Through the Rainstorm

The autumn storm is tremendous. Rain pouring in from all sides, a diffuse droning soundscape, and an overwhelming gray. Everyone shuts themselves off from their surroundings, focused only on getting through somehow. As dry as possible, as intact as possible. No eye contact, no smiles, no strolling – everyone in a tunnel. I try to redeem the digital ticket for the subway on the wet display of my smartphone. The drops on the cell phone and the mask-induced fogging of my glasses scarcely allow me to make out the buttons, that my wet fingers can’t press anyway. I’m dead tired. It’s way too early, my pants are soaked, so are my shoes, I don’t want to work, and it was a stupid idea to bring my Switch carrying bag with me. On the train it will be too crowded and too soggy for that anyway. Somehow I manage to buy the ticket, somehow I get on the subway with all my stuff. I function. Barely. Everyone who usually rides a bike, like me, gathers for communal agony in the metal tube that takes us to our respective destinations. And although it is a community of fate, in which everyone has it equally bad, I want them all out of the train, into the rain, I don’t care, just leave!

I find a seat for myself, position the damp umbrella so that it worsens the overall situation for everyone involved as little as possible, and take a few breaths. I squeeze my face in a futile attempt to become more awake, or at least to cope with the fatigue. The drive is rather long. I unpack the Switch after all. Hardly any games installed. None of them are suitable for the train ride. The Switch is just ballast. So what. I choose the game #racedierun. It’s a nonsense pick. I’ve spent the last four evenings in bed unsuccessfully trying to complete the nineteenth track of this hardcore future racer. I’m not going to make it now, of all times, not here, of all places.

The tracks in #racedierun are between 15 and 30 seconds long. Short infernal courses that require precise maneuvering and pixel-perfect jumps at top speed. Not a game to fall asleep to. Especially not a game for a train ride through an autumn storm. But maybe it works… anyway? I know about the effect that you suddenly succeed in tasks you’re helplessly stuck on after taking a break.

An empty shell of a human being sits next to me. A girl with a bad-tempered face and headphones, from which generic techno penetrates at room volume. Presumably she is using it to numb her dissatisfaction with the course of the day or life so far and to come. But the music, unbearable in itself, underlines my future racer quite well, because I have no headphones with me and, unlike her, would not bother my fellow citizens with sounds like these. But now I tap into her sound and feel connected to her without her noticing.

I remember the aching hands of the previous evenings. They had cramped up time and time again during the 300 or so attempts to complete this course with the Switch’s Joy Cons. Now I would add 50 more attempts and will have made no progress when I arrive at my station. Bleak prospects for a dreary day.

First attempt. Works surprisingly well. Concentration is here, I almost reach the spot I couldn’t get past before. Second attempt. Sloppy mistake right at the start, my glider crashes into some brownish skyscrapers under the thin rail I aimed to land on. The techno-girl exits the train. She seems to despise all of us. I silently wish her well. Third attempt. I zoom through. All the way to the finish line. Through passages previously unknown to me. In a game that demands memorization and quick reactions, a steady hand and the highest level of concentration.

Left or right? Too late. You are dead.

I didn’t have a steady hand. The rumbling of the subway felt like a hard mode. I wasn’t nearly at my full mental potential, but completely exhausted. I had no calm, but cold subway lights, soaked jeans and a bunch of people around me. I didn’t even have generic techno. But I had succeeded. After a mere three attempts. I got through the storm in one piece.

After that, I rode the wave of euphoria through four more levels. The subway continued to carry me and all these other souls through the nastiest autumn morning imaginable. Everyone was grumpy. I was feeling great. The brain is a strange organ.

#racedierun was released in 2019 exclusively for Nintendo Switch and offers 75 of these short courses. It does without laps, opponents or weapons and is thus not a racing game, but a reaction test and can build respectively ferocious track designs, which in a real racer would be a reason to throw the console through a window.

This post is also available in: German