In An Overlooked Wood, Where Games By My Grandpa Sleep (A Short Story)

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Today's Flavor

Crisp, autumn day at sunset. The scent of a familiar car interior. An unearthed box of forgotten keepsakes, ancient dust.

The taste of... a close friend's holiday dessert. The quiet luncheon after a sudden funeral. A solitary midnight snack. Cold air of a poorly insulated home.


Grandpa Tsu led the way, dense pines around us, their fallen needles, piling up, a scented cloud, notes of evergreen, early Christmas. Still at an age where one's hometown felt intractably large, I struggled to match his strides, his footsteps weaving into those low, evening sunbeams, flickering through the treetops.

Looking down, watching piles of autumn leaves go by, I tucked my hands into the Pokemon hoodie that Grandpa gave me. A gift from his father, cherished, kept in his electric car for surprise outings like this. Though the appeal of the bygone franchise was lost on me, I appreciated its warmth.

The Midwestern USA, a place of woods, farmland, flatness. We were off the side of a mile-long two-lane forest road known for nighttime traffic accidents and rumored hauntings. Lush with forest that extended into the roads. The bordering land was divided between landowners, state forest preserves, and the occasional dead-looking business, external renovations frozen in the 20th century.

Though it merely connected my hometown to the neighboring city, I felt the road and its remarkable sameness always pointed out that it was me who was changing.

The trees indicated the season, their shadows, the time. It was fall, after school (the 6th grade), and it was the first time I wouldn't just drive down the road.

As Grandpa Tsu and I proceeded into the forest, the terrain became steeper. The buzzing noise from the passing cars were gone, leaving the stillness of the autumn. The trees grew thicker, and it went on like this for a while. My phone in the car, I wasn't able to check how deep we were. I filled my nervous silence with a question.

"This is a forest preserve, right?" I didn't really care about the answer.

"No, it's something else! Just wait a bit, Ran. This way."

A small, barely-trodden trail, cutting through underbrush that needed trimming. The scent of pine. Small bushes brushed against my jeans.

The occasional bird or animal skittered about. The path gave way to a small grove, perhaps the size of a family-sized tent seen at the big stores. An unremarkable grove, except for the smooth, chrome sphere sitting at its center, decorated with fractal-like appendages, themselves made up of spheres. They looked as if they threatened to poke or snag my hoodie. But, being metal, they did nothing, even as my Grandpa approached them.

I hadn't moved an inch from the tiny clearing's entrance. I looked at the sphere, and a bizarre grin reflected back at me, scattered in the remaining daylight.

Click... ringing out from somewhere. The sphere.

Grandpa Tsu stood up. Noticed my stiff posture, I guess. "You know, each person in the afterlife gets three tickets a year. They can use those tickets on any living person."

"Really? I don't believe in that after death stuff. I'm pretty sure when we die that's it."

"Well, you're just being pessimistic."

"There's not a lot to be optimistic about."

"I'll have to talk to your dad. Aren't you going to ask what the tickets do?"

"Okay, what do the tickets do?"

"When spent on a person, that person will think of the departed. Perhaps the person will remember something asked of them, or they'll go through past mementos, or just spend a few moment reminiscing."

I looked at the ground, brushing aside the dirt with my foot. "Well what if the person doesn't want to remember? Like if the dead person was bad."

"Good thing the dead person only has three tickets, right, Ran?"

"Well, I thought the living person would win the lottery or something. If that's all there is to being dead then I don't wanna be dead."

"A while before you have to worry about that, Ran."

"What's the metal thing? There's a new stream premiering that I wanted to catch after my homework, you know!" School already drilled routine into me. If my homework was delayed, it'd be done after dinner. I'd miss my daily streamer shows.

Grandpa ignored my whining.

"It's a grave, Ran... and no one's going to tell you about it from your family, so I'm going to."

Grandpa slapped his hand down on one of the sphere's appendages, like it was his car. Was it a car?

"Grandpa, this is weird for a grave."

"It's your great uncle, Hayato."

"The metal thing?"

"No, it's his..."

"Never mind, I get it. It's his grave. Funny grave."

I had heard of Hayato a few times, but my family rarely spoke of him. He had died before I was born, and, I guess, not left enough of an impression on my immediate family, or been too distant. Perhaps he wasn't present enough, maybe it was his lack of kids, or just being dead, but for whatever reason there was a disinterest towards him in my family.

