I had a point to make when this all started, but I had forgotten what it was.
I couldn’t explain it in 30 seconds. I couldn’t cut the intricacies down to an elevator pitch. It wouldn’t fit in a tweet.
The Selk Bag arrived years ago, but the marketing material arrived beforehand. We often get crap like this sent to the office: “please write about our thing, Mister Kotaku, gamers will love it”. I can’t remember the specifics, because it was a crumpled mess of paper and ink two seconds after I read it, but I remember the implications. I remember the frown I wore as I ingested the buzzword-laden drivel.
The messaging was clear. I was being alerted to the fact the Selk Bag existed because I was the editor of a gaming site. The idea being that "gamers" did nothing but laze around the house in their underpants ingesting Doritos and caffeinated drinks until slumped on the couch, their bleary eyes submitting to sleep as a TV blip-blop-bleeped, creating shadows on a grim living space dotted with pizza boxes and used tissues.
I was outraged.
Or, more accurately, I was just a little bit tired of it all. Not just the stereotypes -- because the stereotypes are fine, I suppose. It was more the idea of the "gamer": the idea that we could be so easily herded and marketed to with such ease. We allow ourselves to be defined. We make it so bloody easy for the bloodsuckers of the world to force feed their useless products down our gullets.
And I was disappointed in myself because I was so clearly a part of that problem. We put ourselves out there. We make ourselves a "we", and as a writer I reflect that culture. Gamers do "this". Gamers do "that". Gamers eat fast food, drink soda and hiss at sunlight like troglodytes.
And this thing, this Selk Bag -- at this precise moment in time -- felt like the final boss. It felt like the endgame of all that marketing bullshit. Here was the monster we had created: a blue sleeping bag, shaped like a human being. Designed for people who were too lazy to get dressed. Designed for people who wanted to eat, sleep and shit in one singular spot.
"Perfect for gamers", the marketing material said.
Perfect. For. Gamers.
A little context. This is the Selk Bag. It’s a sleeping bag you can wear -- that's the simplest way to describe it. It’s made of the same materials you might find in any quality sleeping bag, but it has sleeves. It also has a spot for you to stuff your legs into. It allows you to walk around whilst wearing it. The official site seems to pitch the Selk Bag to outdoor types, brave men and women facing off against nature’s wiles but at some point one bright spark clearly decided that gamers would love this, otherwise the bloody thing wouldn’t have landed on my desk all those years ago.
I had taken it home back then, with the intent of doing something stupid with it, but it slipped my mind. Eventually my wife shoved it into storage where it gathered dust -- until recently.
But now my wife and I are about to move house, we are in the process of packing our belongings into a series of boxes and there it was, at the back of some cupboard -- the Selk Bag, the Frankenstein, the ultimate evil -- a voodoo doll for the corporate idea of the "gamer". I wanted to stick all sorts of pins into that piece of shit.
"What do you want to do with it?" My wife had asked.
"Just chuck it in the donate box," I had replied, masking my murderous rage. We had a donate box. We’re nice people, you see.
Fuck that thing, I thought to myself. I might have even muttered it out loud.
But then, on a cold Wednesday morning, I stomped into the spare room in search of something to wear before my daily commute to the office. There it was -- The Selk Bag, poking its head from the donate box.
"Pick me," it seemed to say. "Pick me!"
Then it occurred to me...
I’m going to fucking wear this thing, I thought to myself. And you know why? Because fuck the Selk Bag, that’s why. I play video games. I play them on a daily basis. By almost all definitions of the word I am a "gamer'. Wearing a bloody idiotic thing like this and going about my every-day life is just about the most absurdly inappropriate thing I can imagine. I have a job. I have a family. I live an active life. How could I possibly live that life whilst wearing a bloody thing like this.
I’ll wear this thing. I’ll bloody well wear this thing. I’ll show everyone what a bloody stupid idea this is by wearing it and living my life like normal.
That’ll show them! They’ll see. They’ll all see!
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Something worth knowing about me: I have no sense of shame. I dance stupidly at house parties. I stick it to the man, goddamnit. If someone suggests doing something silly or embarrassing I jump to the front of the line. Part of that impulse, I think, is a mild exhibitionist streak. Another part is a perverse pleasure in making other people feel embarrassed. Even if they’re just embarrassed for me. Maybe it’s because I want to make people examine their own reasons for embarrassment. I think I just enjoy confusing people.
