Tag Archives: Stories

My Rifle, Without Me

M4_1

This one is an M4. I know this one, have held it many times, in many different worlds. A Colt M4 Carbine, gas-operated, with selective fire options and a telescoping stock. Widely used by the U.S. Military. Very popular.

I turn over the one now in my hands, inspect its contours, its engineered curves, the hard, metallic faces. Carbines are shorter than typical rifles, trading accuracy at long-range for increased flexibility and manoeuvrability.

This one is so real. I wonder how much the developers have paid Colt for the privilege of replicating their designs, their brand name. There’ll be the monetary costs, fees for licensing the model and its official designation — and then there’ll be those other, hidden charges as well. Stipulations set down by Colt, not to show the weapon underperforming, not to allow it to be held by enemies of the free and the brave. The developers have, ultimately, relinquished creative control of their work to corporations whose motives are ulterior to the purity of that work.

But it’s worth it, right? For the increase in verisimilitude, to ensure a truer depiction of reality in all its authenticity, all its naked honesty. That’s what the boys in their bedrooms are craving. Right?

A bullet richochets from the wall beside me, and I remember myself. My sergeant is shouting for me to hold this position. I am in a desert town in … Well, does it matter? Somewhere that harbours enemies of the free and the brave. There is a small square. There are fruit stalls in the square. Earthenware pots, upended, disgorge their contents onto the cobbled ground. An abandoned car sits in an alley to the north, light glinting from a bent wing mirror. Our squad has found cover to the south. The sun is high. The sky is brilliantly blue.

We are under fire.

The shots come intermittently. We hear a crack, then the pop of a bullet lodging in a crumbling wall, or else a puff as a small cloud shoots up from a hit skidding across the ground.

I glance out. The rest of my squad are defending their positions, kneeling behind walls and makeshift barricades, occasionally firing forwards loosely to the north. They are not helping much.

I search for the source of the enemy fire. I hear the crack of the shot, look for the flash but don’t see it — and a geyser of fruit pulp and splintered wood explodes out from the stall inches from my face. I duck back and pull my legs in close to me.

There is the stall in front, a stretch of emptiness to the right, then the next stall. The stretch is maybe three metres. I gather myself onto the balls of my feet, my head low, gripping my weapon tightly, and I wait.

The crack comes, then barely a moment, then the thud of the bullet. I push myself out from cover, springing off my toes, and dash across the empty space. There are dates scattered over the ground, they squash as I run but I do not slip. I charge low while looking up — I see the flash, hear the crack, I try to dive, everything is very slow, there is a shattering, and then I am behind the stall on my belly and my face is pressed into the cobblestones which are warm from the sun.

There is a ringing in my ears. I open my eyes. My legs feel wet, there is heaviness on the back of one knee. I lie for a moment and listen to the ringing and wait for the pain to come. There is no pain yet only the heaviness and the wet sensation. This is what it is like then, I think.

I turn onto my back slowly and the heaviness rolls away. I look down. A basket is lying upside down beside my legs. Apricots are strewn around the basket. Some are squashed beneath me and the juice is soaking into my legs.

I find my weapon, hoist myself up, lean against the stall.

I saw the flash. I peer just over the top of the stall, then back down. Yes. A figure in the ground floor window, the house by the alley, next to the abandoned car.

I take an M67 grenade from a pouch in my gear. I hold the grenade into my abdomen, grip the body and the safety in my right hand, use the index finger of my left hand to hook into the pin, then, with force, I wrench the grenade from the pin. I arc the grenade high and hard over the stall, ensuring a bounce and roll to decrease the chance of it being thrown back. I drop and hold my hands over my helmet and listen to the roll of the grenade over the cobblestones. The roll lasts a long time.

The explosion when it finally comes is dull and fast. A patter of dirt falls, and already I am up, between stalls, racing forwards. I grasp my M4 in both hands. There is a tangle of metal on the ground, a bicycle frame, and I leap it. Halfway across the square I see movement in the ground floor window. I pump with all my energy. Forwards, forwards; I clear the square, I reach the window; there is movement; I vault the windowsill and I am inside, there is a rug, there is a television set, there are pictures in cracked frames and there is the shooter. He is retrieving his AK-47, he tries to raise the rifle but it is unwieldy, I turn my carbine on him and squeezing the trigger in burst-fire mode I drive three bullets in quick succession into the man’s chest.

He sits down. He isn’t blasted by an awesome force, he just sits down. He sits down bodily. He makes a noise. It is a gasp. It might be a gasp or it might be air escaping a punctured lung.

