Midsummer, 2013. I’m playing “The Last of Us”

I wrote this article about what it’s like to play “The Last of Us” the other day. It got me reminiscing.

In the article, I make a passing reference to Russia in the 1990s, and how my friend said the same thing that I had been thinking for a while: some aspects of this most cerebral and literary post-Apocalyptic fungal zombie extravaganza are exactly like living through that period (the 1990s happened to me in Kiev, Ukraine – but it wasn’t all that different).

And by “aspects” I mean “emotional aspects.” It was like going through a horrible, irreversible betrayal by a loved one, and beginning to grow suspicious of the world and what it contained – the streets, the sky, the sounds.

You stared down an alley and wondered what was going to come out of that alley. You listened for shrieks in the night. You made sure the flashlight always had batteries.

For survivors of the post-Soviet Apocalypse, “The Last of Us” is a chance to safely go back – to die and re-spawn as needed.

Of course, I don’t want to be too dramatic about it. Fungal zombies weren’t exactly chasing us through the street. No one was making shivs in the dark, to stab monsters in the neck with (no one I knew personally, anyway – your mileage may vary).

But there was that sense of the landscape gone hostile. That notion of the darkened windows across the street watching you. Sizing you up. Etc.

When people ask me to explain what’s happening in Russia right now, I usually tell them that, “Most people don’t think a society is possible unless there is a strong leader to follow. And this has lead to the development of a quasi-society. An undead society, if you will. Neither here nor there.”

And people will say, “And by strong leader, you mean Putin.”

But I mean just about anyone, really. I mean people on both sides of the ideological divide. Some city mayor who may be corrupt (“they’re all corrupt,” Russians sigh with resignation. “So it’s impossible to care.”) – but will give land and funding for a children’s hospice, when the same impulse to help out should be coming from everyone. The Duma deputy who voted in favor of a horrific law (“Because that’s party discipline!”) but is actually a very intelligent and sensitive guy we all like to joke with on Twitter. The demagogue from daytime TV who has fought tooth and nail to get victims of dodgy investment projects back in his hometown to finally receive compensation. The actress with the eyes of a poet who agitates for the regime and saves the lives of severely ill children – every day. An anti-corruption blogger whose own corruption trial proved him right. A former it-girl who blogs about hating children and fat people – and who, like Cassandra, predicts every twist and turn of Russia’s modern political narrative.

All of such people are like islands, or the staring eyes of hurricanes. They’re both the illness and the cure. They’re the reason why Russia has only a quasi-society – and said quasi-society’s best hope, just because they can make things happen. Because they believe that they can make things happen – things both good and bad.

They’re heroes – and a heroic age is always a bitch to live in.

Still, Moscow in particular has already changed quite a bit. We have “wine and zombies” parties with my friends, because we know that it has changed. We feel it in the air. Great pillars of light burst from the skies in July and stand firm on the ground. Lovers sit in the shade of towering chestnut trees. A drunken hipster is much more likely to stumble out of that dark alley. A burly security guard will help you race across the supermarket to ring up your alcohol before the magic our of 11 p.m., wherein Bentleys turn into pumpkins and getting drunk is suddenly only legal in bars. A city-wide decree resulted in new playgrounds and exercise equipment for the elderly, who are confounded by the fact that they are expected to stay in shape. The Moscow metro has not degenerated into the London Underground. The nights are full of music – some of it actually good.

I wonder if the lavish spending on Sochi 2014 will ruin all of that – this impression of the possibility of society. I wonder if the 2018 World Cup will do it instead. I wonder if nothing much will happen, and we will simply grandly waste our youth on making up extravagant stories and telling them in print and digital.

Well, we will do that either way.

look at the fun we're having

Also, something tells me I may have written my last play in a while. I don’t know if I want to write for theater crowds anymore. I want to write for mouthy boys and mouthy girls like me. I want to write for the people in their parents’ basements. The dispossessed, the perfectly cool. The gamers, in other words. And possibly the TV audiences.

There is no map I’m following as a writer. I’m following a bunch of vague notions. It’s frickin terrifying – but when it comes down to it, my theory is that people do most things for the thrill. We rarely smile when we play video games, for example. Doesn’t mean we do not love them.

10 thoughts on “Midsummer, 2013. I’m playing “The Last of Us”

  1. This is verrry interesting. It seems to me that Russia is a more hopeful place right now than the USA. You, on the one hand, have been in very dark places, but you have the hope of coming forward to something better. Here it seems that everything is coming apart. Forget morality – we don’t even obey the laws and the constitution any more. The economy is being kept alive by intravenous injections of whatever it is the Federal Reserve is putting out.The country I thought I lived in is cracking up before my eyes. When our ancient enemy of Bolshevism in the USSR passed away, without a polar opposite attraction we BECAME the Soviet Union of our imagination – violent, aggressive, cruel, intolerant, immoral and unjust.

  2. Narcissism? Tell that to a male critic. In a bar over some loud music. So he’ll be justified in just going ahead and punching you.

    As for “people who lived through that period” – um, as one of them, I’ll compare the experience to whatever the hell I please.

    Also, sexism is shallow.

    And finally, you are banned.

  3. А почему бы мэру и денег не дать на хоспис.Он что , этот мэр,
    свои заработанные деньги дает.Нет,конечно.
    Свои помытые и не пахнущие кровью и славянским позором деньги у него
    в Лондоне или в Вене.Или даже Прибалтике.

    А в Москве всегда так было.И в 80-х,и в 90-х и сейчас.
    И небо,и свет с неба и проклятый пыльный тридцатиградусный июль,
    и догоняющие друг друга алкаши на лавках, и метро и никогда не ходящий никуда 605 призрак-автобус.
    Только вместо тихого Афганистана в 80-х, стали умирать молодые люди от героина в 90-х,и это не проходящее,со временем усиливающееся чуство неверояного,огромного, в многолюдной Москве трудноуловимого ОБМАНА.

    P.S. Про таких депутатов давны давно Ильф и Петров написали.Тут,как раз,ничего нового нет.

  4. Just curious, using your words, do you consider Putin to be a hero, to be both the cure and the illness, to be society’s best hope or to be both good and bad?

  5. Looking at Wikipedia for the Greek definition of a hero: “A hero was originally a demigod, Hero (male) and heroine (female) came to refer to characters who, in the face of danger and adversity or from a position of weakness, display courage and the will for self sacrifice—that is, heroism—for some greater good of all humanity. This definition originally referred to martial courage or excellence but extended to more general moral excellence.”. That’s way better than any Hollywood definition 😀

  6. That will definitely change, given that we are about to arrive for the summer. Dry, dusty, covered in smoke and, I dunno, some kind of summer fruits shortage or something.

    That was B’s comment, btw. If you hadn’t already guessed. What I wanted to say was that it’s nice to hear from someone on the ground that the place hasn’t gone entirely to the dogs. The news of that horrific law (hopefully there has only been one horrific law passed recently) was extremely unsettling.

  7. Summer’s been nice. Also, I virulently disagree wrt hospices – because it’s not just an issue of budget money, it’s also an issue of how Russians treat death. Nice to see the old, Soviet attitudes about death as something unseemly in the medical sense beginning to erode, even among the nomenklatura.

    P.S. If you DO bring the bad weather with you, you’ll owe me a beer!

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