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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

.

 

 

I burst.

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.

I crack.

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.

Injected.

Call of Duty. Battlefield. Killzone. Gears of War. Fallout.

Everything chokes on dust.

Everything is tired.

Everything screams.

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?

Late-century techno-detritus.

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.

Loose.

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.

Too fast.

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.

Sharp. Bright.

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.

I nod.

‘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.

I smile.

‘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.

I’m done.

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.

Retool.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Blast.

 

 

My cousin with his KA-BAR.

My brother unarmed.

I carry my AK-47 bayonet.

Too many snakes. Too many vicious dogs in the Lebanon wild.

I want to see the valley at the end of the village.

Nothing else to do.

We wake up early. We start down.

My cousin warns us it will be difficult.

From the top it seems straightforward. I don’t believe him.

But the descent is slow.

The mountain is cold and sharp.

Every plant full of thorns. Miniature sheer rock formations and crevices. Snakes.

Hours pass. The sun blooms. We are oceans of sweat.

We make it.

We clamber into the riverbed.

We catch our breath.

A snaking path of baked white stone ahead of us.

The heat is heavy. Wet.

We press on.

In the cold seasons the valley fills with water.

There is a small, elegant waterfall that forms.

I look up at where it would be.

We press on. There is no way back.

Hours pass.

We emerge at the dump.

We wait for the other cousin to pick us up.

We watch the trash fires burn.

Dogs hang around the garbage and rummage for food.

My cousin throws rocks at them.

He swears at them in Arabic:

“Fucking dogs. . .”

Car shows up late.

We pile in.

We smell awful. We look worse.

I get home. Shower.

I set the bayonet on the dresser near my bed.

I close all the shutters.

I lay down in complete darkness.

I dream exhausted.

I dream of nothing.

 

Syrup.

 

Metal Gear Solid V is a solemn game.

It is a zealous interpretation of an empty dream.

It is quiet. It is expansive.

It is sad.

Older MGS titles have a flickering joy in them. Opportunities for empathy.

MGSV is a mountain wrapped in thorns and Snake is its cavernous will.

Everyone is sad. Everyone is angry. The world is a wake.

There is no banter. There is no talk of anything other than the destruction of the enemy.

This is a game of broken, fearful men.

This is the first Metal Gear to take on the open world.

And it is the most compelling open world offered today.

In its expansiveness Kojima maintains the allure of the small things.

Nothing is drowned out. Nothing is diluted.

Everything can be Fultoned.

A global arcade:

An open world that funnels the player towards interaction.

It pushes the player to design action.

It is light and suggestive.

Earlier, Witcher 3 releases on console.

It is beautiful, but muted and broken.

Its immersion suffers from the technical.

Swamps. Running. Rain.

All kill the speed of the game.

The world falls apart too often. It is painful.

It dissolves into abandonment.

MGSV is slick.

A 240 FPS Punch and Judy show injected into the spine.

A living diorama of a one-armed man weeping into the desert while listening to tapes of bathroom noises.

A liquid palace built on honey and salt.

 

White.

 

There is a base in the middle of the ocean.

There is a mute sniper living on that base.

I walk into her cell.

She is laying down on her bed. She is topless.

She sighs. Nothing happens.

‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’  plays through the speaker.

The sun begins to set. I go outside. I stare across the ocean.

I want to sit down. I can’t.

I crawl to the edge of the helipad.

One of my soldiers salutes me.

He thanks me for saving animals from the battlefield.

I roll over and shoot a tranquilizer dart into his face.

I call in the helicopter. I watch it come in.

It’s gorgeous.

A Kotobukiya kit made virtual: The fruits of an ironic feedback loop celebrating the symbolic utility of military hardware.

I get in. Mother Base recedes.

I thumb through available missions.

I need to kidnap more men. I need more technicians.

I need to build a rocket launcher.

All I get is cardboard.

I land somewhere in Afghanistan. Night.

I pet my dog. I Fulton sheep.

There is a Soviet checkpoint ahead.

I send my dog to attack two of the soldiers.

When he’s done, I put both to sleep.

I crawl up to them. I judge their abilities.

Only one of them is worth kidnapping. I send him off.

I climb into the guard tower. I throw the soldier out.

I climb down. I scan him with my binoculars.

I zoom in on his crotch. He is not worth it.

I steal their tapes and fuel supplies.

A truck nears. I hide in the portable toilet.

I watch it go by. I get out.

I follow the road. I pet the dog again.

I lay down by the roadside.

I listen to the flies buzzing around my head.

I forgot to shower.

