In my upcoming book, “A Game Called Dead,” reporter Jimmy Dawson reflects on the name of the college video game that gives the book its name, and on our association with violence:
“He pushed the computer aside and stared at some papers on the table with his fingers folded in front of his mouth.
All over the pages: Words, written ten times, twenty; in a column, at angles; up and down, crosswise, over the top of other words. All caps. A GAME CALLED DEAD. A game called dead. A GAME called Dead. A game called DEAD!!! Sometimes GAME was circled; sometimes DEAD. He drew an X through several GAMEs, some with multiple strikes.
Why this Jimmy? You’ve seen worse, known more depravity, witnessed more callous actions. So why does this incident bother you so much?
Dawson held his head in his hands and thought. Maybe because they called it a game. Maybe because the students he had tried to interview were so dismissive about the death of Doris Macomber.
One even said, “Hey, look, we’ve killed thousands of Iraqis and Afghanis. Thousands. Corporations have poisoned the water and the air, sold us food filled with chemicals and politicians want to own women’s bodies. What is one woman’s death compared to that? I’m sorry she got killed, but I didn’t know her.”
But someone did, you little prick, Dawson had thought as the kid walked away talking into his phone.
He pulled the laptop back. This was not something he wanted to write, but he had to. Maybe, he thought, that’s what really got Frank Nagler in such a mood. How incomprehensible was this? What are they doing, training suburban psychopaths? Are those kids that far removed from what life is about, he wondered?
Besides, there was no one else left in the business to say it.
Some customers took seats along the counter and the dialogue with Barry began. “So, what you want…?”
Dawson wrote: “A shuttered thing; like a thousand unspoken angers bottled up and fermenting like wine turned to vinegar. Hundreds of imaginary hurts, blames, excuses, creeping in the backs of our minds like unborn snakes. Saying things we dared not admit, we call it by that most final, most dread of our memories: Dead.
A game called dead.
Once we ran through fields with sticks of carved wood dodging bullets and the missiles of another child; or maybe it was cowboys and Indians, or good guys and bad guys. No matter the name. The results were the same.
We won when the other player died, fell in a heap of agony in the grass or in the hay mound, dead.
It is easy to kill when they are just silicone monsters on a computer screen, fanciful aliens from an unseen planet in a far off universe and the guns in the game spit blue light and green goo, not shells, bullets. Shoot jello, not death.
That word, Dead.
It is just war; our sad state.
We have been at war my entire life.
Inchon, Hamburger Hill, Da Nang, Can Ram Bay. My Lai, Beirut. Baghdad. Helmand Province. Selma, Montgomery, Newark, Watts, Ferguson, Mumbai, Somalia, Indonesia, Cape Town, Jerusalem, London. Paris, Madrid. New York.
Say them again. The names run together. Say it as one long word.
Too many places to name, to remember. Places from history, places unnamed before we could speak; places once soaked with blood, now green with grass, meadows, the dying screams unheard.
We have been at war your entire life, and for all the entire lives of mankind.
Countless dead and we haven’t learned. But to unlearn is too great a task. Instead we talk of greater death than ever before. But we don’t need weapons made by splitting atoms, all we need is the oldest weapons of all: hate and ignorance.
Something that cannot be penetrated, some disease that cannot be cured. And if it scares us enough, we make it a game. They are only acting out a fantasy, we are told. Yet one girl is dead and another lies horribly beaten because of a Game Called Dead.”
He thought he was done, but he hovered over the keyboard as the last words formed and then burst out.
“And it rumbled through the city at night unloosed, unpredictable. It strikes at those unaware and weak or trusting. It needs no reason to kill – say the word until it is mere sound: Kill. Kill. Killkillkillkill.
The one sad word of our language. And we practice it. A Game Called Dead. We play it. We play it too often.”
He paused, then struck the “send” key and the piece was posted on his news site. He stared through the window into the empty street, his soul dark and writhing.
A movement on the computer screen caught his eye. Predictably, someone posted a comment.
“Notagame. I can burn a city down. HASHTAG more2cum.”