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Monthly Archives: March 2015

 

 

Stand.

 

 

Born to immigrants.

I understood nothing.

My parents came to the United States in the 70’s to escape the war.

They navigated American culture by way of the small Lebanese communities they found here.

They figured out some of it.

My mother loved 80’s pop music.

My father loved his .38 revolver with armor-piercing bullets.

But the ties didn’t loosen.

Driving around southern California:

Fairouz. Umm Kalthoum. Warda. Sabah.

I couldn’t understand their songs.

I could speak the gutter Arabic of the old country.

I couldn’t read or write it. I couldn’t decipher its classical form.

When I was old enough to have a Walkman, I stepped outside that world.

Michael Jackson. MC Hammer. Kriss Kross.

I felt the surface of America, but it never poured into my bones.

Something always felt off.

Something always felt lost.

1991: Not Without My Daughter released in theaters.

It bombed. Critics ripped it apart.

A story about an American woman going with her Iranian husband to Iran.

Once there, he becomes abusive and threatening.

He decides not to go back to the U.S.

It was Orientalist trash.

I made my parents rent it multiple times.

I didn’t understand the story.

I didn’t understand what the film was trying to say.

I didn’t understand the difference between Iran and the Arab worlds.

But I was happy watching it.

I saw people who looked like me. I saw a religion I recognized.

I saw symbols I could interpret.

It seemed important: Something that resembled a piece of my world coming out of Hollywood.

I felt a part of my identity was validated.

America saw that I existed.

The Middle East existed.

Not Without My Daughter was cultural dead space.

Linear and closed. The narrative didn’t matter.

The signifier mattered.

I celebrated the act of recognition.

In a racist propaganda film:

I celebrated my self.

 

Walk.

 

My grandmother came to California.

She left Lebanon to spend time with us.

We were close.

I didn’t view her understanding as separate from my parents’.

I assumed she knew how to work a television.

I assumed she knew how to help with my homework.

I assumed she could help me translate Dragon Warrior.

She couldn’t. I couldn’t grasp why.

The weekend my mother surprised me with the game we worked through the beginning together.

We made it out of town and stopped.

Everything was foreign.

World map. Items. Equipment. Towns. Plot. Text. Random battles. Quests. Saving.

Without my mother, I couldn’t make it out of the first town.

I’d ask my grandmother for help.

She didn’t understand any of it.

I called my mother at work. She guided me over the phone.

I could hear the pulp mill grinding in the background.

I replayed the opening sequence over and over again.

It wasn’t frustrating. I enjoyed it.

Dragon Warrior had a dense atmosphere.

It was confident.

The music felt harmonious and foreboding.

The box art glimmered with dread:

 

 

I obsessed over the art.

How was the knight going to defeat the dragon?

He had no ground left to stand on. The dragon was enormous.

I couldn’t see how the knight could win.

I imagined every possible strategy.

I admired his bravery.

I felt like a coward.

I viewed Dragon Warrior through the same lens as Not Without My Daughter:

I didn’t understand it as a whole.

I didn’t understand it as a narrative.

I understood it as a wasteland.

I understood it through the dark, closed monuments I crawled into:

The art outside the game and the music within.

Confronted with a game I couldn’t interpret, I sat with it.

I sat with my imagination.

Finding out who I was.

Studying my cowardice.

Dissecting my fear.

 

Crawl.

 

2003: Abu Ghraib leaks.

A nightmare told in photographs.

A decade later and all the rhetoric leads here.

I look through the photos.

The smiling doesn’t frighten me.

It’s the indifference:

 

 

Lynndie England’s indifferent face.

The nothingness of it.

The void heart of the universe opening.

It stuck.

Watching a culture watch itself go blind.

The proto-VR experience.

The knell of the anchors.

Abu Ghraib wasn’t a narrative.

It was a symbol of breaking.

It was a living dead space:

The chasm. The dragon.

The dread.

My broken understanding of Not Without My Daughter unspooled and stretched to face its own logic:

Anyone that looks like me is an animal and an enemy.

