I am 32 years old.
born in California 1983.
born to immigrant parents. Arab. Muslim. escaping war.
32 years as an American.
32 years of that honor and distinction.
of dancing around the world with the most valuable passport in human history.
32 years of watching this experiment fail and collapse into itself.
I remember the Berlin Wall. watching it fall on television. Peter Jennings reporting.
I remember joy wrapping the world so tight no one could breathe.
we won. love won. unity won. openness won. democracy won.
the narrative was convenient.
America spent its century both freeing and dominating the world.
freeing. torturing. humiliating its own.
what was the civil rights movement if not a fight for basic dignity?
what was Vietnam if not abuse?
and America survived both with minimal adaptation.
an empire of systems. always acting to preserve those systems.
whether breeding right-wing assassins to destroy civil rights leaders or to pretend that you, as a citizen, are heard.
the collapse of the Berlin Wall, of the USSR, became propaganda to keep this network functioning.
we won. we’re still here. we run the world.
and three years later Rodney King is beaten mercilessly by police. it’s recorded. the police are tried and found Not Guilty.
and LA burns. and I am too young to understand why. to understand what it means.
and nothing changes. the systems function through it all as they always do.
America’s platinum respirator.
over 20 years since then.
people that look like me, talk like me, have parents like mine are ripped apart halfway across the world by America’s nihilistic shadow.
over 20 years since and Americans darker than me are exterminated en masse by a system that has become too efficient at maintaining the status quo.
that’s probably its only fault: it works too well.
when the extremist right disproportionately controls America’s governments…
when the choice of President comes down to a hawkish neoliberal willing to endorse the extermination of Arabs on behalf of Israel and a megalomaniacal tyrant that cannot discuss anything beyond a second-grade reading level…
when black Americans can be gunned down, broken, stomped on, have it all recorded, broadcast, and have nothing change…
that is America’s empire of systems working too well.
and that’s the sick genius of it.
this kind of oppression has no symbol. no joints.
it is a titanic sea of ghost limbs heaving in the dark.
you might be able to see it with the right kind of eyes, but it’s not like before.
it’s careful. quiet. thick. flaccid.
it’s not black students blasted with a fire hose in small-town America.
it’s not Kent State.
it’s not police tanks.
it’s Fox News, casual racism, microaggressions, the necessity to listen to what the Nazis have to say in pursuit of some theoretical objectivity.
America can handle a riot or 10.
it’s done it before when it was much less sophisticated.
and I don’t know what the solution is.
I don’t know what I can even say that other, better, people haven’t already and I don’t need to add commentary to the overwhelming body of recorded, state-sanctioned violence.
I can only say that America is the most complex mask ever invented.
the face you see depends on who you are, where you’re from, who you know, how you look, how you got here.
and in 2016 all I can be sure of is the glistening furnace staring down the end of us, sweating with anticipation like so many cops stuck in their fearful fever dreams of violent heroism.
welcome to the land of Don Quixote.
loud sun. old pavement.
in the parking lot alone. smoking.
Amityville Horror at the cheap theater. I am broke.
I have no job. stuck in an endless summer night, time lost rural diner sunsets.
this dying mall. a theater and a skate park.
everything closed. quiet collapse.
2005. the first enclosed mall in the U.S., five decades of celebration and here we are.
Valley Fair. Appleton, WI.
I imagine the optimism. the hope of its birth.
a hope that defined the physical space of consumer culture for half a century.
silent sky-cut sweat and I remember California.
I remember Brea Mall. two floors. glass elevators. wide and open. high ceilings.
the greatest cathedral I know. a space of lanes and sublime and light.
all water and glistening tile.
at peace there. wandering the expanse.
pulled back by a bobbing weed. I shake the dream off. a warm wind.
I walk to the ruin.
2006. I am in Poland. Gdansk.
I stay with my girlfriend in her mother’s house.
cold and ethereal. dense space.
walk through downtown. clean air. soft light.
its pulse slow and heavy. buildings tall enough to shout, but never roar.
I float through its dreams of history. a sequence of wide cobble roads, small cafes.
night clubs hidden in the corners.
we exit its ancient gates.
we ride a trolley to a different part.
I watch two drunks argue.
we get off. walk a bit. down stairs.
a crowded underground mall. small tent shops and store fronts.
a gentle swirling blend of noise, clothes, food, echoes off the concrete.
no heat. the cold penetrates my touch of this place.
is this what Kowloon was like? a hard intimacy of transaction?
nothing to revel at or in here. only a rushed mass to be a part of.
to be nimble with. to become engaged to.
monotone low ceilings. bad lighting. coffee steam.
I float in murmuring tongues I cannot understand.
this is anti-American. there is instinct to this.
imperfect. improvised. humanist.
we are all beautiful insects. all eager.
all of us fragile.
all of us sharp.
we walk out.
we ride to the Baltic Sea.
I walk onto the shore. a suffocating grey hangs.
