Rowland Carlson

Up To Me


It was Sunday, and my hands had stopped hurting. A year and a half out of college, I came home each Friday with aches, new calluses, and wrinkled fingertips. The factory gave us nitrile gloves to keep out the water, but they never worked. I had started working at the factory a few months prior to pay the bills. This, despite the tedium and exhaustion, had zero effect on the $60,000 of loan debt. Evenings and weekends, especially Sundays, were my respite. I used this time to play online as part of an organized team. Working with my friends gave me the chance to feel like I was contributing to something greater than myself.

I wouldn’t have traded gaming for the world. Four hours a day, four days a week, our team would work through months of failure after failure after failure. We were solving a puzzle, and I was a puzzle piece in our team's strategy. Twenty people working in harmony, each with their own role in a strategy invented with our players in mind. I taxed my awareness to its limits, trying always to be in the right place at the right time. If I missed one thing that I was responsible for, the entire team would have to start over from the beginning. I played for that moment where the strategy, execution, and luck all fell into place. The completion gave me a rush of euphoria proportional to the strain and effort that came before it. I couldn’t live without it.

It was mid-afternoon when my group leader sent the message. “It’s over, the group’s disbanding”. One of our top players had been scouted by a better team, and several other players followed his lead. Last time, my group leader defiantly recruited people to get the group running, but this was the second time in two weeks that my group had imploded. Sundays were supposed to be an escape from the monotony and repetition of the assembly line. Instead, I was faced with the loss of the only social connection I had. My friends had scattered.

"I'm going to find another group," my group leader said, "what are you going to do?" I played idly as I thought about my answer. Two weeks ago, I had chosen to keep playing and stick with my friends. This time, it felt different.

I cannot tell you tell you why I made the decision I did. Maybe it was a culmination of the exhaustion, monotony, and burnout I felt. Maybe the advice my friends had been telling me for years finally weighed in on a decision. Regardless, I felt in that moment that I wouldn’t get another chance at this decision for a long time. I messaged my group leader back: "I'm going to quit."

That Monday felt the same as all the Mondays before it. The same 45-minute commute. The same blue-grey building. The same monotonous eight-hour shift. Now though, I knew no one was coming. It was up to me.