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Tag Archives: Counter-Strike

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Legends.

 

 

The first computer we had in our house was a Packard Bell desktop my family bought from Sears.

My brother and I spent a lot of time poking around on it, trying to figure out how to make it fun.

At first, we played a lot of Kidspace: A software suite that came pre-installed.

Kidspace had some cheap, strange games in it:

An odd medical game where you entered a patient’s body and attacked infected cells.

Another game where the player was a paleontologist exploring a barren world of static dinosaurs.

Kidspace was quiet and calm.

We spent a lot of our time there, it was pure in that it didn’t try to market anything.

Kidspace is what turned my brother and I on to PC Gaming.

We later moved on to Megarace.

Megarace grabbed us: It felt fast and dark.

It took place in something resembling a cyberpunk future with biker gangs.

Akira with none of the relevance.

Megarace was obnoxious and entertaining and we stuck with it for a while.

We only stopped playing when we couldn’t ever beat the fifth or so level.

The first ‘real’ PC game my brother and I tried to play was Star Wars: Rebel Assault II.

At the time, neither of us was interested in the Star Wars franchise, but this seemed like a fun, arcade-like rail shooter.

RAII pushed our desktop to its limits.

It ran well enough to play, but it wasn’t a smooth experience and would often crash.

Having played on consoles most of our childhood, we didn’t understand that PC gaming involved constant hardware upgrades.

Around this time, Command & Conquer: Red Alert released and all the kids at school were talking about it.

I had never heard of the RTS genre.

When I started Red Alert, I was disappointed that this wasn’t a first-person game.

That feeling soon faded as I began to enjoy the fulfillment of commanding and developing armies across alternate historical campaigns.

Due to the low hardware requirements, Red Alert ran much better on our desktop than RAII.

Red Alert was a substantial game.

It evolved so much from its predecessor: Command & Conquer.

I still play the original Red Alert today.

Around 1998, we finally upgraded our computer.

We bought a stock HP desktop in which my brother installed a dedicated graphics card.

This is where our love of PC Gaming soared.

We bought Half-Life, downloaded Counter-Strike, and played Unreal Tournament endlessly.

Playing these classic 3D games was formative.

Today, each one has reached mythical status in terms of pioneering design and action.

We understood that there was a lot we missed out on in those early years with our Packard Bell.

There were lineages, lines of thought we couldn’t follow on PC back then.

And when Diablo II released, I had little reference for what it was doing.

 

Careen.

 

The only game I played that was aesthetically similar to Diablo II was Red Alert.

I did have an understanding of different types of RPGs (Action, Tactical, Turn-based, etc.) due to the 90’s boom of JRPGs on console, but I had never played one with the strange, static, isometric camera of Diablo.

I did appreciate not having to always worry about moving the camera around since it locked onto the character.

Red Alert was exhausting about managing the camera.

I loved Diablo II’s dark atmosphere and art style.

The music was some of the best I heard in a PC game.

What struck me about D2 the most was how it felt like an action game, but it wasn’t.

It sat in a strange space where different RPG genres met.

It felt like the sort of game that could only belong on PC, but also seemed translatable to console.

Of course at the time I saw the line between PC and console as non-porous and rigid.

The strange loyalties of children: Being attached to wherever they are.

In the ignorance o f that age, I recall seeing games like Doom and Diablo I on Playstation and getting angry about how they don’t belong there.

This sentiment was stronger with regards to Diablo because Diablo II was exclusive to PC and MacOS.

It never felt as though we would ever see a Diablo II port on console and we still haven’t.

I spent years in D2’s world.

Its action was so immediate and satisfying, it took a long time for the game to grow stale.

It eventually did, but only by virtue of time.

By the time Diablo III released in 2012, the world of PC games had shifted.

The PC gaming market had gone through a difficult period where consoles were setting the tone and creating markets for games, but the PC had begun to ascend as the dominant consoles began to show their age.

Also, the PC platform had begun a shift away from relying solely on large, AAA releases to a more balanced approach between innovative, cheap, independent games and well-known franchises.

Independent titles like Torchlight tried to capture and innovate on Diablo’s established formula in 2009, three years before Diablo III released.

But something always felt off about games like Torchlight and Path of Exile, something about their action felt unsatisfying.

The first time I played Diablo III I realized how much I had missed its solid responsiveness.

