For the past several months, I’ve been in hell. An ice cold, isolated hell courtesy of the Disney movie Frozen.
Around September of 2014, my wife, Sara, downloaded a video game to her phone. The video game is called Frozen Free Fall. She was having a good time playing it for a few minutes in the morning and a few minutes in the evening.
It sounded nice to have a couple of minutes of Frozen-based escapism to share with my wife. I love video games, but I have to be incredibly careful because I have a video game problem.
The first fucks I ever shouted were a direct result of the water level of the original Super Mario Bros.
I once played GoldenEye 64 for thirteen hours straight, then walked out into the street and tried to hit pause when a car was coming at me.
I had a girlfriend who wasn’t interested in video games but she was a fan of the strange career of the Olsen Twins so I tried to hook her by buying her a copy of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s Crush Course for the first PlayStation.
It was a one or two person game where you could do things like pick up sea shells, take pictures of whales, and try out for the cheerleading squad. But the real goal of the game was to figure out the mystery of who invited you to prom.
We played for a few hours, then my girlfriend needed to go out into the world to do normal, healthy human things. I played until 4 AM and beat the game twice, because I needed to know if there were multiple endings or if it was always Chad Donovan who invited you to the prom. SPOILER: It wasn’t always Chad! Sometimes it was Bobby BeefChest or Devin PoutMouth or Johnny HumanStereotype!
I was ashamed. No. Fuck the past tense. I’m STILL ashamed.
When Sara showed me Frozen Free Fall, I briefly remembered my Crush Course failure. Then I furiously mashed the A button on my soul controller to repress those memories and happily downloaded Frozen Free Fall to my phone.
And I did, indeed, free fall into obsessive madness.
Here’s how you play Frozen Free Fall: You move little crystals around to match them up, then they disappear. You do this to beat a point challenge, a time challenge, or just to push away the horrifying reality that time is linear and you will never get these hours back.
I think it’s pretty much Candy Crush with the characters from Frozen plastered over it, but I wouldn’t know because I’ve adamantly refused to even look at Candy Crush because I was afraid of releasing the video game monster.
I’m not even a big Frozen fan. I saw the movie once and liked it. I don’t even have the characters’ names memorized. I think it’s Elsa, Anna, Axe-Man, Drunk Frosty, and Prince Asshole?
Anyway, on every level, there’s a different character on the top of the screen “helping” you. They mostly help the way a judgmental, uptight parent would help a six-year-old at a dance recital.
When you lose a level — which you will do quite often — the characters judge you. They sigh, shake their head, and their shoulders slump in defeat. I found myself shouting out loud, “I KNOW! I KNOW! I’M SORRY!” to alleviate the guilt I felt for letting a snowman down.
Like everything Disney has ever touched, you have to admire how perfectly evil it is. You get five lives, then you have to either buy more or wait twenty-five minutes for a life to regenerate. I stopped myself from spending any money (thank God, or I would owe Disney both my kidneys right now) but I couldn’t stop myself from trying the level again the second a life regenerated. Here was my daily schedule:
I would get up in the morning and play through my five lives.
I wouldn’t beat the level.
Okay. I’ll get to work.
Hey, it’s been 10 minutes! I got a life back!
I’ll just beat this level and SON OF A BITCH STOP JUDGING ME, ELSA.
Okay. Back to work.
22 minutes later: I’ll just beat this level.
Hey, I beat that level!
Hey, I ran out of lives.
Okay, fucking WORK TIME.
17 minutes later.
JUST. ONE. MORE. TRY.
To make it worse, this is not a game of skill. It’s a game of whatever crystals they decide to give you. One of the crystal types is blue balls. On more than one occasion, without irony or humor, I shouted in frustration to my wife, “I JUST WANT BLUE BALLS! I NEED BLUE BALLS OR I’M SCREWED!”
Often the game wouldn’t give you blue balls or green diamonds or red flags, it would simply give you this message:
“No more moves. Reshuffling.”
The more I saw that message, the more it sounded like the mantra of some brutally honest life coach.
“You’re out of moves, Joseph, you’re out of moves. But you know what they say! If at first you don’t succeed, try, wait 20 minutes, try, wait 20 minutes, try again, until you inevitably disappoint a cartoon moose!”
I knew I had a problem, but how could I stop? I mean, in my defense, when I beat a level, the drunk snowman did a little dance that was really quite funny.
Luckily, the game had an arc to it. The first time you played through the game, it was in winter mode. Like my soul, everything was a frozen bitter wasteland. But if I could just beat the first 285 levels (not an exaggeration) then it would become spring.
No amount of reasoning, will power, or shame would get me to stop. But as an artsy weirdo with a triple major liberal arts degree in Art, Cultural Studies, and Rhetoric, I knew there was one thing I could cling to: thematic resolution.
I just needed to make it spring in the game, my cold soul would melt, and I would be free.
So I fought for that. I reshuffled. I got a lot of blue balls. I made the snowman dance.
And then, on December 30th, I beat level 285 and it was spring.
It was spring, it was the dawn of a new year, and I was free.
Sara still plays a few minutes at night and I look over and admire her restraint. I watch the snowman dance and I laugh, but I will never open that app on my phone again.
Instead, when I need a break from my work, I will go outside, feel the sun on my face, close my eyes, smile, and give some serious thought to playing through Bioshock again.