I listen to the water. I walk to the end of the very long pier.
no one is around. my breath is slow.
I watch the fog bend and float. I imagine the endlessness behind it.
this is one ligament of the world. cloaked and infinite.
my heart slams against my ribs.
I open in awe.
how is this real? how is this not a dream?
my body rejects it. I can’t breathe.
I turn back.
we break up that summer.
text messages in an empty hotel.
bombs off in the distance. I look up at the high ceiling.
I imagine all the glass breaking.
and I wonder how much of it my eyes can swallow.
six years later. I lay in the sun.
I smell the Mediterranean. I stare into the face of Buddha.
a giant stone monument in the middle of the pool.
the water weaves between crafted rock formations. hidden grottoes.
waterfalls. some modern Arab translation of nirvana.
a muscled lifeguard spends hours hitting on a girl.
black helicopters fly above the shore.
the pope is here. touring Lebanon for peace.
I am full of anxiety. I am uncertain.
I want to evaporate. to become the cold face of some false prophet.
to wilt content in the polluted water of an over-engineered pool.
I walk through it all. I stand in one of the alleys.
I look at the sky framed.
I am not impressed by its gleaming oblivion.
I am not lucky.
1999. choke diesel in the heart of Beirut.
a giant banner for The Matrix whips near the entry to Concorde Square.
stairs from the street down to an open air food court. concrete decayed.
behind it is the cinema. scuffed white floors. stained glass entrance.
I enjoy its shape.
a giant square depressed in the middle of the city as if a Reboot Game Cube tumbled down from the sky.
there are stores here. none important enough to remember.
I stare up at The Matrix. I don’t know.
this looks like the end.
the end of the 90s.
it’s all so serious now. engorged on grit.
the pretext for the post-9/11 world.
the end of joy. the end of secrecy.
the end of blue skies.
December 2014. I am on a plane.
Vegas. headphones on.
I look out the window. the sun piling up the night.
cool and dark and raw blood orange.
Macintosh Plus oozes into my ears.
it all makes too much sense. my spine shivers.
I press my head against the seat in front of me. look at the floor.
there’s something here. Vaporwave has resonance.
there was a decadent optimism to the 90s.
joy and greed. world peace and capitalism.
A Computer in Every Home. pastoral interface.
family and Furby.
the peak of mall culture.
an era of warning shots that go unanswered.
LA riots. Gulf war. Kosovo. Al-Qaeda bombings. Soviet Union collapse. the first Palestinian Intifada. Columbine.
prologues of the end of the American Century.
90s consumerism was never pure.
Vaporwave explores its facade and its reality.
through Nokia ringtones. Windows 95 chimes. department store jazz. proto-synth voices. slow, synthetic beats.
through its gaudy, bulk aesthetic. everything big. everything sparkling. everything thick. everything amplified.
everything a clean, loud edge cutting through the dirt.
1987. The Beautiful You: Celebrating The Good Life Shopping Mall Tour ’87 begins in New Jersey.
Tiffany added at the last second.
a mall tour organized by the Shopping Center Network. sponsored by Clairol and Toyota.
‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ hits #1 on Billboard.
a cover rediscovered. the perfect pop song.
about intimacy and isolation. youth. desire. ideal.
its pinnacle success dependent on the inherent hope of the consumer space.
a song fueled by brands turning malls into spectacle.
there is an illusion of limitless joy to it.
an implication The Good Life cannot end.
that the American Way is righteous celebration.
that our malls are as much a part of entertainment as television or Hollywood.
they magnify our communal happiness the same way they illuminate sound.
they shine like Brea shines.
like California tide pools glimmering in the grey morning.
full of small, dense life.
ignoring fear the water will dry up some day.
apartments and black liquid streaks down the front.
Chinatown. looking up.
I think of Chungking Express. of Wong Kar-wai’s visions of Hong Kong.
I look down. another depressed space. something like Concorde.
old men playing board games.
I walk inside the building.
an Asian mall. somewhere between Gdansk and Brea.
small shops. kiosks.
imported clothes. dried fish. expired food.
a multi-story operation. low ceilings. tight halls.
I look over the edge of the second floor: a giant television on an empty stage.
no one around. a wide space that extends to the ceiling.
an implication of verticality.
I walk by glass elevators.
a jewelry store going out of business offers tax advice.
a schizophrenic market.
the intersection of the exotic and the practical.
of the American mall’s penchant for minimalist awe and a world that can no longer tolerate it.
I overpay for imported Japanese candies.
the shopkeeper irritated I pay in USD.
I walk out. I look over the edge.
I watch the janitor watch the old men play their games.
I look up at the sun.
I think of the end of Fallen Angels.
my wife takes my hand.
we push deeper into the hot city.
the road home isn’t very long…
and I know I’ll be getting off soon…
I am alone on a Friday. 2015.
I attach a Kinect to my 360 for the first time.
I wait for Child of Eden to load. the cursor pops up.
I move my hand around. the cursor moves.
