“Perhaps then, it is important to understand that the history of racism is not just a physical violence, but also an economical, cultural, emotional and mental complex.”
“This virtual space is yet another construct.” / “Did their machines bring them together?”
Narrator (Hayleigh Joy-Rose), Finding Fanon: Parts I & III
In pre-adolescence, my screen time harmonized around (white) men with race cars and guns. I didn’t mean for that to happen; the popularity of shooting games spiked in the early 2000s, and I spent a regrettable amount of time on Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (when I wasn’t obsessed with Sims or abusing free trials of other simulations). At friends’ houses, especially but not only boys’, different versions of Mortal Kombat were as much an appetizer as pizza bites.
My mom happens to be an action movie connoisseur, so when I wasn’t huddled near a desktop or PlayStation at home, I often had second-hand viewings of action-hero movies, several of which were adapted into video games (think: Fast & Furious, Bad Boys, Die Hard, and anything starring Denzel Washington, Steven Seagal or Antonio Banderas). These films weren’t always my favorites, but I appreciated the feat of their concentrated manhoods, and the muffled tenderness that occasionally broke through actors’ performances. Those facades were familiar to me, from some boys and men I knew.
As an adult who stopped playing action games a long time ago, I’ve considered how much the audiovisual worlds of action movies resemble those of action games, and how these media are mutually-reinforcing; if you partook in the games, you would be primed to partake in their film counterparts, and vice versa. ‘Taste’ is acquired through cross-consumption, and both action films and games exchange dramatic filters of light, ‘urban’ life, and state and street corruption.
‘One clan defined themselves as default, one clan defined themselves as authentic.’
- Narrator (Hayleigh Joy-Rose), Finding Fanon: Part III
It’s noteworthy that when I’ve played video games (even those with violent storylines), I sought characters with my likeness. In tournament-style games like Mortal Kombat, my characters had skin dark like mine, bodies and hair curved like mine. That was how I fought best — being as close to myself as possible.
In GTA: Vice City, I memorized the ‘skin-change’ cheat code that could transplant Tommy Vercetti’s ‘soul’ into one of two Black-woman NPCs. And when I tired of high-stress missions (or my motor skills weren’t sharp enough), I entered the ‘Ladies’ Man’ cheat, recruited a mob of girlfriends, beat up people who ‘disrespected’ us, and used stolen buses as caravans for trips around the unlocked map— it was like a higher-res Barbie doll game.
There was some dissonance in my GTA romps: Tommy’s wise-guy voice and gestures remained after I changed his body (my avatar was Frankensteinian), but tuning Tommy to me made his invincibility more accessible. There was no mischief Liza-Tommy couldn’t get away with if s-he ran long and hard enough; no death s-he couldn’t return from. I’d never had such power in my real life. Though, I don’t think that lack of consequence exists for anyone, really — not even elevated white people and men. While collections may come late, every action is already paid for. We see this in the sulky state of Western empire.
I have first-hand understanding of why many moviegoers and gamers want to see themselves in unreal, sculpted action heroes. Simulation is the easiest route to merciful empowerment in carceral society, so we’ve gotten it where we can— often tolerating murderous, supremacist representations; trying to build homes with master’s tools.
One machinima experiment, the three-part Finding Fanon film series (links below), depicts an emptied ‘master’s world.’ In it, customized GTA: V (2014) characters go off-script— walking without interruption to the edge of the world. Would action films still be action films if they followed suit, or would such desertion create an unrecognizable movie genre?
‘Facing Fanon: Examining Neocolonial Aspects in Grand Theft Auto V through the Prism of the Machinima Film Finding Fanon II’ by Steffen Krüger — an analysis of Finding Fanon Parts I, II, and III, created by Larry Achiampong & David Blandy
‘Westworld’s Virtual Afterlife Might Not Be Fiction’ by Spencer Kornhaber
‘Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance’ by bell hooks
‘The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House’ by Audre Lorde