I turn around. I look back at the checkpoint:

Quiet. Empty. A spotlight turned to the sky.

I turn around. Black. Crickets. I push on.

I continue my slide into this magical wasteland.

Full of jokes.

Covered in blood.

Riddled with holes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foam.

 

 

A mangled arm.

Naked women.

A crumbling body.

Screaming faces.

A deep American voice. Male:

‘ORDER NOW.’

Sunlight and dust stuck to the television screen.

On the carpet. Watching cartoons.

What happened?

I missed the pitch.

The voice yelled about ‘JAPAN’ – A cascade of animation.

Blood. Rage. Sex.

I wanted it.

No idea what it was.

I wanted it.

I stare at my hands. I try to memorize every detail.

Japan is indecipherable.

No internet and too young to know what importing means.

It’s where games and karate come from.

It’s where Nintendo throbs.

This third-rate grime of an infomercial is my introduction to anime.

It is my introduction to American fetishization of Japanese aesthetics wrapped in the hype of 90’s ‘extreme’ marketing.

A message broadcast to the era of children huddling in murky playground corners discussing rumors on how to maximize gore in Mortal Kombat.

I see the commercial two more times before it goes away.

Each time I am unprepared.

The enduring image: A half-naked woman in a dark laboratory smiling.

Her black lips.

A victorious smile.

I think about those flashes for years.

Indifferent to the body.

They capture the whispered filth of being.

 

Burst.

 

Standing on the asphalt.

Behind me a single, endless row of white garages.

A pure blue sky.

My mother beside me in her work clothes.

I stare down the shore. Across the ocean.

I step onto the sand. I walk toward the water.

I stand in the waves. I look behind me.

There is no one. No cars. No people.

Garages and my mother, frozen.

A caress. I am pulled into the ocean.

A giant tentacle wrapped around my leg.

I try to scream.

Deeper. Darker.

An enormous octopus emerges.

I stare into its abyss of an eye.

It pulls me closer. It will devour me.

A shark appears.

It drills into the octopus’ brain.

The water is clouded with blood.

I try to swim to the surface.

A mermaid grabs my arm. She turns me around.

‘What are you so afraid of?’, She smiles.

I see the glowing coral. I watch the octopus implode.

‘We just want to eat you…’ She laughs.

I wrench her off my arm.

I push to the surface. I swim to the shore.

The sun hasn’t moved. My mother is waiting on the sand.

I run to her. I try to tell her what happened.

She is a statue.

I look around. I am alone.

I sit down and weep.

I wake up.

 

Anthem.

 

With the PlayStation, I reattach to games.

Characters have weight.

Worlds have history.

There is new meaning.

I swallow games whole. Digest their marrow.

There isn’t enough.

The internet becomes my supplement.

Fanart. Plot rumors. Region differences.

I wander its ripe heart.

I fall in:

Characters ripped open by lust.

Destroyed bodies of things I spent lifetimes with.

Viscous litter floating in the sewage of electric sex.

For months I wade through it all.

A witness to the violence of obsession.

The lurid horror that lingers between what we want and what we say we want:

Hentai as organic glitch.

Hentai as the warm cancer of the mind.

Crumbling bodies.

Screaming faces.

Mangled hearts.

Tentacles.

Statues.

Fluid.

Hostages wrapped in black and gold.

A deep American voice. Male:

‘ORDER NOW.’

 

Jokes.

 

We are sitting in my car. Parked behind a cafe.

A pipe full of Salvia.

This is my second attempt.

I set the pipe down.

I take a few deep breaths.

Sunlight and dust stuck to the dash.

I take the pipe. I hold it to my mouth.

Light.

I inhale. It’s not easy.

A billion needles down my throat. I hold it.

I hand it to my friend.

I don’t remember exhaling.

Blind.

I stumble out of the car.

Night. Fire on the horizon.

I stand. A snake god emerges, towering above everything.

It is long, thick, and blacker than the night around it.

It stares at me. It lunges.

I am devoured in one bite. I slide down its soft, pink throat.

I catch myself. I try to climb back up.

A white light blasts the snake open. I emerge.

I am sitting on a revolving, holy wheel.

The white light. A female voice:

‘And now, Wasim, I am going to show you what you really are…’

The voice drifts off. The world changes.

I am lifted off the wheel.

I am reincarnated as an atom, of a brick, in a wall, enclosing a park.

I scream. My body is rigid.

I welcome reality.

The sun settles back in.

I am covered in sweat.

Lying on the asphalt.

I stare at my friend.