Point being: as I headed towards Parramatta train station with my Selk Bag, circa 7am on Wednesday morning, I wasn’t feeling bashful. On the contrary I wanted to elicit a reaction. I wanted people to stare.
And God knows they had every right to stare. I looked bizarre. I looked like I belonged next to Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak. I looked like I’d just returned from space in a bizarre 1950s version of the future.
Much to my disappointment, no-one really gave a shit.
Sure, people had a glance. Mostly followed by a frown or a restrained smile. At that time in the morning commuters are mostly trying to fight their own rage at being awake at this time in the morning, heading to a job they most likely hate. They had their own problems to deal with. This weirdo walking around in a sleeping bag was the least of their worries.
Later; a train change at Redfern. The station is packed. A tradie in a hi-vis shirt taps me on the shoulder.
"A bit cold there mate?" he asked, in the broadest Australian accent I’d ever heard.
Yeah, something like that.
Our office is pretty hot. That was my first observation as I sat down at my desk to begin work and sweat profusely. My second thought was "how the hell am I going to pee in this thing?" That thought led to another...
"How am I going to poop in this thing?"
It was surprisingly easy.
The Selk Bag might be a dead-eyed exercise in corporate cynicism, but by God it’s a well-designed dead-eyed exercise in corporate cynicism. A conveniently-placed zipper made for super easy access when it came time to shuffle to the office urinal. And yes -- I did feel the urge to poop at one point during the day, which was marginally more difficult, but hardly problematic.
The heat was a problem. I was essentially living, breathing and sweating into a human-shaped portable sauna, but there was some respite -- see pictured above: some miraculously placed vents. Erotic.
What was I wearing underneath? My initial plan was to go completely naked, but I had to be prepared for every eventuality. I chose to go with some shorts and a tight fitting t-shirt. I also wore slip on shoes -- because I planned to do a lot of walking in this thing. I cover a lot of distance in my everyday life and I was damned if I was going to change a single part of my routine because I was wearing a bloody sleeping bag and drenched in my own bodily fluids.
I walked to the train station. I walked to the office. I walked to get lunch. I walked from my apartment to my son’s daycare center. On the way home, just for a little extra exercise I always make the trip from Circular Quay to Town Hall -- a two-kilometre walk up Pitt Street. I didn’t get lazy for a second. If I did it in my normal outfit the previous day, I did the precise same thing wearing the Selk Bag. That was the point of the whole exercise: I play video games, but I live an active life. Think this bloody thing you’re selling is for "gamers"? Perfectly designed for your idea of what gamers do on a day-to-day basis? Fuck you. I’m going to lose 3kg in water weight to show how stupid that idea is.
The hottest day of winter, they said. A temperature peak of 23 degrees, they said. Bloody hell. That’s just great.
The train ride home. A stinking hot carriage. I decided to experiment with the Selk Bag to see how far I could zip it up. Turns out it went all the way to the base of my chin. Cool.
The heat became unbearable. The Selk Bag itself, combined with the heat of all the other passengers on the train, had ratcheted my internal body temperature sky-high. No problem, I thought, I’ll just unzip it a bit, let some air in.
The zip was stuck.
Still no problem, I thought. Probably just a little bit of material trapped in the device. I give it another strong tug.
Nope. The zip was really stuck.
I pulled it up again. Maybe if I pulled the zip up, I’d be able to pull it back down more easily. Now the zip was up over my chin and it still wouldn’t come back down.
Another thing worth knowing about me: I’m mildly claustrophobic. The thought of being in tight enclosed spaces creates an anxiety in me that starts in my sternum and quickly spreads through every bone in my body.
Short sharp breaths. I clench my teeth. A slow panic begins penetrating my muscles and spine. I can’t get out of here. I need to get out of here. I need to get this fucking thing off me right now or I’m going to rip it off with my bare hands.
I am in a public place. I am surrounded by people. I am about 60 single seconds from what I assume will be a full-blown panic attack. I will hyperventilate and scream in this little prison I’ve built for myself. What the fuck do I do? What the fuck do I do? Help me. Somebody fucking help me!
I try to bring it under control.
Breathe, I tell myself. Just breathe. In through my nose to the base of my belly. Exhale. With every breath I imagine myself inhaling light and breathing out the darkness of my body tension. The anxiety slowly evaporates. I take a closer look at the zip. There’s a thick, unwieldy piece of fabric caught in there. After some fiddling, I tear it out.
