June 23rd 2004


I have recently played and completed your game Halfquake:Amen. Pardon me in advance for the essay-length response to it which I am about to write to you. I can't exactly explain why I find it necessary to do so, but judging by the amount of philosophical content you put into the game (which many players ignored, undoubtedly), I felt that you would perhaps have patience with and perhaps interest in my thoughts.

Perhaps it is my study of literature which leads me to look at computer games as a burgeoning form of art/literature, and analyze them more deeply than the average player. And may I say that as a work of art/literature, I found HQ:A to be unique, deep, and meaningful, progressing through wicked humor and engrossingly addictive gameplay to a serious statement about humanity.

It may be that I am taking your game too seriously, but I believe that I am taking it on the level it was intended. The bleak, monochromatic, claustrophobic early levels, the diary entries and "victim" theme, the bare, simplistic inventory of objects to interact with, and especially the emphasis on isolation, they all serve to sharpen the player's focus on the smallest details, the slightest shred of information. As the space and palette opens up in the later "ambience" levels, you also show more of your hand, philosophically, leading up to the "talking diary" speech at the gravesite on the hill overlooking the Sadistic Village.

I take that speech as the thematic climax of the game. After the sparsity of stimuli up to that point, a ten-minute musing on the nature of humanity seems like an overflowing spring of information, and that is telling. Also it seems at that point that the perspectives of victim and tormentor become blurred. Either the victim has started to truly understand the nature of his torment, or you are saying he himself has caused it, or you are deliberately blurring the lines in order to speak with a more personal voice, your own voice, which is part victim and part tormentor. At any rate - and this, I suppose, is the real reason why I am writing you - the point which is made by that climax, and driven home by the denouement of the story, is a point I have deep ambivalence about.

If I understand you correctly, you are saying (at least on the surface) that all human society ("systems" as you put it) is merely ritualized torment, and we are all ultimately isolated in a maze of suffering of our own creation. Since there is no logical basis to refute this, I cannot do so. Once upon a time, the argument against this point of view, the shield against that despair, was Faith. But it has been a hundred years and more since that argument was punctured. The first and obvious answer to losing that defense was belief in the individual self over societal systems. You seem to echo this by musing on the desirability of a "different life," in which one presumably relies on oneself, although you say that it is impossible. I agree that it is impossible, but for a different reason than you.

You refer to certain people who, unlike the masses, desire a different life outside the maze of torment and banality. They cannot succeed, you argue, because a)they rely on human systems for safety and convenience, b)the majority restrains them, fearing that they would destroy systems which the majority relies upon for safety and convenience.

Admittedly, it's one person in a billion who has the strength of will to walk away from their own safety and convenience, to endure the resistance of the masses, to truly lead a different life. But it can be done. The problem is not that a person cannot walk away, it's that when they do, they take the world with them.

You asked, does the world belong to us, or us to the world? Are we superior beings hallowed by God to lead the world, or animals who think we are superior? Both, and neither. Humans and the world are intertwined. We can go nowhere where the world is not, and wherever we go, we carry the world inside us. This is why isolation, as you stated, is the worst pain. Therefore anyone with the power to "walk away" will invariably pull as much of the world as he can along with him, and re-create it in his own image. And what does that image look like? If the first response to the death of God was to believe in the individual self, it was realized that even the self is not coherent but made up of many different facets, some of which are very scary. A world made in the image of only one man is therefore a very unsettling proposition. Consider Colonel Kurtz. Consider Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot. Or G. W. Bush for that matter. Unchecked individuality is just as horrible as unchecked organization.

The concept of your game, the subject being an anonymous victim at the hands of an anonymous tormentor, gives way to the real concept, which is that the player is the victim and you are the tormentor. Again, this is artfully and subtly done, the layers separating the player from the in-game victim are unraveled like layers of gauze, and the final effect is surprisingly effective psychologically. But that effect, plus the philosophical ideals mentioned earlier, add up to the disturbing feeling that this game represents your sublimated desire to be an actual tormentor, to be an individualistic persona and recreate the world in your own image, torment all the representatives (and dupes) of soulless society, and not only torment them, but dominate them entirely, torment them, keep them alive to torment them more, give them a little bit of hope only to make the final torment even sweeter when you destroy them and their hope together.

Can I say empirically that this is wrong? As you astutely, if sophomorically, pointed out, no. No one can. If even the self is fractured and unreliable, then what is left except to admit that life is nothing but isolation and torment? If there is an answer, it lies in the balance between the individual and the system; the always-uneasy peace between human animals cooperating as best they can. Ideally, although we all must share in the torment of the world, we get in return our share of safety and comfort. Ironically, and it is the deepest and most tragic irony known to man, maintaining that balance for the community sometimes results in an individual being tormented and killed without ever seeing their friends, family or colleagues again, as in the game. But I believe that this only occurs when someone seeks to escape the torment entirely. They find that the only way to do so is to become the tormentor, and by doing so, they abandon their humanity.

In conclusion, if you've suffered the torment of life, and this game is your response to it, then as far as I can, on behalf of the world I sincerely sympathize with your pain. Shared pain is what makes us human, as surely as arrogance. The Tormentor does not share pain. He only inflicts it. He accepts no vulnerability. The Tormentor is part of no human system, he only creates the system of torment which is more soulless and horrible than any system of the human community. And so, although you did manage to make me your victim for a time, you did not complete the job, for unlike the tormentor of your game, I lived on and escaped by turning off my computer. And although I go back to a system which causes torment, I do so knowing it also causes safety and comfort. I go back to being human.

