Garwulf's Corner

Garwulf's Corner
Walking with the Dead - A 15th Anniversary Retrospective

Robert B. Marks | 31 Oct 2015 15:00
Garwulf's Corner - RSS 2.0

It was fifteen years ago today that it happened - the first installment of Garwulf's Corner went live on On this day, a decade and a half ago, I got the honour of becoming one of the first - possibly the first - video games issues columnists in the English language. Even now, when it comes to my early writing career it is not Diablo: Demonsbane or The EverQuest Companion that I am most proud is Garwulf's Corner.

So, in honour of Garwulf's Corner's 15th anniversary, it is my pleasure to present the best installment of the original run of the column: "Walking with the Dead," originally published on January 8, 2001. It was young and reckless (was it ever reckless!), and it was the installment in which the column came into its own. I received more reader mail about this installment than any of the others, with readers actually telling me that it had changed their lives. Years after the original run of the column had ended, I was still receiving reader mail about it.

It was also from this installment that I received a reader letter that still haunts me. It was from a terminally ill teenager, and the gist of it was: "I'm 16, I'm dying, don't feel sorry for me, but I wanted you to know that your column reminded me why I keep going." I never replied - I couldn't find the words (even now, I still can't). In an entire professional writing career, I have never received higher praise, and I doubt I ever will.

(As a side note, as I am now happily married - and wish to stay that way - I would like to point out that the offer made to my readers in this installment is long-expired. Please do not try to collect. You'll understand when you read it.)

So, without further ado, it is time to go back to January 2001, and to Garwulf's Corner on

Walking with the Dead

I see dead people. They wander around, pass me in shopping malls and on the street, not even aware of what they are. They may still have breath in their lungs, but they are dead.

There are two kinds of death: there is physical death, which can only be reversed by somebody with messianistic qualities, and then there is the other, more common death.

I became that way on for a while. I still remember the last game of Diablo I that I played. It was one too many, in fact. Despite having good people to adventure with, there was no joy. I wasn't playing because I actually wanted to have fun, but rather out of habit. For that brief moment, I was dead.

And, I finally realized what was happening. I took the CD out of my computer, set it aside, and haven't touched it since. That was around the beginning of November. I currently have a Diablo II Realms character (his name is Garwulf, and he is on USWest) that I play occasionally, but I am finished with the first game.

Flashback: it is the middle of November. Demonsbane is on the PeanutPress bestseller list for the third week, about to be toppled by Terry Brooks and Stephen King. The American federal election has just become a farce, and Stockwell Day is helping the Canadian election campaign do a good imitation. I am one week away from my five-day long experiment in invoicing. Having nothing better to do, I find myself sitting in front of the television, watching American Beauty.

American Beauty is one of those incredibly profound and moving films that changes your life, or at least forces you to take a second glance at it. The story revolves around Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey), an advertising writer who suddenly comes out of his routine-induced coma and restores himself to life. It drives almost everybody else around him, all walking dead, to distraction. At the very end, the film makes you realize that there is so much beauty in the world that it is overwhelming, if only you can wake up and see it.

After watching the film, I was deeply moved. I re-examined my life, and found that while some parts were wanting, it was only by a bit. My philosophy of life was re-affirmed.

I wonder how many people I pass on the street, or run into in chat rooms on, are alive. How many of them are following their dreams, making their lives meaningful? And how many of them are dead, living through the computer game because the rest of their lives are by rote?

Flashback: the worst day in my life (so far). It is the second-last week of March, and my girlfriend has left me. It is not a situation where any blame can be assigned; sometimes there can be a lot of love on both sides, but an issue comes up and steamrollers both parties. Regardless, a year and a half of bliss had just come to a crashing halt.

I was a complete wreck. It would be two days before I could sleep again, and another week before I regained my appetite. My sanity was preserved by taking long walks and painting little fantasy miniatures (something I have become quite good at). It would be another two-and-a-half months before I could see her and not feel a pain in my heart. We remained friends; the breakup was not ugly, but it was exceedingly painful.

And the end, something profound happened. The pain passed, and I remained. The core of my being, my hopes and dreams, were still intact. I realized what it truly was to be ALIVE in that moment, able to live for the sake of life itself. It was not a matter of erroneously believing that I could live without love, but realizing that love was only part of a much greater whole. It was knowing that when the right person comes along, I will embrace her; until then, I will enjoy life to its fullest.

Flash forward: the modern day (in my case, the beginning of December; in your case, mid-January...remember, there is a time lag on these columns). American Beauty has just aired on the local movie channel, prompting me to write a column that bares my soul more than usual. And life is good.

I am not saying that life is not hard. My life is filled with challenges, from finding that perfect job (which I think I've managed to line up, but time will tell) to affording to go after my Master's degree. But I am ALIVE. I am pursuing my dreams, living every moment to its utmost, and doing what I enjoy. And, if something new comes along, and I think it might be interesting, I am happy to try it out.

(I think most writers are like that. Some people might think that I write fiction for the money; not so. I write fiction for love of the craft. I just require payment so that I can pay my bills. It is a hard life at times, but it is FUN.)

So, my dear readers, I am going to pose the question to you: are you ALIVE? Are you making something of your life, so that you can look in the mirror with satisfaction, or are you in a routine that you've had for so long that you've forgotten what it is for?
I remember a couple who were shown on the news once. They had met on Ultima Online, courted on Ultima Online, and said their real-life wedding vows on Ultima Online. They would log in together, while living in the same house, so that they could spend time with each other online.

They were living through the game, but what kind of life is that? The fact that they found each other is beautiful, but by all appearances they did nothing with themselves. Like the millions of walking dead who lived through the castaways during Survivor, they did not see just how wondrous their own lives were.

It is time to play the game of life, my dear readers. As the author of this column that you have been reading, having no doubt entranced you by the message or enraged you beyond words, the obligation is mine to make the first move. So here it is, something new, daring, and possibly a bit risky: if you are female, single, between the ages of 19 and 27, and living in the Toronto Area, all you have to do is email me before the next column comes out, and I will go on a date with you. There is a condition, however: you have to do something new on the date, something you've never done before. You have to LIVE.

Your turn, gentle readers, many of whom are married or attached. It's time to play the game. Turn to your spouse, your partner, the love of your life, or that special person you've been admiring from afar. Ask them out, and go do something new. Do that thing you've always meant to do, fulfill that dream. Reach out and become alive.

You see, the only people who are truly ordinary are the walking dead. They live their lives by rote, and never see the beauty that surrounds them. I am alive, and the beauty of the world is so overwhelming that it sometimes moves me to tears. I only hope that you can see it too.

Next issue: the column you've all been waiting for, Emails from the Edge, in which I answer some of the piles of letters that have come my way.

Robert B. Marks is the author of Diablo: Demonsbane, The EverQuest Companion, Garwulf's Corner, and the co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Agora. His current fiction project is The Eternity Quartet, with Ed Greenwood. He is on Facebook. He can be reached by email at garwulf at

Comments on