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Student 24's picture

There are a few places where I want to take this paper. We’ll start briefly in a city: Philadelphia. And then we’ll go to another city: Nairobi. And then into some playful, less familiar, far less appealing, but ultimately unavoidable terrain -- simply due to the fact that the world has taken us into this direction and it would be foolish to ignore or underestimate its gravity and relevance in our everyday lives. Because, after all, with what are we left at the end of the day other than our everyday lives? It would, no doubt, serve us well to place our concerns in the big picture of a communal everyday life.

I haven’t yet gone to any markets in Philadelphia, but I know that there are some major, historically-significant markets around the city. I’ve heard they’re fun, cute, artsy - what have you - but I’ve been to my fair share of markets around the world so I don’t yet feel a particular urgency to see more. Markets can be many things (to those other than the sellers), but mainly they are a consumer’s form of entertainment and leisure, effectively through their engagement with a capitalist economy or market system. Producers and sellers make attractive their product or the experience of its purchase, thus encouraging active and enjoyable participation in the market - arguably, a form of play, be it consciously or otherwise.

Over time and the progress of social and economic development, the traditional market has developed into a form known as a shopping mall. Shopping malls have different characters and styles everywhere, depending on the area and the demographic of the consumer body, but generally they serve as a place for people to shop, relax, go to the cinema, eat, or simply hang out and enjoy themselves. Growing up in American cities for fourteen years, and with non-American parents, shopping malls and the activity of shopping were not ever a big part of my life and, in fact, shopping and consumption have always seemed to make me uncomfortable. So I’ve never been a fan of malls. However, that had to change when I moved to Nairobi. As Jeffrey Gettleman describes in his New York Times article, “Ominous Signs, Then a Cruel Attack: Making Sense of Kenya’s Westgate Mall Massacre,”: “It might sound as if we go to malls a lot. We do. Nairobi doesn’t have so many public parks or playgrounds or areas to stroll. People meet up in malls. On Saturday mornings, families flock to the malls.”

Westgate Mall, in the Westlands area of Nairobi, was a mall at which I frequently hung out with my friends. There was a great Italian restaurant owned by an Israeli family (in fact, according to Gettleman’s article, the entire mall was owned by Israelis), there was a cinema, there was an expensive Japanese restaurant which hosted drunken, salsa-dancing nights every Thursday… Shopping there was out of the question, given how expensive everything was, but Westgate Mall was a place of play for me and my friends, as well as for many other people. Due to “the dramatic expansion of Africa’s middle class,” which has recently been quite evident in Nairobi, the consumer body of Westgate Mall and other malls is growing from upper class Kenyans, expatriates, and tourists to many more Kenyans from the growing middle class. So, to gain international attention and concern, al Shabab chose to stage a grisly attack on a site where the place itself was important and recognised by a large and diverse body of people.

“To live the good life here, to take the kids to the water park and hang out in new wine bars,” Gettleman writes, “while a medieval mix of famine, plagues, warlords, pirates and sudden death seethed next door, did seem too good to be true…. The steps [in Westgate Mall] I used to trot up holding my son’s hand are now smeared with blood…. The Shabab became flamboyantly brutal...executing [people in the mall] one by one as they curled up in various corners of the mall and begged for mercy.”

In a heartbeat of terror and shock, Westgate was transformed from an inviting, pleasant atmosphere conducive to spending money, eating, drinking, gossiping, and taking a welcome break from the madness of Nairobi streets and households, to a target of brutal violence. This was a display of al Shabab’s increasingly ‘flamboyant brutality.’ Gettleman writes about the group, “They stepped up amputations, beheadings and stonings. A Somali girl told me, in barely audible puffs of whispers, how the Shabab had buried on of her friends up to her neck in sand, and then bashed in her brain with rocks.”

I cannot read or retype this sentence without taking a moment and re-grounding myself in whatever reality I currently am experiencing.