I look at the man. He has a soft face and smooth skin. He has a mole on one cheek. His face is that of a boy I was in middle school with, though this man wears the long beard that is traditional in Islamic countries. There is sweat and dirt on his face. His eyes are brown, they look surprised. He is wearing shalwar kameez and the shalwar are torn on one knee. The kameez is white but there are three circles of red blossoming where the bullets have entered, and underneath the kameez his chest is ragged and open.

The man lies down. He makes the small movements of an animal in pain. I look at him. He is lying in dust. There is much dust and debris scattered from the battle. The man is going to get dust inside his chest. Doesn’t he see all the dust? He is going to get dust in his wounds and then it will be harder for the surgeons to operate.

I keep looking at him. There is some blood. It is underneath him. He has smudged some under his legs where he is squirming gently. I look at the smudged blood and I feel very much that I am here. I am here and the man is here and so is the blood and the dust and all of this. The cracked pictures, the faded rug. Existence is very much here. I think about asking the man if he knows this but I notice he is not moving any more so I go over and bending down I see that he is dead so I stand up and go outside.

The sun is still shining. The day is calm. I walk to a broken wall and sit on the rubble. I adjust my helmet, it has slipped to one side and I set it back on top of my head. The strap of the helmet is itchy under my chin.

I just killed that guy, I think. That guy is dead.

There is none of the horror. Everything is ordinary. Except the sunlight is very bright. The brickwork of the wall is very real. And there is a vibration coming from somewhere, from inside me; it builds and builds, everything inside is vibrating and there is nothing in the middle to hold it, there is an emptiness between my skin, everything is coming out. The sunlight is very bright. I breathe and breathe and I am alive like I have never known it, my fingers, my intestines, even my bones are reverberating with life; I take deep breaths and suck life down into me.

I look at the red of a car door and it curves magnificently.

My squad mates arrive and we continue on and complete the level. I earn a gold medal and many points and there are upgrades I can buy but I can’t concentrate on them because there is this thought that fills me up and I cannot get past it and the thought is that I just killed that guy, that guy is dead.

Later on I still don’t know if I want to add an M203A1 grenade launcher or an M26 under-barrel shotgun to my M4, but I’m glad the money has been spent to include all these real-world weapons. It’s the little details like this that help make the game so true, don’t you think?

[This work of fiction was partly inspired by an excellent piece of investigative journalism by Simon Parkin, which explored the links between arms manufacturers and the games industry.]

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Gaming in Other Boys’ Bedrooms

It begins in your friend Dom’s house, when you are five years old. You are together in Dom’s attic bedroom, the details of which you cannot now picture clearly, because your memories have intertwined and fused with images from the first Home Alone film, which you watched many times with Dom during these years.

Friends’ bedrooms are alien worlds, fascinating in their glimpses of other lives, the subtly different moral and aesthetic preferences of your families made incarnate in carpets, bedspreads, the arrangement of bookcases, the variety of toys …

The toys in Dom’s room are great. They have been handed down from his older brother, and as such all lack breastplates or spring-loaded missiles or caterpillar tracks — but in your eyes this just adds to their totemic beauty.

There is the Millenium Falcon, no windshield over the cockpit; a Ninja Turtles action figure: Leonardo, missing katana; even a replica of the fire station base from Ghostbusters, pink flakes peeling from the roof where homemade slime has been poured in and left to dry.

You sit for endless stretches of time arranging the figures into opposing armies, then arguing over which of them are the Good Guys, and who gets to play as the Good Guys, and whether Lion-O could beat He-Man in a fight.

And then one day there is something else. Under Dom’s small television, on a mount halfway up one wall: a robust grey box with the word “Nintendo” written on it in red. Dom calls it his “NES”, which he pronounces “Nez”, not “N-E-S”.

At this age, all toys are magnificent. Anything plastic, with poseable joints or whirring mechanisms or appendages shaped like bazookas, is brilliant. But this NES is a whole new kind of magic.

You sit with Dom on the end of his bed and fall forwards into the mesmerising, primordial worlds of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda and Duck Hunt. You feel like an explorer stepping foot on an undiscovered continent. There is a profound elegance to the archetypal, symbolic lands of pixels you charge through, a deep allure to the evocative bleeps emanating from the television’s speakers.

These afternoons in Dom’s room, in a dimension separated from the rest of the house by six miles of stairs, are your first taste of videogames. You feel, it is fair to say, an instant attraction.

The years that follow see you drift apart from Dom, who is in another class at school and moves in different groups. But you find other friends, other bedrooms.

