On June 27th I was preparing to start a job that would mark a significant milestone in my professional career. On that day, as I looked forward to a new chapter of my life, Near ended theirs. I wouldn't find out about it for another week, distracted as I was and not checking in on Reddit or any of my other typical news sources. I was dumbstruck as I waded into the aftermath.
The news of Near's
suicide murder hit me like I imagine that of 9/11 would have hit backpackers emerging from the woods a week after the towers fell. My reality was suddenly shaken. How could I not have felt the tremors, disconnected though I was?
I did not know Near, nor did I ever interact with them outside of brushing elbows in a Reddit thread or once leaving a comment on their website. All the same, I regarded them as a towering yet accessible figure. A personal hero of sorts.
The thing that hits me hardest is that I can't help but imagine myself in Near's position. We were the same age, grew up on video games, were cut from the same cloth of an earlier Internet, were introverted, and frequented the same communities. I may not have known Near personally, but they were not an unrelatable celebrity whose passing I regard with mild curiosity but mostly indifference. Theirs is a loss I feel in my core.
In my first article on this website, I wrote about the power of a pseudonymous identity online; I referenced Near as an example. At the time, they had publicly abandoned their previous identity (byuu) and indicated they would retreat from Internet notoriety. Near ultimately did return under their new pseudonym but made no real secret that they and byuu were one in the same. Unfortunately, it appears that the troubles that plagued byuu did not let up for Near. I wrote in that article that a pseudonym can be protective of your real-life identity when it comes to things like bullying. What I hadn't considered is how a pseudonym may, for some, offer an identity more real than their own and therefore function less as a shield and more as a bared soul.
I wonder how close I might have come in my teenage years to embracing my online identity as my true self. There was a time when I was intensely lonely. My online self felt more capable and more connected to who I wanted to be. That person is still in me somewhere. I know it when I feel the urge to spend more time online, to do more to establish myself in the communities I frequent, and when I wonder if I'm missing out by allowing my real life's concerns to take priority over my online presence. Had I not managed to shake the loneliness of my early teenage years, would I have come to live my life primarily as zcal? Would I have exposed the same vulnerabilities as Near?
No one can deny Near's enormous impact on video game console emulation, the likes of which we may never see from an individual contributor again. For that they will be long remembered and sorely missed. But I, for one, can't help wondering whether their loss has prompted anyone else to take a look in the mirror.