Tag Archives: Consumerism

Slippery Ice

The war is on.
They have taken Brussels.

Isn´t that a thrilling opening of a text on a contemporary issue? I think so.

I remember screaming “No War in my Name!” on a massive march of the Luxembourg city schools towards the American embassy, back in 2003. The Bush government had just played the Saddam Houssain card, after ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘weapons of mass destruction’ had failed to convince the European leaders to join the war on terrorism. I had to pass by the nurse to get a throat pastil the next day. And it worked: France and Luxembourg didn’t join. England did. Houssain was, after all, a badass motherfucker, and he had to be burned out of his hole.

After my first long hitchhiking trip in summer 2004, I was waiting for my train back home in the Gare du Nord in Paris. France had by then let itself be persuaded to join the fights in Afghanistan. The speakers called upon the owner of an abandoned backpack, ordaining to come and pick it up. It repeated the call after a minute. Two minutes more and a special police unit entered the station. They cleared the area with red-white ribbon, and blew up the backpack. I laughed out loud. Earlier that month a driver had told me that some tourists had lost their passports in such an explosion. Precautionary measures after an earlier attack somewhere around.

It’s 2015 now. Europe is still bombing North Africa, and a small group of marginalized Arabs is still giving their lives to end it. Meanwhile, some say that Europe cracks by the thirst for power of old rivals, new members and the descendents of the ancient philosophers of our civilization. Refugees couldn’t cause the closing of the borders, but now, a handful of delinquents can. As if someone wanted this to happen.

I think fear is an excuse. Something people hold up in order to justify their thrill. The events in Paris and their out-of-proportion political response have kept the continent occupied for over a week. Code four in Brussels is the first news topic of all European newspapers. Second, third and fourth remain info on the victims, witness reports and head hunts… We can follow the latest events on live blogs and join the discussion on whether we should keep having fun or start taking terrorism seriously.

The constant becalming of our desires has numbed us. We have been able to buy off our troubles, put a stamp on them, and send them to countries all over the world. Our lives have become boring, so we seek excitement. We click and scroll, compelled by sensation that both hides as well as reveals a bloody debt of Western society at large. It is not about the victims, it never was, we are merely consuming the latest adventure, following the same brainless urge these terrorists feebly attempted to wake us from. Meanwhile, our leaders, perhaps driven by a similar thrills, temporarily pass through a number of police state measures, silently acquainting the mass with a new, safe societal equilibrium. It never hurt to show some strength.

We have lived a youth where war on our grounds seemed impossible. I’m starting to doubt it now. Not because of some angry Arabs, but because of the eagerness with which my people seem to see it happen. Or maybe that´s my thrill. I wish I could still say this war wasn´t in my name.

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Mental life

If you’d start a religion today, would you ban or allow violent video games?

The reason why I ask, is that my sister gave me Grand Theft Auto V for my birthday. Playing it brought me back to my teenage years, when a big part of my worries could be narrowed down to the question: “how can I beat the next boss and get into the next level?”. It also helped me see this game for what it really is: a piece of art.

GTA V, not unlike earlier versions, has so many facets that it is hard to know where to begin talking about it. The game holds a tremendous amount of possibilities: you can shoot down people in the street, do some yoga, blow up busses in a drive by, play tennis with a real or virtual friend or you can just light up a joint and enter in a fist fight with one of the innumerable clowns that materialize from the smoke. GTA V has storylines in which you make choices and feel the consequences of your actions and characters that support you or fuck you over. All of it happens in a world full of detail which would take you about half an hour to drive around in one of the faster cars, stolen or bought.

The game comes with an excellent package of sarcastic jokes about all aspects of western society, in particular media manipulation, New Age gurus and consumerism.  The in-game equivalent of Facebook, for example, is called Lifeinvader. It has its own office building in Los Santos, which you can enter to mess with the technology. Another example: the day you steal nerve gas from a lab somewhere in the mountains, the presenter of the news on the radio wonders why “the criminals went to great lengths to get their hands on a formula for cheap perfume”. Afterwards, the same radio channel broadcasts a commercial on why “Flow”, with its great packaging and advertisements by famous people, is far better for you and your self-esteem than tap water.

The game has the perfect combination of qualities to suck you out of your daily trouble into a dream where you are the ruler of your destiny and that of the imaginary other. It has doubtlessly had more attention than the Mona Lisa – during the phases of crafting as well as appreciation -, has brought in more money than most blockbusters and has probably made more people happy than Jesus.

Still, people world-wide fight a battle against the virtual violence in such games which has little more consequences than getting some virtual cops on your virtual ass. Easy to shake off once you have some experience. Opposers of the GTA franchise argue that the violence promoted rewires the back of the players’ brains. They believe that shooting people in a virtual world will alter the subjects perception of life and death in the real world, reducing the barrier to shoot people in real life. Personally, I have to admit that after playing GTA for several consecutive hours, when going to the almost closing supermarket for a beer and a pizza, the thought of blowing someone’s brains out may occasionally cross my mind when a random bastard walks in my way. Of course, it wouldn’t easily happen: I don’t usually carry a minigun around.

The discussion raises an interesting series of questions about the perception of the real versus the illusory, quite relevant in a society where virtual and casual reality overlap more and more. How big is the influence of actions in virtual worlds on our actions in real life? Can the power we feel while playing such games settle inside us as a day-to-day desire? Or could such games satisfy desires we already have, and thus make us live our normal lives in a calmer way? Would that just be a superficial thing, or could virtual lives be deeply nurturing?

Mankind has made fantasy more tangible. Young generations are growing up alternating between real and virtual worlds. From a young age onwards, we learn to discern the two from each other. I do believe that being in touch with virtual worlds helps us relativize our own lives, by making us accustomed to be view things from a distance. I’d guess that rather than having us irrationally import behaviour from one world to the other, games help us see things in their contexts and act according to the circumstances. So next to being masterpieces, I believe they might have educational value.

As long as we still eat, sleep and jump around from time to time in real life. Let’s not forget that.