Sunday, February 13, 2011

Being Shot in the Head and Other Virtual Experiences

In high school I received an Xbox. With it, one wonderful Christmas, I also received an Xbox Live subscription and headset. Xbox Live allows you to play with others around the world live and speak to them with telephone quality. For an isolated individual who spent a lot of time inside already, this was a godsend. I made good friends with people I have never met from England, the Colombia River Valley, Texas and countless other places. My playing with them became organized, and we played the same games as a team against other groups. We had a website, we setup matches and even practiced. Levels were mapped and understood for their strategic points, little details and potential. Yes, I am publicly admitting my nerd-hood, and I regret none of those times. Those people and our interactions are another story. What fascinates me at this moment is that I interacted with these individuals in a virtual world that feels like actual physical geography in my memory.

Let’s take Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon. I probably logged four to eight hundred hours in that game, if not more. I played it everyday for at least a year and half. The levels seem real. I can specifically recall one map better that the rest: a rainy bombed out city with a cafĂ© on the far left, a ruined square in the middle and one road that wraps all the way around. I can hear the rain, see the rubble and know what places to avoid. I have memories associated with specific locations within it. At the bottom corner where the Gold team starts “Uncle Pete”, a middle aged black man from LA, and I sat and talked about Jazz and current music for ten minutes why we waited for a sniper to move positions. Once, with my headset muted, I had one of my first beers with my brother-in-law over the phone on New Year’s Eve while in the ruins at city center (Man was I cool). I shoveled pop corn in my face, and dumped half the beer out. It was a Heineken. Gross. The memories, experiences and connection to places that exist on now a dusty disk in my sister’s attic are numerous, and I’m not going to list them all here (thank God). My central idea in brining this up is the way these memories don’t mix with all the others.

If those maps were actual geographic locations I could take someone there and forge new memories, but it is unlikely that I will ever revisit them. And even if I did, I would encounter a dead place, an empty place devoid of the people that made it interesting. If I return to Italy, my old apartment or my high school parking lot I cannot regain those moments or step back to that time, but they have changed i.e. “You cannot step into the same river twice” because the river has a changed, as have you. What cements the difference with the virtual world is that it is pixel for pixel the same. Nothing in it has changed except for the people that were present at the specific instance I remember. Those maps do not exist in the same way all the houses I’ve lived in do. My houses are real places. They have people in them right now. The virtual worlds I’m describing are dead places. If anyone is still playing in an eight-year-old video game map, it is in a much different fashion. Those virtual places have been abandoned and exist, if it all, in a stasis that is like a purgatory of a kind.

The way these virtual places remain real and unreal at the same times reminds me of this Derrida quote where he discusses a parergon, “a piece of work that is supplementary to or a byproduct of a larger work

“A parergon comes against, beside, and in addition to the ergon, the work done, the fact, the work, but it does not fall to one side, it touches and cooperates within the operation, from a certain outside. neither simply outside nor simply inside. Like an accessory that one is obliged to welcome on the border, on board. It is first of all the on (the) bo(a)rd(er).”

In this context the ergon is my life lived in actual space, and these games, that were designed to be diversions, are the parergon. They exist and “cooperate” with my other memories but are markedly different. I am struck by how these memories stick. Occasionally I’ll find myself thinking, oh Day Docks is where Rockstar got stuck in the office and made his way out with his pistol and we won the match. What a strange thought that if having occurred in real geography would indicate quite a different person.

The function and existence of these virtual worlds in memory makes me curious to see how future generation more intense immersion in these worlds will be impacted, and what – if any- are the affects on the perception of place. More to come.


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  2. I really like this post...It must be pondered over beer. In person though, as having that discussion in a virtual setting, while appropriate would also be strangely ironic.

  3. Agreed, I will see you and one Mr. Shuh on Sunday.