C y b e r s p a c e
 is  the  "place"  [...]
 between the phones.
 Bruce  Sterling  (1992)
Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean ... on the cover of a magazine Just call me zeph, as I do not really know who I am. But you ... have you ever been to the movies? Then you'll know my face. It's Jimmy Dean's—complete with cigarette danglin' from my lips. Uhm, well, I know, not very likely in a 21st Century PC Game ... pun intended. My jacket and T seem to be designed by Jimi Hendrix himself. American Graffiti. Which reminds me of the lightsaber in my pocket. All in all I just feel like ... the spirit of the movies. And comic books. Like the manifest metaphysics of pop-culture. I'm a new god, a superhero.

Now the stage is bare, and I'm standing there with ... emptiness all around. Kinda emptiness. The interface not only shows me my Self (The Jimmy-Dean-surgery is very well done, kudos to the HairlessWookie), but also the metal-detectors, guarding the entrance hall of Aesir-Corporation's skyscraper ... Through the enormous glass-panes I can see the nightsky outside. It is of a depressing grey. Not quite the colour of a television set tuned to a dead channel—but close. I am too tired to push on, so I jack out.
I am back, and this time I know who I am—I am Luke Skywalker, believe it or not, and the Force really is with me this time. Meanwhile I know who I was—at least I know whom I resembled—, when I set foot into the entrance hall—a small step for my avatar, but one hell of a leap for me and myself ... dunno yet about mankind. It wasn't Jimmy Dean's face I carried, as I presumed ... no, it was HairlessWookie's face, the face of the coder himself, put on the Avatar by DopeTek, our expert 3Dmesh-surgeon. Hell, it seems that in real life he actually looks like Jimmy Dean—lucky fella. But that was way back in 3.0. Later, in 4.0 I was ripped—just for the record: Y.T. [btw that's myself ;o] helped to shape 4.0's universe. 'Ripped' means my looks were taken from a certain professional product, without having permission to take. Obviously that's kinda theft and therefore illegal—but is it illegal if an artist rips, literally, some glossy photography from a news magazine to paste it onto a collage? Anyway, we've gotten past this ripped stuff. Now I'm looking perfectly like Luke and everything's custom.
Luke Skywalker
The metaverse, to which Hiroaki Protagonist, self-proclaimed greatest swordfighter of the world, added his fancy fencing-code wasn't meant for swordfighting. So whenever someone's bodyparts were dismembered you could see inside like inside some hollow tube. It became obvious that 3d-meshes, not fleshy humans, had crossed their blades. The MaxFX-engine wasn't meant for swordfighting, too—as it wasn't meant for ... everybody's Kung Fu fightin' ...—but here I am, Prince of the Universe, wielding my blue glowing lightsaber. Some bot approaches and attacks me with his blaster outta Endo's weapon factory—another low-poly but high-quality mesh; proof of what the skaterboy is able to accomplish. The bot fires and I switch into bullettime, the world in which I currently sense my self drops into slow motion. Not that I need the slomo to help me against this bot, but this way it looks way cooler. The blaster bolt hits the blade of my lightsaber and gets perfectly deflected. Instead of blowing me into oblivion it hits a wall somewhere. Not discouraged at all the bot fires his next bolt which suffers the same fate. Little does the bot know (Sometimes I wonder if bots do know anything at all—do androids dream of electric sheep?) that he's doomed already and that there's only a fraction of a chance for him to actually hit me with his blaster fire. The code is on my side this time. Every bot which carries a blaster is set to aim not at me, but at my lightsaber, and every projectile which hits my lightsaber gets inevitably deflected. But sometimes the bots unwillingly don't aim precisely—and, weird as it may sound, that's their chance to hit me. The bithead just took its chance. Before he can hurt me again, I rush towards him and trigger some beauty of an animation I helped to design. My lightsaber is raised above my head, ellbows apart so that Luke can look right into the bot's face, but I don't strike 'men', as pure kendo-style would dictate. Instead I strike diagonally from the top right to the lower left. The bot's head and right arm are nicely separated from its torso, both fall to the floor. Frag. There's no blood, which has two reasons from at least two different universes. First, the lightsaber's laserblade instantaneously welds shut every capillary filled with blood. Second, blood gushing out of bots' severed torsos would trigger the virtual violence discussion again, and we already had that.
