Eddo Stern and Mark Allen of the digital art/gaming cooperative C-level spoke last night at the Kitchen. Much discussion centered on their new interactive game Endgames: Waco Resurrection, which premieres there October 16. Gamers enter the "mind and form of a resurrected David Koresh" through custom headgear--voice-activated, hard-plastic 3D "Koresh heads" worn like helmets. Koresh is the sole point-of-view character in the game; up to four of the (multiply-resurrected) cult leaders can play at a time. Inside the game, players defend the Branch Davidian compound against "internal intrigue, skeptical civilians, rival Koresh[es] and the inexorable advance of government agents. [...] Players voice messianic texts drawn from the book of revelation [to gain converts], wield a variety of weapons from the Mount Carmel cache and influence the behavior of both followers and opponents by radiating a charismatic aura." Each Koresh's objective is to convert as many followers as possible from among the government soldiers, rival Koresh flocks, and stray civilians (I think) wandering around the compound, before it meets its inevitable fiery doom.

Hearing this project described, I was a little concerned that it was applying bad-boy-cheeky humor to an event that is still problematic and much-debated: essentially the annihilation of 80 some-odd US citizens by their own government because they were different. (The Waco constabulary didn't think the Davidians, who'd lived outside the town for years, were a threat, armed or not--only the self-righteous, glory-hungry Feds who did the photo-op raid spun it that way.) Turns out the game is a high-concept, retroactive re-imagining of Waco based on the post-Clinton rise to power of a cult far scarier than Koresh and his crew:

Waco Resurrection re-examines the clash of worldviews inherent in the 1993 conflict by asking players to assume the role of a resurrected "cult" leader in order to do divine battle against a crusading government. While the voices of far-off decision-makers [audible inside the plastic Koresh head] seem resolute and determined, the "grunts" who physically assault the compound appear conflicted and naive in their roles. The game commemorates the tenth anniversary of the siege at a unique cultural moment in which holy war has become embedded in official government policy. In 2003, the spirit of Koresh has become a paradoxical embodiment of the current political landscape - he is both the besieged religious other and the logical extension of the neo-conservative millennial vision. Waco is a primal scene of American fear: the apocalyptic visionary (an American tradition stretching back to Jonathan Edwards) confronts the heathen "other." In Waco Resurrection, the roles are anything but fixed. (Emphasis added.)
But surely "the clash of worldviews inherent in the 1993 conflict" was the secular, bureaucratic state vs. go-it-alone visionary cultists. C-level seems to be arguing that the naked fundamentalism of BushCo reveals a covert fundamentalist agenda behind Clinton/Reno. That premise may be shaky, but there's no question that if Waco occurred now rather than '93 it'd be Clash of the Holy Rollers. In any event, this seems like a lot of doctrinal subtlety to put into a computer game, but I should probably watch a few rounds of play next week before commenting further.

UPDATE: Photos and more discussion here.

- tom moody 10-10-2003 8:37 pm

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