‘Holy shit! Man!! What happened to you!?? Are you ok??’

‘Yeah. FUCK. It was horrible!!’

I am shaking. I can’t catch my breath.

We go to the cafe.

I explain to him what I saw.

‘Yeah, I got nothing from it…’

I look at him.

‘I don’t think I want to do this ever again…’

My body feels different.

It feels bigger:

Opened by force of terror.

Burned by light.

 

Lumber.

 

Reading the Hagakure.

My third time through.

A balcony. Beirut. Night.

I look over the railing. I watch the city flicker.

I love the bright red colors of the UNESCO sign.

My wife steps out. I close the book.

We talk awhile. We know all the bridges we’ll have to burn to be together.

We go in. Some of her family sitting around.

They start talking. I take out my 3DS.

Her brother asks me about it.

‘Game system. It does 3D without the glasses.’

He nods. I explain to him that it has two lenses to take 3D pictures.

‘Really?’

‘Yeah.’ I open up the camera app. I hand it to him.

‘Try it.’

He looks around. He stands up.

He pulls the waistband of his shorts out.

He slowly brings the 3DS down with a supreme focus.

He takes a 3D picture of his testicles.

He looks at it.

In English:

‘HAH! My BALLS in 3D!’

 

Venus.

 

‘Your body is the controller.’

The founding principle of the Kinect.

It did not go well.

Organic movement wasn’t a matter of simple interpretation.

It fell apart. Whole body movement was too much.

The Wii and the Move picked bodies apart.

Arms. Legs. A shifting weight.

All thrown off the same precipice.

Someone realized it was all about the head.

THE HEAD.

No arms. No legs. No Weight.

No body.

Just eyes. Vision.

Someone decided that’s what games are about.

The body is a throwaway gimmick until it’s figured.

Hololens. Augmented Reality.

Finding ways to bring the body back into this.

To bring heat into these new Roman worlds.

Caesar’s Palace. Vegas.

My brother and I walk past a fake statue of David.

We stop. I take out my phone.

I frame the picture with his face next to David’s ass.

A pile of human.

I send it to him.

Everything is a cold kind of stupid.

The body is a garbage bag of rotten jokes.

 

Saint.

 

2014:

Games are free.

Pornography is free.

I am driving through the Great Canadian Nothing.

We are driving to a funeral. My wife is asleep.

I grab my phone. I look for music.

Chipzel – Spectra – Tokyo Skies.

The music starts.

I am moved by its sad, aggressive futurism.

I am sad about games.

I am sad about games culture.

I watch the red lights at the top of radio towers blink in the dark.

I look at my wife. I watch her sleep. She is curled up in the passenger seat.

I reach out. I touch her shoulder. She’s warm.

I love her.

The car hits a bump. She wakes up. She straightens.

She looks ahead for a while. She turns the music off.

One year later: I am at my computer.

I look out the window. Sunset. The city is empty.

I look at my phone. I look at the television.

I reach over and caress my roommate. He slaps my hand away.

It shoots across the room.

My flesh is elastic.

My body is broken.

I wind my arm back up. I take off his shoe.

I caress his face. He looks away from the television.

He turns to me, blushing. He floats closer to me.

His eyes slowly merge into one: A black void.

I am sucked in.

I am blue and headless.

I am running on a narrow, elevated plane.

I have won the game.

I have gone too far.

 

I am consumed at last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mishima.

 

 

Cycle-1:

 

On my grandmother’s balcony, in the village.

Laptop open.

Mid-afternoon summer. Lebanon. End of the 90’s.

I sit back in my chair.

I watch the leaves shake on the tree.

It’s quiet. The sun is high.

I look at the screen and it’s Unreal showing where I died.

A multiplayer match against bots.

I fell off a bridge, into a valley.

I’d never played a game like this.

I enjoy its fusion of nature and architecture.

I look past the tree. I roll my eyes along the mountains on the horizon.

The abandoned hospital glimmers: Bombed and abandoned.

The afternoon call to prayer begins.

I start another match.

I try to understand the novelty and limits of my trackball.

I look up into the sky. I jump down again.

I shut the computer off. I stand up. I grab my gun.

I cross the road. I walk into the valley.

I sit in the forest.

I watch a cow skull bake in the sun.

I imagine all the dead here.

If you look hard enough through the mud, you can still find bullet casings from the war.

I found a grenade here once.

I get up.

I walk to the graveyard below.

 

Cycle-2:

 

It’s dark.

The sky is quiet at last.

Our anxieties cool.

“You want to go for a ride?”

“Where?”

“KM.”

A neighboring village.