I spend minutes in the menu realizing control.
this isn’t the first time I’ve played this.
but it feels like the first time.
I select the opening level.
I let it drag me through neon tunnels.
one lane into and through an interpretation of a higher will.
my body is an awkward machine rolling through space.
my hands have significance. they are warm.
the music is light dredging the soul.
I feel detached and intimate.
significant and small.
I feel a raw kind love.
I sit down. I am soft again.
haven’t felt like this in a long time. I want to cry.
or run outside and beg the universe to understand that I understand.
but it knows I don’t.
none of us do. this is not our era.
not our time.
the world is dark now.
the mask of multiculturalism, of cooperation, of false equity could only be sustained by pure belief in the optimism of the late 80s/90s and the bright, solid, dynamic worlds it polished.
Star Fox and its neo-pastoral galaxy.
malls as spectacle.
Sonic and its joy of speed and space.
Tiffany and the perfect pop song.
manufactured experience of success and holiness.
this mask was too heavy. too slow.
it cost too much to maintain.
and when it crashed into the earth, the dust was suffocating.
and here we are: staring down the self-deprecating subconscious of a cackling truth…
Sonic gets pregnant. malls die. Tiffany a D-list actress.
guns are the new worlds’ embrace.
and Star Fox revels in mockery of the era of its birth.
Welcome to New Lux Plaza.
the forum shops at Caesar’s Palace.
domed, painted ceiling sky. lights shift with time of day.
fountains. luxury. wide, organic walkways. bustling cafes.
towering Roman replicas of Italian decadence.
surrounded by desert.
ahead of its time.
a separation of consumerism from a higher morality.
a space of empty theater akin to the future of airport security.
a real-world walking simulator of The Good Life.
The Beautiful You translated into everything You want.
the year of Doom and Myst.
of Sim City 2000 and Star Fox.
Sonic CD and Cool Spot.
of the World Trade Center bombing.
a vast coming to terms of the structure of our worlds.
of the intersection between space. simulation. technology. money.
a time that will only be understood through nostalgia and a memification of its symbols: ads. music. style.
its crumbled peak and frayed, blunt edge mined for content.
and now 2016 and VR is here. and Amazon is here. and the App Store. and Steam. Ebay. Origin. Oculus.
amoral liquid purgatory.
detached and pure.
2018. find me by the virtual Dippin’ Dots cart.
bring that algorithm you’re sleeping with.
we will wash our feet in the fountains.
we will be clean for the new glass sun.
you can find me abandoned in the bookstore, crumbling into carpet.
or steeping in white tile beneath the palm trees.
slick and branded.
tranquil glistening chrome.
dead. silent and smiling into the screen.
builds up slow.
advertisement – a man in an idiot hat at four am.
12-foot screen in Boston.
boxes. cords. concrete.
first time I can’t be at PAX.
first time I can’t touch Videoball.
and I am slow. and I am unfocused.
this is a pilgrimage now.
and I am unable to be a part of it.
cuts deeper than I expect. I stare at my phone.
pictures cascade. I know that convention hall.
I know that ceiling.
I’ve wondered beneath it too many times to ever forget, eyes up drowned exhausted in noise.
in so much boredom. in so much peace.
I grind my fingers on my desk my brown skin yellow in this awful place.
I put my head down on the edge. flex my toes.
whisper – it meant everything…
tears well up.
Videoball and Tim and Action Button and it means something.
the first time.
that first time
Videoball is a spine transplant.
the second time
Videoball is a transference of will.
creative aggression crafted in the eyes of Ichijoji Temple.
unwavering. sharp. full of vision.
Videoball and Action Button.
I pull my face up. I squint. oblivion sunlight blares down outside.
I am terrified of blue sky. I am afraid of its indifference.
there is no comfort in it. no joy or gentleness.
and in this moment I am no better. I am the worst version of myself.
I dig back into my phone. I can’t work.
I keep checking bent over in strained prayer.
hot pain shrieking down my neck.
Iron Galaxy posts a stream link.
I go in.
people shuffling around. bland electronic music.
Videoball neon colors flash one of the screens.
I imagine myself glowing in it.
stream schedule. Videoball next.
I smile for the first time. I watch the chat.
everyone asks about Killer Instinct.
played the original in a greasy casino arcade in Vegas.
an intricate grime machine of a game.
that KI made it to 2016 is a miracle.
I drift to Primal Rage, playing Mortal Kombat on my game gear in fourth grade.
mics pop. hiss.
eyes wide I want to cry or scream I don’t know.
a luxury sorbet shop of colors.
brighter. colder. darker.
player triangles streak across the screen in hard fury.
balls bounce around the courts.
I go back to the chat. still Killer Instinct.
they are angry missing the morning KI stream.
some attack Iron Galaxy. some call for Videoball to be cut off.
no respect or decency here.
I love fighting games. I love the community.
this is the FGC at its worst.
this is games at their worst.
