I move between worlds. This is a story…
The woman looks nervous. She keeps checking her watch. She is huddled under a bus stop, sheltered from the rain falling around her. There are no buses coming tonight. Alone in the dark in a dangerous part of town, I can see why she might be worried. But I am here. I am Edmund.
We make small talk; it turns out the woman’s name is Emily. It is a nice name. She has a pretty face.
I know what must come next, though I do not want it to. I have stood by this bus stop before, on this same rainy night, and I know there is only one way through. It is inevitable. I don’t want to do it. I am free but I am being controlled. I can feel it.
Lightning strikes, and in the moment that the thunder rolls, I hit Emily with the full force of my body. A powerful blow that has downed Nazi guards and Russian wrestlers and hellish demons on previous trips, now unleashed upon a fragile girl waiting at a bus stop. There is a crunch, as of fist connecting with bone, and the bottom drops out of my world. The earth freezes in its orbit and there is only shock — empty and cavernous, spreading from the point of contact between knuckles and flesh, threatening to engulf all of existence. In that suspended instant of no-time neither of us can believe what has just happened.
Then we are back, and Emily is on the ground, crawling away from me, whimpering. I move in close and strike again — a flurry of punches, my technique honed to perfection over the years, familiar, Powered Up. I know these moves, but the situation has never been like this before. I’m going faster and faster, aware of nothing now except Emily’s screams, and my desire for those screams to stop, for silence to fall again, for it all to be over.
But it is not over yet. Emily is unconscious, I think. I’m exhausted, yet more is required of me. I cannot. I must. I am not free. I crouch over her crumpled body and — in a sickened daze — begin to rape her. She cries out, a cry that burns along every synapse in my skull, and I know now she isn’t dead. The rain is falling. I am raping her. The world fades out, I am falling, there is only blackness, falling … nothing.
Another moment, years earlier. The same journey. I am in a military helicopter, flying above rice fields. My hands grip the side mounted M60 flexible machine gun; I know how to use this. “Lighting their crops should send a clear message,” I say to no one in particular. A squeeze of the M60’s trigger sends a hail of bullets spraying out indiscriminately: most flatten grass, some hit villagers with sallow skin and vacant expressions — their bodies drop quietly to the ground as though they were dolls. So easy.
The helicopter drops me off, and I am on foot. Other worlds, parallel lives, give me an intuition as to my situation. Left to Right. It is an axiom, among the oldest of tenets embedded in the fabric of our journeying. Run. Jump. Save the Princess.
Yet here everything is wrong. Threads of existence have become crossed, evil has been born. And the evil isn’t out there where I can fight it, but inside. The evil is me.
BAMBAMBAMBAM. The rifle I am carrying sparks some primeval instinct within me, the heaviness of the sound stirring a beast in the depths of my soul. I fire the gun and the beast purrs. This, again, is familiar. Other journeys have roused the animal within, other adventures have inflamed the hunger to rip and to tear. Yet it always felt honest and right. The beast had been sanctioned: to save the world, to get the girl. Those in its path were Bad Men and they Deserved what they got. For God, the President and homemade apple pie.
But in this dank rice field there are no medals, and no honour. No calls of duty. The world is fucked, and I am fucking it. The corpses of villagers litter my path. Icy tendrils grip at my heart. This is a cruel and malicious place, and my fear is that it is more true than the glossy forays into orgiastic destruction that usually serve as our playgrounds.
I think of previous journeys and I do not feel so good. It had always been a joke, a lark, a game. We were just having fun. The screams as guards were crushed beneath tank tracks on the runway made us laugh. Circling the petrol station in the chopper, minigun blazing, got us pumped. The people we mowed down were nonentities, automatons, targets. But in this rice field it was becoming real.
I shoot a villager. He is trying to kill me, but I don’t blame him for that. I have no sense of right or wrong anymore; I am running on autopilot. He shoots at me and I shoot at him, and he dies. A girl, probably his daughter, runs to his body, distraught. She is defenseless. I rape her. It is as shocking as before, though perhaps easier. I can see how children can be stripped of their humanity in terrorist training camps, desensitised to violence until aiming an AK-47 at a human being and pulling the trigger means no more than shooting bottles off a wall.
In the real world we talk of rape in hushed voices. Panic. Push it away; words like “sick” and “monster” and “evil“. The fear; it is not us, it is something other. My Lai, I say to that. My Lai. No demons ran amok, no devils in Vietnam. Only humans. My Lai was us. For God, the President and homemade apple pie. Bodies piled up, arms and legs poking out of a ditch. Carve Charlie with a bayonet; blade punctures skin soft as butter. Homemade apple pie. Just following orders. Babies are targets; get them out with a hand grenade. For God, bayonets and apple pie. For hand grenades, babies and God. For the President and skin like butter and arms in ditches. We raped them. We dumped the women in a ditch and shot them. We did it. It was us.
Raping a pretend woman is Wrong. Running over pretend soldiers with a tank is Funny. Squish. Ha ha ha. He deserved it because They Said So. Watch when I use the flamethrower. Ha ha ha.
These worlds we move through, these video games, provide us with arenas to indulge in taboo activities without fear of consequences. Blow off steam; blow off heads. But there are always consequences. What do these games say about us? The beast is real and capable of anything, but it is only nature. We are only nature. It is down to us. Nothing more.
For my part, I am tired of this particular journey. There is a choice. There is always a choice. The beast is real, but so is the compassionate man. They are both me. The beast is a blunt tool, powerful and aggressive, useful when backs are to the wall. But now isn’t that time. The man sees further, sees the warmth and love of the world. I turn the game off. I shut down my computer. I go outside, where the sun is shining, and things are growing.
[Edmund is a 2D indie platform game exploring rape from an interactive viewpoint. Medal of Honor and Call of Duty are multi million selling franchises exploring the enjoyment of shooting people in the face.]