Guns and Games

Paul McCann '10, English 65, The Cyborg Self, Brown University (Fall 2006)

For a long time, there have been essentially two sorts of games: thinking games and sports. There's chess, which is a very abstracted warfare simulation, and there's football, which is slightly less so. Chess is virtual warfare and not particularly violent, while football is a physical battle and, naturally, quite violent. These two sorts of games were quite content to go their separate ways until ego shooters came along; first-person virtual environments more horrifically violent than any sport with physical involvement on the order of chess. The uphill march of a soldier and trench firefights can be recreated with reasonable accuracy except that physical exertions are limited to a few careful twitches of the digits. Physical violence can be recreated except that there's nothing physical left in it, and, for most people, shock at the murder of a collection of a vast number of polygons is roughly as great as that at the loss of a pawn in the first flurries of a chess match.

In the "Toys" chapter of Mona Lisa Overdrive Kimiko is taken to a room with aging playthings, many with a curious connection to past wars or, like darts, a slightly veiled violent nature. These simulations are described in much greater detail and with much greater concern than the immediate, real violence on the TV behind her. Notice how the news is shoved to the background and the toys come into focus:

Moss-green curtains concealed another set of tall windows opening onto the same garden. She looked out at a sundial sheathed in snow, then let the curtain fall back. (The silent wallscreen flashed Tokyo accident images, foil-clad medics sawing limp victims from a tangle of impacted steel.) A top-heavy Victorian cabinet stood against the far wall on carved feet resembling pineapples. The keyhole, trimmed with an inlaid diamond of yellowed ivory, was empty, and when she tried the doors, they opened, exhaling a chemical odor of ancient polish. She stared at the black and white mandala at the rear of the cabinet until it became what it was, a darboard. The glossy wood behind it was pocked and pricked; some players had missed the board entirely, she decided. The lower half of the cabinet offered a number of drawers, each with a small brass pull and miniature, ivory-trimmed keyhole. She knelt in front of these, glanced back toward the doorway (wallscreen showing the lips of a Shinjuku cabaret singer) and drew the upper right drawer out as quietly as possible. It was filled with darts, loose and in leather wallets. She closed the drawer and opened the one to its left. A dead moth and a rusted screw. There was a single wide drawer below the first two; it stuck as she opened it, and made a sound. She looked back again (stock footage of Fuji Electric's logo illuminating Tokyo Bay) but there was no sign of Petal.

She spent several minutes leafing through a pornographic magazine, with Japanese text, which seemed to have mainly to do with the art of knots. Under this was a dusty-looking jacket made of black waxed cotton, and a gray plastic case with WALTHER molded across its lid in raised letters. The pistol itself was cold and heavy; she could see her face in the blue metal when she lifted it from its fitted bed of foam. She'd never handled a gun before. The gray plastic grips seemed enormous. She put it back into the case ans scanned the Japanese section in a folder of international instructions. It was an air gun; you pumped the lever below the barrel. It fired very small pellets of lead. Another toy. She replaced the contents of the drawer and closed it.

The remaining drawers were empty. She closed the cabinet door and returned to the Battle of Britain.

Note especially how the evidence and tools of violence are all around, but the scene is entirely as peaceful as a still life. A scene concerned with the paraphenalia of sex and violence is roughly as high-energy as a list of electrical components.


  1. How does Gibson remove the violence from the scene and make the environment non-threatening?
  2. What does the antique nature of the playthings bring out in the character of the young Kimiko?
  3. Does Gibson call the dartboard a mandala for a specific reason or just because it's convenient?
  4. How useful would the toy WALTHER be compared to a real gun? How big is the difference between them?


Gibson, William.Mona Lisa Overdrive. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

Cyberspace OV Cyborg  Mona Lisa Overdrive

Last modified 1 October 2006