I had heard he had some eccentric qualities - vocal, outspoken, overly so, to the point of putting off some people. When I tried to imagine his face, I mostly saw the few photographs of him I'd seen. Now, I also saw this metal hunk of a grave in my mental image.

Grandpa sat on the ground to rest. "Well, I guess Hayato must have given me one of his tickets, since I finally got off my ass to come out here and take a look..."

"Um... you two worked together, right?"

"Yes, we made and sold games together."

"Sell games? Games are free!" Most kids played one of a few, massive, constantly-updated games on their phones. At the time I didn't realize anyone even made games, I just thought they were these things that appeared, pre-downloaded on our phones.

"Well, games didn't all used to be like that. Actually, I'm pretty sure they're still not all like that." Grandpa sighed. "But at least you're playing something, I suppose."

Grandpa brushed a leaf off of the grave. He walked around it and gestured towards me. I walked over to the backside of the grave. A small, tablet-shaped outline was indented into the surface.

"This grave is a solar-powered storage device. It contains every single game Hayato and I made together... and all the files needed to run them."

He explained how, theoretically, using the files on the drive, any of their games could be played at any point in the future.

"Why would someone want to play an old game?"

Grandpa looked around at the grove. Small birds hopped around the branches, setting red leaves adrift. He scratched his head, searching for an answer.

"Well, why do you watch compilation videos of your favorite streamers? It's not exactly the same, but different people find value in exploring something made by a person long ago."

"I guess."

"Hayato and I worked hard on these games. He was always a little worried about preserving everything... so I'm just helping preserve that dream."

Grandpa took out a phone-shaped device and tapped it against the panel, some words scattered across the device's screen.

He looked at it for a few minutes. Somewhat lacking in energy, he mumbled "Okay, I guess we can go."

"You're not going to play any games?"

"Ha ha, no, you can't play games on that thing. But if you want, I can always show you when we get back home!" His enthusiasm seemed forced.

We left the grove, returning to my home for dinner, where I promptly forgot about my Grandpa's offer after my homework and streams.

Even as a kid, I sensed the grave was more symbolic than practical. What if someone vandalized it? How would people find it? Were Hayato and Grandpa Tsu even famous enough for people to care? Maybe it was an act of Hayato from beyond the grave, spending his yearly ticket, to get Grandpa to come and maintain it, a box of personal memories.

Well, however Grandpa Tsu truly felt about it, I would never know. He never brought up the grave site again. I guess the trip out there was his last attempt at telling someone about it.

Whenever I asked my parents, they'd make a noncommittal statement about going and looking into it.

As I grew up, it gradually weighed down on me how bizarre of an act it was for these two brothers to maintain their life's work in a hunk of metal. There were more practical ways to preserve data, and the two obviously were no stranger to technology.

All in the forest of a town that seemed most concerned with the dreams of high school football athletes, stock prices and expanding burger franchises, no less!

As I, like the other youth of my generation raised in the vat of endless hypersocial media - as we grew to understand, at least a little, what it meant to put something out into the world - I had the sense to ask Grandpa about the grave, getting some details about it, before it was lost to that consuming void, dementia...


"Well, did it work?"

Gazing into the magnifying glass, searching through a dictionary. Ten trillion words and only a sentence that matters.

"Ha ha, define 'work'. Sure. Most of the games seemed like they'd work."

"But you didn't test them, did you?"

"No! No, I didn't. God, I mean, can't you let it go?"

"I've let it go, I've let it go."

"Good. You've had time. It's not permanent. When we chose to work in this medium of bits and bytes, trusting our work to magnetic forces and electric charges. For the magic of that digital simulation, images on the screen... we also had to accept something with an expiration date.''

"I know..."


One day, you remembered, and one day, you acted.

You've taken time off from work. It is autumn, again, the forested road the same as ever. Stop the car. Turn off the engine. Shut the door. How many times have these sounds have repeated in your life? The opening bar to your daily routine.

This familiar road, this unchanging road. The one you always drove down. That old path, decades of overgrowth. Exactly where he said it'd be.

Even with the childhood home demolished, parents out of state. You drove into town, staying at the hotel you thought you'd never check in to, the one near that place.

With this foreign entity as your home base, you calculate new distances to each town landmark. And yet, as much as you feel you're walking through a wreckage of your memories, it is the same mundane place as always...

The gravestone was more or less in tact, except for the occasional bird shit. The forest was reclaiming the grave. Were your Grandpa and his brother's games really all inside that statue? Hmm.

