Sunday, March 30, 2008

Peter Cohen: Featured Writer of the Week II!

Today's Profile: Peter Cohen

Ah, Peter. Peter does something that, at face value at least, is quite worrisome: he plays video games obsessively. But conventional wisdom is turned on its head as Peter's gaming inspires his own original science fiction writing and takes center stage in his 2008, award-winning memoir. Please read an excerpt from his memoir in celebration of his National Silver Key from Scholastic this year!

Halo and Goodbye Noob!: My life as a Gamer
By Peter Cohen

16, Sophomore at Stuyvesant


The Game

I look around, taking in my surroundings. Two guards are near. They’ll have a hard time finding me in the busy streets of ancient Acre. I walk around. They won’t bother me if I don’t do anything. And I haven’t. Yet. A beggar runs up to, asking for money.

“Please spare a little money. I’m so hungry,” she pleads. I try to evade her but she circles so I am always facing her. “You don’t understand, I’m poor. My family needs food.” I try to gently push her aside, but to no avail. I consider removing her with a quick thrust of my hidden blade. The knife extends out of a mechanism I wear on my wrist. It is my main weapon for assassination. I decide against killing the beggar. It would go against the Creed. The First Tenet: Stay your blade from the flesh of an innocent. I run away from her. She looks at me and sighs, depressed. I do not look back. I have a job to do. I walk into a deserted alley. I run up a wall and scale the building, pulling myself up with window sills and protruding bricks. Soon I am on the roof. I need to get to the “hospital” run by Garnier, head of the Hospitaliers. The “doctor” imports his “patients” from other cities and then performs his sick experiments on them. My master Al Mu’alim has instructed me to eliminate him.

I jump from rooftop to rooftop. No one sees me. I reach the hospital quickly. I drop into an alleyway and walk around the corner. The entrance to the hospital is blocked by four guards. But no matter. I spot a group of monks nearby. I had rescued one of them earlier from bullying soldiers so they help sneak me into the hospital. My white-and-red cloak almost perfectly matches their robes. The guards have no idea of what they just witnessed. I break away from the group. I am inside a small courtyard with many people. Some are guards but the vast majority are not. They all walk around weakly, dressed in rags. They appear to be broken people. No doubt because of Garnier. I must not delay any longer. A man near me pushes me and I almost lose my balance. My hidden blade falls into position and I ready to strike, but then I realize that this man is not well in the mind. Killing him would be wrong. I retract my blade. Suddenly a man runs into the courtyard from one of the archways leading into the building.

“Help me! Help me!” he cries.

Two guards chase him and seize him. They drag him towards two large wooden doors which open. Four more guards file out and surround the man. Following them is an old gray haired man wearing a black robe and a blood-stained white apron. Despite his obvious age he does not look weak at all. In the center of his apron is a cross, as red as the blood around it. I have found my target.

“Let me go!” shouts the man.

“Be calm,” says Garnier. “You cannot expect me to help you with such fear in your heart.”

“Stay away!” cries the man. “There is no help inside these walls! Only your cruelty!” He looks around at the crowd gathered to see him. “Lies! It is all lies! He is a madman!”

Garnier slaps him across the face. “Quiet. Guards take him back to his quarters. And to insure this doesn’t happen again, break his legs.”
The two guards holding the man step on his knees. The man cries out in pain as his legs crack. They drag him inside. I was going to enjoy watching the life drain out of Garnier.

The crowd disperses. I walk slowly through the archway, not wanting to reveal my position. I spot Garnier tending to his patients. He walks to a bed.

“Feeling better today?” he asks.

“No! Thanks to you!” says the patient.

“Ah but the very fact that we are having this conversation shows that you are.” He
walks to another patient. I advance on him, still moving slowly.

“And how are you today?” he asks the next patient who can only groan in response. “I see.” He is only ten feet from me now. He won’t even see me coming. As he stops next to another patient, I strike. I place my right and on his shoulder and force him to his knees. My left hand goes into the air behind me as my hidden blade extends. Without hesitation I drive it into Garnier’s neck. I lay him down on the floor.

“Now justice is done,” I say to him.

“Justice?” he asks. “But now where will my children go?”

“They will return to their homes and their families.”

“They were madmen before I took them in. With my death they will be madmen again.”

“No. They will be free.”

He laughs and coughs. Then he is still. My task is complete
The door opens. My mother enters.

“AHHHHH!” I shout. “No! I’m trying to escape from Acre!”

“You’ve been playing this game all day,” she says.

“I know.” I don’t even turn my head. “So?”

“Do something else.”


She sighs and walks out the door. We do this every day. ***

The Players

The next day I’m sitting in the library, discussing my latest conquests with my friends while we play chess. Most of my friends don’t have Assassin’s Creed, so we default to Halo 3.

“You shoulda seen it man!” my friend Alif enthusiastically says. “I was playin Live last night and I had a sniper, so there was like four of em and it was like boom boom two headshots, then I stuck one of em and took out my assault rifle and just mowed down the last one. Overkill man. Right there.” Overkill is a medal players earn for killing four opponents within four seconds of eachother.

