Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later

EDGE - - SECTIONS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

Steven Poole con­tem­plates the in­fan­til­ism of play­ing videogames

Writ­ing in Guan­tá­namo Di­ary, the re­cently de­clas­si­fied and pub­lished (though still in a redacted form) mem­oir of his im­pris­on­ment and tor­ture at Guan­tá­namo Bay, Mo­hame­dou

Ould Slahi re­lates how one of his guards sud­denly re­ceived new or­ders to be nice to him. The guard brought him some home com­forts, in­clud­ing muffins, a TV and a PlaySta­tion 2 con­sole. The guard was “a big gamer” him­self, but Slahi was not overly im­pressed. He told his jail­ers: “Amer­i­cans are just big ba­bies. In my coun­try, it’s not ap­pro­pri­ate for some­body my age to sit in front of a con­sole and waste his time play­ing games.” Slahi goes on: “In­deed, one of the pun­ish­ments of their civil­i­sa­tion is that Amer­i­cans are ad­dicted to videogames.”

You and I may agree that videogames are a fas­ci­nat­ingly cre­ative cul­tural force, but don’t you – at least some­times – har­bour the sus­pi­cion that Slahi has a point? That if we rou­tinely spend evenings play­ing videogames, we are just big ba­bies? I did re­cently, dur­ing a co-op romp through

Lit­tleBigPlanet 3. The non­sen­si­cal te­dium of the game’s bl­iz­zard of un­skip­pable cutscenes and tu­to­rial mi­cro-lev­els re­minded me of catch­ing a ter­ri­fy­ing glimpse, at a friend’s house, of a TV pro­gramme for three-yearolds, where any old gib­ber­ish can hap­pen as long as it fea­tures lots of point­less colour and light­ing ef­fects.

Prob­a­bly, I am be­ing un­fair both to those TV shows and to Lit­tleBigPlanet 3, which might for all I know be tar­geted bril­liantly at a younger age group that will hurl a con­troller across the room in tantrummy dis­gust if a game doesn’t re­lent­lessly switch gad­gets, playstyles and en­vi­ron­men­tal aes­thetics in the man­ner of a coked-up mag­pie. Lit­tleBigPlanet 3 is the most ob­vi­ous kind of game to pick on if you want to make the ar­gu­ment that peo­ple who play videogames are just big ba­bies. We all know that there are videogames with se­ri­ous themes that a hu­man in­fant could not un­der­stand (I mean some­thing such as Pa­pers, Please rather than The Last Of Us). The im­age of a Guan­tá­namo Bay guard giv­ing a prisoner videogames as a treat is one that would no doubt in­ter­est Joanna Bourke. She is the au­thor of the cel­e­brated An In­ti­mate His­tory Of Killing, and her new book, Wound­ing The World, is an ex­am­i­na­tion of how end­less war be­comes nor­malised through war-themed cul­tural prod­ucts, or “mil­i­tain­ment”. In mod­ern shoot­ers, Bourke writes, the “op­po­nents are of­ten highly racialised[…] War gam­ing typ­i­cally takes place in the new em­pire, com­plete with head­scarves, tur­bans, scim­i­tars, camels, caliphs, djinns, deserts, belly dancers, minarets, bazaars and harems.” (Bril­liantly, Bourke even no­tices that: “While the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can sol­diers sim­ply fall down when shot, Mid­dle Eastern and Rus­sian sol­diers dramatically jerk, shriek and fling their weapons in the air.”) When the guard left his post­ing at Guan­tá­namo, he of­fered Slahi a choice of videogame to keep: ei­ther Mad­den NFL 2004 or NASCAR

Thun­der 2004. Slahi chose the EA Sports rac­ing game, though he doesn’t ex­plain why. We can hope, at least, that he wasn’t of­fered a post-9/11 shooter.

Slahi’s de­scrip­tion of Amer­i­cans as big ba­bies is more so­phis­ti­cated than it looks, given the po­lit­i­cal con­text of where he was – and still is – im­pris­oned with­out for­mal charge. The whole point of the Bush-era tor­ture regime was to in­fan­tilise pris­on­ers, to re­duce them to a state of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and de­pen­dence. This never, as of­fi­cial re­ports now con­clude, is­sued in “ac­tion­able in­tel­li­gence” to pre­vent an im­mi­nent attack, but per­haps the point was that such treat­ment con­sti­tuted ad­e­quate re­venge in it­self. And so for a man to call such tor­tur­ers ba­bies is a clever rhetor­i­cal ri­poste. If it in­stils doubts in those who are lucky enough to pass the time play­ing videogames in our homes – well, maybe from time to time we need jolt­ing out of such com­pla­cency.

Slahi did not hate all the ex­am­ples of Amer­i­can cul­ture that were of­fered to him. He found JD Salinger’s The Catcher In The Rye won­der­ful. It would be nice to think that, last year, Slahi’s jail­ers up­graded the AV equip­ment to a PS4 and sur­rep­ti­tiously slipped him a copy of Metal Gear Solid V:

Ground Ze­roes, in which an Amer­i­can spy lib­er­ates a pri­son camp much like Guan­tá­namo. But if they did, any re­port of it will prob­a­bly be censored, too. In the mean­time, read­ers, en­joy your free­dom.

It would be nice to think Slahi’s jail­ers sur­rep­ti­tiously slipped him Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Ze­roes

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