A diverse race seen as an extension of video game power fantasies and brutal consumerism.

Virtually real:

A race of screaming Amiibos.

 

Dissolve.

 

I don’t know where I’m supposed to land.

I never knew.

I am uncomfortable inside myself.

I am at peace in the margins.

Wandering the liminal space.

I don’t enjoy games as much as pieces of games.

Midgar’s Dense Linearity:

 

 

Out Run Pillars:

 

 

Altered Beast Cemetary:

 

 

The Painted World of Ariamis:

 

 

Shin Megami Tensei IV Screen:

 

 

Bloodborne Statues:

 

 

I find quiet in these places.

I imagine interacting with them.

I imagine their histories.

I identify with them.

I once told a professor I’m not certain where I belong.

In America, I’m the Arab.

In Lebanon, I’m the American.

She suggested I might need a third space.

Escape the duality.

I thought of Europe. I thought of vanishing in Asia.

I almost accepted a job teaching English in Japan.

But changing location didn’t feel like enough.

Priscilla carved her own world to be forgotten.

It wasn’t enough.

Still found. Murdered by millions.

Hiding can’t be enough.

I needed an internal physicality.

A spatial dialogue.

Pieces of games became my third space.

I found solace in the warmth of their parts.

 

Float.

 

After I escaped the 2006 war, I wrote a poem.

It wasn’t good, but it told the story.

I went to open mics at cafes anywhere I could and read.

The final reading, I went with a friend.

He was experimenting with grey market drugs.

2C-E was still legal.

I step outside after.

The sun setting. The sky going dark.

I lay back against the brick facade.

Some of the audience walk up to me.

They enjoyed it. Said I wrote like Kerouac.

I hate Kerouac.

I thank them.

I feel like a fraud.

I’ve reinforced my identity as an Arab.

Reinforced my otherness.

I fall into myself.

‘Hey…’

I look at my friend.

‘Yeah?’

‘Did you notice that spiderweb in the corner by the window?’

‘No.’

He nods.

‘It was really intricate…lots of shifting geometry…’

I listen to the traffic.

I look down at the sidewalk.

I see a small clover and moss growing between the concrete.

‘The way it caught the light…’

I don’t say anything.

I look across the road at the overgrown lot.

A warm wind.

I watch a tree scratch at the frozen sky.

I remember the indifference of the world.

I am terrified.

I remember pride. I feel like a fool.

I rip the poem up and throw it away.

I walk to my car.

I lean on it. I watch the air go black.

I was born in the wrong place.

The wrong time.

But here I am:

The post-modern dynasty.

The failure of multiculture at a loss for self.

 

But here I am:

Inheritor and occupier of pieces.

Drowning in mirrors and dead flags.

 

The garbage king on his throne of cracks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stomach.

 

 

PAX East 2015.

I’m in Boston. I have a cold.

I spend Thursday afternoon dislodging the Hyundai rental from one of the four-foot snowdrifts framing my driveway.

Sweating. No hat. The wind blowing hard off the corn field across the road.

PAX East 2015: I fall into Boston.

I choke on its wind.

Same hotel. Same time of year. A different state:

2014. I am ready to give up on games. Everything feels hollow.

Everything feels bored.

Everything is hype and money.

Exhausted and numb: I find Tim Rogers.

I see Videoball. It pulls me back.

I start writing again for the first time in three years.

I gut my political blog.

I write about video games for the first time ever.

I write my first post about Videoball.

It stays with me. It sticks to me. I think about the game at least once a day for a year.

PAX East 2015 and I only need two days.

The panels are uninteresting.

I am curious about the booths on the show floor.

Friday night I walk with my wife through the park.

She takes pictures of fat, red squirrels.

We work our way to Chinatown.

We try shabu-shabu for the first time. We drink bubble tea.

It’s quiet. The streets are quiet.

The snowbanks glow from neon signs.

Caked in trash.

I think about Saturday. I don’t miss PAX.