There is Kev, three doors up from you, whose mother evidently cleans his room when he’s out. It is just too neat. There is a Star Fox poster on the wall, and another poster with something to do with guns and roses, which you don’t understand. There is Kev’s Game Gear, packed pristinely in its carry case, its batteries that you have to take out after each use to prevent them melting and dripping through the floor, like the toxic blood in Alien. And there is a Mega Drive, Fifa International Soccer and NBA Jam and Cool Spot stacked in boxes underneath.

Jim lives on the next street along. He is part of the other gang, your sworn enemies, but one day you have a territorial war and it transpires one of their members has a drive that’s great for footie, and Kev has a Mitre football, so a truce is called for the Greater Good. You play Star Wars with Jim on his Master System, spending whole days on the rubbish Tatooine level, always hoping to reach the fabled bit in the manual where it promises you can fly an X-Wing, always getting killed trying to deactivate the tractor beam on the Death Star, always having to restart again from the very beginning.

In Year 5 there is Flint, captain of your roller hockey team. His room is a marshland of crumpled clothes and VHS tapes and broken axles from Bauer Fx3s. You watch the video of Terminator one morning, then spend the afternoon playing Jurassic Park on his SNES, a low-level anxiety pinning you both to your seats as you anticipate the inevitable moment when a velociraptor will leap out and devour you whole.

Then comes secondary school. You and your friends are eleven, as grown-up as it is possible to get. You wear Lynx deodorant and compare armpit hair in the showers after P.E., and swear with a determination that makes up for in ferocity what it lacks in nuance. You watch the Year 9 girls walking past, their hips undulating hypnotically, the straps of their shoulder bags running between actual, honest-to-goodness breasts, and the world is yours for the taking.

But there is also a floundering, gasping self-doubt, a gnawing fear, a burning desire to belong.

You all have N64s, and weekends bring group sleepovers at your friend Malik’s. They are bitter struggles for acceptance. Your status for the week ahead depends entirely on your performance in Snowboard Kids, Top Gear Rally, Extreme-G, Vigilante 8, Bomberman 64. Play badly and you become a pariah, suffering ritual humiliations, insults so corrosive they threaten to sear through your flesh.

Sometimes a tiny thing within you snaps, faintly, and you put down your controller and go off to read N64 Magazine in the corner, sick of the caterwauling, the venomous jabs. You feel yourself to be separate somehow, disconnected from your friends, and you are hounded by a torturing loneliness.

Other times you stand tall on the top level of Stack, armed only with a PP7, every screen but yours sanguine, and when the timer ticks down you’re awarded Most Professional and Most Deadly in the same round. You drink in the victory, bask in the knowledge that, although you may be distrusted for your idiosyncrasies, you are respected for your prowess with a pistol.

The years pass, and acne arrives, and the botched conversations with girls in your class accumulate. Neither school nor home are happy places. You feel as if you have become dislodged in a way you don’t understand, and are aware of a gradual yet inexorable sensation of slipping downwards. You still game, all the time, except now it feels less like exploration, and more like escape.

Then comes a night in your own bedroom. A friend staying over. Your parents’ conversation rises through the floorboards, muffled, surreptitious. There is an element to the noise you do not like, some note that causes the blood to beat in your ears, yanks tight a knot in your stomach. You’ve got a sixth-sense for it, by now. Your friend is playing Mario Party and hasn’t noticed anything.

The voices raise in pitch, intensity. Hers becomes harried, corybantic; His is Danger. Your friend must know what’s going on now, though you’ve shifted on your top bunk so you can’t see him. On the television screen, Yoshi skips round a path on a giant birthday cake. Showers of coins burst forth.

The screaming reaches a crescendo, breaks. The walls rock with the force of a door slammed almost off its frame. Footsteps outside, fading into the night.

You lie there, skewered. You pretend to be asleep, though there’s no way you could be. Your friend plays a while longer, then turns the N64 off. You lie there for hours, and eventually the house grows silent, and dark. Your friend’s breathing becomes steady. You lie there and you lie there, waiting for returning footsteps, the reassuring fumble of the key in the lock. You decide to stay awake all night.

But then it’s the morning, and you realise you must have slept. Your friend is up already, playing the Frigate level on Goldeneye. You swing your legs over the bunk and jump down. You sit on the floor and watch the game. You don’t know what to say, how to start it off.

But after a while your friend gets lost looking for the engine room, so you tell him to turn around and go back down the stairs. You tell him not to shoot the computers in the engine room, because it’ll detonate the bomb. Then you say that was weird last night wasn’t it, and he says yeah, and you say it happens sometimes, and he says stay at my house anytime you like, the TV in my room is way bigger than this one anyway, and you say cool.

Then your friend shoots a hostage up the bum and the hostage jumps in the air and you both laugh. And you know then that things might be pretty fucked up, but they’ll probably turn out alright in the end.

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