It took awhile for me to get used to the new art style and the real money auction house was unnecessary, but overall it still felt like Diablo.

The music was still quiet and deep, the game’s somber tone was left untouched, the enemies were varied and interesting.

However, Diablo III felt like a more universal game than D2, from the beginning Diablo III felt like a game for everyone and anyone.

It walked a very thin line between the casual and core audiences: The beginning of the game felt streamlined and, even on normal difficulty, it was too easy (especially with the introduction of followers).

At the same time, Diablo III boasted a ‘Hardcore’ mode that featured character permadeath.

Over time Blizzard pruned away at the game.

By removing unnecessary, game-breaking features like the auction house and by expanding core elements like the game’s difficulty and loot, Blizzard sincerely focused the game.

When the Reaper of Souls expansion released earlier this year, Diablo III had gone from being a great game diluted by under-developed ideas to an elegant action RPG.

Having become the game it always should have been, it was ready to fulfill its promise of universality.

 

Library.

 

When Blizzard announced that Diablo III would be coming to current-gen consoles in 2013, I remember the vitriol erupting from a portion of the embedded PC community.

They were offended that Blizzard had released this game on PC with a lot of questionable decisions (like the removal of the skill tree) that were only justifiable had Blizzard been trying to streamline the game for console release.

The assumption in the beginning was that like Diablo II, D3 was going to be a PC exclusive.

This sentiment wasn’t due to the PC community not wanting the console community to enjoy PC games, it emerged more out of the environment Diablo III released into.

Late in the console life-cycle, publishers and developers were looking to cash in with quick and cheap console game ports on PC.

Often these ports would be missing what were considered key PC features: thorough graphics options, dedicated servers, universal gamepad support, multi-monitor support.

The PC community was shown little consideration.

The mechanical simplicity of Diablo III was no longer seen as just trying to boost the audience on PC, but rather that Blizzard had developed D3 with the intention of releasing to consoles at some point.

When the last-gen console versions did release in September 2013, the anger had died down and the game was left to be judged on its own merits.

It was well-received critically, but it didn’t garner much discussion.

This seemed like the game’s lowest point: Its original fans felt betrayed and the console fans didn’t pay as much attention to it.

But Blizzard did manage to find a near-perfect balance one year later on the new-gen platforms.

In the year between D3’s last-gen and current-gen release, the game changed.

With the introduction of Reaper of Souls the game was modified down to its core.

It was more polished and more expansive.

While I didn’t play Diablo III on last-gen consoles, I did pick it up on the Playstation 4.

I hadn’t touched Diablo III in over a year and I was surprised at how different the game felt on console.

This wasn’t a matter of one version being better than the other, the two were just different.

On PC, Diablo III feels like a western Action RPG.

It feels like a game about numbers and exploration.

What struck me on console is how much more it feels like an arcade game.

It’s a faster game.

Blizzard implemented a dodge move making the character more mobile, more fluid.

It’s as if the two versions of the game each explores and emphasizes a different face:

The PC version filters the game as a number-crunching, exploratory RPG.

The console version, as a fast, smooth, arcade action game that reminds one of Gauntlet.

It was the inverse of what RAII had represented.

This is a testament to the Diablo series’ malleability.

A testament of its ability to change shape in order to emphasize one of its many successes of identity and mechanics.

A lot of games try to be Diablo, but they only ever succeed at one aspect of it.

Few games are confident enough about what they are to succeed on different platforms by altering their identity.

With its difficult and complicated trajectory over the past two years, Diablo III has hammered itself back into significance, back into coherence, by embracing its ability to diverge.

Diablo III is like a circus acrobat with a rocky past:

Always seeking to forget about where it came from while contorting itself to entertain as many people as possible.

 

Always reaching out through action while exposing its dense, fluid heart to the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Lattice.

 

 

I never played the original Killzone.

When it released on the PS2 in 2004, its reception was lukewarm.

The first Killzone was highly regarded for its aesthetics, but was derided for a lack of stability (framerate issues, general bugs, broken AI).

I didn’t purchase Killzone 1 because it was a console shooter in the PS2 era, I was unconvinced that this was viable and Killzone’s problems proved it.

Even if Bungie had shown it was possible to create a thriving console FPS on the Xbox with Halo:CE in 2001, Guerilla hadn’t been doing what Bungie had been honing since 1991.

