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Tag Archives: Final Fantasy VII

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

sa

 

 

Grate.

 

 

There are moments I stop playing video games.

I can recall each moment because they are all defined by an exploration of something new.

Lost somewhere in the fog of high school, I walked away from games for the second time.

It was never clear what triggered this.

Freshman year I was playing Grand Theft Auto on the Game boy Color.

Sophomore year my brother and I pooled our money together for a Playstation 2.

Junior year and something shifted.

I turned to music.

I explored vinyl records.

I pulled my parents’ old Sanyo floor speakers from the basement.

I bought my first pair of Sony Stereophones.

Sound became important.

The first car I owned was a 1986 Saab 9000 Turbo.

Its stock stereo system had a visual equalizer.

I spent hours tweaking frequencies and audio presets.

When I came back to games I had developed an aural palate.

I knew what I wanted to hear.

I picked up my Game Boy Color and played Dragon Warrior for the first time since its NES release.

Its music stuck with me long after I had forgotten about it.

I asked a friend if he could copy specific songs off the Final Fantasy VII soundtrack.

I listened to it everyday driving home from school.

I began to pay attention to what I once considered passive elements.

Soundscape. Music. Sound Design. Lighting. Art.

My only focus had been on plot and mechanics.

I revisited games from my past.

Lion King. Aladdin. Super Mario 2. Guerrilla War. Super Street Fighter II Turbo. Contra. Jackal.

I experimented through them all.

I played with the fluid sprites of Aladdin.

I realized how deep Jackal’s music had dug into my past.

 

Coil.

 

When the original Playstation hit, it occupied a strange place in sound.

The PS1 rendered an insinuation of orchestra.

Everything from Final Fantasy VII to Metal Gear Solid to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night had soundtracks that landed between what was and what was to come.

With better hardware, it was a matter of time before game music became orchestral and real.

I wasn’t looking forward to that.

Most film soundtracks use orchestral variation and most film soundtracks are forgettable.

With each consecutive hardware generation, games became less immune to being forgotten.

Designers dropped simple, tight, engaging melodies for large, sweeping waves of sound.

Final Fantasy X was my first exposure to this.

I cannot recall a single FFX theme.

When everything is drowned in realized, emotional music, it has no impact.

It has no force.

The most recognizable themes in games today are those that understand how to use boundary and limitation.

Halo and its haunting, simple, choral opening.

Crysis 2 and Hans Zimmer’s dissonant, driven theme.

Armored Core V and its awkward, shifting, stuttering soundscape.

Transistor and its somber, tense, contemplative anthem.

Game music succeeds when it does new things with mathematical elegance.

As games shift further away from their origins, as they become more complex, more rooted in an approximation of reality, they can only strengthen their identities by reexamining the technical boundaries of their past.

By trying to forge identity through deliberate misremembrance.

 

Sea.

 

Until 2011, the last piece of Nintendo hardware I owned was a first-generation Game Boy Advance.

I skipped the N64, GameCube, Wii, and DS.

The 3DS was the first Nintendo console I bought in ten years.

I was annoyed at myself for ignoring the DS in favor of the PSP.

I was interested in experimenting with the parallax display.

It took time to get reacquainted with Nintendo.

I disliked what they did with the Wii and the 3DS was their initial attempt to rediscover the ‘core’ gaming audience.

Super Mario 3D Land shocked me. Its music was simple and memorable.

It was the perfect evolution of sound.

The music was experienced and enhanced the game’s bright art.

Nearly every first-party game on the 3DS had a thorough, crafted approach to sound.

The 3DS was the first handheld console where I couldn’t just mute the games.

I needed to hear what was going on.

In 2013, I bought Animal Crossing: New Leaf to cope with my wife leaving for a month.

It was the first Animal Crossing game I played.

The wholeness of its soundscape was captivating.

The music was light, crisp, and warm.

The sound of the rain, the waterfalls, the shore was thick and meditative.

The sound of footsteps on sand, grass, cobblestone, wood was mesmerizing.

More than any other element, the sound design stuck.

Listening to New Leaf was just as much a pleasure as playing it.