We are rivals in every sense.

I look at my cousin:

“Just for a ride or is there something you want to do?”

“I hear they have an internet cafe where you can play games.”

“Alright.”

I tell my father I’m leaving for a while.

He doesn’t like the idea.

I get in the car anyway.

My cousin drives.

He lays into the gas. We scream through.

KM is dark. The electricity is out.

The cafe sits at the edge of the village.

They run the generator.

It’s packed and hot.

We walk up to the manager:

“How much for an hour?”

“3000.”

Two US Dollars.

We pay and sit down.

I look around at the other screens.

Half are playing Counter-Strike. Half are chatting on MSN Messenger.

I check my email. I load up CS.

I don’t play well. I look at my cousin’s screen.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m chatting with this girl…”

“You know her?”

“No.”

I nod.

Social anonymity.

I load up a new round.

de_dust.

Terrorist.

 

Cycle-3:

 

Summer ’95.

The village-wide soccer championship.

They changed the location at the last second.

It moved to a concrete bowl at the top of the village.

I follow all the kids up the hill. I talk with my friends.

We’re excited. This is a big deal.

They have a real trophy this year.

We get to the top. The organizer shouts the rules.

The match starts.

20 minutes in and an IDF warplane comes down low.

A loud explosion.

A Lebanese soldier runs out from a nearby camp.

He waves his arms for us to leave.

The organizer begs us to stay.

I turn to run away.

Crying. Shaking. Confused.

I see my aunt drive up.

I dive into her car.

She takes me back down.

She tries to calm me.

The memory burns in.

Three years later: Summer ’98.

My uncle buys a mid-grade PC in the city.

My cousins are obsessed with World Cup ’98.

They play on mouse and keyboard. The game has good friction.

It feels light. It has joy in it.

I watch an older cousin going through the rosters.

We were alone.

I ask him why he thinks Arab nations never take the World Cup.

He nods:

“We got close once in 1982…”

“What happened?”

“The West got scared.”

 

Cycle-4:

 

I hate this city.

Mid-morning and I’m in Saida.

It smells like traffic, garbage, and sea.

I stare at a green Mickey Mouse painted outside a store.

His head is too thin. His eyes are too wide.

He looks crazed. Hungry.

Deceitful.

‘Dismey.’ ‘Abidas.’ ‘Mike.’

Everything is ripped off and shifted here.

Clothing. Films. Cigarettes. Video games.

I walk on.

I walk into a media store.

It’s dark. It’s full of dust.

I look through the electronics. Mostly Chinese garbage.

‘SegaMega.’ ‘Polystation.’

I flip through the PC games.

All pirated.

All in small plastic bags with printed, confused covers.

Call of Duty‘ printed on the Army Men cover.

Commandos‘ with Kane’s face from Command & Conquer.

Barbie Riding Club‘ with ‘The Sims.’

I laugh.

I buy a martial arts book by Bruce Lee in Arabic.

I cross the street. I buy some ice cream from a cafe.

I sit down near the shore.

I imagine one day Lebanon being covered in internet cafes.

I wonder how deep the piracy will go.

I wonder if we’ll ever get a shot at legitimacy.

A few years later and there will be a consumer uproar in the village:

Football Manager sold as FIFA.

 

Cycle-5:

 

Early morning.

A quaking.

An explosion.

We wake up startled.

We ask each other what happened.

My uncle walks in:

“It was just a sonic boom.”

IDF warplanes and intimidation.

We get up.

We throw Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit into the PC.

I watch my brother and my cousins take turns.

I watch the game.

I only played it on console. I like how it filtered aggression and speed.

We turned down the resolution to make it run smoother.

The PC wasn’t holding up.

No gamepad. Keyboard and mouse again.

I watch them burn out by the ocean.

I watch the cops win.

Years later and M. and I get into his trashed-up blue Honda.

He drives like the last demon on earth.

We barrel through the village and our eyes are on fire.

“Hey, remember when we used to play Need for Speed?”

He nods. He responds:

“Yeah! And remember how we’d evade the cops. . .?”

He jerks the wheel left and right like a deranged rally driver.

My cell phone rings. I ignore it.

We make a turn. We slow down.

We hit an army checkpoint.

My cousin hides his knife in a broken AC vent.

The soldiers stop us. They ask us to get out.

Their commander asks me for my draft papers.

I tell him I don’t have any.

He grabs me and starts shoving me towards the convoy.

My cousin yells:

“Wait! He’s American! He’s American!”

The pushing stops. The soldier looks at me:

“Can you prove it?”