I send off some comments. I go back to the video.
balls have decals now. identities.
completed their evolution into targets.
courts have lines and panels now.
soft texture unraveled and meticulous.
the game is in bloom. it’s grown again.
people score. it pops still.
goal ‘freeze’ has been extended.
first year – the raw elegance of its design.
second year – the cohesive extension of its bones.
third year – building spires of starlight around its mind.
Friday. Saturday. I stay near it.
I seep inside it. my dread dissipates for awhile.
Sunday I run errands with my wife.
we shop for baby clothes.
I check my Twitter feed.
Videoball is the final game of PAX Omegathon.
it deserves this.
Action Button deserves this.
from Tim standing alone yelling three days straight about his game with a now-defunct publisher to Videoball being projected all over the world in fierce competition.
this is important.
Videoball is important
imbued with the ultimate apathy of a sleeping god:
unconstrained. overwhelming. introspective. dense.
it knows what it is.
its confidence is infectious.
I have grown with the game.
I have grown because of it.
in an industry that still falls so short in all respects, Videoball eclipses the constant, bloated rot swaying around it.
futile to ignore.
impossible to walk away from.
it releases this year.
try to know yourself through it.
you will emerge whole and simple and clean.
the best anyone can ask for anymore.
There is a road in Beirut.
It cuts into, wraps, the heart of the city.
It’s elevated. The Mediterranean shimmers in front of it.
It melts downtown. Chokes on smog.
This city is proud, broken, laid out in front of it.
A sunbather in boiling light.
The circular theater still hollow concrete.
The unfinished tower too large to destroy.
The curve by the shore where the Prime Minister was assassinated.
The Virgin Megastore. The rotten parliament.
Hezbollah slums. Refugee camps.
A place that never recovers, but always comes back.
More resilient than NYC.
Wilder than LA.
More expensive than Paris.
The birthplace of the modern suicide bomb.
Scarred by the most complicated, brutal civil war in modern history.
Thousands of refugees massacred in camps.
Families incinerated at checkpoints.
Hundreds of US Marines ripped apart.
A war of 18 religions.
A war of psychopaths.
In a city that remains broken to survive, people break.
Become husks of selfish ideology.
Hollow ghosts haunting screens.
Unrelatable to the first world.
A sheared mass getting its picture taken.
A generation of Manhunt executions devoured by technological and spiritual adolescence.
Everyone The Plague.
But beauty endures in this hole.
The world doesn’t forget.
Tracers at sunset.
Old men at backgammon beneath street lights.
Silhouette ships stoic on the horizon.
Throwing food to the gutter cats.
Coffee and hookah by the shore.
This dread is compelling.
A resigned immediacy focuses the landscape.
On the precipice of every frayed nerve, the heart unravels.
This is where The Division functions.
It rips NYC open, exposes it to the developing world.
It is a reimagining of DMZ with less character and more violence.
The Division’s NYC doesn’t feel apocalyptic.
It is not a wasteland.
It is frozen and lush.
A thorough contemplation of adorned repulsion.
Garbage stacked high on every street.
Holographic memories of people burned alive.
Civilians fighting over food in the cold.
But there’s the sunlight. The fog. The snow. The night.
Piss Christ reconstructed as a city.
And the days seep into each other.
NYC via Beirut.
Extremist ideology in rational abandonment.
The Division is criticized for espousing a fascist world view.
The player is a federal agent assisting in the violent restoration of this city.
The player’s main interaction is shooting at those who hinder this restoration.
The Division is one gang among many.
The player exists in this world like the Cleaners and the Rikers.
Living weapons moving through the world.
Explosive noise echoing down.
Violence is the coalescing force.
The shared experience.
To say The Division is fascist is to never live through conflict.
To never witness a complex, living system unravel around you.
To never hear a car bomb detonate a block away.
To never have a relative gunned down at an arbitrary checkpoint in the middle of the night.
Labeling it as fascist is to misunderstand the mechanics of prolonged, uncontrolled conflict.
Everyone seeks to exert their order, but no one succeeds.
Wills stagnate. Violence drones on.
It becomes ‘the way it is’.
The Division is absurd hyper-realism.
In the Dark Zone, the game takes the equanimity of its violence to its logical extreme: everyone can kill and steal from everyone.
There is a constant immediacy.
This is the fiction.
Conflict isn’t bound by self-preservation and stagnation, but a rapid calculus of greed.
The Division can be interpreted as a companion to This War of Mine.
Where TWoM is a personal view of surviving conflict, The Division is about exploring the raw, ridiculous heart of it.
About examining failure through density.
About the futility of will filtered through factional violence.
About watching the sun light up bodies by the shore.
My wife is pregnant.
My wife is pregnant with twins.
We are driving home from our first ultrasound
it’s snowing. There is snow in the quiet sunlight and
I am 32 years old. The radio is off. I think about dreams. I
turn to her. I love her. I love her profile. She is looking ahead. She is depressed and I ask her:
‘If you go back to your earliest memories, right? If you go back to the first things you could remember, what did you dream of? What is the thing you wanted to see more than anything else in your life?’