I bought a Wii U not long after launch.

I waited for the first-party games. I waited for the extension of the 3DS’ promise.

Super Mario 3D World was just as beautiful and whole as 3D Land.

Mario Kart 8 infused pop and joy into nearly every track’s theme.

The thoroughness of Sonic’s sound design in Super Smash Bros. Wii U is nothing short of a loving tribute to a dying friend.

Nintendo is often attacked for being slow to adapt, to change.

Nintendo is often accused of thriving in their own bubble and calling it success.

While these criticisms are fair, it is important to examine what it is they get right.

They understand how to build games.

They understand that sound and music aren’t just aural skyboxes encompassing their worlds.

They consider and entwine sound into every step, every inch.

Nintendo’s approach to sound is simple and profound.

Soulful and considered.

 

Grinning and whispered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Corner.

 

 

When I first tried to play The Last of Us, my PS3 couldn’t handle it.

I had the 2nd generation fat model and it couldn’t play newer games without blasting the internal fan.

It happened every time I put in Gran Turismo 6 as well.

I was frustrated not only because I couldn’t play the games I had, but this was near the release of Dark Souls II.

I was concerned the fan noise was going to destroy the ambiance the Souls series is known for.

I got rid of it and upgraded to the PS3 Slim.

Dark Souls II released and TLoU: Remastered was announced shortly after for the PS4 at a lower price.

Dark Souls II was a passable game overall, but by far the worst Souls game to date.

My excitement died and I passed my time waiting for The Last of Us: Remastered playing Guilty Gear.

When TLoU:R released, the difference was significant.

While the resolution stayed the same, it now ran at 60 fps instead of 30 and had a striking fidelity.

It was crisp and responsive. It felt different.

After having spent a few months analyzing everything that went wrong with Dark Souls II, The Last of Us was something I needed.

There were things about it that made me uncomfortable: Every person of color in the game is the target of some massive trauma, sometimes at the hands of the main character.

But TLoU was a narrative success.

The story was tight and engaging. The environments were dense.

The greatest success of The Last of Us is that the world both feels abandoned and lived in.

The cities and towns are painted and tragic.

Everywhere you look, there is something to look at: dripping water, a cracked brick, crawling vines, abandoned barriers, collapsed skylines.

The world is full and broken.

The Last of Us is Midgar Revisited.

Everything fits together in a complete, fluid way.

The world transitions into itself: stairs lead to halls leading to rooms with open windows and fire escapes and ledges and streets with more stairs.

If Destiny‘s success is its unique lens of verticality and space, The Last of Us succeeds in layering and texture:

In thickness and density.

 

Rotation.

 

A few weeks ago I applied to join the Bloodborne alpha.

I had no expectation of being accepted, but I felt compelled to try in order to know if this was going to be another disaster.

I completed both Demon’s and Dark Souls, owned DSII (for which I was invited to the beta), and purchased every iteration of Armored Core on the PSP/PS3.

I thought my credentials were solid enough with From Software that I had a better chance than others.

And they accepted me.

And Bloodborne is stunning.

While the lens through which the alpha takes place is limited, there is enough to understand what the game is.

It is not a Souls game.

It borrows elements from the series, but it is its own game mechanically and thematically.

The combat is much more fluid and responsive than any of the Souls games.

Bloodborne emphasizes movement and situational awareness. The combat is thorough and dynamic.

Gone is the dreamy, slow, dissociative quality of Souls interaction.

Bloodborne is more grounded.

The basic enemies remain difficult and have the potential to kill.

And From has maintained the asymmetrical multiplayer they pioneered in Demon’s Souls.

Bloodborne also marks the return of Hidetaka Miyazaki as Director.

After directing both Demon’s and Dark Souls, From removed him from the series and made him President of the company.

This led to Dark Souls II being made without his direction, ensuring the mess that From ended up releasing.

Miyazaki’s hand is so obvious in the design of Bloodborne that it makes Dark Souls II seem even worse.

Like The Last of Us, Bloodborne is a dense game.

