When I drove out to Los Angeles with my brother Mark five years ago, one of the first things we did was visit UCLA. I was about to start the Professional Program in Screenwriting there and wanted to see the campus.
For those unfamiliar with the Professional Program, it’s like the MFA program, except it’s only one class, lasts one year, costs 7% as much in tuition, and gives you even less than that much in credibility. Don’t get me wrong; that class was invaluable, and I’d choose to take it again without hesitation. It’s just that Graduated from UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting doesn’t look much more impressive on your resume than Finished reading Story by Robert McKee.
Anyway, as Mark and I headed to campus, he asked me if I had any regrets going to Carnegie Mellon instead of UCLA. It’s not something that I’d thought about in years, but my final decision for undergrad was between those two schools. Carnegie Mellon had an academically prestigious reputation and offered me over $20,000 in scholarships and grants. UCLA had hot women and beautiful weather. For a 17-year old boy, that was an immensely difficult decision.
Perhaps luckily, it was not for my parents, who informed me that they were not paying an extra $20,000 a year for me to get a tan and be rejected by better-looking women. So I went to Pittsburgh, the fourth cloudiest city in America, and Carnegie Mellon, whose unofficial motto was “Sex kills. Come to CMU and live forever” (they may not have been attractive, but damn they were clever).
I told Mark no, I don’t regret going to my school. I can’t. To say that I regret choosing the college I attended is to hate my current existence so much that I’d sacrifice it for a parallel universe that I can’t, with any accuracy, even imagine. College was the four most important years of my life, and no other years come close. Beyond everything that I learned and the lifelong friends that I made, those years shaped my identity more than any other. It built the foundation for the way I would think for years to come. If those years were spent somewhere else, I don’t know if I would’ve even become someone who contemplates the metaphysical implications of a decision like that.
Meaning I don’t know if UCLA Chendaddy is sitting around blogging about which college he should’ve picked. He’s probably got a great job and is getting laid all the time, so fuck him.
But what about everything I chose after I’d gone to Carnegie Mellon? Now that I think about constantly. A question I often ask friends and more interesting Tinder dates is, if you could return to any point in your life with the knowledge and experience that you have now and could restart living from there, what point would you pick?
Before I moved out to LA, I said I’d pick when I was five years old, freshly moved to the U.S., and I would devote my life to playing basketball, at the very least topping out at a respectable NCAA Division-I career. After five years in LA pretending to be a screenwriter and completing a total of zero screenplays worth sharing, I realized my self-discipline was shit and I had to make smarter decisions instead of harder decisions.
I settled on my first day of college as my new Load Game point. Wouldn’t touch high school. High school was perfect as is. For the most part, I had no friends, no life, no choice but to study my ass off, and was constantly picked on to brew that handy psychopathic level of resentment. I got valedictorian and into a great college, and I’d take that 10 times out of 10 over putting penis into vagina. Well, maybe nine out of 10. I’m in my 30’s; valedictorian ain’t helping me get any jobs anymore, but the right vagina still might.
What would I change in college though? Everything. I’d double-major in Creative Writing and Business from day one. I’d listen to my friend Dave Kent—who told me IT consulting was like getting up every morning and just waiting to die—and never end up in D.C. working in that field. I’d live in New York. I’d work too hard and party too much. I’d get a pointless graduate degree so I could tell everyone I had a pointless graduate degree, and then I’d move to Shanghai and thrive in the asshole expat lifestyle.
Of course, that’s cheating. I discovered I loved writing from all the years blogging about not knowing what the fuck I was doing in college. I discovered how imperfect even the most idyllic relationship could be and how tragically unprepared I am for that lifestyle because I moved to D.C. and fell in love with a girl there. I discovered how much work really goes into chasing a dream because I came out to LA and fell flat on my face. To erase all those years but keep the wisdom is to lose the very purpose of life.
And what is that purpose? I believe it’s something that I read as a kid in the game manual for Daggerfall. Every geek knows the game Skyrim, but before that and Oblivion and Morrowind was Daggerfall. It was the second game in The Elder Scroll series, but the first of its kind with such unprecedented control over customizing your character and size of the game world (the world of Skyrim is 14.3 sq mi, Daggerfall was 62,394 sq mi).
Two things I remember about Daggerfall. First, that piece of shit crashed my computer every ten minutes. Can you imagine shelling out 70 bucks for a game that crashed every ten minutes today? Second was a blurb from the game manual. Lots of bad things could happen to you in that game without you dying. You could be imprisoned and lose all your stuff. You could offend certain people who would never speak to you again. You could even be cursed into a vampire or werewolf. Every time something like that happened, it was tempting to restart from your last saved game to keep your perfect character and to continue doing everything as you planned.
The manual implored you not to do that. “Play through it.” That’s what it said. Play through everything you deem a mistake or a problem. The developers spent such a long time trying to craft a world as rich and complex and beautiful as life itself that they would’ve hated if players missed some of the most interesting parts just because they thought those were too difficult or unexpected.
And you know what? I didn’t do that. I found a website with a walkthrough that described everything that could happen. I wanted to make sure I did all the cool things and got all the cool stuff, but really I didn’t even finish the game. It took too long, and I already knew everything that would happen. What was the point?
No matter what anyone tries to tell you, there’s no book, no website and especially no goddamn person that tells us everything that can happen in life, and the only walkthrough worth a damn is the one we each write ourselves by playing through it. This game is rich and complex and beautiful. It’s at least 196,939,900 sq mi and never crashes once let alone every ten fucking minutes.
But there are no saves. There are no respawns. There’s no undo. You just have to play through it. Experience it. Live it. That’s the only purpose, and everything else we’re just making up as we go.