In Critical Play, Flanagan brings up the topic of video games and methods of engagement in virtual reality. One example that struck out to me is the “first-person shooter-style games such as Counter Strike.” I’ve never played video games, let alone games that involve weapons, aggression and violence. I don’t know how to put it any more bluntly than to say that I find the encouragement of engagement in aggressive and violent behaviour - regardless of its perchance virtual nature and presentation - to be absurdly disturbing and absolutely sick. Sure, it is argued that virtual violence is preferable to violence in reality, but virtual violence does not necessarily remain in virtuality. Its behaviour and addictive thrill dwell in the minds of those who play - and I don’t mean to generalise, because I know people who play violent games and who are not the least bit aggressive in their everyday behaviour - which is something that obviously is used to someone’s benefit. The game America’s Army was “commissioned by the U.S. military as a way to entice young men to enlist,” thus putting into use the desire of said young men to play and engage in real-life war-related activity.

Is that really a good idea? To reduce the reality and gravity of war and violence into sets of rules, strategies, and the straightforward carrying out of procedures? I’ve seen people play games and I’ve seen the horrifying graphics of blood and guts spurting all over the screen, and then the most horrifying part of the player receiving rewards and encouraging messages to motivate the player. I just find this completely absurd and I don’t have words to express it all sometimes. The Somali girl, buried in sand and having her brains bashed out… No doubt there are games that simulate and reward these kinds of actions… This “medieval mix” that Gettleman describes seems more easily associated to the video games that exist and are played today, but the sickening fact is that it comes not from a virtual reality and a safe place of imagination, but from the actual world in which we live, and in which we’ve been living for thousands of years.

I don’t want to spend my time thinking about how can we change video games to be less violent, and possibly to make them encourage helpful, positive behaviour. I don’t want to argue with those who believe video games are a form of artistic representation of the true nature of humanity. I don’t want to think about art that deals with expressing the pain and hardship of war, because the art is only going to address those who choose to come into direct contact with it. The video games are going to affect those who choose to participate in its messages or ambitions or whatever. Real life doesn’t give you much choice, except for your own choices. The problem is where real life is a mess of a composition of every single person’s real choices in their own real lives. Where our everyday life comes to clash with everyone else’s everyday life.

There is no conclusion. Nothing has been concluded. It is still happening and does not look like we are on a path towards peaceful resolution and conclusion.

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Everglade's picture

Your essay starts with the

Your essay starts with the conception of market that we are familiar with, and then takes us to a market in Nairobi, which is different and intriguing. But suddenly comes the terrorist attack, which shocked me when I was just imagining and enjoying through your writing the exotic and expensive mall. That led to some thinking about violence, which might affect and be affected by video games, a kind of critical play according to Flanagan, and also, what we could do considering the question of violence as it's part of our everyday life. But I think the transition from the attack to video games is a little abrupt. I don't quite get the logic there.

Anne Dalke's picture

When a space of play is reappropriated for violence....

You're missing your second reader--I wonder where she is?

I'm very glad you wrote about what happened at Westgate Mall, and am eager to discuss this with you. When a space of play is re-appropriated as a stage for violence and brutality, what have we learned about play? And, most particularly, about its lack of separation from the world (counter to what Flanagan claims)?

In terms of the structure of this piece, I was surprised/not convinced by the way you turn to question the degree to which video games might contribute to violence in meatspace--esp. since, @ the end of that section, you say that the violence in Nairobi came "not from a virtual reality, but from the actual world in which we live"...

In that context, I wonder what you make of the TED talk by Jane McGonigle, "Gaming Can Make a Better World," which Tomahawk called to our attention?

Frindle's picture

Your essay rovolves around

Your essay rovolves around the idea of virtual play v. play in the real world, how one can spill over into another, and how that spilling over can greatly affect everyone it touches. You begin your essay with your own experiences, then bring it into the experiences of other people who live in an area that you used to live, and you reflect on how their feelings on play have changed. You then connect it to Flanagan's book, bring in your opinion of what is happening, and end on an open note, leaving us to question our opinions and think about how we could fix this problem.