When the Game Is Over, Where Do Our Avatars Go?

In the 2003 Major League Baseball season, Oreo Queefs stood five-foot-zero, weighed 385 pounds, and, impossibly, stole 214 bases, obliterating the century-old single-season record of 138. A walrus with the legs of a cheetah, the purple goateed Queefs also regularly blasted the ball 500 feet to the opposite field—steroid-free beefiness never seen before or since. Over just two seasons with the Florida Marlins, he batted .680, hit 203 home runs, and was ejected for charging the mound 46 times. Then, before even reaching his super alien prime, Queefs vanished into thin air.

A few weeks ago, I received a text from the Marlins manager about what happened to the former Golden Glove winner. Queefs has fallen on hard times. The now 43-year-old lives with his uncle in a rented trailer in Nevada, where the two run a failing off-off-Strip sausage stand called Queefs’ Kielbasa Kiosk. He is twice divorced, the manager tells me, hasn’t seen his 15-year-old son in 12 years, and is on probation for attempted robbery of a bait-and-tackle shop.

In reality, Oreo Queefs exists only on a PlayStation 2 memory card, now likely corroding in an eastern Massachusetts landfill. The manager is my childhood friend Chris, onetime owner of the EA Sports game MVP Baseball 2003. We conceived Queefs one summer night the only way two 13-year-old boys know how to procreate: our lubricant being 2 liters of Diet Pepsi glugged straight from the bottle, our uterus the game’s Create-a-Player screen. The X and Y buttons dictating our designer baby’s chromosomes, we chose his height, weight, cheekbone structure, speed, vision, and batting hot zones. We bestowed our firstborn with the most awesome name our post-9/11 pubescent brains could think of, and we watched with pride as he eviscerated the league.

Then, as gamers do, we got bored with our child, abandoned him, and conceived several more, including Garlics Pepperonis, whose anatomically absurd chicken-wing shaped arms single-handedly led Cal State Fullerton to its first national title in basketball (College Hoops 2K6), and FB#44, the nameless Alaskan fullback who won four consecutive Heisman trophies (NCAA Football 2007). Then, on grimy futon couches in college, I made more children with other friends, including Uka Pryzvashevki, a 7′ 1″, 140-pound Bulgarian heavyweight champion (Fight Night Round 2), and Y. Anus, all transition lenses and robin’s-egg-blue sweater vests, who coached the Maine Black Bears for 130 seasons (most of them simulated), and finished his career with a staggering record of 1,654–19 (NCAA Football 2009).

I haven’t played any of these games in a decade, but over the years my friends and I have updated one another on the lives of our created characters. They’ve all plummeted from glory. Pepperonis is in prison for embezzling from his alma mater’s dining hall. Anus, now 168 years old, is hiding in Peru, wanted by the feds for tax evasion and by his nine former simultaneous lovers for his duplicity.

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The media has been overanalyzing why millennials can’t grow up ever since the oldest millennials have been legal grown-ups. Still, I can’t help but take the fact that at 32—an age when, for example, Jesus Christ was leading his friends and then much of humanity to eternal salvation—my friends and I text one another during the workday about how the video game characters we created when we were teenagers have become financially insecure, criminally prone deadbeat dads, and ask, why?

The writer Sam Anderson recently quipped that “the world of sports media is basically where American men go to avoid therapy.” The same is broadly true of sports video games (where there remains a dearth of female athletes), and especially true of conjuring the afterlives of fictional sports video game characters. As kids, we lived our dreams vicariously through their record-shattering, gobsmacking successes. As adults, we process our real setbacks and failures through their imagined setbacks and failures.

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