The only console FPS I played in that generation was the last FPS released on PS2 in 2006: Black.

While Black still felt lacking, it worked a lot better than expected.

It had a strong identity, crafted through sound.

Black won ‘Best Art & Sound’ at the Develop Industry Excellence Awards and was nominated for ‘Best Audio’ at the 2006 BAFTA Video Games Awards.

Black didn’t receive much attention in the larger gaming community.

It was the end of both the PS2 and the Xbox. Everyone was waiting for the new console generation to drop.

In the time between Guerilla’s creation in 2000 and Black’s release, Bungie had released two Halo games and Halo 2 both broadened and focused Halo:CE’s premise.

Halo 2 was not only a more fluid experience, but it set the standard for matchmaking on consoles in 2004, two years before Black’s release.

Halo 2 defined the future of console FPSes by proving that online multiplayer can be important to consoles provided the experience is streamlined.

It was also a faster, tighter game than its predecessor.

The lore had taken root and the game’s boundaries were significantly expanded, but it moved the player through varied environments and set-pieces at a quick pace.

When the PS3 released in 2006, the Halo series had cemented itself as the pre-eminent console FPS (exclusive to Xbox).

Nobody discussed Killzone or Black the way they did Halo.

Halo’s tech-spirituality transcended the game.

It was revered.

It wasn’t until Killzone 2 released in 2009, that Sony and Guerrilla found an alternative and an answer.

 

Neck.

 

In the age of searching for ‘The Next Halo’, Killzone 2 was pegged by many to be a ‘Halo Killer’.

It wasn’t.

KZ2 wasn’t a failure by any means, but it wasn’t seen as the instant legend Halo:CE or Halo 2 were.

But Killzone 2 did something that neither Halo nor Call of Duty did: Verticality.

Ever since the creation of the modern first-person shooter with Wolfenstein 3D, the genre has been obsessive about exploring horizontal space.

There are always small deviations in verticality, but the focus is generally about moving across a world, not through it.

Games that decided to explore vertical space more prior to KZ2 are today considered modern classics: Half-Life 2. Crysis. Counter-Strike.

But these were PC shooters and PC games were always conceptually ahead.

Both Halo and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tried to integrate a passing glance at vertical space.

The beauty of Halo’s ringworld is that the player can see it looping over them into the horizon.

A simulation of climbing, when the player was doing nothing but moving forward.

CoD4 tackled verticality by emphasizing aerial and long-distance threats like helicopters, gunships, and snipers.

KZ2 though was built around vertical space.

The game never gave the sense that the player was moving across a world.

The environments were dark and closed.

Either the player was moving up, down, or penned in by looming structures tearing at the sky.

Killzone 2 seemed to absorb some of the lessons of PC shooters. It was a grand hybrid of both worlds.

The multiplayer was quick and deep, implementing a leveling system similar to what CoD4 presented, the levels were innovative and interesting, it had a unique visual style to rival Halo’s.

With each successive iteration of the Killzone franchise, Guerrilla focused the series’ obsession with vertical space.

Killzone: Shadow Fall has massive cities that both drill down and bloom up and moving through them is fulfilling in ways other shooters aren’t, not even the Halo series.

 

Satellite.

 

After ending their console exclusivity with Microsoft, Bungie was set free.

The Halo franchise was passed on to 343 Industries while Bungie worked on their ambitious, multi-platform project: Destiny.

No one knew quite what to expect from this game considering the amount of hype it had generated.

We are still in the beginning of a new console generation and the marketing of games has been loud and heavy.

Watch Dogs is the worst example of this: A mediocre GTA-like with little innovation and an enormous marketing budget.

The gaming community wanted Watch Dogs to be better than it was because it was a new-gen game.

At first, Destiny felt like more of the same: Heavy marketing and another future-FPS from the development house that brought us Halo.

But in the beta, it became evident there was more going on.

When it released a month later, the game reaffirmed what the beta had suggested:

Destiny is a study of the history of the FPS genre as a whole.

It is reminiscent of both Doom and Wolfenstein 3D by having the player move across both vast, open spaces and tight corridors.

Its shooting has the crispness of Rage.

The story of the game is woven into the environments the player frequents, expressing a narrative and aesthetic style similar to Half-Life 2 and Halo.