You remember Grandpa's attempt to connect with you. That day went on like normal, the trip into the woods, a bizarre deviation. You wished you had at least googled his games that day. Some act of good will.

There were ways to play old games, but at that age you didn't know. It's like some force didn't want you to know how to play an old game. So even if you found a game, it'd be you staring at a .bin file, a .exe file, the stubborn bytes, refusing to budge or run. Secrets locked in assets and code. A program with a name, a program with no face.

As it turns out, neither of your Grandpa nor his brother were famous enough to have their work archived online in any of the yearly, 'historical' gaming industry backups, a practice which was stopped once the industry centered upon three similar-ish titles, and it was deemed there was nothing worth preserving.

Why didn't your parents care at all about Grandpa's project? Perhaps they saw it as the aging indulgence of an elder, irrelevant to their lives. Even you couldn't bother to ask about your parents' lives half the time, so how would you expect the same of them, about something that seemed before their time? It's easier to ask when it's too late.

To your father, Grandpa making games must have been mysterious, the silent clacking and clicking of a computer, the passage of years, the appearance of a new game. A cycle. Planning the next game. Making the next game. Releasing the next game. Normalized to a flatlining white noise.

What if Grandpa had been famous, rich? Would your father have been more interested? You wonder. For all your parents' talk of justice and happiness, it seems playing with numbers and money is their true interest.

Some thorn, compulsion wedged into the mind, must have caused Hayato or Grandpa Tsu to do this symbolic preservation project as some last-ditch resort of keeping their mark on the world.

At least, that's your explanation, though in reality you know nothing about their feelings, and you're projecting.

Nowadays you work at a small, consumer media-focused business of your own. Your company manages a sizable fanbase. You have some personal stake in what the company puts out, but also sense that if your company didn't exist, some other company would just take your place.

"Thank you for your work..." "This is the only thing getting me through the day..." "I thought I'd die, but then I wouldn't get to see this..."

True words, but you don't think your company's products differ much from the next's.

One day the company will turn over, its distribution contracts running out, and eventually, the number of people consuming your content will slowly dwindle, year after year, quieting to a murmur within the cultural imagination. The lake's surface, grown taut.

Even the famous works of your medium will not be safe. The medium will likely be called old at some point, preserved and loved by a small group.

Newness is what the company thrives on, newness is what will kill it. Even the newest companies are practically dead, an industry of zombies, reincarnated flesh.

Night time.

Are there more graves hidden in these woods? You touch the panel on the back of the grave, but nothing happens. You look at it, but nothing happens. You think at it, but nothing happens. You kick it. Nice! It cracks and falls off.

(+1 Experience Point) You see the tiny monitor Grandpa was messing with. With hope, you tap the screen.




A sound... only a bird, off to sleep.



nothing. dead bits. it doesn't turn on. until. it does.

Some corrupt files. Many that are not.

In any case, at least you have the manifest of filenames and READMEs.

The joy of the simple text file!

You'll read this file and then go back to the hotel.


No personal statement, no essays, just a list.

You glance through the list of games, looking to the year you were born. Games dating up to 40 years before that were listed. They must have worked together since high school. Were their games popular? Why do you care? To work so long meant that obviously people valued their work. Don't be a reactionary.

2021 - Stay at home simulator

Lists of other names dotted the years, you knew nothing of how to interpret them, their names at times seemed interesting, but they must have been named for a different market, context... occasionally a name would stand out like 2029's "At Abyss", and a quick Google search would show some basic info. Maybe a video.

A new rabbit hole to get lost in.

You skimmed ahead, to your dad's birthyear.

2036 - Never Miracles Evidently it must have done well, as a few more installments in that franchise dotted the following decade.

Franchises, like a life raft for the creator's income, a life raft for the followers, looking for some semblance of stability in the world. Recognizable but new experiences. An industry's health can be determined by the frequency of franchise installments.

They were interwoven with other names. Did the two feel they didn't want to rely all on the franchise? Were they embarrassed? You had no idea. You didn't even know what the games were. They might have been good. Why not play them. For movies, even old games, there are plenty of 2's, 3's, 4's that you like.

At times the titles drifted into the more perfunctory, generic sounding, at times a single-word title would pop up, a word created for that game. Contract work, maybe. Hard times. You imagine the economics of their time. The markets. The demand, the psychological desires of the players screaming out to be satisfied! Shifting, according to the times. Each time, a new flow of money to a new person, a new narrative and a new myth made.

