In his passing I have been asked by people who didn’t know David to explain who he was, but I don’t know how to talk about someone whose impact on my life was multiplicitous. Our relationship wasn’t of one variety or another; the experience was more like a jam session. We shared a wavelength. Simply put, David was someone who’s principals and guidance affected what I think about, and how I think and move about the world.
I’ve been writing a lot since I found out. For someone who doesn’t write often, the process has been very therapeutic. Maybe it’s ironic that I’m sharing some of my grief, but I think you should know why I am so sad, and why I will be grieving this loss for a very long time—for no other reason than to iterate the impact of a single person’s life. I think there are take-aways from that.
Last Wednesday, members of Think.Play organized a memoriam to provide a space for people across campus to convene and talk about who David was and his impact on our lives. Over 50 people came to share love for each other and memories of him, but no one really knew how to start talking about our collective loss. I had been working on something I wanted to articulate since waking up on Tuesday morning so read this statement, something I wrote more explicitly to explain to myself what I was experiencing and why in the wake of his death.
I haven’t been able to listen to any music since Monday, so I have been listening to my tinnitus instead. The ringing in my ears has been the soundtrack for my reflection on the loss of my dear friend because David would have understood the poetic nature of this tribute.
It’s also a reminder of his facilitation in my John Cage education; I hope no one forgets his part in the tribute performance, “Imaginary John Cage, No. 1 (for 12 video games).” It was, and always will be, the soundtrack for our relationship; the recording remains a token of our shared enjoyment in pushing the boundaries of normalcy.
Today I have one less friend with whom I can candidly talk about reality; he was one of the rare people with which I could talk about our universe in an effort to better understand our lives and the way we move through them. We could explore postmodernism and videogames, and he was someone who helped me struggle with my research. I could depend upon him to entertain weird ideas because weird meant something unique to us. I would like to think we shared an upside-down world from which to criticize this one from time to time.
If I could be in dialogue with David now, I imagine he would chuckle at the irony of my attempt to understand his passing because we both know that I cannot understand. The attempts to explain my loss are simply projections of who I am and who I thought he was. In trying to understand why David is no longer with me, I can really only learn more about myself and who David was to me.
David would say that this process of learning about myself is very ironic because most of the time we think of a person is as self-constituted. We are who we think we are. We don’t think about how our personhood is constructed when we impact the lives of other people. I wish I could tell David that I don’t think he knew who he was. Largely because I never told him who he was to me.
David knew that he was a teacher of sorts and a mentor. He knew that we were part of a community of intellectuals deconstructing this thing we call reality.
But, I question whether David realized how he was such an exceptional man. He treated everyone as his equal, and his mentorship was an empowering force in the lives of the people he touched. In leading by doing, he practiced qualities we should all think to embody in ourselves.
David practiced independence, encouraged resistance, and upheld justice, and motivated others to do the same. He upheld and vigorously defended the principals of democracy, multiplicity and equality. He inspired community and championed inclusion. David fought righteously against complacency and mediocrity, and simultaneously celebrated self-determined metrics for success. If we want to manifest better futures, we should look to the spaces he helped to create with Think.Play and the Emerald League.
When David and I would talk about Think.Play, we were in constant awe at the force a few undergraduates could have in the larger academic community. I hope none of you forget that David believed strongly in the ability of this group to breed creativity, collaboration, and cooperation because of its governing structure and the loyalty of its membership.
The last time we sat over coffee, he and I talked about our embodiment of the “authentic” hipster ethic, a mantra I echo in his absence:
What we do is cool, because we are all cool. What David did was cool because David was cool.
He showed us how to materialize what we thought was cool, and he demonstrated why good ideas should be shared with a larger community. More importantly, his resolve in the principals of equality, inclusion, and education was guidance for us all.
I think my greatest source of sorrow in all of this has been in thinking that it was his guidance that I had truly lost this week.
He wasn’t finished playing a part in my rebelliousness. I considered him a partner in the crime of subversiveness to patriarchy and inequality of all sorts. To me, his daily activism was manifest in the explicit trust he held in others to uphold their own moral, ethical, and intellectual standards. His steadfast commitment to the betterment of other people was a constant reminder that I should remain committed, too. His living was proof that others could live that way, too.
So, it is perhaps ironic that in his passing I am more committed than ever to reconstruct reality as the future he and I envisioned.
If this cannot be a world where a David Baker can exist, then humanity has worse things coming than global warming, weapons of mass destruction, and the next Call of Duty, combined.
I know that the spirit of his existence will reverberate in the lives of the people he connected with—as much is clear from the testimony of so many who knew him. However, his death this week has pushed me into a strange parallel universe, one that I never thought would form beneath my feet.
My earliest memory of David is of him and I in ENG 486: Introduction to Game Studies. We’re a few weeks into the class, and I’m lauding the syllabus he helped build for the 2-hour lab. He’s the first instructor I meet in almost 4 years of college that doesn’t hesitate to criticize his own work—there were just so many possible ways to talk about the ideas he wanted to explore in lab, he remarked; but, at the end of the day, he wanted the lab to be accessible to every kind of student. We agree 2 hours isn’t nearly enough time for everything that should be experienced and discussed. It was a glorious class.
The class ends in March. In the weeks following, I go out of my way to visit him while he works at CMET. We start talking about the need for a videogame-oriented club on campus, both of us want to recreate that lab experience. He tells me he knows of a few others who might be interested in embarking on such a venture. I rope in my partner, Jon. Between late April and late May, Think.Play and its steering committee are born over regular meetings at Cafe Roma.
Since, Think.Play has grown. The community is now more than the 5, and the meetings are much more frequent. The principals of the group, though, have remained the same. Members of Think.Play try to embody inclusivity and fluidity, recognize and celebrate difference, and have fun. For many, myself included, David modeled those principals in his community behavior. I think this is why, for to some, Think.Play seemed dependent upon the investment of David’s spirit and time.
Though, David—I can say with certainty—didn’t think about his involvement with the group this way. To each founding member the ultimate goal was always that this group would one day carry on without us. It may seem melodramatic to someone outside of the group, but it has been empowering for me—someone whose primary life project is progressing equality—to watch the seeds of several lofty ideas take hold in the larger campus community at the University of Oregon.
If, in anyone’s mind, there is a question about the future of this community to which he was fully apart and loved by, then it is important to recognize that we should not ask if Think.Play will, or will not continue.
Rather, does anyone want to get together and Think.Play?