mariokart or the original sims, they’re funner.
    And is it impossible now to file for sexual harrasment? (Who knows he might try to run for president one day.)

  • baem November 15th, 2011 1:59 AM

    It’s weird when your life attaches itself to fictions. Then, you are never allowed to return to them without that life, standing there in the way. Don’t ever let it go. Knowing where you came from will always be your map towards where you’re going.

  • stellar November 15th, 2011 7:09 PM

    yow. met someone like this right out of high school; twice my age–he should have known better. the word that comes to mind is “predator”. if he didn’t act like a boyfriend should, he wasn’t. amazing how presumptuous some guys are; u left an experience that didn’t deserve your energy but at least u are out of it and can have something better!

  • jeannerabbit November 17th, 2011 2:37 AM

    I went through the exact same thing! I was 21, never had a boyfriend and people around me were already doing it every weekend. I felt so pressured to have a boyfriend and I got one and he kept pressuring me for sex!! And he got pissed at me for not wanting to have sex with him and belittled me, called me “asexual.” And worst, I lost passion for French because ever ytime I tried to study for it, he would complain and make me feel guilty. Now, I can’t even speak or write french without remembering the horrible things he said to me.

  • heyblakeney November 17th, 2011 12:04 PM

    this is so real i can’t hardly stand it.

    in times like this i have called upon my most powerfull witch goddess friends to commence a woo woo cerimony of reappropriation. There needs to be sage and candles and cerimonial robes and a renaming of the Mana characters.