This is an old postmortem for the game “Huys”, presented at Wocmes 2010 Conference, at Barcelona.
A Political Video Game on Social Memory: Huys (Hope)
Yavuz Kerem Demirbaş – 2010
In January 19, 2007, the founder and chief editor of Agos newspaper in Turkey, Armenian Journalist Hrant Dink was assassinated. The funeral ceremony was broadcasted in almost every TV channel and more than two hundred thousand people attended to the march. The funeral ceremony showed both a grief and protest. The organizers demanded a “silent march”, but at the end it was more then it, it became a march of political action. Specifically after Dink was assassinated; both Turkish and Armenian left have witnessed significant political mobilization. A part of Armenian youth in political movements gathered under the name of Nor Zartonk (meaning New Awakening, New Renaissance). In the second anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination, I designed a digital game with Nor Zartonk’s support. Our game, Huys, meaning hope in English, was distributed just before the second anniversary of the murder.
Huys has the main background image which represents the funeral ceremony of Hrant Dink. The people marching with a pancarte on which “We are all Hrant, We are all Armenian!” is written, and they hold placards with the same slogan. At the right black frame, information of the process of Hrant Dink trial presented with passing texts taken from newspapers. With the pass of time, the participants of the march fade off one by one. The player of the game clicks to the black placards to make the people visible again. At one side the player and his effect on other attendants of funeral, at the other side the effect of passing time, manipulation or darkening of media and denial of authorities determine the state of visibility of the people. To win the game, the player should click the placards with impossible haste.
Not surprisingly, regardless of players’ effort to click on placard rapidly, there is no winning condition of the game. Huys is a game of Hope, but it doesn’t finish with a “Happy End”. In “game over” screen, the game invites us to the protests in January 19, to the anniversary of assassination. After the loss of Hrant Dink, the anniversary memorials became protests, both to remember and share the grief and to struggle against racism and for solidarity of Turkish and Armenian people. Being a product of such a political environment, Huys aims not only at expressing the conscience of the people. It also aims at thinking politics of loss and mourning. The same slogan, “Forgetting is losing” shared by Huys and Nor Zartonk, doesn’t mean simply that we should not forget Hrant Dink. First it calls for public interest to the trial of the assassination. Second and most importantly, considering that the trial is in the dead end and the denial mechanism also tries to close the case then deepen it we should start to remember and understand what happened before from the perspective of Armenian community. Playing the game again and again, and losing it every time, regard to the loss of others in real game of history, the game suggests to continue the search at another plane, out of the game, out of the games which are well known to contemporary society.
Just at the process of development of Huys, we encountered two questions and concerns, which are known but realized only after the distribution of the game: How can a digital game carry the weight of loss, mourning and political action? Which path will alternative games follow, when they reflect on issues like the loss of Hrant Dink, his political agenda? There is a sub-genre in alternative games, which is called Newsgames by game designer and game studies scholar Gonzalo Frasca. Huys uses the same template with Gonzalo Frasca’s game Madrid, which is an example of Newsgames. Madrid is designed in two days after the actual event, the bombing attack in Madrid on March 11, 2004. The game represents a fictional gathering, a memorial after the loss of lives in bombing attack. The people from different cities of the world stand side by side carrying candles. Player should click the candles to make them brighter. To win the game, all the candles should shine enough and together.
Although the templates and messages of Madrid and Huys look similar in many aspects, they have different goals and stories. Huys offers three languages to choose to play: Armenian, Turkish and English. The assassination of Hrant Dink is concerning not only Armenian and Turkish people in Turkey, but also people in Armenia and Diaspora. Therefore it’s very important to reach and to put forth different parties of this issue into consideration. Both the assassination of Hrant Dink and his political agenda is not a case of present, it references to past events between Turkish and Armenian people living in Anatolia. Although Huys represents a present case of loss and forgetting, the symbolic meaning of remembering deals with the denial, which repeats for hundred years like a broken record.
Gonzalo Frasca asks in one of his articles, “Is it barbaric to design videogames after Auschwitz?” (Frasca, 2000) and his point needs serious consideration. Poetry or literature on issues of dead, loss and mourning is always problematic, but we will add another dimension, making digital games on these issues creates new concerns. How will digital games manage to dwell upon the tragedies of history, without caricaturizing and simplifying it? An interactive media, in which you can save and load your progress, choose different paths and finish with different outcomes, is problematic to tell stories of testimony. Frasca’s solution is ephemeral games, which starts and ends in one act, without the options of saving your progress. Huys shares this; it shows a picture which should be continuing and progress, and ends quickly at a point of no return.
To this problem, game studies and new media researcher Joost Raessens suggests another solution. His examples of documentary games (Raessens, 2006) or docugames in short focus on historical facts in documental style and narrative tradition. 9-11 Survivor , one of his game examples, shows the effort to escape of victims trapped in World Trade Center 9-11 attacks.9-11 Survivor shares the same desperation with the mother figure, in one of Gonzalo Frasca’s games, Kabul Kaboom!. In Kabul Kaboom! mother figure borrowed from Guernica of Picasso tries to found air trown help packages, trying to avoid air bombardment. The second example of Joost Raessens, JFK Reloaded shows the problematic of docugames. In JFK Reloaded, player takes the role of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and tries to shoot Kennedy described in Warren Commision Report. In the perspective provided by JFK Reloaded, while simulating the assassination and giving the oportunity to test the reality of the incident, with killing Kennedy again and again in different angles, the game elicit a better understanding of the report and conspiracy theories. But we should ask something: What is the political meaning of discussing historical events with reports and technical possibility? For instance, what other possilbity can a hyphotetical game offer, testing that it is possible to destruct two towers of World Trade Center with airplane crashes, all but the validity of conspriacy theories?
The same question can also be asked for a hypothetical game on Hrant Dink. What could be the point for a similar game about his assassination? Or a docugame about his trial can only direct us to the opinion that offenders of the murder are directed by others which are almost unknown now. And we already know that this is a fact of the case. We should ask a question then, is the problem about Hrant Dink assassination only to find instigators or officers in breach of duty? Without taking the political conditionswhich is pointed out Dink as a public enemy into serious consideration, showing that his assasination is not a simple murder case is not enough.
Marc Nichanian prefers the word “catastrophe” (Nichanian, 2003) in his work on “catastrophic mourning” about 1915 incidents. This word tells us that what happened before has traumatic consequences shared by all the people in Turkey, Armenia and diaspora, which simply cannot be reduced to a judicial question, cannot be paid with any compensation. Also Hrant Dink in his articles described a tragical and historical moment without simply reducing it, in which we are stuck when we try to reflect and hope about our future, and his emphasis was on present time. Arundhati Roy, in her talk she delivered on the first anniversary of Hrant Dink’s murder, reminds that Hrant Dink is assassinated “because of he not only speaks the unspeakable but he also thinks the unthinkable” (Roy, 2008). Then our question is: How can one speak the unspeakable? Considering that our emphasis is on digital games, how can one design games of unspeakable? We should let Hrant Dink answer this question with his writings. Although he is known as a journalist in Turkey, his story telling has a distinct quality. What Arundhati Roy calls as “The unspeakable and unthinkable” comes from Dink’s stories, which comes words of truth from the core of his mourning. These stories of the past are specters coming out of the cracks of our imagination of future.
In one of his stories Dink reminds us himself and other arrested Armenian friends, after the military coup in 1980, jailed to toilets of military quarter, forced to sing the national anthem of Turkish Republic, as a kind of education. But he tells us this story when in present time Armenian children takes first prize in the competition to sing national anthem. And he rises at the end: “Not in past or in present time nor in the future, we are not a community in this country to be educated in toilets to sing the national anthem, never!” (Dink, 2008)
In another story (Dink, 2008b) he reminds us incidents in an Anatolian town before and after Treaty of Sèvres. One day when all the armenians forced to depart, the people in town found a solution to hide them. Although their goods and estates are was seized, and their names are changed to Turkish names and they have to change their religion to islam, they sustained their lives. But when the Treaty of Sèvres was signed, and it was heard thet European Countries will send investigators all around anatalia, the civil authorities of the town tried to convert everything to old times: old names, old religion and old lives to make them look proper. This is an old and true story but Hrant Dink tell us this story when Habitat conference took place in Istanbul. This time the city is cleaned and walls and facades are painted to look good to western eye. But his keen understanding goes a step further then presenting the self-orientalist habit of the society in Turkey. He confront main theme of the conference, “sustainability of human life”, with the unsastained lives of Armenian people in Turkey. This confrontation raises questions not only on the past incidents happened in Anatolia, but also on the politics of the sustainability.
