I remember being in love with being Bloom, with being a statuesque pyromaniac threading her way through a color drenched world, and not pudgy ten-year-old me, hunched over the slow family desktop. I loved each level, the way each leaked more secrets about her perfect fantasy/science fiction world, with wings and spaceships and planets filled with castles filled with beautiful, happy girls.
Bloom starts in Gardenia, the ordinary town she lives in with her ordinary parents, but even Gardenia is perfect, an endless labyrinth of park and cobblestone. When the monsters appear, heralding trespassers, even they are whimsical, barely threatening and shaped like ginger mustaches. They are no match for Bloom and me, my left mouse button a blast of sparkling fire, shift key a shimmering, bulletproof shield. I save Stella, Bloom’s new friend, from an ogre and Bloom transforms, takes to the sky, flies circles around the stupid earthbound boss.
Each world is beautiful, the magic school swanky and slightly 70s––the field trip to a bog swamp fitted with huge swaying Venus flytraps and hidden treasures. Bloom’s suitemates follow her through it all, the five instantly fast friends. That’s how I knew it was magic. Five is an impossible number in the real world.
They are fearless, snappy, bitchy, hot pink and girly and impossible to destroy. They smash faces with their gogo boots, let glitter clot in boss wounds. They are perfect.
I played that game for hours every Friday and Saturday, the only days I was allowed to. When my mother picked me on the last day of sixth grade, she said, “it’s summer now, you can be whatever you want” and all I thought of was Bloom. How could I want to be anything else? Fearless and unkillable, inheritor of the most powerful magic in the computer game, a world of fantasy and possibility ahead of me instead of seventh grade, the same girls.
Bloom hits rock bottom about seventy percent of the way through the game, a classic dark night of the soul. Her boyfriend turns out to have a fiancé (bummer!) and the evil Trix steal her fire magic, leaving her mortal and defenseless (boooo!). The only option is to go back to Sparks, the planet that once held Bloom’s magic, now desolate and cold without it. The landscape is beautiful, bare and frigid, the way she feels, the way I feel playing her. Who is she, now that she’s not magical? Does she wish she had never known things could be better? What it felt like to be loved? To be wanted? To be feared and admired and special and not just some girl going to school in the burbs, wishing she was invisible and wasn’t all at once.
Deep in the cold belly of the dead planet, Bloom finds a door on the edge of a cavern too wide to jump. A stone face in the wall of the ice cave tells her that if she lights two magic lanterns, a draw bridge will drop, and she will be able to cross, into the future, into an unknown world where she might be able to get her magic back.
I did everything I could think of. Retraced the empty corridor looking for hidden levels, pelted the lanterns with snowballs, listened to the stone face relay its clipped NPC speech over and over again. I couldn’t light them. I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t at the age where googling was an instinct, or I’m sure I would have found the answer. I paced the corridor for six hours for the next several weekends. I wished I hadn’t saved at every checkpoint. I wished I could go back to when Bloom had magic. I never beat the game.
In college, my friends and I watched the Winx cartoon while we waited up for suitemates to return from major parties or hookups, letting the shrill cartoon chaos inflate the night in. Sometimes, I would catch myself marveling at how much better everything was. I was happy, happier than I ever thought I would be.
But every once in a while, I would think about it. The impossible door, like something out of Kafka. I watch gameplay on youtube now, deep into my twenties. I watch Bloom cross the drawbridge someone else managed to lower into an empty throne room, haunted by the ghosts of a trapped people. I watch her solve riddles and set their souls free and reunite with her long-lost sister, return to Alfea, and battle her nemesis high above the school. I wait for nostalgia, but I watch and think this is who you should have been. This is who you weren’t.
Lauren Hunt is a Sales Assistant at a Publisher in San Francisco.