It takes place in an enormous, sprawling gothic city (Yharnam) cloaked in a final darkness.

The city is in the midst of a plague that turns citizens into beasts.

Bloodborne, so far, seems like the most nihilistic game Miyazaki has made.

The city is full of death, hatred, anger, lament, emptiness.

Everywhere you turn there are ornate coffins, abandoned carriages, black chasms, tortured monstrosities.

Enemies scream, blaming the player character for their situation. Their voices full of rage and sorrow.

But Bloodborne, so far, seems like the best game Miyazaki has made.

One of the flaws Dark Souls II suffered from was a lack of compelling momentum.

It never makes the player ask or wonder.

There was nothing curious about the game’s world or construction. Everything was obvious and direct.

In Bloodborne, that is never the case.

 

Cascade.

 

Entry – 

 

The city is dark, but everything glistens.

I can see the blood on my clothes. I look up at the sky.

Why is that moon so bright? How did this place fall so far?

I walk toward a large coffin propped up in an alley.

I wonder why it’s chained shut.

 

Entry – 

 

I walk past some crates.

A man in the throes of this illness lunges at me.

He screams that it’s all my fault. He sounds sad and angry and terrified.

I kill him with my scythe.

I pull out my torch and stare at his body to decipher his features.

I wonder what it is he blames me for.

 

Entry

 

Standing on the stairs, I see civilians carrying torches.

It seems they are on some sort of patrol.

I follow them. I cross an abandoned carriage.

A man hiding in the shadows, he rises, and shoots me in the back.

I cut him down and climb the stairs he was sitting on.

I turn left at the top.

There is a half-beast corpse: crucified and burning in the dark.

 

Entry –

 

I walk down a side-path until I hit a locked gate.

A bell rings nearby.

I hear a loud groaning.

Something is trapped, slamming against a door.

I jump into the main road. I see the door shaking on my right.

I see another (larger) burning, crucified body on my left:

This one more beast than man.

 

Entry – 

 

I find a path into a graveyard.

All the trees are barren.

I wonder what season it is.

The moaning is louder now.

Something feels wrong here. I look at the ground.

The shadows are moving, flowing.

I look at the trees and there is stillness.

I trace the moonlight back. I look up at the sky.

There is an enormous spider-like abomination sitting on a tower, looming.

Tentacles from its mouth moving, flowing.

I stare at its hundred dead eyes in shock.

I wonder if this thing was once human as well.

 

Entry – 

 

I find the source of the groaning, the slamming.

A very large figure. He turns around to confront me.

I burn him down with Molotovs.

There is silence.

I wonder why he was trapped here.

I wonder why he was so large.

I walk to the back of the terrace.

I look down into the black abyss.

I look up at the nightmare in the moonlight.

And I know that this place is terrifying…

 

And that this place is beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Construct.

 

 

“We are more free than ever before to look around in all directions; nowhere, do we perceive any limits. We have the advantage of feeling an immense space around us – but also an immense void.” – Nietzsche

 

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I remember Destiny.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

Mario is desolate: Why is the Kingdom so empty? Where did everyone go? Whose footsteps wrap around the mountains?

Where were they going? And why did they leave?

Games suggest so much more than they are, but the space always cracks and no amount of environmental density can cover the silent, screaming vacuum behind their blind walls.

There are those that celebrate this wasteland: the Souls series, but their understanding never lasts.

Art emerges from the medium and implies texture and flesh. Warmth and dirt. But this is never translatable.

The system loses the context and renders an approximation of an open heart: trash tumbling in the light of a cold wind.

A problem of translation of place.

In Dark Souls, the player enters a painting: The Painted World of Ariamis. The painting hangs in a large cathedral in the middle of the domain of dead Gods.

The painted world was more tangible than the game’s reality. It distilled the lingering misery, focused it.

Warmth made of glass.

I look up at the orange sky. I stare at the vapor trails of passing planes. I wonder about the people. I wonder about their fear.

Games are barren. They wrap space around emptiness and call it ‘World.’

And what of the actual World?

It is also wrapped in an incomprehensible emptiness.