She is quiet. Thinking.
‘America’, she says. ‘I always wanted to see the states.’
She is Lebanese, born in Cote d’Ivoire. She spent her childhood there before moving with her family to Beirut.
Before moving to Rochester to be with me.
She looks at me. I stare ahead. I think I know what I’m going to say. I go back.
It was never just about video games. No. It was stranger, more impossible. Bigger. It was so much bigger. It was a static flood with no voice. Yeah. In that house in California. In my room with Francis. In my room and my parents yelling. In my room and the muffled yelling. The screaming. And I want to get out and I want to be somewhere else and I want to wake up somewhere else and be someone else and feel nothing but warmth, just warmth, just peace, just
‘Virtual Reality.’ I look at her. ‘Growing up here in the U.S., that was the dream for a lot of people. It became a cultural phenomenon, like a hysteria almost. It lasted into the early 90’s or so and then it just died. The technology just wasn’t there.’
We will know the sex of the babies at the end of March.
Two weeks after the assassination of Julius Caesar.
One month before Hitler’s suicide.
At the end of March
Virtual Reality will exist. It will enter the market. I will know my children’s sex and people I don’t know will disappear again. Just for a while. ‘Only a little while’, we say.
Dreams are so short and so long.
I look up at the sky. I love this light. Grey and orange. It is this sky that unifies us and will I
ever see the skies of Tokyo? Will I take my children there? Will they know what Japanese games mean and meant? God,
nothing feels the same anymore. What will their dreams be?
‘Our dreams are so small compared to our children’s. What we thought was inconceivable has already happened. We’re in our thirties. What will our children dream of? Can you even imagine?’ I daydream. My eyes freeze and shine.
‘Space, I guess…’ she says. I nod. ‘And more than that probably, maybe visiting other planets.’
The small imagination of parents.
I get into an argument with a man in Lebanon. We are in a village in the mountains. He knows my family. He was held in an Israeli prison and tortured. He is out now. I told him there can be peace. There can be peace if there is respect. He gets agitated. He talks about being electrocuted. He talks about being bound like a dog. About being beaten. About being hung by his tied hands from a pole and left to burn in the sun. He talks about how there can never be respect and
in 2016 I torture Nazis in Wolfenstein. I tear their bodies apart and
I go back to Lebanon. I go back to being bombed over and over and over and over again across three decades. I go back to that horrible, droning sky. Respect and peace. Respect and peace. Respect and peace and torture and escape. Escape…
isn’t that the point of the background? The sky in Destiny. The bright stages of Fighters History Dynamite. The scorched, scrolling earth of Dodonpachi. The blurred grey of Wolfenstein. These visions of a larger world sprouting ideas and hopes of interaction.
The hopes of children.
Where do dream eyes emerge? When are they born?
I pull up to the house. I help my wife take the groceries in. I hug my cat and pet his stomach. He meows. This is something. I lay down. It is dark. I am at home in the dark. I think about the ultrasound. I think about my children’s heartbeat coming through the machines. They are coming into this. I breathe. They dance in the womb. They have the right idea. I am already proud of them.
Living is the ambition of love. No matter where we put ourselves. No matter how painful. No matter where and how we die. No matter how cruel the failures. No matter the knotted origins of our glimmering dreams.
Love is the point.
When I found video games. When I read Edgar Allen Poe for the first time. When my father held me in that pool. When my brother was born. When my mother was proud of me. When we raised canaries. When my cousins stood up for me. When teachers enjoyed my writing. When I found Insert Credit. When my wife agreed to date me. When I found the Rochester FGC. When I adopted my cat. When I went to PAX for the first time. When I found Videoball and started writing again. When Tim Rogers hugged me.
Love is always the goddamn point.
I hate Street Fighter.
I can’t imagine a world without it.
The first game releases in 1987. I am four.
It coincides with my consciousness of the world.
Born near the cusp of the early 80s, games grow with you.
It isn’t the beginning of games.
It is the beginning of the Modern Video Game.
The solidification of marketing, portability, and collection.
You remember the birth and you know it is immortal.
It will outlive you.
There will be no conceivable end.
War. Internet. Disease. Love. Games.
And 2016. And the dawn of virtual reality.
That 30 year-old fantasy finally given a functional existence.
A transformative existence.
New games will be born into a world where VR has always existed.
Like children never knowing life without the internet.
But the old games.
They escaped that new dawn with VR dreams.
And few made it this far.
Mario. Metal Gear. Darius. Final Fantasy.
They roamed the wasteland to get here.
Bloated and dense they arrive.
And Street Fighter with them.
Street Fighter I should have been the end.
Street Fighter III should have been the end.
Street Fighter IV should have been the end.
1991: Street Fighter II moves the world.
It manufactures combos.
It fills arcades again.
It boosts home console sales.
It is a singular phenomenon.
Street Fighter II saves Street Fighter.