I miss Action Button.

I miss Videoball.

 

Joint.

 

Pax East 2015.

I wake up. Shower.

I don’t sleep much. The walls are thin.

Exhausted, I step into the city. Buy some coffee.

I love the city.

I miss Madison. Chicago. LA. Beirut. Paris.

We walk through Chinatown again. We find our way to the convention center.

The foot traffic stops. The security line is two blocks long.

Stuck on a bridge. I stare down into the small pools of broken ice.

I have always had a fear of deep, complex water – A horror of it.

We make it in. We burrow into the display.

There is a muted excitement.

It feels familiar. It feels off.

Bethesda doesn’t make a showing for the first time in three years.

Evolve is buried away from the main entrance. No giant monster to display.

Supergiant is there for the third year in the same booth pushing Transistor.

Alienware brings back the opulent spirit of the late-90’s PC hardware fever.

The manipulative pre-order systems of 2014 are gone.

I see Grey Goo and Dreadnought. Overwatch. Final Fantasy Type-0. Monster Hunter. Elite Dangerous.

I wander into independent games.

I wind through rows of small developers: Frenzied innovation and a consuming boredom.

Iron Galaxy cuts into view.

I find Videoball.

I greet Tim. We talk with joy and excitement.

He introduces me to Michael Kerwin, programmer for Action Button Entertainment.

And I feel like I’m home.

Videoball is still stunning.

I watch it played on an enormous screen.

It has grown in the past year. It has matured.

It feels less like a video game. It feels like a court.

An arena.

An environment.

A world.

 

Knuckle.

 

2014 Videoball felt new. It felt vigorous.

It was a geometry problem stuck in the mind of a squash player.

It was a system brimming with friction and momentum.

2014 Videoball caressed urgency.

Videoball has now learned how to breathe.

This past year the game has evolved in small, intelligent ways.

Touching the ball no longer freezes the player: The player is pushed away.

The punishment is still the inability to move, but now the field is more active.

Nothing stands still.

This rejection system still requires the player to correct trajectory however much they can.

It’s a punishment that still involves the player.

It’s a punishment that involves losing field position.

2015 Videoball has adjusted the timing and features of the three shots.

The level 1 shot can now be used repeatedly with quick button taps.

The (persistent) level 2 shot is able to push the ball in a straight line.

The level 3 (slam) shot feels hot and alive.

Now when the ball is hit with the level 3, it creates a thick, rubber-banding color trail behind it.

Like the light trails from Akira translated into an organic brutalism.

The level 4 blocks actively deconstruct themselves with each hit.

One hit and the block splits into nine squares.

Two hits and the squares spin and disappear.

Tim explained he got this idea from the visual flourishes in Destiny when breaking down items.

The ball and the stages themselves feel more involved.

The ball contorts when manipulated with force like a soccer ball in the feet of Captain Tsubasa.

The stages absorb energy and ripple with soft, Mario 3 curves.

The stages have also become more complex.

Some involve the goals being split in the center.

Other stages are littered with small blocks around the center of the field.

The stages are diverse and shifting. Creative and challenging.

In 2014, Videoball was aesthetically cohesive.

Its visual language was clean and deep.

In 2015, Videoball is whole.

It’s completely awake.

It is a living, breathing world of systems and cues.

A world comprised solely of sunsets and city nights.

A year ago Videoball felt complete.

It inspired me then.

It showed me how much some people still care about games and vision.

2015: That passion hasn’t receded.

Last year, it was Midnight City.

Now it’s Iron Galaxy:

Revitalizing Killer Instinct. Pushing Gunsport. Supporting Videoball.

Showcasing games that pull on the flesh.

Games that rip open sweat and spine.

Videoball has found the right kind of new home.

The right kind of stable.

Videoball is ready to run.

To trample.

It’s powerful. Beautiful. Lean. Heavy. Fast.

In 2014, Videoball was a game I needed:

To see.

To touch.

To digest.

 

2015: Everything and nothing has changed.