I pull out my wallet. I show him my driver’s license, my school ID.

He accepts it and apologizes. We ask him what this is about.

“A big fight happened and someone got stabbed…”

We get back into the car. We drive off.

My cousin fishes his knife out from the vent.

We laugh like idiots.

 

Cycle-6:

 

Summer. 2006. Downtown Damascus.

The July War still raging.

We tried to stick it out.

We decided to run away when Hezbollah hit an Israeli warship off the coast of Beirut.

Damascus is worse than Saida.

Hotter. Nastier.

Everyone paranoid.

We had to give up our passport information to buy SIM cards.

We’re waiting to find tickets back to the United States.

We’re stuck. We’re empty.

My uncle hires a guide. He takes us around.

He tells us that Damascus is surrounded by graves of Nephilim.

I imagine their enormous corpses rotting.

My mother takes us to the Shrine of Zaynab.

Everyone crying.

I sit down and relive the entire war. I’m tired.

I’m dead.

We go back.

I go up to the hotel roof. I look out over the edge.

There’s an enormous hammer and sickle in front of the building across the street.

I go down. I cross the street. I stand in front of the building.

I walk in.

The walls are covered in red.

Old pictures of Soviet men and women.

Old propaganda art.

A Soviet community center.

I look down to the bottom floor.

I see rows of computers.

I pay the attendant.

I sit down.

I check Facebook.

I recall old haunts like Children of Acid and Myspace.

I look through the games.

I launch Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2.

I play a skirmish game against the AI.

I choose the Soviets.

I build as many Kirov Airships as I can and erase everything.

I end it. I start another. I pick Iraq.

I use all my resources to build Desolators.

I poison entire strips of land.

I exit the game. I get up.

I walk out. The sun is setting.

And I am full of rage.

And I am powerless.

I walk to the large intersection near the hotel.

I look around.

I lock eyes with an enormous picture of Hafez Al-Assad.

He’s grinning.

I remember the stories of him burying entire villages.

I remember his borderline genocides.

I let my madness go a little bit.

I walk to a cafe. I sit by the window.

I listen to the AC hum. I watch the headlights flash.

I order tea and hookah.

I weep at the table.

I kick the chair in front of me.

People stare. No one says anything.

They know.

I feel myself dissolve.

I stare at my reflection in the window.

I don’t know what I am anymore.

I feel myself devolve into a desolate wasteland.

I feel myself rot like raw meat in the belly of some cold-blooded animal.

I realize how deep the fantasies run.

I realize how much power games give us.

And I realize how much of it the world takes away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pass.

 

 

The living room is dark.

My mother sitting in her work clothes, staring at a paper.

My brother and I know we’re in trouble.

We don’t know why.

My mother looks up at us. I don’t look at her.

I keep my eyes on the slats of afternoon light beaming onto the carpet.

“Do you know…what this is?”

She shakes the paper.

We shake our heads.

An accelerating silence.

“This is a phone bill…”

I nod. I see where this is going.

“The phone company is charging me five hundred dollars…”

Mid-90’s. We just got the internet.

“What the hell have you guys been doing?!”

Dial-up was our only choice.

We lived in Appleton, WI.

We had to dial-in through Green Bay.

The connection was garbage.

We went through Madison instead.

It was further away. It was stable.

It was long-distance.

“I can’t believe this…”

My mother looks at the bill again.

“Can I know what it is you’re doing?”

I shrug.

“I don’t know…looking at stuff…”

She looks at me.

“What stuff, Wasim?…”

We just got a Playstation.

I was discovering games. Finding people.

Getting lost in the strange quiet.

She wouldn’t understand.

“Stuff! I don’t know…”

She starts shouting at us in Arabic.

My brother and I sit on the couch and cower.

In the end, my mother declares no more unsupervised internet time.

We nod.

I know she won’t follow through.

She has too many things on her mind.

I won’t connect through Madison anymore.

I’ll accept Green Bay’s instability.

I’ll pass through it.

And I’ll push deeper into this glowing wasteland:

Sifting through its silence.

Wondering alone.

 

Pipe.

 

Middle School.

We are the first class to have a computer course.

They teach us about the internet.

Our final project: Create our own website.

It can be anything.

I get weird.

I pack my site with Diablo and Doom GIFs.

Black and white pictures of deformed farm animals.

Dilbert comics I don’t understand.

I write a long, conspiratorial rant against the government.

It makes little sense.

This is the internet as I knew it.

Games. Pieces of games.

Lo-fi visual strangeness.

Underdeveloped ideology.

