Cuba is like the memory of somewhere you’ve never been.
It’s the bilinearity of capitalism and commercialism, rum and coke,
offline and on, that takes two opposing ideas and turns them into some
different, often wondrous thing.
In spending a week wandering the streets of Havana and its suburbs on
the hunt for Cuba’s video gaming generation, I kept stumbling across
this sort of low-tech meets high-tech fabulism. It gave my short stay in
Cuba, already stripped of free time, time to think, time to relax, a
sense of almost magic realism.
Viewed through the pictures found in travel magazines, or the
conversations I had with smiling, sun-burnt tourists over a dinner, Cuba
was a place lost to time, a relic of communism and 1950s America.
But in talking to today’s generation of Cubans, the growing pool of
20-somethings that will one day inherit this island nation, Cuba is much
more an idea than a collection of meticulously cared for aging Buicks,
rum distilleries and sugar cane fields.
There is a great pride in the Cuban people for Cuba. That is Cuba the
land, the island, the culture, not necessarily Cuba the government.
Cuba is the land of making do. Of making it work. Of doing the
impossible, and nowhere is that more evident than in the country’s
embrace of technology and gaming.
Despite long-held embargoes, an average monthly salary of $25 and a
government restriction on all but official media, Cubans still find a
way to watch the latest American TV and movies and play video games.
It was two gamers who, wanting to play a video game with each other,
built the first local, unofficial network with a bit of cable. That
“Street Network” takes in all of Havana and, I’ve been told, even
connects outlying cities. In the city of Havana alone, 20,000 people
play games, shop, chat and watch restricted movies and television on the
network these days. All without government oversight or an internet
connection to the outside world.
Arcades could never happen in Cuba, thanks to trade embargoes and other
government restrictions, so instead people began hosting game sessions
on smuggled consoles, charging a pocketful of change for an hour on a
PlayStation in their home.
Game development, once an unimaginable career in Cuba, now has official
backing from the government and at the universities. And, perhaps more
importantly, a group of unorthodox developers, independent from
government censorship, control or funding, is fighting to create their
own sorts of video games that can tell Cuba’s stories in the same ways
that music, sports and art have for so long.
Video games in the land of Castro are an impossibility and yet I found
them everywhere: as nightly ritual for an entire generation of Cubans, a
stretch of illicit network cable hidden in a bundle of utility lines,
the hushed giggle of children playing in a speakeasy arcade, the
champion professional gamer with no one to play.
Gaming in Cuba is perhaps the truest sign that the country, if not its
government, is ready, eager and wanting to join the rest of the world,
to embrace a connected society.
And soon, as with the “Street Network” which continues to grow like
cobwebs in a massive machine struck silent, no person, no government
will be able to stop that relentless push for international connectivity.
That the democratization of a socialist country would arrive in the
thumb drives and gaming consoles of Cuban smugglers alongside Hollywood
blockbusters, episodes of American Gods and copies of the latest
computer games seems fitting.
Revolution in the time of the internet seems to come a bit at a time.
Good Game is an internationally syndicated weekly news and opinion
column about the big stories of the week in the gaming industry and its
bigger impact on things to come. Brian Crecente is a founding editor and
executive editor of Polygon.
Source: Democracy in Cuba is smuggled on thumb drives, spreads on street
networks – Polygon –