“desperate to escape the unrelenting nature of a corporeal exisence”
December 30, 2019 12:17 PM   Subscribe

In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, author Jamil Jan Kochai shares his short story, 'Playing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain'.
“In the process of reading, “I,” the reader, becomes “you,” the addressee. I’ve always had a similar feeling of intimate alienation while playing video games, especially first-person shooters, where, in certain moments of intense gameplay, like a fire fight or a raid, you become totally immersed and feel as if it were “you” in the game, shooting and running and being shot. For me this sense of becoming the shooter in first-person gameplay was often disrupted by the depiction of the enemies in video games like Call of Duty. There I am in the game, playing as a white soldier, and all of a sudden I’m murdering an Afghan man who looks just like my father. Or even like me. My status as the hero facing the enemy, as the subject facing the object, falls apart. “I shoot you” becomes “I shoot me.” I wanted to capture that sort of alienating intimacy in my story.”
In a follow up interview, Jamil expands on his thoughts on the intimate alienation of video games.
posted by Fizz (6 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
The more video games I play, the clearer it becomes that I am playing the part of a murderous sociopath.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:58 PM on December 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by PMdixon at 1:00 PM on December 30, 2019

Both the story and interview are excellent. Thanks for sharing this!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:08 PM on December 30, 2019

Worth noting that this is a work of fiction in the format of a personal essay (addressed later in the interview). What the author describes happening in the game does not actually happen, which I guess becomes clear around the time he sees his uncle and shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. To me, that kind of imaginary play within a video game was always an important part of gaming (not shooting family members, just making up my own stories).

Immersion is kind of the goal for a lot of games, and when a game hits that mark for me it's a pretty unique experience. The game has to become familiar enough for my mind to be able to wander, and at that point a lot of the game world tends to fall away, getting replaced by my own thoughts. This essay sort of exposes how weird that is by narrating the whole surreal fantasy.

And then that stuff about the player's point of view being disrupted by the content, identifying with characters who the game tells you are enemies. He writes in the second-person You to mirror what it's like to play a game, which makes me think of every game having this implicit narrative, like a text adventure. And it suggests that this narrative perspective might have a lot to do with how you experience and interpret a game. In some ways games might not always tell you exactly what happens or how to behave, but they tell you *who to be*, which is arguably a lot more limiting than traditional narrative art forms.

This is valuable stuff to think about, especially now that we're getting convincing VR that makes it way easier for the brain to translate, "You shoot the man in front of you" to "I am shooting the man in front of me". A certain amount of alienation is probably good in that context, but the kind of alienation the author is referring to, where you're both intimately identifying with and being repelled by the game world, is very unsettling.
posted by mammal at 7:46 PM on December 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

"...each fight a microcosm of larger battles and wars and global conflicts strung together by the invisible wires of beloved men who will die peacefully in their sleep..."
posted by gwint at 11:31 AM on January 2, 2020

I read that piece around when it went up (caught it via the RPS "Sunday Papers" roundup I think) but missed this post at the time. I found it a pretty stunning read and teetered on posting it myself, so I'm glad you did Fizz.

It's hard to know exactly how it would have landed for me without the specific context of having spent a lot of time in MGSV, which I realize is kind of a big ask just for the purposes of more fully engaging with a short piece of writing. Like, I think the core of the story is there regardless, and even just a general familiarity with the aesthetics and mechanics of games in general carries a long way. But there's something all the more potent about the narrative divergence and the way the piece is situated in and then cantilevers out from the context of dozens of hours in that particular gaming context that gives the story an extra level of affecting gutpunch feeling, like being in a dream and not knowing if it's yours or someone else's.
posted by cortex at 1:03 PM on January 23, 2020

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