Is all our art and culture just a means to focus our anxieties of the void? To manufacture space and meaning?

To focus our misery?

The world as an engine of art and anxiety.

I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare one year after being stuck in a war zone.

The ‘attack helicopter’ killstreak gave me nightmares.

Games are somewhere between our subjective real and waking dream.

They have an influence of vision, they manufacture questions of perception and alter the gaze.

I lay down on the grass. I watch the light drip through the shaking silhouette of leaves. I think of Crysis.

The bigger a game tries to pretend to be, the less interesting it is.

The bigger a game tries to be, the more brittle the walls and the vacuum becomes intolerable and loud.

Open-world games try to keep their promise. Worlds where the player can mold their own narrative: An assumed simulation of living.

But this world itself is not open, none of us can go where we want.

We are stuck with our anxieties, our hate, our love, our need.

We are rooted and our imagination is crumbling.

What made FFVII so successful is that it understood the minute scale on which a world operates. It understood the sequence of place and the fragility of people.

And similar to Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil, every character was colored by the tragedy of existing in that world.

Square never captured that feeling again. No one has.

In college, I would experiment with noise. I listened to a lot of Merzbow, Bomb 20, and MITB.

Other genres of music, when pushed to their natural ends, often failed to capture the absurd notion of creating meaning in a life of constant fear and a notion of the inevitable end of all things.

Eazy-E almost got it.

He wrangled his own understanding out of the bowels of cosmic indifference and died.

 

Bearing.

 

“Why do you like games so much?”

We were sitting at a Mediterranean cafe downtown. The light was dim. There was a lot of noise.

It was raining outside. We were drinking mint tea.

I looked at her.

I shrug.

I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t.

And I don’t think anyone does.

I barrel through the darkness. I listen to Chipzel. I feel remorse.

Her music emerges from the ancient dead. It isn’t about reminiscing, it’s about digging through potential.

Games are barren. They wrap their creators’ hands in dust and bone and call it love.

An existential war between iterations of conflict and empty memorial: This is the current state of things.

“Why do you like games so much?”

Maybe because I like the promise of their parts: Games as reverse-Gestalt objects.

The parts are more than the whole.

Engines of art, music, philosophy, narratives, experience. Everything that emerges from that space is more exhilarating than the space itself.

Factories.

I sit on a hill. I stare through the heart of the city. I watch the sunset. I listen.

How many times has the world cracked open to bear itself to the distant, dying stars?

How many times have we accepted the mess we are and the mess we are in?

Are games attractive because they give us a controlled space to act? But the finality is there and the player is actively driving that world to its own end.

No matter where we go, we devour worlds and drink space.

Always running from ourselves and into each other.

I was watching G4. It was a live broadcast of E3. They asked for viewer feedback about a game with ‘choice.’

They aired the response of a stereotype.

An obese, white male discussing how he always makes the ‘moral’ choices. That mattered to him.

He wanted to be the classic hero.

I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for how much pain he must be in to imagine that his choices and his feedback mattered.

The greatest fraud: That the worlds of games care about what we think or feel.

It’s all fish eyes and limbs. Gasping and clawing. Remembrance and money.

 

Dancing.

 

We made MMOs because we couldn’t handle the end.

We decided we needed persistence. We needed more time in the wasteland between dream and abyss.

A wasteland with no virtual end: A depraved mimicry of our reflections.

I look up at the sun. I remember the canvas, the page, the brick, breathing, waking.

Games are barren. They are made and call themselves ‘World.’

And we run into them with a love and expectation that is always broken.

Why do you like games so much?

I stayed up all night and read ‘I, The Divine‘ once.

A novel written by a man from the perspective of a Lebanese woman trying to write her life story.

A novel of first chapters.

Where do our lives begin?

I walked to the lake at 4 am. I sat by the shore.

It was snowing. I lit a cigar.

I stared into the black.

And I accepted in that moment, there was no one to embrace.

And I accepted, once and for all, that I have no answers.

 

I am become boredom, the cancer of worlds.

 

“…It can only persist…as long as it’s possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can.” – Noam Chomsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around.