Paul Kemezis
near Detroit, MI



before I try to reply, I must thank you for taking so much time to write your thoughts to me .. time is rare nowadays, I wish I had more of it ..

to be honest, it took me quite a while to think about your email .. that's why I haven't replied earlier.. and I must admit that this is one of the most interesting emails I've ever received..

halfquake amen .. to me it means an expression of my moods and thoughts, and mostly it's based on things in real life .. for example, once I had to wait for the train for 20 minutes, I was standing at the train station and was looking at the people around me.. everyone was getting nervous because they actually NEVER have time and everything has to be perfect planned and what not.. and I found it rather sadistic to be standing there, waiting and not being able to do anything about it .. well, this is the part you know as "patience".. when I had created that part my beta testers told me to reduce the waiting time to, about, 5 minutes.. others suggested to remove it completely.. then I knew that it was perfect.. what I especially like about that part is that most people can't do anything about it, I mean, the game blocks their PC's because HL doesn't like ALT-tab-ing (well, it didn't, I dunno if it's working with Steam now), they can't surf the net or chat or whatever, no, they have to use the time without their computers, which is, unfortunately, very boring for the greater part of our generation.. and I also liked the fact that most players didn't use the TV, the telephone or the music box in that part.. they just left the computer and returned after 20 minutes..

or, for example, the windmills in ambience - or rather the whole part is based on a dream.. actually I had this dream about a far green plain, with only one rotten tree far away in the distance and a small rock next to it with a sword stuck in it .. the intro of halfquake amen is also based on a dream.. I saw nothing but darkness and there were three white dots coming closer to me..

the philosophic content is based on the irony of life, I guess.. during the creation of HQA I haven't thought about the philosophic topics, I just created things which should either confuse, upset, or inflict any other feelings to the player.. not to mention that I've been very depressed because of, well, real life issues those days ..

is halfquake amen a wish to be an emperor?
hm.. I wanted to let the player feel my pain, the pain everyone actually feels.. we all have someone above us who can do whatever they want to do with us and you can't do anything about it.. plus they laugh at you every second, and the irony behind everything is that those who laugh about us have another one above them who laugh about the people below them .. it's a chain reaction.. customer yells at boss, boss yells at dad, dad yells at mum, mum yells at child, child yells at other children in class, children annoy teacher, teacher yells at parents, parents yell at children etc... the world is full of hate.. everywhere you look you see embittered people... or naive people, like small children, but even children learn how to hate by stealing toys or throwing stuff at others or buying plastic guns and "shooting" other people.. love for example ends in hate when love gets repetitive.. no love can exist like that forever.. repetition leads to boredom and boredom leads to anger.. the real face of humanity is, despite all the (played) politeness, that no one cares about anyone, but everyone seeks for attention.. think about it.. maybe you say, "no I care about my mother, my father, my girlfriend ..." and I say: you do because society tells you to do so.. you do because where you've grown up it's an unwritten rule.. but look at other countries where, for example, women are treated like things! look at all those incidents where children kill their parents, where a child's father kills its mother.. the world will drown in anger, stress, depression and hate.. if you ask me humanity isn't meant to be standing on top of it all, but the exact opposite..

(ironically I'm filled with hate while typing this ....)

so, no, I don't wish to be an emperor, I wish to be dead and I'd like to see everyone else to be dead, too, to release them and myself from suffering.. I find life quite senseless, but still I'm afraid to die or to kill, because, well, society talks a lot about pain and death, and when it comes down to it, I'm afraid of it and I'm afraid of weird side effects when I cut my or someone else's wrists or something else foolish like that..

fear is also a thing that society teaches you.. humanity creates fear to control masses, or, nowadays, to get money.. christians created god and told everyone that they get killed unless they follow their rules.. today steven spielberg creates Jaws and inflicts permanent psychological damage.. my theory why some people enjoy horror movies is because they can get rid of frustration and hate.. those movies are a vent for their inner needs for freedom.. but I'm one of those people who watch for example "The Ring" and take that movie way too seriously because I "lived" that movie and now I can't look at a TV without thinking about "her"..

the only thing I want is to tell those above my head that they're basically just like me, the only difference lies in their money bags.. I want to scream at them, sometimes I just wanna kill them, but then I think - what for? why should I give them an excuse to yell at their family or friends?

"And so, although you did manage to make me your victim for a time, you did not complete the job, for unlike the tormentor of your game, I lived on and escaped by turning off my computer."

hehe, I like that.. you know, I saw people playing HQA and they were absolutely frustrated, but they never stopped trying.. I told them that they didn't have to play it just to be polite and to show me, that they seem to like it, but they replied: "shut up, I wanna get past this damn thing!"
also, you may have heard about my online-browser-game Personal Halfquake, in which I implemented an option to turn on huge self-made, annoying random banners to get a few additional bucks as a reward every day.. although they're REALLY frustrated by those banners, many of them never turn them off (until later in the game) just to get the advantage of more money.. I don't say that they're stupid, it's just quite interesting, and something like that happens to myself all the time (like playing stupid and sadistic flash games..)

hm, for further information about the philosophic aspect of Halfquake I'll give you the story of Personal Halfquake, in case you haven't read it already:

btw: the diary you're talking about in your email was written and recorded by my friend blackjack.. actually it was a text on his homepage, and he mainly wrote it for himself, but in order to seek for attention (unconsciously), he made a page out of it.. he sent me a link, I read it and told him that I wanted this text to appear as a speech in Halfquake Amen, and we sat down and recorded it.. I still find it quite interesting that we didn't have to record it more than once.. like it was meant to be ..

well .. that was rather time consuming and as the members of society would say, it was rather senseless and I should get a life and see the sun and swim around and drink alcohol and visit discos and listen to techno while doing all that..

maybe this email had even less sense than life itself, and I hope I didn't waste your time .. thanks again for your message man ..

have a nice day,