It saves fighting games.
And I hate it.
It feels unintuitive. Difficult. Raw.
And I admire it.
Loud. Heavy. Calm.
Shooting sparks like a breaking trance.
Street Fighter II iterated. Honed itself.
Street Fighter explored its identity with Alpha and EX.
The success of SFII gave the series that kind of strange space.
1997: Street Fighter III emerges at the end.
It is a fluid machine.
It is rejected.
It is an extension of SFII’s bright calm no one wants with characters they don’t understand.
The game is too far ahead.
It iterates like II.
It’s not enough.
Street Fighter expands into new space.
Its final shot at 3D: SF EX3 becomes the last Street Fighter for nearly a decade.
SFIV emerges in 2008.
It reaches past III and reanimates II.
It builds a diorama in EX’s mirror image.
Its force of will brings about a new golden age of fighters.
SFIV grows like II.
I still don’t understand it.
I don’t understand its principles. It frustrates me.
SFIV explains nothing about itself.
Its world is hideous. I can’t be in it.
My cold hate compels me.
I walk away into the new ground around it.
SFIV is a symbolic success.
And SFIV could have been the end.
Capcom doesn’t have the capital to develop a new entry.
They broker an exclusivity deal with Sony.
Street Fighter V is made.
I don’t touch Street Fighter for two years.
I rummage deep into the new margins.
I stick with anime fighters.
I feel stagnant. Underdeveloped.
I watch FAB play Potemkin in Guilty Gear Xrd and my mind aches at the stunned math.
It’s not for me and I stop.
I stop fighting altogether.
I become a collector of fighting games.
I am bored. I don’t understand what it is I don’t understand.
I read all the literature on how to get better.
None of it clicks loud enough.
I miss the final SFV beta. I wait the few weeks.
Patrick Miller creates a podcast about fighting games.
And I listen. And I listen.
And my experiences sort themselves.
I begin to understand what an idiot I’ve been.
Spacing. Patience. Game plans. Reading the opponent.
My entire life I’ve just been pressing buttons.
I haven’t learned anything. My mind condenses at last.
Street Fighter V releases.
It is an extension of III.
It is a blend of II and the new wave.
Like Garou: pure. Holistic.
Heavy. Light. A brash kind of quiet.
It has a wholeness even in its broken state.
It is a cracked Roman column lit up by mute arcade machines.
It is the first Street Fighter I love.
I understand it.
It shows me what I don’t know. I can see its arc.
It is obvious, complex.
It has an ancient physicality.
Everything is legible and concise.
The new characters personify its history:
Laura and joy.
Rashid and experimentation.
F.A.N.G. and strangeness.
Necalli and non-existence.
Street Fighter V exhibits a survivor’s joy.
Street Fighter should not have made it to 2016.
But it did.
And I can’t imagine a world without it.
A work cratered in a billion dark hands.
Lungs of enamel coated in sweat.
Dariusburst CS is its own cathedral.
It isn’t an homage to history.
It isn’t a lesser reflection.
A modern beast stuck in the ecstasies of devouring its origin.
An ambitious miracle.
Cave’s implosion was devastating.
Premium arcade STGs were drowning.
Cave let it all slide away.
Rigidity and poor marketing.
Too close to the intent. Ignoring the institution.
A warehouse of icons in a land of dead faith.
It was never sustainable.
Zeal and audacity aren’t enough.
From their final era others emerged.
Cave’s failure allowed for new growth.
For a new redemption.
Sine Mora. Crimzon Clover. Revolver 360 Reactor. Jamestown. Strania. Blue Revolver.
Some pay quiet tribute. Some leap into a frenzied ecstasy.
Fractured color in the pale light of tired eyes.
This land cannot sustain new legends. Only a small, rigid elegance.
Here, Dariusburst CS is impossible.
It didn’t emerge from the barren fire of Cave’s immolation.
It cracked through the sky. It collapsed through another time.
A dead star burrowing through the infinite wake.
Ignorant of the solemn.
Blind to the dust.
Swallowing any sense of permanent memorial.
It is impossible that it released in arcades with a custom widescreen cabinet.
It is impossible that anyone decided to port it.
It is impossible that it released in the West.
It is impossible that real work was put into its release on a ‘dead’ platform.
2015: Iwata’s death and Rodea.
Konami’s pachinko and MGSV.
Light guns and Panoramical.
A circus of violence. Of disappearing.
Of explosive prophecy.
DCS is a future language.
It is coherent visual systems discussing events in real-time.
It is iterative, complex repetition with the end-goal being organic fluency.
Its control is slick and fluid.
Its music is transcendental.
Its environments sweep from vague subtlety to vast detail.
Cave attempted Dariusburst once in 2005.
Ibara is a sublime art.
An art one can dedicate their life to understanding.
But it failed. Cave’s followers turned away.
It was too dense.
It was the right message to a wrong people frozen in worship of a non-existent horizon.
Ibara is difficult and brilliant.
