Every summer, my options were limited.
Vacationing in the developing world, there are things you get used to: water stoppages, prolonged blackouts, looming violence, heat, etc.
Without reliable electricity, television was out, video games too for the most part.
Every summer until I was old enough to drive, my options were: read, write, draw, hunt, or play.
Most of the weight in my luggage was books. I brought so many books. I still do everywhere I go.
I had been writing poetry since I was 11. It was never enough to eat up significant amounts of time.
Poetry was all I was good at though.
I was a terrible artist and a terrible hunter. I had bad aim.
Bird hunting is the leisure sport of Lebanon. They are passionate about it. The Lebanese nearly drove every species of bird to extinction in the 90’s.
The government stepped in and banned hunting for a few years.
I was often mocked for being terrible at it. I wanted to be good, but I had no heart to watch the limited comprehension of grace fade out of this world second by second.
With birds, it is never a clean kill. They drop into the dirt, panting heavily, bleeding, fighting. I hated it.
We played war games. War is the other past-time.
One summer, my cousins, my brother, and I fashioned fake machine guns out of discarded wood. We pretended we were training for missions against the occupying force.
A few years before that, the four of us found some gasoline at the bottom of a rusted barrel outside my aunt’s old house. We decided to use that to make Molotov cocktail.
We found a glass bottle, filled it, stuffed some napkins in the top and left.
On the road a Lebanese army jeep was coming towards us. We hid in an alcove just off the street until they passed. When we made it back to my cousins’ house, we didn’t know what to do with it.
We tossed it, unlit, into a field. The next year I heard it started a small fire.
In our village, there was a small arcade.
When the electricity was out, they ran on a diesel generator.
It had Foosball, Street Fighter II, and other no-name action games.
It was inside of an abandoned garage. All concrete, small windows, poor air circulation.
It always smelled of dust and oil.
Street Fighter II got the most play. We had no idea what we were doing. We understood the premise.
Zangief was a favorite. He was big and mean. He was Russian. The Middle East had respect for Russia, even during the USSR.
The USSR supported Gamal Abdel Nasser, a symbol of Arab dignity and pride to this day.
These small things mattered.
The last time I set foot in that arcade, I slammed the owner’s son into an arcade machine.
My brother and I had gone there one evening to pass the time before a big volleyball tournament. We played some games and left, following the traffic of people heading to the schoolyard as the sun was going down.
My brother kept spitting and making noises. I asked him what was wrong. He said the owner’s son had put some chalk dust in his mouth.
I went back. The owner’s son was sitting behind the desk. He stood up. I yelled at him, grabbed him, and slammed him into the nearest arcade machine. He understood.
The next summer the arcade had closed for good. They were selling roasted chickens. I bought one for my family.
It had a fly in it.
The small things matter.
Counter-Strike became a big deal.
Someone opened an internet and gaming cafe in the heart of the village.
I had no idea how they managed to do it.
The telecom infrastructure in rural Lebanon was broken beyond comprehension.
Most villagers were getting their television through illegal satellite hook ups.
The cafe flourished. Kids were in there all the time, yelling.
Counter-Strike was the virtual extension of our war games. The virtual extension of the frustration of our violence.
My cousin went by the handle Sniper and had made a name for himself. I was terrible at it.
He used to go there every other day with his brother and mine. I would stay home and read. I knew I had nothing to contribute.
I mainly used the internet cafe for checking emails. The nice thing about the developing world is it grants everyone the ability to not exist.
Things happen and you don’t know and don’t care.
One time I decided to make the trek with my cousin, just the two of us.
We were placed on the same team.
During one game, I managed to stay alive longer than everyone on my team. There was only one person left on the other. My cousin yells: ‘Don’t mess up!’, I find the enemy, he shoots me.
I was a terrible hunter.
The internet cafe is now a Western Union.
The first time I watched a jet dropping flares, I was in awe.
I thought the flares were bombs. My father explained to me what they actually did.
Every time I came back to the U.S. after a few months overseas, I felt uncomfortable.
America is a strange place completely cleaved out of reality.
America is the syrupy hyperdream of some half-naked body builder standing on an ancient beach, staring at the stars.
Coming back into this place was always a jarring experience. It was a process, one that my parents could never understand.
In elementary school we were tasked with drawing pictures of something interesting that happened to us the previous summer. I drew the jet dropping flares and the army firing at it.
My mother was embarrassed. All the other kids were drawing pools and family trips, but that was my narrative: Aggression and spectacle.
Seeing the gears of a broken world turn, I couldn’t understand how my parents could just immigrate and forget.
From hunting, to fighting games, to discovering FPSes, we always found ways to birth aggression.
It always took me awhile to develop a knack for it. The U.S. doesn’t function on aggression in interpersonal relationships.
But America and Americans have their own kind of violence, a kind of violence that is heavily disassociated. Violence in film, games, music, media in general with no consequences. Fantasies.
I never enjoyed the killing of things, but I knew it was necessary to experience in person.
Watching birds falter in the face of the earth embedded me with the morbid and sad truths of living.
I learned that when we go out, it’s all ugliness. There is no honor in it, just thrashing and dirt.
As children, we didn’t do the things we did out of fantasy, we reacted to the freedom of violence around us. We expressed it, thrived in the wild of it.
Gears inside of gears.
Does that subtle difference of interpretation affect the digestion of our engagement?
It made us more self-aware.
The experiences we have with media, and games specifically, are colored by the environment we exist in.
In America, I was curious and excited about whatever I engaged with.
In Lebanon, I wanted to flourish, I wanted to progress. More presence. More drive.
I haven’t left North America in two years and I feel no urgency of interpretation.
‘Real’ game violence rings hollow now.
I am looking for visions of experience:
The edge of being forever reborn into the crumbling sunset of the American dream.