An opportunity to dissolve in front of anyone.

At home I jump between chatrooms.

I talk to people I don’t know.

I try to uncover who they are.

Men become women.

Women become men.

Children become adults.

Multiplayer, text-based, non-linear fantasy.

There is no precedent.

We talk games. Politics. Relationships.

I try to keep up.

I am a Communist. An Anarchist.

I help someone through Metal Gear.

A person claiming to be transgender assists me with fake relationship problems.

I am a Paleontologist.

A doctor.

A writer.

I am the grand experiment:

Watching the chat-streams collapse and break on the shores of sense and language.

Endless reams of text and symbols.

No homogeneity. No fluency.

A million insular, erotic, fluid worlds hovering over the largest stage mankind has ever constructed.

A million people cutting themselves into a million pieces.

A million deaf-mutes screaming through themselves in a place with no echo, in a world of alleys.

In a world devoured.

A world constructed.

A world hegemonized.

A world swallowed whole into a factory of suns.

 

Stick.

 

The quiet is over now.

The internet is a loud, unified place.

A tyrannical megalopolis with no dirt in the corners.

With no place to hide from the eyes and the noise.

Surveillance. Streaming video. Google. Podcasts. Internet radio. Social networks. Marketing algorithms.

A person must be what the world says they are.

I miss the old ways.

The old place.

I miss the curtains. The smoke. The masks.

I miss floating in the imaginations of the world.

I try to find that space again.

In college I meet a girl.

She is from Lebanon. A doctoral student in Comparative Literature.

I enjoy her company. I enjoy walking with her through the city at night.

She smells like the old country, like my childhood.

Like growing up in the mountains.

Our friendship doesn’t last.

We grow distant. We fall out.

She says I am not ‘pure’ Lebanese.

I feel more ‘American’ to her.

She claims my dislike of the Middle Eastern aesthetic and love of Medieval/Victorian/Gothic Europe is a form of ideological colonization.

I become silent.

I don’t expect that from someone who understands the fragile, flexible nature of identity.

It cuts deep. The sting lingers.

The world is a force of labels.

Technology is the disruptor and the accelerant.

As the internet unifies, I try to find holes in other fictions.

Books. Film. Music.

Games.

After the Playstation, games become a fixture of my life.

I try to find a space to relive that original quiet.

That original unsettling.

In 2009, From Software release Demon’s Souls.

It is medieval, slow, and archaic.

Its world is broken and shrouded in fog.

The player is tasked with exploring it. Uncovering it.

Eliminating the source of the horror consuming the land of Boletaria.

The characters residing in this fracturing are themselves broken.

They hide. Their identities change.

The Maiden in Black both assists the player through the game and is revealed later to be partially responsible for the land’s bleak state.

After being rescued by the player, Yurt, The Silent Chief begins killing other characters whenever he is left alone.

Online, Demon’s Souls allows others to leave messages anywhere in the world.

There is little direct interaction.

These messages can be encouraging, enlightening, deceitful.

Only with experience can the truth be known.

These mechanisms coupled with an inconsistent, shifting ‘World Tendency’ which fundamentally determines what the player experiences and Demon’s Souls is a game that plays the player.

It is complex. Genuine. Liquid.

A game about identity draped in a dynamic ruined world.

A place reminiscent of the early internet.

A broken place always in flux.

2009: My final year in college.

Bored. Lost. Confused.

No job lined up. No idea what I am doing.

I spend my nights exploring Demon’s Souls. Churning deep into Boletaria.

I find a remnant of the strange quiet the world left behind.

I find a place to disappear.

A space to revisit a dead era.

From Software continue to develop the Souls formula.

Dark Souls. Dark Souls II. Bloodborne.

Each iteration: A new exploration of silence.

New kinds of fluidity.

New layers of faces.

New branches of Miyazaki’s deliberate, crafted, mistranslation of Western literature.

The early internet is trampled.

Wiped clean.

But the Souls games capture most of what it was.

They are memorials to hiding, to the inconsistent self.

To that dead space where anyone could be anything:

 

Alone.

Together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fill.

 

 

Standing in the parking lot at night.

I look up at the sign.

I can’t remember when.

I am a child.

We are between my parents’ separations.

A pleasant evening and I am happy.

I smell the warmth of the asphalt. We walk to the front entrance.

We are going to eat pie. I look at the sign again.

I smile at its brightness.

We step inside. The lounge is full.

It smells like smoke and baked carpet.

I hear the piano music. I run towards it.

I watch the piano play itself.

I try to read its scroll.

