Gaming, Escaping / Yoani Sánchez

They meet up every Saturday night for a party, without alcohol, without girls, without music. They spend all night in front of the keyboard looking at the screen, with their computers connected to the web to play. It’s the latest thing among Cuban teenagers, especially among boys of the emerging middle class who don’t even recognize themselves as such. “Slumber parties” with popcorn and tents set up in middle of the living room have given way to these get togethers where technology mixes with laughter, the playful with the escapist. The young people themselves call these tech marathons “turbos,” and many rent places to spend the night with their hands on the mouse. Among the most activities most in demand are games of strategy, parallel cosmologies that help them escape from the national reality.

Those who don’t own their own PC or a laptop to bring to the “feast” can go to the computer labs in some schools where, on the weekends, the teachers organize — without permission — massive “gamefests.” Starcraft, DotA, Counter Strike, Call of Duty, are sweeping the adolescent preferences and a parallel market in pirated copies guarantees the latest updates and all the necessary complements. The greatest challenge is keeping up-to-date in a country that continues to be among the least connected to the Internet in the world. So, on the list of desires and requests made to the uncle who travels, or the friend who returns from abroad, are the DVDs of these games. The on-line marketplaces — such “Revolico” — offer an extremely wide range of options to distract oneself at the margin of daily complications.

Some conversations on the street reveal the scope of this entertainment. “You have to skip that level, because the other is better,” “Don’t kill him the first time, if you don’t want them to force quit you as well,” “Build the city on this terrain, which isn’t so infested with demons.” From recreations of the Middle Ages to the most daring futuristic fantasies, they are part of the imagination of today’s young, an important piece of their lives. With them, they have filled that place that for us was once filled with speeches and slogans. They don’t applaud, they click; they don’t believe, they just play. And you don’t know whether to laugh or cry, whether to welcome them to evasion as a weapon against fundamentalism, or to lament because their escapism deprives us of that adolescent rebellion that is so badly needed.

26 December 2011