The Ache of Loneliness: ‘Duskers’

‘Duskers’ prods at the internal ache of loneliness

Written by M. Joshua Cauller / Published on August 4, 2016

Tom Hanks painted a face on a volleyball, named it Wilson, and bonded with it as his only friend for years in the film, Castaway. He wept and screamed when he was separated from the ball. I thought this was ridiculous at the time — until I developed a close personal relationship with three “volleyballs” of my own in Duskers.

Chris, Sarah and John were salvage drones, shaped like large volleyballs (I think—it’s hard to tell through the janky camera feed). I relied on them for everything: boarding spacecraft, gathering resources, and heavy lifting. They even provided a bit of emotional support, since they were my only friends in the universe — being that everybody’s dead.

Now they’re gone too.

~

". . . there’s something about the sickness of a despairing loneliness that makes you forget God . . ."
You might be a little confused when you look at screenshots for Duskers — since you’re essentially looking at my computer terminal: where I type lines of code to my drones from a command-prompt interface. My direct video feed connects me to each drone, but I’m sitting safely hidden away at my desk, in front of my keyboard and monitor — as I accidentally send my beloved friends into a swarm of unseen enemies.

Thank God for the ‘reset’ button. “Hello, Orson, Cliff and Ian!”

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My new BFF drones are amazing. Ian scans for enemy activity when I type “motion.” And Orson comes with an insanely useful “teleport” command that I can use to get around the ship quickly. We’re gonna get some sweet salvage today! Wait something’s moving.

“Video feed terminated.”

Orson’s dead. Wait, no. Oh God. Everybody’s dead. I thought it was safe to explore room 7, but a swarm of enemies came through the hatch shortly after I opened it. I need a moment.

~

Losing friends sucks, but I’m getting used to it. The unseen enemies are only a problem if I get bold—exploring rooms without motion sensors giving the green thumbs up. I get stupid: sending my drone buddy into an unchecked room—like dipping a bleating goat into a pool of piranhas. Duskers’ real threat is much subtler than combat zones: loneliness makes me want to take bigger (more dangerous) risks into curiosity. Lonely hearts make terrible choices.

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My loneliness in Duskers reaches such a height that I compulsively tab-out, check all my social media channels. Then when I’ve exhausted those channels, I start a random email conversation (or three). It doesn’t help that I’m normally in front of a computer for at least 8 hours a day anyway—as a video editor and writer. But when I’m isolated in Duskers for a long time, I teeter at dangerous levels of loneliness—that just make me crave human connection.

It’s weird that I don’t just start praying in the midst of this. After all, that’s kinda what happens when you get lonely enough, even for someone who doesn’t believe in God—but there’s something about the sickness of a despairing loneliness that makes you forget God; perhaps feeling like He’s abandoned you.

~

“If there are any survivors out there, please respond.”

Green text spills down my screen—most of which is corrupted. A moment later, my video feed is back up, showing me the drones in my bay. This time it’s Holly, Neil, and Wally. I’m never short on new friends, but now I don’t grow attached. I open the docking bay by typing “a1.” I drive Holly into the newly opened room manually, but I send Neil into room 3 using a script: “navigate 2 to r3” (Neil is “2”). This particular time I tell Neil what to do, I soon forget his name. Now he’s just “2.”

~

Steam users defined Duskers as a Horror game—an apt description. Duskers prods at the internal ache of loneliness: I need to get back out around other people. I can’t stay sitting in front of this keyboard all the time. I need to look somebody in the face and acknowledge that we’re both in deep need of one another.