The piano is in a frenzy: Pedals and keys pumping like thighs and pistons.

Like an oil derrick throbbing alone in the hills.

I imagine the ghost at the machine.

A hollowness swallows my stomach. I step back.

It feels almost alive. It seems confident.

I imagine the thing filled with bones and gears.

I imagine little fingers wrenching the keys from the inside.

I love this piano.

I am horrified by it.

Our name is called. I run back.

We are escorted to our table.

My father orders a pot pie. My brother orders one also.

He doesn’t know what it is.

Our food comes. My brother hates it.

He thought it would be sweet.

We finish. We sit around awhile.

We get up.

I walk to the piano again. I watch it again.

I place a finger on a key and wait.

It collapses. I jump back.

My father takes my hand.

We walk out.

The door closes.

The piano dies.

The wind picks up.

We walk to the car in silence.

I think about the pot pie.

I think about the piano.

Why would someone make a pie that isn’t sweet?

Why would someone want a piano to play itself?

I stare out the window on the ride home.

I watch the street lights flare by.

Full and confused.

On a road outside LA.

I fall asleep.

 

Rest.

 

A lot of games passed by me.

I was blind to them.

The PlayStation pulled me back in.

My mother gave away our NES and SNES to a poor Palestinian family.

It was Need for Speed III and Final Fantasy VII that reframed my past.

It was where games were then that set me off to reexamine where they came from.

In high school I dove into emulation. I sought out what was necessary.

A friend mentions Ogre Battle.

I download it.

I am frustrated.

Expecting a battle system of total player control, I couldn’t understand the value of the game.

I couldn’t choose my character.

I couldn’t micromanage my army.

Watching my soldiers lose without my direct involvement was awful.

Strategic target prioritization was all I was allowed.

I couldn’t accept it.

I wanted what FFVII promised: Strategic action.

Complete control.

In 2006, my interest in games collapsed again.

I had a laptop, a PlayStation 2, a PSP.

I was caught up with games and I was bored.

Final Fantasy XII released.

I was uninterested. I ignored it.

I visit a friend’s house.

He loves it. He hates FFVII and VIII.

I ask him why he likes XII so much:

“Because it feels like real fantasy, not that weird science/technology stuff in those other games. . .Also, I maxed out my characters in a couple nights. . .”

“What? How?”

“The Gambit System. . .I set macros in the game and rubber-band the analog stick. The party runs around and fights and heals itself and I don’t really have to do anything.”

“What’s the point of that? Is it fun for you?”

“Better than me wasting my game time grinding. . .”

I am stunned.

I am flooded with implication:

The first time I think about a game playing itself.

The first time I see the emptiness behind the systems.

The first time I understand games as inconvenience.

 

Drip.

 

Xenoblade Chronicles asked a lot of me.

Christmas 2012 I bought myself a WiiU.

It was the first Nintendo home console I’d owned since the SNES.

The Wii’s library was stagnant.

Again, I sought out the necessary:

Xenoblade. The Last Story. Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom. Sin & Punishment.

Xenoblade Chronicles is difficult to digest.

The characters skim across the world.

No weight. No friction. No density.

The weapons are half-inflated balloons.

The battle system is auto-attacks and positioning.

It’s watching what your party is doing while controlling one character.

Xenoblade is the evolution of Ogre Battle translated for the MMO generation.

It is uncomfortable.

It’s a game in which the player is marginal.

It’s a game of strategic depth and tactical hollowness.

A beautiful game with no body.

A cavernous game with no bones.

It is the modern predecessor to the ‘game-that-plays-itself.’

Mountain. Dreeps. Neko Atsume.

Mountain: The player watches a procedurally-generated mountain form and float in space.

The player only controls the camera as text from the mountain types itself across the screen.

Dreeps: The player sets an alarm which determines when an android wakes to go on an adventure.

It gains experience and defeats bosses on its own.

Neko Atsume: The player sets out toys and food for cats. The player takes pictures of the cats.

The player cannot interact with the cats directly.

They are all mobile games.

They are all about convenience and voyeurism.

About watching and filling empty time with something a little less empty.

The convenience and horror of FFXII’s Gambit as a design philosophy.

As a genre.

The self-playing game is a multi-level perversion.

Fetishization. Voyeurism. Bondage. Power. Dissociation.

Cold and sexual:

A dying fish glistening in the sunlight.

Intriguing and quiet.

Reflective and Sorrowful.

The self-playing game rests in the chasm between my finger and the piano key.

It is the glass between ourselves and our spaces.

It is falling asleep in the ruins of a feeling.

