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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: