Fear and Gaming: Remembrance of Things Spewed

Jonathan Gourlay plays Bulletstorm, which causes an ejaculatory explosion of memories, nightmares, and Fox News pundits.


Truck stop hot dogs slowly twirl under a yellow heat-lamp. A curdled mass of pizza sinks into greasy wax paper like a decomposing animal. If you want something krispy, kwik, or krazy, this is the place. I stir flavored kreme into a styrofoam cup of coffee. The coffee has the aroma of singed hair and grease. It tastes vaguely metallic. As soon as the near-scalding liquid touches my tongue I am instantly transported to childhood, the coffee acting like one of Proust’s madeleines. “The taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment…”

I am eleven or so. I am reading Salem’s Lot and sucking on my jacket zipper in the back seat of our blue Chevy Impala. My mother glances back and sees the cover of my book, which features a stone-faced angelic girl with a trickle of bright red blood sliding down her chin. The girl doesn’t care at all about wiping the blood from her chin. She is a soulless undead nightmare creature and doesn’t know the first thing about manners.

Mother’s clip-on earrings read “war is not healthy for children and other living things” (they are big earrings) and they scratch against her light brown windbreaker as she turns to view her hellspawn in the back seat, sinking into the blue velour and happily freaked out by Stephen King’s latest opus.

The dead child in Salem’s Lot is scraping its yellow fingernails on the bedroom window when mother says, “Maybe soon your vampire phase will be over.”

Mother never yells or screams, but pushes those volatile emotions into a dripping contempt that oozes, like rancid Dutch Lady condensed milk, upon all that I hold dear. Mother’s comment makes me afraid of myself — could this fascination be just a phase? Will I cease to enjoy blood, guts, nudity, explosions, aliens, bugs, demons, projectile vomiting (and other fluids), barbarians, werewolves, the undead? Will all my vampires melt to dust in the blood-red dawn of puberty?

Horrified, I begin to consume horror and sci-fi at an ever greater clip from that point on. I fear the day that I might turn, as Donald Sutherland does at the end of the 1978 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, into a screeching pod person who no longer has the capacity to enjoy an exploding head or a mutant impaled upon a large cactus.

Many years later I am sliding into Creeps in the first-person shooter Bulletstorm and exploding them with my shaking and engorged Penetrator drill-gun. What joy! In the adrenaline rush, I can taste the zipper of childhood and feel the Chevy shake beneath me. Just as children amuse themselves by steeping gel-encased sponge toys in water until they stretch themselves, bend, and become distinctive shapes like dinosaurs, farm animals, or Miley Cyrus, so in this moment all the gory entrails of my past life spring into being: there are the glorious crimson innards in Day of the Dead; there goes young Sigourney Weaver running through a spaceship in her underwear in Alien; there I am peeking through my fingers, barely able to watch An American Werewolf in London. My older sister has ditched a date and taken me to see it (probably I am too young, but that makes it all the better). The memories are sweetened by the taste of the forbidden.

Standing in the truck stop, I visit these memories with sincere affection and believe in my revelries that this must be the best of all possible worlds.

“The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to the playing out of [sexual] scenes in video games,” says Dr. Carole Liberman in a Fox News report warning parents of the potential for Bulletstorm to create sexual sociopaths. There are two words in this sentence with which I agree, “can” and “be.” “Can be” is useful to people who don’t know what they are talking about. Drop it in any sentence and it will sit and pretend to be meaningful. For instance:

The increase in rapes — I can’t even write the phrase, honestly, without doing some fact-checking which leads me to wonder where this increase has occurred except in the mind of Dr. Carole Liberman and the Congo, where they play Bulletstorm all the time I’m sure — anyway, let’s go with it: The increase in rapes can be attributed in large part to increased use of the Shake Weight for men, steamed kale, and jeggings.

It’s fun to make shit up.

I don’t believe that I played out any “sexual situations” in Bulletstorm. Perhaps Dr. Liberman and I have differing views on what constitutes sex. I admit that I kicked the assplate off of a mutant miniboss and shot him in his glowing purple anus. I even grinned slightly when I got +100 points and the news that I had performed the “Fire in the Hole” skillshot. This Bulletstorm skillshot is pretty far from anything I’ve ever experienced as a “sexual situation.” The resulting assplosion, however, was rendered with real love.