Destiny’s level progression would not exist if not for CoD4’s pioneering multiplayer leveling system.

Its persistent online world and seemless matchmaking on console is owed to the ground Bungie broke with Halo 2.

The clear, aural identity of the weapons reminded me of the amazing things Black had done with sound.

But what stunned me the most is Destiny’s suggestion and seamless incorporation of vertical space.

Many of Destiny’s missions has the player either tunneling down into some alien dungeon or battling upwards towards the sky.

Bungie’s use of vertical space isn’t as ‘full’ as Guerrilla’s in Killzone, but it is different enough that it doesn’t matter.

What Killzone often presents is a stark contrast between tight, claustrophobic environments and wide-open vertical horizons.

Destiny doesn’t really explore that duality.

Even the alien tunnels the player moves through have a stunning amount of vertical space: large structures, high ceilings, etc.

In these locations, Destiny’s use of vertical space is similar to arena shooters like Quake and Unreal Tournament.

However, when the player is out in open terrain, Destiny is often suggestive of Half-Life 2’s City 17 and its relationship to the Combine Citadel.

City 17 is a major hub/transition area and the Citadel can be seen from nearly anywhere in the city, always looming over the player.

In Destiny, Bungie break up the visual monotony of the horizontal by incorporating large, looming structures on all the planets.

On Earth, it’s the Traveler and the enormous, dead spaceships.

On the Moon, it’s giant cliffs and peaks collapsing into huge chasms.

On Venus, it’s the Vex superstructure hovering in the sky.

Part of the reason open-world shooters like Fallout 3 grow stale is because there is little to break-up the visual monotony of the horizon.

There is nothing aspirational.

Many complain that Destiny seems like a very small game, but the lens with which they view the game is inaccurate.

One of the bigger problems of modern games is they never take the time to allow the player to occupy a space.

Either through a rushed narrative or weak action, the game is pushing the player forward without any real presence.

Destiny forces you to explore and re-explore a place over and over again. It asks the player to pay attention to the world.

It’s asking the player to just relax and be in it.

Destiny has dedicated buttons for sitting and dancing.

It never feels rushed.

Like Dark Souls, it has a dignified quiet.

A lot of the talk around Destiny compares it to Borderlands, but that is a disservice to the game.

Borderlands is a simple, boring shooter that uses a loot system and an over-saturated visual style as its hook.

Destiny is contemplative, even more so than Halo.

It is empty and tall. Wide and fragile.

It is a koan wrapped in an epic.

Destiny isn’t really like any other shooter, but it is the entire history of the genre.

Thorough and thoughtful, Destiny is an honest experience, an elegant one.

An experience that, with the right kind of eyes, nearly anyone can rejoice in and grow from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Click.

 

 

Every summer, my options were limited.

Vacationing in the developing world, there are things you get used to: water stoppages, prolonged blackouts, looming violence, heat, etc.

Without reliable electricity, television was out, video games too for the most part.

Every summer until I was old enough to drive, my options were: read, write, draw, hunt, or play.

Most of the weight in my luggage was books. I brought so many books. I still do everywhere I go.

I had been writing poetry since I was 11. It was never enough to eat up significant amounts of time.

Poetry was all I was good at though.

I was a terrible artist and a terrible hunter. I had bad aim.

Bird hunting is the leisure sport of Lebanon. They are passionate about it. The Lebanese nearly drove every species of bird to extinction in the 90’s.

The government stepped in and banned hunting for a few years.

I was often mocked for being terrible at it. I wanted to be good, but I had no heart to watch the limited comprehension of grace fade out of this world second by second.

With birds, it is never a clean kill. They drop into the dirt, panting heavily, bleeding, fighting. I hated it.

We played war games. War is the other past-time.

One summer, my cousins, my brother, and I fashioned fake machine guns out of discarded wood. We pretended we were training for missions against the occupying force.

A few years before that, the four of us found some gasoline at the bottom of a rusted barrel outside my aunt’s old house. We decided to use that to make Molotov cocktail.

We found a glass bottle, filled it, stuffed some napkins in the top and left.

On the road a Lebanese army jeep was coming towards us. We hid in an alcove just off the street until they passed. When we made it back to my cousins’ house, we didn’t know what to do with it.

We tossed it, unlit, into a field. The next year I heard it started a small fire.

 

Prog.

