There was a first generation Playstation video game about a young father who lost his child in a town where it snowed ash. Together you stumbled through foggy whiteness in the creature infested streets looking for her. Some early mornings you passed out in front of the living room TV screen watching hidden monsters behind your eyelids, ash in your hair, a fire burning forever underground. For so long it had been you and your father just like in the game running from stuccoed apartment to stuccoed apartment.
Except now there was a monster lingering over your living room, stinking up the brown rental carpeting, casting an inky shadow over the end of your sixth grade year. And the monster was called disease, high blood pressure, cerebrovascular accident, fallibility, mortality. And it was your father now who was lost in all that fog and whiteness, his speech garbled by stroke, dying in your living room. You played with your back to his hospital bed, this terror of a game, death behind you and in front of you, you beat the monsters down into bloody piles with two by fours and crow bars. Rarely shot anything, because bullets were spare and valuable.
You saved them for the bosses.
There was a 17 year old across the way named Marquise who had a strong attraction to girls under 12 years old and the Sony Playstation franchise. You would sneak over the veranda to his apartment in the middle night. Together you killed the cursed dogs whose skin fell off as they ambled through the burnt snow, mannequins grotesquely animated– two plastic pelvises fused together, all legs and no head out of the shadows of the abandoned elementary school. Hiding in closets of empty apartments not unlike the one you inhabited in tangible life, watching demonic non-playable characters enact sexual violence on one another, holding your breath for fear they would hear you through the screen.
You did this on the point of Marquise’s knee, engrossed in game play, addicted to the focused labored attention of a teenaged boy with sexual behavior issues and the fear of the screen, the fear of touch, wanting the fear, flattening all the affect and focusing it into this character, the Father, and his quest for his kid in this ghost town, and it was hard to disentangle Silent Hill from Paramount, California and the neglected section 8 pool and automatic gates that made up the Sierra Gardens apartment complex.
It was hard to tell who you were when you played because you were lost in a game and you were lost in a lap and you were lost on the streets and in your house. Now you watch walkthroughs of the game when you can’t sleep, revisiting the quiet town where you faced so many nightmares. You forgot about the boxy pixelation of the characters’ bodies, or how tinny some of the Japanese gothcore music was coming through laptop speakers. But with the lights off, curled up in your bed, you are still there playing and being played.
Ras Mashramani is a Philly-based, net-reared function of the barren suburbs of Los Angeles and the deindustrialized West Indian refuge of Newark, New Jersey. She was born to two dads: dial-up and exhibitionism. She is a founding member of the corner store sci-fi and action collective, Metropolarity. She is a recent Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant recipient. Follow her at metropolarity.net, @metropolarity, and @anti_gyal.