Its best systems are hidden beneath invisible layers of intricate feedback.
Where Ibara is Quranic in its depth, uniqueness, and importance, Dariusburst CS is The Tale of Genji.
It is the modern transformation of the genre.
It is the epic of Einhander written down for the first time.
It possesses the same intimate desperation.
DCS asks the player to focus. To meditate:
On the enemy. On the self.
What color is the boss? What type of ship am I piloting? What bullets am I shooting? Where will the enemy enter my plane?
It isn’t about dodging bullets.
It’s about understanding the tools to carve out progression.
It holds to the same purity as Bloodborne.
It bears the same light and grit.
The same evolutionary path:
Become a better hunter through expanding focus.
30 years honing this raw precision.
Darius is as old as Mario.
Before Street Fighter. Before Contra. Before Cave existed.
30 years studying, meditating in the arcade dark.
Bodhidharma spent nine years meditating in a cave in South China.
He fell asleep around year seven. He cut off his own eyelids in rage so that it never happened again.
Nine years in a cave pruning away his weakness.
Darius – three decades.
DCS is enormous, but not bloated.
Soft and unpolished.
The UI is awkward. The localization is vague.
But none of this takes away from the core experience.
None of this dims its glow.
Dariusburst CS is impossible.
Under the usual considerations, it could not have happened.
But here it is.
A living, impossible work.
A post-modern language chanting back through time.
A prophet and its machined heart screaming through space.
What Cave should have been.
What Ibara was.
What we’ve always needed.
This is not about video games.
This is about the inhuman horror of a world on top of a world.
This is about our own genial depravity in the era of cold love.
This is about the pain that we consistently devalue. Our own and others’.
I have lived through both sides of this: A refugee and a war zone.
2006 and abandoned in Syria while Lebanon is demolished.
Two decades earlier and stuck in an occupied Lebanon with its nightly skirmishes in some not-so-distant valleys.
While born in California, Lebanon is the ghost of my origin. Always hovering in the shadows of my bones.
2006. I am stuck. I wander downtown Damascus. For once, I don’t mind its filth. I feel polluted anyway.
I stumble beneath giant banners of Hafez Al-Assad. I linger beneath the lights of the old markets.
Everyone reminding me how ancient it all is while I get text messages from my girlfriend in Europe about how much of an asshole I am.
I don’t care.
Terror has always hung around the sharp, intimate edges of my living.
My parents’ constant arguments.
Gunfire keeping me up at night.
The mindless, distant droning of aircraft.
I’ve never found a piece of media that properly conveyed the feeling of terror.
They all fail because they try to push a narrative. The story softens the blow.
No, the most horrifying aspect of terror is the meaningless indifference of it.
A plane engine and you are incinerated in your sleep.
A discarded toy and your body is ripped apart.
Packing a suitcase and an artillery shell demolishes your home.
(Two of these nearly happened to me).
No sense to it. No story. You exist until you don’t.
At some point, there is a decision you have to make: leave or stay?
And staying is always easier. Even when faced with the deliberate, hard fear of being obliterated, staying is still easier.
Every time I was forced to abandon Lebanon, a piece of me broke.
Stuck in Syria in 2006, I am nothing but pieces.
Today’s refugees are nothing but pieces. Tired, broken, bent, haunted.
Terror driving them from their homes only to meet that same terror hundreds and thousands of miles away driving fear and violence into their welcoming.
9/11. 7/7. 11/13.
No one has learned anything. People only have compassion when it suits them. When they are comfortable. When they are unconcerned and need a cause to flesh out their identity as Good People.
Inconvenient compassion has no place in today’s rhetoric or action.
The media, the world only cared about Beirut’s ISIS bombings through the lens of Paris. Without the pain of France, the pain of Lebanon was insubstantial.
Without the pain of France, the refugees might’ve had a better chance.
Now, mosques are burned down, immigrants are attacked, and 30 states (so far) in the U.S. have stated they do not wish to assist in resettling refugees.
Our species has become a parody of decency and compassion.
This is a world of rhetorical games being played by billionaires to sway an assumed idiot public to hate as much as they possibly can.
To hate with crazed, religious zeal.
It is tempting. It feels decent and right in the moment, but the cost is too high to be sustainable.
I have lived every side of conflict. I carry with me the Hell of resignation.
Of being resigned to a devalued life. That numbness is unforgettable.
ISIS devalues life. ISIS is an amoral, vindictive force.
May the world not become its mirror.
Midnight in my friend’s kitchen.
He opens his bootleg of Maya.
He shows me his man with no elbows.
He can’t make them work.
They spin around. Uncontrollable. Limitless.
This deformed virtual man pulls my soul apart.
He is hysterical. His grey, featureless mass becomes everything.
His flopping arms become the universe.
I am 18 and over-caffeinated.
I smell like drunk cigarettes at Perkins.
My friend doesn’t see it. I admire what he’s done.
It makes sense in the warm idiocy of my heart:
My eyes full of tears. Gasping for breath.