As poodle-haired philosopher/calculator Gottfried Leibniz originally discovered 10 years after Newton, one can put any two things together and describe the relationship of those two things in terms of the change the input causes upon the output. This is the source of much amusement among people who find amusement in such things. (Please see here and here.) Input “violent” video games and out comes “rape.” Of course there is a long tradition of positing these kinds of false relationships: input Tropic of Cancer, Black Sabbath, Ellen DeGeneres, Rick Santorum and you get excessive masturbation, devil worship, lesbians, and a frothy fecal matter/lube mixture, respectively. Only in the last item of the series does the output have a causal relationship with the input. Further, there isn’t anything necessarily immoral about an evening of masturbation, devil worship, lesbians and santorum. Sounds like a party.

Santorum (the man, not the mixture) has come out against violence in video games. Violence in video games is bad, he claims, because it is “depicted without consequence.” On the contrary, steering a charged head-hunter bullet into the balls of a diving Creeper and then exploding that bullet and taking out three other Creepers has a very serious consequence: at least +300 points which can then be spent upgrading your head-hunter gun for ever larger explosions. I am sorry that Dr. Liberman and former Senator Santorum can’t enjoy such wonders. The light in Bulletstorm is Vemeer-like, the color-palette exquisite, the exploding mutants balletic, the odd single-entendres so nonsensical and un-friggin-believable that they kill your dick (in a good way).

When Santorum and Dr. Liberman turn life into a game they are doing a disservice to both games and life. It seems hardly worth pointing out the difference between games and life to someone who insists on equating the two. The sinister effect of their nattering drains actual horror and violence of its complexity and at the same time scares people away from the comforting, curative qualities of fictional blood spatter.

Tell the boy reading Salem’s Lot in the backseat of the Chevy Impala not to worry. Soon, real horrors will heap upon him as they do everyone and the horrors of games and fiction and movies will be a comfort and release. Some nights I am restless. The scar on my wrist twists and turns into the eyes of a lost child. Old, yellowed bruises re-appear and flourish, blooming like sick marriages before fading. I feel lost. Something is missing — someone I love. I sense the lack of her body in my bed and I fling awake. Am I awake? There is a knocking or a scratching. The police are at the door again. I can just make out a woman’s face through the window of an ambulance. What is she screaming about? I feel nauseous. Tense. Am I a lost child? No, I am the father now. Now the eyes of the dead have me in their sights and they will come crowding into my thoughts. This is the real zombie feast: the memories of the dead shuffling back to eat my rest. The friend resting his head against the door, hanging from a belt wrapped around the doorknob, breathing his last. A sinus cancer growing behind the eyes of another friend. Another friend grown thin with despair since his child was killed. Always that child coming back to scratch at the window. The little tuft of baby hair upon the lifeless skull. Please let me awaken before the eyes turn to me.

My vampire phase is not over and can never be over for as long as I have a memory that can raise the dead.

There will always be pod-people who want to frighten us away from Bulletstorm, from gore and viscera and fun, from imagination and fear and beautiful destruction, from video games that celebrate our humanity by celebrating the splashing, gushing, gory demise of our meatbags when at last our weak sausage casings are punctured.

Let us reject these prudes. Or as Grayson Hunt, the hero of Bulletstorm might say, these “cockfucker rimjob pieces of shit.” Life is one long, hard dick joke. Let us not close our eyes and turn our faces away before the climax. Let us not spit out the horrible, salty essence of life. Let us swallow it instead. Swallow it whole, like the soul swallowers in Evil Dead 2 swallow souls. And when that awkward, zipper-sucking little boy lays down as an awkward old man, sucking on oxygen and force fed through a tube, I hope he will be ready to take his final rest. I hope he will be visited by the demons of a life lived in all its spewing wonder. And as a death rattle descends upon him, I hope he has a chance to eke out these final words: “Yeah! The dance of death, mothas!”

Jonathan Gourlay is an editor at The Bygone Bureau and author of the ebook Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years on a Micronesian Island. He lives in the quiet corner of Connecticut where he is a vicarious goat herder. Follow him on Twitter.