 

In our village, there was a small arcade.

When the electricity was out, they ran on a diesel generator.

It had Foosball, Street Fighter II, and other no-name action games.

It was inside of an abandoned garage. All concrete, small windows, poor air circulation.

It always smelled of dust and oil.

Street Fighter II got the most play. We had no idea what we were doing. We understood the premise.

Zangief was a favorite. He was big and mean. He was Russian. The Middle East had respect for Russia, even during the USSR.

The USSR supported Gamal Abdel Nasser, a symbol of Arab dignity and pride to this day.

These small things mattered.

The last time I set foot in that arcade, I slammed the owner’s son into an arcade machine.

My brother and I had gone there one evening to pass the time before a big volleyball tournament. We played some games and left, following the traffic of people heading to the schoolyard as the sun was going down.

My brother kept spitting and making noises. I asked him what was wrong. He said the owner’s son had put some chalk dust in his mouth.

I stopped.

I went back. The owner’s son was sitting behind the desk. He stood up. I yelled at him, grabbed him, and slammed him into the nearest arcade machine. He understood.

The next summer the arcade had closed for good. They were selling roasted chickens. I bought one for my family.

It had a fly in it.

The small things matter.

 

Mount.

 

Counter-Strike became a big deal.

Someone opened an internet and gaming cafe in the heart of the village.

I had no idea how they managed to do it.

The telecom infrastructure in rural Lebanon was broken beyond comprehension.

Most villagers were getting their television through illegal satellite hook ups.

The cafe flourished. Kids were in there all the time, yelling.

Counter-Strike was the virtual extension of our war games. The virtual extension of the frustration of our violence.

My cousin went by the handle Sniper and had made a name for himself. I was terrible at it.

He used to go there every other day with his brother and mine. I would stay home and read. I knew I had nothing to contribute.

I mainly used the internet cafe for checking emails. The nice thing about the developing world is it grants everyone the ability to not exist.

Things happen and you don’t know and don’t care.

One time I decided to make the trek with my cousin, just the two of us.

We were placed on the same team.

During one game, I managed to stay alive longer than everyone on my team. There was only one person left on the other. My cousin yells: ‘Don’t mess up!’, I find the enemy, he shoots me.

I was a terrible hunter.

The internet cafe is now a Western Union.

 

Query.

 

The first time I watched a jet dropping flares, I was in awe.

I thought the flares were bombs. My father explained to me what they actually did.

Every time I came back to the U.S. after a few months overseas, I felt uncomfortable.

America is a strange place completely cleaved out of reality.

America is the syrupy hyperdream of some half-naked body builder standing on an ancient beach, staring at the stars.

Coming back into this place was always a jarring experience. It was a process, one that my parents could never understand.

In elementary school we were tasked with drawing pictures of something interesting that happened to us the previous summer. I drew the jet dropping flares and the army firing at it.

My mother was embarrassed. All the other kids were drawing pools and family trips, but that was my narrative: Aggression and spectacle.

Seeing the gears of a broken world turn, I couldn’t understand how my parents could just immigrate and forget.

From hunting, to fighting games, to discovering FPSes, we always found ways to birth aggression.

It always took me awhile to develop a knack for it. The U.S. doesn’t function on aggression in interpersonal relationships.

But America and Americans have their own kind of violence, a kind of violence that is heavily disassociated. Violence in film, games, music, media in general with no consequences. Fantasies.

 

Conch.

 

I never enjoyed the killing of things, but I knew it was necessary to experience in person.

Watching birds falter in the face of the earth embedded me with the morbid and sad truths of living.

I learned that when we go out, it’s all ugliness. There is no honor in it, just thrashing and dirt.

As children, we didn’t do the things we did out of fantasy, we reacted to the freedom of violence around us. We expressed it, thrived in the wild of it.

Gears inside of gears.

Does that subtle difference of interpretation affect the digestion of our engagement?

It made us more self-aware.

The experiences we have with media, and games specifically, are colored by the environment we exist in.

In America, I was curious and excited about whatever I engaged with.

In Lebanon, I wanted to flourish, I wanted to progress. More presence. More drive.

I haven’t left North America in two years and I feel no urgency of interpretation.

‘Real’ game violence rings hollow now.

I am looking for visions of experience:

 

The edge of being forever reborn into the crumbling sunset of the American dream.