Hardcore Henry

First-person shooters enact a world in which there is only one central subjecthood, flattened and hollowed, in a nearly entirely instrumental world, one which is at-hand, there to be picked-up, used, examined, only having worth insofar as it is useful to the purposes of the player of the game. The consciousness of the game player is super-imposed, projected into the shell-body, into a model of the world. All other represented figures are non-player characters, with greater or lesser roles, the vast majority of whom are nearly identical cannon fodder. The first-person shooter generally allows for save points in the case of death, so that the game may continue from a certain place in the narrative. This endless capacity to die and be reborn in a subjecthood run on fight-or-flight adrenaline, a need to survive just a little while longer, so that another place of rest and regeneration may be reached only to lead to a further narrative chapter's exploration. In a good first-person shooter, the narrative has at least some inherent interest, or that which can be experienced, witnessed or accomplished scales up in a satisfactory manner. Those which mostly just repeat patterns as a series of tics or which hope that the excitement of incarnation alone will make up for lack of narrative architecture generally are not worth finishing once the initial experience wears off.

Moving pictures can do a lot of things. Of all the things which can be done, adoption of the formal attributes of what it is like to play or watch someone else playing a first-person shooter is certainly one of them. Projecting my consciousness into a difficult-to-kill, rebootable cyborg fashioned out of a dead or damaged body and consciousness which then sets forth upon a murderous rampage of its own made me feel at first stifled, then increasingly claustrophobic and dysphoric. It saddens me that our vision of what can be done with resurrection of the dead, replacement of injured parts with robot parts, augmentation of human consciousness by computational intelligence and neural networks, etc, is to extend and preserve our shallow and limited consciousnesses in armored killing machines which may or may not have time or inclination to engage in pre-existing sexual routines which may or may not be augmented themselves in the middle of a furious preservation of self, a self which has already been flattened and minimized into little more than a platform for the experience of its own survival. What is being fought to save? If consciousness can be recorded, rebooted, saved and reconstructed, wouldn't that put less of a premium on continually fighting and dying and fighting again to retain the memory of organ systems freaking out?

I have always been fascinated with cyborgs. Perhaps early experiences of bodily reconstruction, surgical invasion and adaptation to such granted me predisposition. Maybe lifelong crippling mental illness and brain injury helped boost thoughts of what could be done to get out and beyond glitchy cognitive cycles and and endless pattern of damage and recovery. More recently I have become philosophical about non-localized consciousness and the thought that our selves, our minds are distributed throughout our bodies and even outside of our bodies, made and remade in concert with the world around us, not limited to a crippled body or a damaged brain.

If we have the possibility of exploring and remaking ourselves as something other than what we are now, if we can rewrite who and what we are, if we can combine with machines, network our consciousnesses with other consciousnesses, splitting and weaving and dividing in groups, in swarms and flocks, if we can adopt and become and modify and let go not just bodies and minds, but selves, singularly and in multiplicity, would there not be a peace to be found, an oceanic awareness made from a nearly infinite number of beings and copies of beings, would not what we are become differential, other-to, with no central, fixed self or perspective? Would not life and death seem very different? Would not hanging onto an endless series of machine vs machine skirmishes as the world dies around them and caused by them become not only profoundly sad but also dull?

Hardcore Henry wants me to relate to it on a level of survival, of adrenaline, of strong feelings of lust or concern. I worried about all of the people who weren't backed up who were killed in this movie, who had no save point, where once they were gone they were gone forever, and what their lives had been like. I wanted to abandon survival, abandon lust or bloodthirst or irony. I didn't care about saving anyone or myself or vanquishing the bad guys. I wanted to lay down in the piles and piles of corpses and take a nap or wander off into the forest until I shut down from my injuries and waited for a climbing, flowering vine to cover me, its roots extracting what nourishment it could from my rotting flesh and mineral-rich but presumably toxic insides until no part of me was visible but maybe I could feel the wind as it passed over the petals of the flowers. That is what I wanted from Hardcore Henry, what it helped me want, and what it didn't give.

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