In Working Through Rehab, my non-fiction about kids and drug treatment, I feature a chapter entitled “Play Gone Wrong”, which draws attention to the corrupted pleasure-seeking that leads thousands, even millions of people into drug rehab programs each year. Life is full of games, games in which the rules break down and become bad games, play gone wrong. The phrase makes a cameo in The Situation, as the proposed and later rejected title of a book Bryan “Weed” Tecco has once written on the subject of role-playing video games: his area of expertise. Another cameo is that of an eight year boy, an abandoned child drifting in a hallway of an Oakland apartment building, playing old-fashioned games of cops and robbers, good guys and bad. In both The Situation and its predecessor, Crystal From The Hills, this child makes an appearance, calls for troubled adults to drop adult pretense and play his primitive games, on his terms and by his rules. But those games don’t last long. This kid is likely a future gamer; a drug user, or dealer, perhaps. Alone yet adult-seeking, he’s an attachment disorder in progress, a beta element in a bigger, darker game.
Halfway through The Situation, Weed takes a minute to describe his book, which he imagines—God bless him—that some will be moved to read. His literary polemic is a twenty-something’s take on a tired social commentary: that youth are becoming consumed by newfangled electronica, or worse, that a core of youth is desensitized by repeated exposure to violent themes in games like Grand Theft Auto, Call Of Duty, the Battlefield series, and so on. These games are becoming more popular than film or music, the previous major exponents of desensitization, the media reports. Violence continues to sell, but now it’s more interactive. The fourth wall is penetrated; the audience, once passive and merely ticket-purchasing, is seated at the console, in charge like it’s never been or felt before. Bryan Tecco is as skilled as anyone in this medium, and as such, has earned the right to say a few things, to disapprove from within the ranks. Well, within a speech aimed at Jill Evans, more or less the novel’s embodiment of feminine disapproval, he outlines the way things ought to be in the world of play: there ought to be more room for creativity, interaction…building things, performance. Killing is not where it’s at, where he’s at, he declares to her mild and pleasant surprise.
It’s a curious outcry from Weed, arriving as it does just before a watershed passage in which he pulls a firearm on one of his followers, and ultimately pistol whips him. Moments after, he’s performing donuts in a stolen vehicle, reveling in the kind of reckless driving that would belong in something like Grand Theft Auto. It’s the kind of hypocrisy that prevails when action films conclude with a hero’s plea for peace. For the record, I’d not grudge astute readers calling me out on the same duplicity. However, Weed, you might gather from the outset, has an edgy side to his character: not just pleasure seeking, not even profiteering, but something vengeful, something violent which subordinates a peaceful sensibility. In this way he still realizes his heroic potential, because the audience—his audience that is Jill or his peers, and perhaps you the reader—still like violence. Really. You don’t mind it, so long as it’s not entirely self-serving; as long as it stands up for something, for someone else, presumably someone weaker or less privileged, and doesn’t gratuitously inflate bank accounts. That’s how I cheated, in case you want to know. That’s how I wrote it, thinking you’d accept violence if you saw it in these terms, followed these rules. But please read until the end, because that’s where I change the rules
It also helps if my protagonist is an underdog, and a surprise underdog at that. Transcending his limitations—his un-athletic girth, his lack of Krav Maga knowledge, a reader’s prejudice borne of unflattering characterizations in CFTH—Weed shows that he is poised and capable in a fight; so much so that he inspires the supportive partnership of Jill who, despite her own nurturing front (she’s a nurse and habitual caretaker), activates her own aggressions (and she does know Krav Maga). That’s what circumstances often call for. That was the situation. That is the situation. But it’s not the way play ought to be.

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