I don't like this game.
This is the thought that echoed in the corridors of my mind a few days ago as I found myself firing at a parade of impersonal assailants in a gloomy and dank subterranean room with a newly acquired automatic weapon. It's not that I didn't want to like the game, a AAA Playstation title released in the first half of 2013 that I was just getting my hands on. Nay. It's just... even with the aforementioned circumscribing clues, how many games could that description accurately apply to? The answer: too many.
I was bored. Bored of navigating ominous, dark environments in anxious anticipation of gotcha! scares. Bored of the tired, poor writing. Bored of being expected to shoot people in the face for no good reason. I turned the game off, went to my computer, and proceeded to watch an hour's worth of Let's Play videos and cutscenes from the game, stopping intermittently to read a full synopsis of the plot on a wiki. Curiosity satiated, I went to bed.
Maybe it has something to do with my day job. I am currently using the Arabic skills garnered through years of study in far flung places (Jordan, Syria, and Yemen, to be specific), originally for purposes of personal edification, translating as a cog in the machinery of the national security-industrial complex. One prominent aspect of my work is the consumption of war porn, bearing witness to the mediated presentation of armed groups' battlefield exploits. It is a strange thing to be the frequent voyeur of real life violence.
Yet even stranger is the curious heartbreak that is watching a place you once called home—a place whose streets you've walked, whose sounds you know, whose people have been both enemies and friends—rip itself apart in a horrifying vortex of bombs, bullets, and bloodshed. The young woman with beautiful English who helped entertain you through the tedium of data entry at your internship? In exile. The handsome guy with the perfect stubble who you drunkenly hugged at a party? Also in exile. The skinny girl, all limbs, with the delightful laugh and curly hair? Detained. The other one, the one you had a crush on? A refugee.
Violence seems a lot less palatable as a vehicle for entertainment and fun times when the gravity of its impact in real life is so frequently, cavalierly disregarded in popular media.
Playing Triple-A Title Where You Shoot the Dudes, Again was boring. I don't know if my days of training my virtual sights on hapless cookie cutter goons are over, but they're certainly not as appealing as they used to be.
But I still love games. I hope to make my own some day. But why? How?
Funny enough, the night previous to my forlorn gaming adventure, I was having a conversation with a buddy of mine—who happens to be, irony of ironies, a special forces combat veteran—which may contain some semblance of an answer. He's one of the hippest, most cultured dudes I know, yet knows little about video games. Still, when discussing my interest in this medium and my nascent aspirations for contributing to the creation of games that speak to aspects of the human experience other than conflict and competition, he offered a word of wisdom.
"If play is integral to human evolution, to the evolution and development of species in general," he said, "the way we play today needs to catch up with some of the higher visions we have for this world." He later posed a question: "How do you create through play? How can one engage in play as an act of creation?" Posed by someone who spent years dealing in death, these inquiries had particular resonance.
I don't have the answers, but they're damn good question. And it's those issues—how the video games we play can investigate and evoke a broader spectrum of the human experience, and, more challenging still, expand its limits—that draw me to explore this medium as a creative practice. It's the primary reason for the creation of this blog; at the same time, it will not be the only purpose of this blog. Intellectual and cultural cantonization is one of the reasons for the video game industry's sadly limited horizons when it comes to its mainstream production. So expect to find my thoughts on a range of subjects informed by my various identities and interests; as an activist, progressive, Arabic speaker, Middle East "expert" (an annoying term, I know), African-American male, and fashion enthusiast, among other things.
Oh, and that game that I put down the other night? It was the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. Was anyone else as unimpressed as I was?