You realize the games would tell you about Hayato, about Grandpa.

Perhaps not directly, but the games would provide their digital worlds, full of art, words, sound, levels, passion. Between these elements, is the negative space of a game, that which they chose not to represent. You are the piece to that puzzle, you would fill this negative space, explore it, diving in, deep, down, seeking answers.

The negative space sleeping in all games, a place, only accessible - and made unique - by the player.

In the game, you detach from your body, and let the magnetic forces of the game suss out undiscovered facets you never thought visible, breaking them free as they bubble to the surface to see the light of day.

"Why did they stop making games right around when I was born?"

Did Grandpa retire, did he work on his own, was this because of Hayato dying. Was he sick of working. Was he unable to work.

An intuition tells you there will be no clear answer. Even you don't have clear answers for why you do what you do as a job, but you do it. Something to do. You decide it's better to play and see rather than predict what answers will come.

Maybe some archive on the internet could make this process easier.

Insects chirped, the same ones. Time passed over this strange grave. A light-stained night sky.

Maybe fans had backed up this work on their own. It's not impossible, if they worked for 40 years. Just in case (mainly to appease the immediate sense of sadness you projected into the lonely grave), you back up the contents of the grave on a storage device.

A prayer for Grandpa. For taking you here one day.

A prayer for Hayato, who you never met. A lifelong relation to your Grandpa is admirable. You think of the unreplied messages from friends sitting in your inbox.

One day, Grandpa's last game will be forgotten by its last player. You want to prolong that expiration date.

A night drive, a familiar road, a different time. The periodic flashes of passing cars. The blinding yellow of a deer crossing sign. Quiet air at an empty intersection. A familiar turn. The parking lot. Delicious night air. The lobby, the elevator, the hotel room, a window. A view. A unfamiliar view onto a familiar world, the camera only shifting and rotating a bit... all that's needed to recast the mundane in a new light...

Open the laptop, check the files.

type your grandpa's name into the search bar. the first half of the key. you reach into your inventory, pulling out his game's names. the second half of the key.

combining both, you hit enter, and pray,

pray that someone cared about grandpa's work, when you did not. pray that some player's care rippled forward through time, preserving grandpa's






As someone who makes games and music for a living, the word 'legacy' haunts a lot of the industry. You play an old game, research the art director or composer, only to see their credits end at that game. Games in development get canned and forgotten about. An indie developer's games get lost when they stop paying the hosting fee. Even if their games are still in someone else's download folder, they're effectively lost. Sometimes I wonder to what extent should I aim to preserve my games, so far, the furthest I've done is open sourcing some of the older ones. It's, of course, arrogant to think anything you make can or should last forever, and the word 'legacy' is very loaded, but, to me, if you value your work, it's worth putting at least some thought in how to keep it working.

It's a bit grim to think about what will be canonized and forgotten from games in 100 years, to the point where I don't think it's particularly healthy to worry about as a game developer... however, I still believe that as long as there are tools out there (and we have Linux with Windows emulation), it's unlikely games will die out. Sure, successive generations might care less and less about games I care about as other forms of entertainment emerge (this is already the case to some extent), but as long as there's some player base (no matter how small), I'm not too worried.

I got the idea for this story while visiting an ancestor's grave, someone who had mastered the Japanese Red Kutani ceramics creation process. I wondered a bit what it was like to work in that climate, what kind of aspirations there were. I heard a little bit about how craftsmen/artists would try to get their work shown overseas at expos, or contract with overseas trade companies. Certainly the pressure to do so increased as Japan continued to modernize and interact with the "Western" world.

Did this ancestor care what happened to their ceramics after dying? When did they stop working? Well, like with Grandpa Tsu, there really weren't answers to be found. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to imagine the things a retired, lifelong indie dev would do in regards to their 'legacy'. There's a lot of ways you could depict that, but I decided to just shrink it down to a family thing.

Ran reads some 'desperation' into Tsu showing him the grave, but I feel like it was more likely Tsu was doing it on a whim while he had a chance. I think it was a kind gesture. Even though Tsu had no desire to push his work on his son, he still thought it was worth to at least expose his grandson to it, planting that seed of a memory, just in case one day, if Ran did have an interest, he would have a lead on how to find out more.

Melos Han-Tani (2022/01/31)