It is endlessly witnessing the confusion of a rotting memory pushing itself into every experience a person has ever loved.

A hole inside a hole.

A new dawn.

A broken sky.

A sea of cameras.

A fury of nostalgia.

 

A graveyard of pixels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold.

 

 

I walk through Yharnam.

I try to filter the disease from the city.

I imagine what this place has been.

Bodies hanged and crucified.

Coffins chained shut.

Statues weeping.

What was Yharnam in its best days?

How did its economy function?

Was there ever joy here?

The city is dense.

The city is decadent.

It is unhinged Baudelairean ecstasy.

Blood. Beasts. Coffins. Ash.

A setting sun.

A dying religion.

A long night.

It’s quiet.

Everyone hides from the hunt.

All locked away:

They mock, weep, laugh like ghosts:

The chemical byproducts of this nightmare.

They torched Old Yharnam to stop the plague.

They let the heretics revel in their obsession.

It still burns.

And the plague accelerates.

Citizens in stages of sickness.

How many families have been torn apart?

How many times has the story of Gascoigne and Viola repeated?

They all blame me.

There is a profound loss in their noises.

I cannot forget the Vicar‘s howl.

I cannot forget how she held her pendant.

I cannot forget the deer-wolf she became in the empty bowels of the Grand Cathedral.

Soft and violent.

Faith has lost here:

A false whisper drowned in an ocean of moans and screams.

Of roars and tears.

Yharnam is being left to die.

To suffocate.

To purge itself.

Yharnam is being allowed to forget.

To be forgotten.

I am a part of its unraveling.

I am the fantasy of its sorrow.

I am the luxury of power.

 

Hair.

 

Yharnam is a rejection of the Open World.

It is the rich failure of Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto.

It values intricacy.

It values intimacy.

Tight roads. Closed alleys.

A stagnant darkness.

It deconstructs the promise of its origin:

Anor Londo given a world.

It is the hollow dread of Boletaria and Lordran made visceral.

Yharnam and Bloodborne are inseparable.

Intertwined. Fused.

The mechanics of the game are an extension of the city.

The combat is close.

Intimate.

Flourishes and theatrical complexity:

A death ritual.

Yharnam is the seething blood pulsing through the game.

Always present.

Miyazaki‘s Souls are dispossessive.

Slow. Foggy. Stilted. Surreal.

Lynchian.

Broken worlds in passive decay.

They are violently quiet.

The Souls are about being frozen in dream.

About the end of the fairy tale.

Bloodborne is a deconstruction of life, of what it is to be alive.

It is the most literary game Miyazaki has made.

It is the bleak loneliness of Poe.

The biological alienation of Rappaccini’s Daughter.

The aggression of Melville.

The cosmic indifference of Lovecraft.

It is the most human game Miyazaki has made.

It explores our institutions, our bodies, our fear through the loss of form and ego.

It explores the fragility of our perception.

Is the Hunter’s Dream real?

Is it mine?

Or is it the Platonic Dream of The Hunt?

Or is Yharnam the true dream of the hunter?

The barren desire of the killer.

Bloodborne is the humanist response to Arbo’s Wild Hunt:

One mortal hunting the many.

One body stalking the ruins alone.

 

Fantasy.

 

Kafka wrote The Castle near the end of his life.

About a land surveyor attempting to navigate the bureaucracy of a strange village.

The locals don’t understand their own system of governance, but consider it sacred nonetheless.

Each villager the surveyor speaks with has a different myth for what their government is.

There is no consensus.

The novel explores themes of alienation, blind ignorance, and the unquestioned nature of systems of power.

Kafka died of tuberculosis before The Castle was completed.

Eras later and Bloodborne is its conclusion.

It is the expansion of The Castle and Kafka’s illness.

It doesn’t just absorb The Castle’s themes of bureaucracy and institutional power in its examination of the Healing Church.

It is Kafka’s Social alienation. Political alienation. Biological alienation in a new medium.

Bloodborne is Kafka’s end and his final creative act wrapped around Killzone‘s synthetic verticality, filtered through Beksinski‘s quiet, organic abyss.

It is a machinery of themes.

A cohesive, living game.

Its systems, stories, environment inform each other.

There is no space between them.

They are perpetually linked:

The dendrites of Yharnam.

They twist and loom over each other.

Seep into each other.

Miyazaki and his team aren’t game makers.

They are craftsmen.

They have fashioned something thick, linear, vertical, complex, broken.

Something like a person built with poems.

Something like a doll drowned in calligraphy.

 

Something like Pinocchio discovering the horror of being human.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.