I don’t have Xbox Live (yet) so I can’t play online. “Oh yeah?” I say. “Well I was playin Creed last night—amazing game by the way—and I was runnin around on the rooftops and I see this guard. So I run over and high profile assassinate him! Altair just like jumps on him and then shiiiing! He’s gone. My brother calls it “removing” people.”

“You gotta get Mass Effect, man,” Alif says. Mass Effect was another of the massive amount of games being released between September and February this year.

“I know I know.” This isn’t the first time he’s said this.

“Mass Effect got a 9.75. Creed only got a 9.” The ratings Alif is referring to come from Game Informer, a video game magazine. They are just one in a world-wide society of gaming magazines and TV shows. Every one of them rates differently because, well, people have different tastes. Mass Effect is one of the most anticipated games of the year, and so is Assassin’s Creed. But Mass Effect appears to be just a little more anticipated. Game Informer isn’t the only magazine that likes it better than Creed.

“Yeah, but Creed is out now and Mass Effect doesn’t come out for another week,” I say. “I’ll get it another time.”

Video games are how we connect to each other. We don’t know each other well enough to talk about real things yet, so we talk about something that virtually all teenage boys (and a few girls) have in common. We bond over a mutual love for a particular weapon, argue over which game is better, discuss techniques for efficiency of slaughter, etc. I have a friend I met through a video game discussion. Me and Alif were talking and this kid who knew Alif started to join in. Now we’re friendly because he’s one of our members in the unofficial Chess Club. (There is a real Chess Club at Stuy, but none of us are actually in it. We just all have 8th period free so we play chess to pass the time.)

“You’re gonna miss out,” Alif says.

“Shut up,” I reply. “Your move.” He pauses for a moment. Then he moves his queen next to my king. It’s protected by a rook. “Mate,” he says. I curse.
Thank god it’s Friday....


Mission Accomplished

Halo, like any decent first-person shooter, brings me the glory of warfare without the danger. Real war is terrible, but no one actually dies in Halo, so it’s okay. I really hate it when people say, “Violent video games cause kids to be more violent.” It isn’t true. I don’t know anyone who has gone on a violent rampage because of video games. The ones who you hear about in the news were crazy to begin with. Video games actually decrease violence. I can channel my anger into the game instead of my peers (not that I would take it out on my peers…except maybe my brother).

And there’s the creative factor as well. I’m in the process of writing an epic science fiction novel. Can you guess where a lot of my inspiraton comes from? If you said video games, you’re half right. Of course, my writing is inspired mostly by books I read. But video games play a very important part in at least the war parts of my novel. My detailed tactical descriptions and the layout of battles is a merge of all the video games I play.

One such game actually inspired its own story outright. I was playing Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares (a game which is at least eight years old), a one player turn-based strategy game. The game beat me and I got very angry. I decided to punish it in the only way I could. By writing a story set in the game’s universe in which I win. Mwahahahahahaha!

But Halo does get me thinking sometimes. What would the military be like? I watch the Military Channel all the time and I think, “OO! I wanna drive that through something!” or “I really wanna blow something up with that!” When I think about myself in the army, I think I might be able to deal with the physical labor and pain. It’s just a matter of determination. But I don’t ever want to kill anyone, and I definitely don’t want to be killed. Worse is the dilemma: What will I eat? Army food is notoriously sucky, and I’m a picky eater as it is. Even if there was good food, I’d still probably starve.

And then I inevitably think about one of my best friends who moved to Israel after 8th grade. Every Israeli citizen serves in the I.D.F. Once he finishes high school, it’s off to the army. I wonder how he’ll do…or if he’ll be a better marksman because of the video games he plays. A few of us used to go over to house and play “The Gun Game.” This involved running around the halls in his apartment building with his civil war rifle toy replicas in a gunfight. Since we didn’t actually shoot anything at each other, keeping track of hits was very difficult. We would always get into shouting matches about whether or not we were hit.

“Got you!” one of us would shout triumphantly.

“Are you kidding me?” the other would protest. “I was in cover!”

“No, you jumped into cover as I shot you!”

The other two would walk over and join in and the four of us would shout at each other until we got bored.

Good times.

And now the answer to the burning question I know is in your mind right now: Why do kids like video games so much?

To put it simply, where else can you destroy hordes of aliens rushing towards you with a photon blaster, or single handedly defeat the entire royal guard of the Arc Tangent of Cosinia? (Math joke).

To put it not so simply (which I’m sure is the answer you really want), video games let us escape from the real world. We don’t have to worry about school or work or any of the pressures of everyday life… we don't even have to worry about the basic the laws of physics. The ability to transcend human and natural limitations is liberating.

For me, though, video games have an additional purpose. They give me a temporary goal in life: mowing down an entire line of Grunts with an assault rifle is so damn satisfying. The longer term goal of my life is of course: do-well-in-school-then-get-a-good-job-and-make-lots-of-money and somewhere in there marry a nice Jewish girl to keep me from simply sitting in front of the TV or Xbox all day. I care about that, too.

But I have another layer in life. Video games help me get from day to day, because they’re fun. As the old saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. If you make me a dull boy, I will kill you.


Rachel said...

What a great piece! Now I see much more clearly how the young (mostly) males of our species think and play...and with surprising insight and introspection about the bonding power of "combat", and with so much good humor!

Emma said...

This was such a fun and hilarious piece. Congratulations!
-- Emma