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Tag Archives: Virtual Reality

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Low.

 

 

“Rain woke him, a slow drizzle, his feet tangled in coils of discarded fiberoptics. The arcade’s sea of sound washed over him, receded, returned. Rolling over, he sat up and held his head.

Light from a service hatch at the rear of the arcade showed him broken lengths of damp chipboard and the dripping chassis of a gutted game console. Streamlined Japanese was stenciled across the side of the console in faded pinks and yellows.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

 

Sub-I:

 

We were in a basement somewhere in Beirut. We were shooting pool.

Mid-90’s summer and there was no air conditioning. Slow fans and fluorescent lights.

The walls were covered in cracks and ripped up, yellowed flyers with pictures of dead men.

‘Martyrs’.

I become bored, I look around for something else to do.

A row of arcade cabinets in the distant corner. I put my cue down. I walk over.

I watch the demo looping bright neon animations.

A puzzle game. A friend comes over.

He watches the demo.

We stare at the flashing pictures of naked Asian women that pop up behind the solved puzzles.

He sits down at one cabinet. He drops in the coins. Tries to play.

He only manages to uncover a woman’s face locked in orgasmic fury.

As he gets up to leave, I lock eyes with one of the dead men hanging above the grimy arcade machine.

He looks determined. He looks ridiculous.

Either nationalism or religion killed him. Electric sex keeps his memory alive.

We step outside into the sticky night. We walk past a bombed out theater.

Lights reflect in the ruin.

It looks ridiculous.

It looks determined.

 

Sub-II:

 

We lived in southern California. 45 minutes outside of LA.

We drove to Vegas once a year for vacation.

90’s Vegas tried to market itself towards families.

Every hotel had massive, expensive arcades my brother and I would bury ourselves in.

A few years ago I went back there with my father for the first time in over a decade.

The arcades died there too: Vegas dropped the family act.

Walking down the strip at sunset, I realize how much I had forgotten about this place in the winter.

I notice how cool the air is, how dark the sky.

Standing at a crosswalk, I hold a cigar to my mouth and look down.

I laugh.

Cards with mostly naked men and women had been cast all over the corner.

I grind my foot into their polished, gutted faces.

So this is what Vegas wants to be now?

Must have lost money betting on the American family.

The 90’s lied to this city the same way it lied to all of us.

I crossed.

I watched the fountain go off in front of the Bellagio.

I felt like a ghost in its towering white light.

I felt like the dead man and his sex machine.

 

Sub-III:

 

 

Someone turned nostalgia into its own virtual world.

I was upset the first time I saw this.

It’s all lifeless.

The player touches everything and experiences nothing.

This isn’t an arcade: It is a funeral pyre.

In a world where digital media is highly consumable, we have forgotten how to act around things of value…

including our memory.

 

III.9: 

 

There was a line around the entire arcade.

Word was out they bought a VR machine.

$20.00 bought you five minutes.

I wait for the line to die down. It takes a few hours.

I walk up to the attendant. Give her the money.

She wraps the giant, plastic headpiece around my eyes.

I am anxious about becoming nauseous.

The game starts.

I look around the room. I am in a warehouse.

Everything is low-poly. Poor framerate.

Things shoot at me and I have no idea what to do.

My five minutes are up. I leave unimpressed.

More than a decade later Oculus Rift gains traction.

Sony announces Project Morpheus.

I download PolyFauna on my phone.

I put on headphones and stand in my living room.

I hold my phone close to my face and turn with it to navigate.

I am in two three-dimensional places at once and this realization shocks and thrills me.

I see a future defined by both cheap and expensive VR.

Bright colors. Dark spaces. Heat. Intimacy. Distance.

Eroticism.

VR’s arcade inheritance.

 

Sub-IV:

 

We were standing by the beach, watching the roaches skitter along the shore.

It was night. Everything was lit up by small shops and looming towers crowding Beirut’s shoreline.

I catch the lights of an enormous tanker parked in the sea.

I daydream about its machinery.

Coffee in hand, I turn to watch the taxis speed by.

A friend of my cousin walks up to us and pulls out his phone.

He asks us if we want to see something funny.

He cycles through the menus. Pulls up a video.

He holds the phone up to our faces.

It’s a video of a naked woman doing illicit things with a lit cigar.

I look up from the video.

I see gutted phones and computers in the window of a repair shop across the street.

I tell my cousin I’ll be right back.

I cross the boulevard.

I watch the guy work by his window.

I notice his limited selection of pirated games and vast quantities of Chinese knockoff consoles.

Lebanon has a strange relationship with technology: Everyone wants it, but only a few understand it.

Years later, the iPhone 4 would sell here for $1400.00 USD.

 

Sub-V:

 

At a bar just outside downtown Madison, WI.

Waiting for a live show to start at a venue down the street.

The bar has one arcade machine and one video poker machine.

I watch the poker demo.

I enjoy the crispness of the cards and their fluid animations.

I enjoy its bright glow.

It reminds me of all the machines in Vegas.

The rows and rows of digital and mechanical vice.

The UI flashes my mind with the basement and its dying porn games.

I never found gambling interesting.

But I enjoy the technology and aesthetics of seductive manipulation.

The running thread beneath it all is to focus the user, to isolate a person without giving them to the space to understand the illusion.

Arcade machines. Virtual Reality. Slot machines. Mobile phones.

My favorite types of mobile games are the ones that capture this illicitness.

Monster Strike. Terra Battle. TNNS. Dice Jockey. Zenonia.

They are inheritors of the arcade as filtered through Vegas.

They are products of and a celebration of vice.

Bright colors. Money. Chance. And the sensuality of being alone with others.

The modern drives as sold through slick, minimal UIs.

The modern drives as the bonfires of the synapse.

 

Pit.

 

“There was a place near an airport, Kowloon, when Hong Kong wasn’t China, but there had been a mistake, a long time ago, and that place, very small, many people, it still belonged to China. So there was no law there. An outlaw place. And more and more people crowded in; they built it up, higher. No rules, just building, just people living. Police wouldn’t go there. Drugs and whores and gambling. But people living, too. Factories, restaurants. A city. No laws.”

—William Gibson, Idoru

 

It is early.

We shamble out of the club.

I am shocked to see the sun.

Red Bull and vodka still coursing through us.

We make our way to the shore.

Beirut is an ugly city in the light of day.

It thrives through the night.

My cousin buys some coffee. He hands me a cup.

I watch the sun hovering just above the mountains.

I wonder about how we’re going to handle the hour-long trek back to the village.

We still had to drop off my cousin’s friends.

They meet up with us.

We walk over to the car and take off.

They both live in the hyper-religious slums of Beirut. Hezbollah territory.

We drop them off and I look around as my cousin says goodbye.

The buildings are close. The streets are narrow.

Sunlight blotted out by a thick, complex spiderweb of black cable.

I think about the infrastructure of access.

I see the faces of martyrs hung up on electrical poles.

I watch a man smoke a cigarette with an AK-47 slung around his back.

This is a place of violence. Of drugs. Of religion. Of money. Of power in the most classical sense.

My uncle once told me that in the city you have to pay for things that should be free for everyone: Access to sunlight and air.

I imagine who might live at the top of all these buildings.

What do they do with all their access?

I look at the cut sky through the dirt on the windshield.

I pull out my phone and check for messages.

Nothing.

I lean my head back. I close my eyes.

I think of Midgar. Of Kowloon. Of Neo-Tokyo.

I think of vice and violence.

And I smile.

And I bask in the mute, dark heat of our hearts.

 

And I drown in the polluted glands of this city.