I pull the zip down. I close my eyes and slump in my chair. I breathe.
My favourite part was the reactions, when they eventually came.
The curious office worker at the pedestrian crossing: "I didn’t realise it was that cold." The stranger at the food court who demanded a photograph (and my contact details for some reason).
This Facebook comment from my mum: "Mark you come from Scotland for goodness sake. A Sydney winter should feel like a spring day, toughen up luv mum x"
My friend Tristan who photoshopped me as the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. A lifelong dream fulfilled.
The entire day: confusion. With every tweet and post: "What the hell are you doing?" "I don’t understand."
But I didn’t explain. As I mentioned above: there was no elevator pitch. Why was I walking around the city of Sydney, going about my everyday life whilst wearing a ridiculous bloody sleeping bag instead of clothes? The answer to that question wouldn’t fit in a tweet. This had become a performance. A pure performance. Absurdity and confusion had become the end goal.
Only once did I feel the sharp pang of embarrassment. Only once did I hesitate for a second, questioning the walking circus act I had become. Only one moment was truly difficult.
The daycare centre. My son. I had to pick him up. I had to commit fully to this act of absurdity. I had to walk up to the building. I had to walk past the other parents, make polite conversation. I had to walk up to the teachers who look after my child. I had to say, "I’m here to pick up Quinn." I had to do it all whilst wearing this ridiculous outfit.
It was tough. It was really tough. Condescending smiles from the other parents. Confusion as they subtly adjusted their bodies in response. I laughed internally at the children as their eyes lit up, but the parents were different. The movement to defense was instantaneous but completely understandable. Who is this man? What is he doing here? Is he a danger to my child?
How could I explain? How could I possibly explain?
I quickly picked up my son, walked out of the front door and headed home.
It spoke to the heart of what I wanted to achieve.
I play video games. We all do. But that’s just one facet of my identity and that applies to everyone who plays. We work, we study, we exercise. We are husbands, wives, sons, daughters. We are fathers. I am a father. The idea that I could eat, sleep, shit and live in this little prison is patently absurd and the manner in which I sheepishly picked up my own son from daycare is a reflection of that fact.
Now I’m perfectly aware that Selk Bag doesn’t expect people to go to work wearing their products. They sure as hell don’t expect you to pick up your child from daycare donning an aquamarine coloured Selk Bag Lite.
But it’s what they expect you to do whilst wearing their product that bugs me. Slumped on your couch, alone. Surrounded by take-out boxes, empty bags of Doritos, fingers covered in cheese dust. Too lazy to pick yourself up and cart yourself to bed. Fuck that noise. I am not a stereotype.
On the walk back home from daycare, I am accosted by one last human being.
I’m standing at a pedestrian crossing, my son in his buggy. The sun has almost set and in the low visibility a gangly looking stranger makes eye contact. He looks rough as guts. He spots what I’m wearing and he laughs.
"You’re even worse dressed than me," he shouts, a little too loudly for my liking. Other pedestrians slowly back away.
The man has booze on his breath. He has the pallid skin and smell of an addict. He talks to me and he won’t stop talking. He gets uncomfortably close and I’m thinking of the best way to disengage from this conversation as quick as humanly possible.
The green man flashes. Thank Christ. He belts off at a pace and I deliberately move slowly. I sense danger. I want to keep my distance if possible.
But then, ahead. An old homeless man. Seemingly unconscious, spread across the sidewalk with a body that appears to be twitching. The other pedestrians cut a circle around him, completely ignoring the bearded figure in the darkness. They power past and he is completely invisible.
Only one person stops. The man with the booze on his breath. The pallid, assumed drug addict. He hunches over the man’s body. He appears to say something. The homeless man grunts back. He is okay.
I am stunned. I take a long, hard look at myself. I had just spent the last 12 hours in a human shaped sleeping bag trying to prove some bizarre point about surface level judgements, and here I was engaging in the same practice. The hypocrisy of it. Of all the people, he was the one to offer his help. He was the good samaritan who offered kindness while others refused.
I accelerate, I speed up. I catch up to the man with the booze on his breath.
"Is he going to be okay?" I ask. I wasn’t prepared for what came next.
"Who gives a shit," he replies. "I was just asking if he had a spare ciggy.
"If he wants to jab that poison into his veins, then fuck 'im."
This world we live in man. This fucking world.
You can find out more about the Selk Bag here.