Max Payne
When the deadline for my PhD thesis (deep link [.pdf | 7.5MB | ↑CC-licensed | in German]) was only weeks away, a good friend of mine gave me the computergame "Max Payne" as a birthday present. I thanked her very much, but said, that I wouldn't touch the CD before I had finished writing my thesis. Little did both of us know what was triggered by this present. After I finally had delivered the thesis to the university, I went straight home and installed Max Payne. For the next two weeks I hardly did anything else than playing and re-playing the game day and night. I wasn't into computergames anymore since the early 1980s, when I had a Commodore 64 and played on it everything from Pac Man to Frogger and beyond. May Payne not only resparked my kidhood's fascination with the medium, but made me experience a part of what I unconsciously had been longing for: my personal eclectic conglomeration of ambiences and narrative content built from a lifetime of digesting popular culture. To get an idea of what one is up to when daring to enter the game, here is its official promotion text:
Three years back a young NYPD cop, Max Payne, came home one night to find his family senselessly slaughtered by a gang of drug-crazed junkies, high on a previously unknown synthetic drug. Now that same drug, Valkyr, has spread through the whole New York City like a nightmare plague, and Max Payne’s on a crusade for revenge, out to get even. To Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, this new drug was evil incarnate, to be stopped at any cost. Max's boss and best friend, the only one who knew his true identity, has been murdered, and Max's been framed for the slaying. Everything ripped apart in a New York minute... Max Payne is a man with nothing to lose in the violent, cold urban night. A fugitive undercover cop framed for murder, and now hunted by cops and the mob. Max is a man with his back against the wall, fighting a battle he cannot hope to win. Prepare for a new breed of deep action game. Prepare for pain...
Excited and well prepared I deeply immersed myself into the game. Absorbing the ambience, allowing the dramaturgy and narrative structure to take over control I quickly identified with my avatar's character and paced through the city's night—equally being chased and being on the hunt myself. The essential driving force for my pushing on and on was the burning desire to unravel the truth, to solve the enigmas behind the events around me. And so I did. But with every conundrum's solution the story became more amazing and incredible. And more menacing.
Put out my flames with gasoline
Then there was a fire I wasn't able to escape from without help. I was in a chapter of the game's narrative when Max Payne has an appointment with a top-guy from the Mafia. When I reached the meeting place—an Italian restaurant in New York—late at night (both in the game and in meatspace) I found the place deserted. My only choice was to explore the restaurant and its adjoining rooms like the kitchen etc. But my first steps already triggered a row of incendiary bombs, setting the whole building on fire—hence the chapter's superscription: "Put out my flames with gasoline". The explosions and flames quickly resulted in an untimely death of my avatar. Of course I immediately respawned at the last jumppoint and tried a different route of escape—in vain. Further attempts led to my being quite familiar with the location, but not to escape. In the end I always was trapped in the inferno and died a lonely death in an Italian mob-restaurant, the snowstorm howling outside in the noir streets of a crime-novel New York City.
At three o'clock in the morning I was so frustrated that I left the gameworld. But I couldn't go to bed, as I knew that the story would haunt me and prevent me from sleep, just like it had done the previous nights. I remembered something from my C64-times, connected to the internet, fired up my browser and typed the words 'Max Payne walkthrough' into Google. The search instantaneously generated an enormous number of hits (35,000 plus); I clicked the very top one. This led me to a page which offered painstakingly written and illustrated walkthroughs to every chapter of Max Payne. After having read the solution to my problem I slapped my forehead, because I already had been so close to escape, but hadn't realized it. Once there I started to explore the website of which the walkthrough was a subpage. And I discovered a culture which was hitherto unknown to me.
The website was called MaxPayneHeadquarters (MPHQ) and most of its content referred to certain things called 'mods'.

—WORK IN PROGRESS, to be continued—

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