I’m not sure how to tell this story without simultaneously revealing myself as an absolute, honest-to-god, genuine, grade-A, hazing, blazing maniac. But here is the movie trailer version: About a half year ago, I found out that the same company that makes my favorite protein supplement also sells what’s allegedly a brain-boosting powder for video gamers looking to start juicing. I ordered some with the intention of trying it out for an Esquire story. Instead, I abused the shit out of the powder—which is Swedish Fish-flavored!—and developed a crippling dependency on Brady’s special juice*.
This whole thing started with a trip to GNC. I had realized, after 27 years of unexplained diarrhea and puffy eyes, that I have a dairy allergy. There I found GHOST (all caps!), a lifestyle/sports nutrition brand that makes a vegan protein that tastes like chocolate cereal milk. Also pancake batter. Yum. A few months later, I was trolling around GHOST’s website and noticed a new supplement: GHOST Gamer. Hot damn. I’d never seen a caffeinated anything aimed at gamers that wasn’t also in a gas station fridge. GHOST Gamer sports a handful of indecipherable ingredients that, when blended together, represent what GHOST claims is the “perfect combo of brain-boosting nootropics and natural energy.”
I was more interested in the concept of nootropics—an umbrella term for any substances that are supposed to improve cognitive function. You’re probably already good friends with caffeine and L-theanine, maybe even creatine if you lift, bro. Lesser known smart drugs include L-tyrosine, citicoline, and Noopept. Nootropics supplements like GHOST Gamer like to stack a bunch of these together for a Limitless effect. Now, some doctors say that you’re better off with a good night’s sleep, but admit that ingredients commonly used in nootropics can potentially improve memory and enhance the effects of caffeine. So you can guess why something like this would have gamers thinking like Barry Bonds in the ’90s. Why not toss a scoop of a supposedly memory-boosting, attention-increasing energy bomb into your Yeti during a game of 2K? Since the use of nootropics isn’t quite so prevalent as, say, your average name-stylized-in-all-caps ENERGY DRINK in the gaming community, I figured I’d make myself an over-caffeinated lab rat. Goal: Start juicing my way into pro gaming for an Esquire story. The folks at GHOST sent me a few samples.
I have a legal pad full of notes from the day I reserved to pound GHOST Gamer and play Call of Duty zombies. I can hardly decipher the chicken scratch. It’s like trying to read the diary of The Tell-Tale Heart guy. Or a kid who got into daddy’s whiskey stash and decided to handwrite a recap of a round of Fortnite. A few brief, somewhat lucid entries:
“Died early in round 16 — struggling — sleepy — so I need more”
“Ragu flavor is booger cheese — alfredo”
“Tired, miserable — don’t wanna play”
“I’m sipping like wine — fancy bitch”
“Had big bag of zucchini mac n cheese”
“Fart! Caffeine clearly hitting”
I don’t know. All I remember from that day is that I did like the feeling of the powder—and this is important, children—as it was intended to be consumed. One to two scoops per serving. The sensation was kind of like the caffeine rush you get with pre-workout, but without those weird tingles that make you feel like you’re Spider-Man. Less fleeting than a cup of coffee. More potent than tea. And GHOST Gamer tastes very good. Especially the Swedish Fish flavor. I’m not sure if I killed any more zombies than usual, which was probably more of a personal shortcoming than anything to do with the supplement. I genuinely recommend GHOST Gamer for that delightful, better-than-a-coffee-buzz buzz, though. I really do. I promise. This should be the end of the story for most of you. Here’s a link, if you want some.
I’d like the following parties to close out of this tab: The friendly people at GHOST who sent me samples of the powder, children, caffeine addicts, my peers at Esquire, and my mom.
I will now tell you about the night things went bad. The week before Christmas, I profiled Giancarlo Esposito for Esquire, timed to The Mandalorian finale. At the time, I was very excited about profiling Giancarlo Esposito for Esquire. He’s Gus! Fring. From Breaking Bad. Also adjacent to the wonderful cult of Baby Yoda. But the interview didn’t go down until 18 hours before the story had to go up. Ninety minutes of Giancarlo Esposito, 3,500 words, one night. I made a cup of coffee, the usual, and sat down at around 6 p.m. with the intention of working until morning, chipping away like it was finals week all over again.
When I had about 1,000 words, I emailed the story over to my mom for a is-this-garbage check. She told me—in the kindest way possible—that everything I had written so far was, in fact, garbage. What the fuck. I broke a sweat. Nearly had a panic attack. Midnight. I was very much living the SpongeBob episode where he has to write a paper about boating or something and instead has these terrible waking nightmares, the clock going tick, tick, tick, with only a single letter to show for it.
Coffee clearly wasn’t working. I opened my pantry. There they were, lined in a row: My three containers of GHOST Gamer. I looked at them. They looked back. Peach, Swedish Fish, and Sour Patch Kids. The holy triumvirate. I made another cup of coffee and a blueberry Toaster Strudel, then took a scoop from each container and dumped it in a bottle of Gatorade. I downed it all in five minutes.
I’m not sure if you know what it feels like when your heart’s about to explode. It’s kind of like there is a balloon where your heart’s supposed to be. Someone is filling that balloon with water, so much water, gallons and gallons, but the balloon won’t break, and the whole time, it is slowly inching closer to the top of your throat, but not quite out of your mouth. You’re sweating nearly the same amount of fluid that’s being pumped into your balloon heart. As this was happening to my heart, I listened to Journey’s “Faithfully” five times straight in a mild-to-extreme panic while I paced around my apartment thinking about either calling for help or having another Toaster Strudel, or calling for help and eating a Toaster Strudel while I waited for help to come.
I did neither. The feeling stopped after 20 minutes, and I felt fucking great. Clear-headed, calm, focused. Like I had exorcised the ghost of Charles Dickens from some moldy rocking chair in Kent and summoned him through the top of my sweaty head and into my brain. Wrote the entire thing in a couple hours. I was happy. My editor was happy. Giancarlo Esposito was happy, I think. But four months later, I still couldn’t write something of Giancarlo Esposito proportions without a couple scoops of GHOST Gamer. That’s the story. Absolute, honest-to-god, genuine, grade-A, hazing, blazing maniac.
I hate to say this—again, kids, please look away—but I could see how, if some enterprising individual with a PS5 controller pulled a similar stunt, an overdose of GHOST Gamer would prove to be a reliable companion in a 12-hour-long Overwatch marathon. I, for one, will only induce heart palpitations if I’m getting paid for it. So you won’t see me itching and twitching like Tyrone Biggums for the purposes of killing a couple extra zombies. But if you choose to use GHOST Gamer as the egg yolk substitute in your Rocky montage to become the next Ninja, I applaud you. Just drink some water. Please.
At the time of my writing this, I haven’t juiced for three weeks. But I crave the feeling of the white, grainy pebbles of GHOST Gamer dispersing in my bloodstream, like a tiny militia blasting Evanescence’s “Wake Me Up Inside” throughout my hollow body. I crave the feeling of transforming like goddamn Goku into a pulsing ball of hellfire after one too many scoops of powder. I crave the feeling of a caffeine high so extreme that I believe that GHOST Gamer’s artificial flavoring has triggered my metamorphosis into a monstrous, human-Swedish Fish hybrid. I miss you, GHOST Gamer. In my darkest hour, I will turn to you once again.
*Brady’s Special Juice: 30 ounces of water, two Gatorade Zero packets (one cherry, one blue), and—depending on what you estimate your tolerance for heart palpitations and/or light sensitivity will be that day—one to three scoops of GHOST Gamer, taken with a cup of black coffee and a handful of Reese’s Pieces.
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