I see games and worlds come undone.
I see characters flop open.
None of this was ever supposed to be so serious.
I drive home. I can’t sleep.
I go online.
I look at knives and hang out in European sex rooms.
I float in the glow.
I wait for the punchline.
Everything is mud.
Iraq. Afghanistan. Terrorism.
Games are shaped from this mud.
Brown people are liquefied in their brown worlds. Packaged.
Call of Duty. Battlefield. Killzone. Gears of War. Fallout.
Everything chokes on dust.
Everything is tired.
Financial collapse. State brutality. Systemic racism.
An honest mistrust of the foundation of the past 30 years grows.
A righteous cancer burning in focus.
What is the shelf-life of democracy?
What is capitalism without monument?
The jet fuel keeps spilling. Swirling.
Hypnotizing us in the dead heat of a grey sun.
Where else is there but this forsaken tarmac we built ourselves?
This is where we caress our children’s faces and weep into their mouths about our wounded nostalgias.
This cannot be sustained.
Acceptance isn’t worth this.
I watch the sun set.
Flying to Vegas in a blood sky.
I melt into Macintosh Plus. Floral Shoppe.
How many AOL demo discs did it take to get to Vaporwave?
Yes. There was a quiet hope at the end.
The PS2 launched.
I had a Compaq laptop with a DVD player.
Arcades still pulsed in their corners.
There was hope.
A hope based on a brief, unsustainable plurality of space.
And Sony devoured the market.
And Sega disappeared. And arcades fell apart. And PCs consolidated.
And games got bigger, stranger.
And 9/11. And GameCube. And Xbox.
Hunter S. Thompson called it the end of the American Century.
A post-modern mudslide carrying hope into a rotten abyss.
It was all too big. Too slow. Too dumb. Too mean.
No part of us made it out alive.
Our tongues bleed on the asphalt.
Our eyes crushed by humming freezers full of money.
Our glistening derricks mine the dead into a unified, hateful sky.
2015 and we’re pointing Saturn light guns at the screen.
2015 and Virtua Cop 2 still feels significant.
It carries its ancient hopes with unbroken confidence.
And I realize how long its been since I’ve had fun.
How long has it been since these worlds were fun?
We have become unacceptable.
Kirby attacked for being joyful and simple.
Animal Crossing labeled pointless.
Panoramical as a ‘glorified screensaver’.
Mobile arcade games translated as casual.
We are crumbling away.
There is too much sulfur in the air.
Too much shrapnel in our brains.
Too much guilt in the blood pool.
In the face of the obliterate, we’ve forgotten what feels good.
We are nothing more than bones piled on a barren precipice.
We never understood urgency.
Everything has to feel right. Honest. Fulfilling.
Dodging bullets in DoDonPachi.
Shooting limbs in House of the Dead.
Passing cars in Out Run.
It was all so slick. So clear.
And it was all trampled into nothing more than legend:
Fuel for ‘gamers’ stampeding towards a forged credibility.
I am selected for extra security.
I nod. I walk through the metal detector.
I stare at the dark sky across the terminal.
Security agent pulls me aside. Takes my luggage.
He opens it all. Rifles through it.
He speaks to me in French.
I shake my head.
I tell him I am American. He quickly switches.
He keeps digging. He finds my games.
His eyes grow. He looks at me.
‘Uh, PSP?!’. He points.
‘Yeah. . .’
‘Oh!! Uh, what game you play??’
‘Mostly fighting games, you know, Street Fighter. . .’
He is excited. He nods.
‘Ah! Yes! Street Fighter! Me too!’
He looks around. Reaches into his back pocket.
He pulls out his PSP. He opens it.
He shows me his Alpha 3 UMD.
‘Cool! You like it?’
‘Street Fighter my favorite!’
His boss walks up. He puts his PSP away.
She whispers to him in French. He nods.
He closes my bag.
He tells me I can go.
I walk on.
I find the CRT in my basement.
I carry it up two flights. I place it in my office.
I turn it vertical.
We are all tired.
Call of Duty is becoming strange.
Battlefield is taking on Star Wars.
Fallout is blooming.
ISIS is the shadow of our exhausting ignorance.
This is what emergence looks like.
A new hell.
A new hope:
Gunsport. Axiom Verge. Velocity 2x. Downwell. Videoball. Taiko no Tatsujin V. PAC-MAN 256.
Games with long memories.
Creators trying to nourish the world back into awareness.
Back into new experience.
Creators reconstructing the backyard gardens we have burned.
Harvesting the rain we have cursed.
The world is as tired as it ever was.
We are all exhausted.
Maybe we are too late for whatever redemption we thought we could have.
But we can reinterpret.
We can be warm and quiet for a while:
A Chernobyl reclamation for the mind.
For the heart.
For our broken fingers to remember.
To dethrone the catacombs.
To guide the vines through our lingering guilt.
To find ourselves again:
Silhouettes in a storm of candles.