 

 

“Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” – Immanuel Kant

Everything we, as humans, do is  imbued with our imperfections, our fears, our breaking, our errors.

Nothing ever comes out pure because we, ourselves, are never pure.

The extension of this view: All the things we manufacture are imperfect mirrors of us, the creators, and as reflections they bear our consequences.

Freud wrote about drives.

He especially focused on two: the Death Drive (Thanatos) and Sex Drive (Eros).

Freud distinguished drives from instincts. While both are deeply rooted in the functioning of a living system, drives are independent of the logic of the greater system.

Drives have no end goal, they seek only to complete their own logics, even if that logic runs counter to what is beneficial overall.

Thanatos is the drive towards ones own end. The drive to non-existence.

Eros is the drive toward sex, toward the affirmation of life.

The two drives operate in tandem, but independent of each other.

While humanity chases after love, we also chase after our end.

Drives are mostly inaccessible to us. Their consequences manifest only slightly as the hidden engines of the decisions we make.

If all things made are reflections of the creator, then all things made are imbued at the very least with the drives of their creators.

Buried deep in the hearts of things.

Freud and Lacan (a contemporary) also discussed the idea of partial drives, drives which are manifested as identity develops and only focuses on specific zones of the body:

 

Table of partial drives 

PARTIAL DRIVE EROGENOUS ZONE PARTIAL OBJECT VERB
D Oral drive Lips Breast To suck
D Anal drive Anus Faeces To shit
d Scopic drive Eyes Gaze To see
d Invocatory drive Ears Voice To hear

 

Freud believed that partial drives inevitably connect and fuse when a person reaches sexual maturity.

Lacan disagreed with Frued’s assertion on the dualism of the two major drives: Death and sex. Lacan preferred to contextualize this dualism in terms of the imaginary and the symbolic.

He believed that human existence is structured by three orders: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real.

The symbolic order: The exchange, governed by a set of laws, which reinforces and renews the social order, often involving a three-way relationship (i.e. mother, father, child).

The imaginary: The formation of the ego, the ability to self-identify and begin to see what is and is not a part of the self, a dual relationship.

Because of Lacan’s breakdown of Freud’s death/sex dualism, he believes all drives are sexual drives, that all drives are death drives because all drives are repetitive, excessive, and destructive.

 

Scoop.

 

In Ecrits, Lacan discusses Edgar Allan Poe’sThe Purloined Letter‘.

The story revolves around a stolen letter and its retrieval. The letter supposedly contains some incriminating evidence regarding a queen. The letter is stolen by a minister in front of the queen by swapping the incriminating letter with another.

The minister hides the letter in his apartment.

The king knows nothing of this letter. The police are dispatched to the minister’s residence while he is away to find the letter. Their attempts are fruitless after 3 months.

They then contact  Detective Auguste Dupin to help them. After understanding the police have searched every hiding place in the residence, Dupin looks for the letter out in the open. He finds the letter, slightly altered, sitting on the minister’s desk.

Lacan breaks down ‘The Purloined Letter’ into three gazes:

-The gaze that sees nothing (The king who knows nothing of the letter and the police who can’t find it).

-The gaze which sees that the first gaze has seen nothing and believes the letter to be hidden (The queen, the police).

-The gaze which sees that the other two gazes leave what ought to be hidden uncovered (The minister, the queen, Dupin).

This plays into Lacan’s conception of the symbolic order: A trio of gazes.

Looking back at the table above, there is the ‘Scopic Drive’: A partial drive which focuses on the eyes and its related partial object: The Gaze.

Much like partial drives, partial objects are areas of ‘focus’ for the partial drives.

Because man is a tenuously connected system of partial objects and partial drives…

Because all our drives are related to Thanatos and Eros…

Because social interaction is governed by a  symbolic order of exchange…

Because whatever man creates is a reflection of its creator…

Then all things created are governed by the same hidden, imperfect ‘not-logic’ of the drives and a similar symbolic order that governs our social world.

 

Hey.

 

In the Sector 6 slums of Final Fantasy VII, sits the Honey Bee Inn.

