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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.


‘And you?’

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.’

She nods.


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.

Tired. Resilient.

Street Fighter I should have been the end.

Street Fighter III should have been the end.

Street Fighter IV should have been the end.

But II.

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.

SFIII fails.

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 religion.

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.

New space.

New sects.

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.










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.


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.


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.


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.









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.




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.




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.










A mangled arm.

Naked women.

A crumbling body.

Screaming faces.

A deep American voice. Male:


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.




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.




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.




Hostages wrapped in black and gold.

A deep American voice. Male:





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.


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.


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.




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.


‘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!’




‘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.


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.





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.












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.




It’s dark.

The sky is quiet at last.

Our anxieties cool.

“You want to go for a ride?”



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.”


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?”


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?”


I nod.

Social anonymity.

I load up a new round.






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.”




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.


‘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.




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.




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.










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.




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.




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.


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:













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.




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.




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.