A few weeks ago, my much-abused bed frame finally gave out. Having purchased it — the cheapest Ikea sells — when I moved to New York and was living on a shoestring budget, I was frankly surprised that it lasted so long. And as I took the pieces out to the trash, I realized that I was about to reenter a phase of my life that I thought I had put behind me. I was going to put my mattress directly on the floor.
Was I liberated from the shackles of wooden slats, free to sleep as close to the earth as possible? Or was I descending into ruin and a life of depravity? It depends on who you ask. But one thing is undeniable — from the moment the memory foam touched hardwood, I tapped into something deep and powerful. Like an explorer disturbing an ancient artifact, I unknowingly called upon the energy of the floor mattress gamer.
— merritt k (@merrittk) April 4, 2020
The Floor Mattress Gamer Mythos
The man in his 20s or 30s whose apartment is barren save for a game console, large TV, and bare mattress has become a stock figure on social media. For many, he is a figure of ridicule, emblematic of the misplaced priorities of young, heterosexual males. For others, he is a classist bogeyman conjured up to ridicule those who fail to live up to the standards of bourgeois normalcy. And for others still, he is a kind of sexual demigod — a figure whose lack of investment in his surroundings gives him an aura of erotic bohemianism.
I am neither bohemian nor a heterosexual male. Nonetheless, my mattress rests on the cold floor, and my gaming PC is one of the most expensive items in my apartment. And as a result, I’ve found myself drawn to the power of this primal archetype, unconsciously incorporating other aspects of it into my life.
Since I threw out my bed frame, I’ve started vaping. I bought one of those fancy vaporizers with multiple settings and an associated app, and I have been enjoying the high life ever since. My vape has games on it. Vape games.
It doesn’t stop there. Shortly after I started crashing on the ground, I began watching anime. Yes, it’s been for a podcast project, the conceit of which is that I am being forced to do it. But still. Anime.
There is nothing wrong, of course, with anime, vaping, or gaming. It’s just that this trio of interests are the stars in the constellation of the floor mattress gamer. We picture him laying back on his coverless pillow, pulling off of his sick rig in between rounds of Call of Duty, anime girls decorating his Playstation’s menu screen. He is carefree — perhaps exceedingly so — and youthful, a kind of Peter Pan in his own personal Neverland.
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Floor Mattress Energy
Like the skater boi before him, the floor mattress gamer’s appealing qualities are precisely those which also rule him out — for most — as anything but a casual sexual partner. His seeming disinterest in his surroundings (and perhaps even in sex), his devotion to gaming, his apparent lack of ambition form a sometimes irresistible combination, but one which is exclusive of deeper connection. Wendy goes on adventures with Peter Pan — she doesn’t marry him.
And yet at this point in late capitalism, a Peter Pan complex seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to a world in which meaningful work is scarce, affordable housing is practically nonexistent, and the future looks dark. Video games provide community, meaning, and a sense of logical progression that many young men otherwise lack. In a way, they aren’t checking out at all — they’re checking in to what feels like a better option.
Accusations that the floor mattress gamer doesn’t have his priorities straight thus somewhat miss the point, especially when leveled by those who are doing well for themselves. He has examined the limited possibilities laid out before him and rejected them. He is at once ascetic and hedonistic, representing our own repressed desires to rebel against the world. And if we wish to maintain our commitments to that world, he can only be a blissful vacation from it — not a partner in navigating its treacherous waters.
This, then, is why the floor mattress gamer is a figure of such intense scrutiny. In rejecting the standards of how one “should” live, he calls into questions our own assumptions and priorities. Like the drinker who rages against the teetotaler for forcing him to confront his own consumption, insofar as we have committed ourselves to a particular aesthetic and lifestyle, we cannot abide the floor mattress gamer.
We Are All Floor Mattress Gamers
Of course, there are gendered dynamics at work here too. The floor mattress gamer is almost by definition a heterosexual male, as his position in society affords him more economic and social latitude to live his lifestyle. For those of us on the outside of this status who do not enjoy the same privileges, his behavior represents what we have been denied.
This reaction is wholly understandable. But rather than curse him and demand that the floor mattress gamer align himself with the priorities of capitalism, surely we should instead demand access to what he represents — leisure, pleasure, and play. Yes, we (and he) will work in a post-capitalist future, but that work will be more evenly distributed, automated, and meaningful. And we will also have time for pleasure, for relaxation, for exploration.
At this historical moment, as my friend Annelise puts it, “we are all sleeping on a floor mattress.” This speaks to the deprivation, pain, and anguish many of us are living through, but also to a kind of revolutionary potential. As governments move to assist their citizens in unprecedented ways, people are beginning to wonder why it took a pandemic for states to shift their priorities even slightly towards the health and well-being of their people. And it seems unlikely now that we will be willing — or able — to go back to the way things were.
And so, as I await the arrival of my new bed frame, I aim to take some of the energy of the floor mattress gamer with me into the future. Not the anime, or the vaping — though I will probably keep vaping — but the spirit of refusal. And, if I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get some of the sexual charisma too.