The Inn is a love hotel.

The Inn is divided into different rooms which are themed according to sexual fetish/fantasy.

‘The Group Room’ (one of two rooms that can be entered) forces the main character (Cloud Strife) to bathe with a group of muscular men in a bathtub together:

 

 

‘The Queen Room’ (one of two rooms which cannot be entered, but can be spied upon) depicts a sexual fantasy scene regarding royalty.

 

 

‘The Lover’s Room’ (cannot be entered) is occupied by an awkward, uncomfortable elderly couple:

 

 

‘The &$#% Room’ is the second room which can be entered and involves Cloud having a breakdown  (Starts at 3:29):

 

 

The final accessible area of the Honey Bee Inn is the employee dressing room where Cloud can have makeup applied.

It is unusual to for games to deal with sex as openly as the Honey Bee Inn in Final Fantasy VII, especially in 1997.

As video games are a product of man, it is inevitable that they reflect on the minds of their creators.

The Inn is the only overtly sexual place in the game world, relegated to a slum of the city, Midgar.

Mimicking how most view their sexuality as inappropriate in the face of the world, in the social symbolic order.

The Inn not only deals with sex, but the fluidity of sex and gender roles, as well as the awkwardness of coming to terms with one’s  own sexuality.

While the game tries to push that Cloud is heterosexual (his potential romantic interests are mainly women), in the Honey Bee Inn most of Cloud’s direct interactions in the two rooms he can enter are with men. He isn’t exactly comfortable with them, but he engages with them nonetheless.

Often the narratives in video games reach a point where they entirely break down into garbled non-sense.

The second half of Xenogears, the later parts of Drakengard, The final boss of Wrath of the Black Manta.

The subconscious of the game.

Final Fantasy VII doesn’t really have that moment of narrative collapse, it’s subconscious lies in the Honey Bee Inn.

In the slums of our minds we are allowed to test and bend our sexuality without judgment. We are allowed to be voyeurs of ourselves.

Cloud spends a large portion of the game not realizing that he is living his life based on his friend’s, Zack’s, memories after his tragic death. In the trauma of that moment, he becomes Zack.

Perhaps the sexual fluidity with which Cloud engages in the Inn is a part of his original self. Maybe his heterosexual leanings are also adopted from his false sense of identity.

Drives operate independent in the depths of our selves, maybe Cloud’s resistant fluidity is a small expression of his original drives.

The cognitive dissonance between who Cloud thinks he is and who he actually is leads to the breakdown he suffers at the Inn after selecting ‘The &$#% Room’.

Cloud suffers many breakdowns throughout the game.

Later on he suffers a collapse so severe that his companion, Tifa, has to guide him back to himself by properly remembering the traumatic events of his life:

 

 

This sequence is structured in a similar manner to the Honey Bee Inn: Cloud has to choose to revisit certain memories and accurately relive them.

Like the memory segment, the Inn can only be visited once.

A snapshot of the subconscious: Sex and identity as a sequence of Gazes, as a sequence of partial objects.

 

Burn.

 

The Honey Bee Inn contains more dummied content than anywhere else in the game.

Content  that is present in the game data, but that can only be accessed through alternative means.

The dummied data is slightly more illicit than what appears to the player and due to its incomplete nature, full of dead ends:

 

 

This data can be seen as an error of sorts, it is expressive of Lacan’s notion in ‘Ecrits’ that errors can transform into truth.

This inaccessible content is also indicative of the problems in expressing sexuality.

The Honey Bee Inn being home to a large amount of hidden, unused content describes the confusion with which man approaches sex and sexuality, not to mention the sex economy.

It also describes the destruction and excessiveness of the drives.

By being more illicit than the accessible content, the dummied data is inaccessible through standard means.

It is hidden. Erased. Thanatos.

The Honey Bee Inn is a significant place and event, not only in Final Fantasy VII, but for games overall.

It is a place that is not only a reflection of ourselves, but an exploration of gender, sexuality, and identity.

It is both a mask and a face.

 

A single, forgotten gunshot howling in the polluted slums of the cities within us.