In his words spectres of the past point out the dead end of our imagination of future. In the writings of Hrant Dink, the tragedy of the past, and his mourning gains a political significance. Marc Nishanian also thinks political possibilities that can be opened up with dwelling upon “catastrophic mourning” (Nichanian, 2003).In his work and his discussion with David Kazanjian (Nichanian and Kazanjian, 2003), he points out the “catastophic” element, the behaivor of the victim, to prove his own death to the executioner, when his death is constantly denied, and the only way of survival is also his own denial. Hrant Dink almost speak the same words in his articles (Dink, 2008c): “Don’t attach to the understanding of the Turk, break out this state of mind, it’s not good for you.” Hrant Dink’s words go beyond the effort to prove historical facts, which is already codified and calculated by the executioner (Nichanian and Kazanjian, 2003) in Marc Nishanian’s and David Kazanjian’s understanding. Collective memory lies in his stories, but it reveals itself, and comes to our consious when it confronts our actions in present regarding our future, every time with a tragic cost, such as Hrant Dink assassiation.
While speaking to Armenian community and Turkish people in Turkey, to Armenians in Armenia and to Diaspora, Hrant Dink took a critical position to the “logic of executioner” (Nichanian and Kazanjian, 2003), which is shared by the executioner and the victim. While living in Turkey and sharing cultural environment of it, and connected to Armenian community and tradition, Hrant Dink opposed both the nationalist politics in Turkey, the Turkish Penal Code Article 301, which describes a guilt of “insulting the Turkishness” and he also opposed the laws in many countries to punish genocide denial (Dink, 2008d). So his attitude can be called as a heretical one, which is constantly representing a solution outside the vicious circle of denial and the effort to prove.
Alessia Ricciardi, while analyzing the works of the Italian director Piere Paolo Passolini, says that he has a heretical approach in his poetic cinema (Ricciardi, 2003). His interest to the films of Passolini is originated from search of the representation of mourning, not in the form of exercise of nostalgia, but as political possibility for reinterpretation and change. He is calling this approach as spectral cinema, in which mourning still saves its enigmatic nature. Alternative political games like Huys should share this emphasis, when dealing the issues of loss, remembering and hope.
Following the enigmatic nature and the political possibilities of mourning, reconsideration of Huys digital game, around the themes of forgetting, collective memory, loss and hope for future, directs us to a certain but yet problematic point, inherited from Hrant Dink. Following Hrant Dink’s political ambition to resist nationalist politics, our aims should be rebuilding the democratic environment on which Turkish and Armenian people will live in peace. This is the project that Hrant Dink has in my mind. Therefore, my argument on politics of mourning is not limited with nostalgical remembrance of factual losses; rather it aims to lead to the future. Three years after Hrant Dink’s murder has shown that, thinking common future is possible only with facing the conflicts and tension that underlie the losses of the past.
Frasca, Gonzalo. 2000. “Ephemeral games: Is it Barbaric to Design Videogames after Auschwitz?” in Cybertext Yearbook 2000, M. Eskelinen and R. Koskimaa (eds), Publications of the Research Centre for Contemporary Culture
Nichanian, Marc. 2003. “Catastrophic Mourning”. In Loss: The Politics of Mourning, D. L. Eng and D. Kazanjian (eds), Universiy of California Press, Los Angeles
Nichanian, Marc. Kazanjian, David. 2003. “Between Genocide and Catastrophe”. In Loss: The Politics of Mourning, D. L. Eng and D. Kazanjian (eds), Universiy of California Press, Los Angeles
Raessens, Joost. 2006. “Reality Play: Documentary Computer Games Beyond Fact and Fiction”. In Popular Communication, 4, p. 213-224
Ricciardi, Alessia. 2003. The Ends of Mourning. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California
Dink, Hrant. 2008. The sustainability of life?. NTVMSNBC Web Portal. Available online at http://arsiv.ntvmsnbc.com/news/432602.asp
Dink, Hrant. 2008b. Toilet Chorus. NTVMSNBC Web Portal. Available online at http://arsiv.ntvmsnbc.com/news/432616.asp
Dink, Hrant. 2008c. Water Found Its Crack. Hrant Dink Memorial Website. Available online at http://www.hrantdink.biz/tr/?p=381
Dink, Hrant. 2008d. One is no better than the other. Hrant Dink Memorial Website. Available online at http://www.hrantdink.biz/tr/?p=469
Roy, Arundhati. 2008. Listening to Grasshoppers. The text of his lecture in Bosphorus University. Available online at http://www.acikradyo.com.tr/default.aspx?_mv=a&aid=21763
 The game is available online at http://ludology.typepad.com/games/kabulkaboom.html