The Doom Mod That Best Describes Our Uncanny Reality
Welcome to the Zone.
Illustration by Gavin Spence
There is a deep tragedy at the heart of the story of video games, an attempt at transcendence born from a tacky, clunky, consumer-based digital frame. We may have armies of employee footsoldiers working long hours to build robust digital infrastructures and simulated worlds in extreme detail. We might have incredibly smooth framerates and 4K definition. But there is no game maker who doesn't still struggle with how to make their game mean something.
Maybe this is because a disproportionate amount of the technology and resources that are pumped into video games are devoted to keeping people excited about how impressive the technology itself is. Video games look at us to approve of the massive spectacles they create. But these spectacles feel all the more meaningless and hollow in the wake of a world that is on fire and burning very fast.
In the midst of this ongoing struggle, a strange little Doom wad known as Absolute Life Transformation, or A.L.T. was released in 2012.
Given its popularity, Doom is an oddly misunderstood and often mischaracterized game. While it was a cultural sensation around the time of its release in December 1993, helping to bring the massively popular first person shooter genre into being, there's so much about the actual experience of playing Doom that is missed when we only think about the game’s influence on the market.
Much of Doom’s initial cultural impact was in how those people who traded floppies with each other of Doom's free "shareware" episode treated the game as some kind of mystery manifestation of an alternate reality. I sometimes imagine that it was spoken about in hushed tones, like the disturbing videocassette at heart of the horror classic The Ring. It was a totally new type of experience, and many people didn’t know how to deal with that. It was beyond a video game. It broke reality. And it was fucking scary.
It's worth noting that the atmosphere of Doom is still not exactly like anything else, even today. Surreal, open-ended environments made from odd, nonlinear, multi-layered structures somehow still seem to fit together by some unknown logic. There’s a strangely organic marriage of different moods and influences as well, from Alien-influenced dirty sci-fi tech to Eldritch horror, from cheesy Metallica album covers to more complex psychological horror. The game is hyper violence, hyper intensity, hyper speeds, hyper darkness. These are mystery places, somewhere far from reality.
Yet none of it ever entirely makes a whole lot of sense, at least from any kind of narrative perspective. The game sometimes seems like it was taped together from different ill-fitting pieces. Ideas seem to come and go with only passing references to previous areas you’ve just traversed in the game, and rules that are set in early maps are constantly broken later on, in a way that feels oddly sloppy and anarchic at times. This is Doom's collage-like abstraction, and —just as much as its first-person combat—it’s central to its uniqueness and longevity.
The taped-together appeal of Doom has also translated very well to its long-lasting modding scene —a scene that defines the experience of Doom probably more than the original commercial game these days. With a game as multi-faceted as Doom, there will always be people striving to make the version of the game that they really hoped for. Doom mods (more commonly known as wads or PWADs) exploded shortly after the 1993 release of Doom 1, with fan-made level and sprite editors and bulletin boards rapidly popping up to share these creations.
For several years, Doom was a toolset for self-expression for many. And for a handful, it was a way to show off their chops and break into the game industry as designers.
In December 1997, the release of the Doom source code—and the launch of expanded source ports like Boom and zDoom which added features and removed engine limitations—led to a new (though smaller) wave of creativity in the community. The release of Doom Builder in 2003, which featured a 3D editing mode, married with the lack of engine limitations, made it possible to edit levels with theoretically infinite levels of detail (depending on what your CPU can handle) very quickly.
With all of these additional tools, fan-made Doom levels have grown in complexity and length. 25 years after Doom’s original release, it’s not uncommon to play a single fan-made level that takes hours to complete. For fans who still love the sound fundamental elements of Doom’s combat design or the lo-fi taped-together charm of exploring its environments, they have the capability to make something potentially very ambitious with relative technological ease.
This is an exciting prospect, but also invites a lot of bloat and repetition on the part of designers. And while the Doom modding community is filled with many robust and fascinating works due to its size and history, there also is a lot of stuff that isn't very… good. And that's fine! Like any other modding community, it's almost exclusively made up of hobbyists who mostly do it for fun. But that means Doom maps with higher artistic aspirations, while not without precedence in the community, aren't necessarily super common either.
Which is why big ripples were made in the Doom community when renowned British video artist Cyriak Harris (aka mouldy) created a Doom wad called Going Down , which abuses engine scripting hacks to create a central elevator-hub that the entire set's narrative revolves around. While Going Down is not horribly out of character for a Doom mod from 2014 in terms of the moment-to-moment design and reasonably conventional in terms of the highly difficult combat, its high-concept execution was a shock to many in the mostly hobbyist Doom community—especially coming from an artist with such an established career in the outside world.
More ripples were made by Russian Doomer Alexander S., aka Eternal, whose architectural and gameplay experiments in sets like Gravity and Hell Ground helped lay the groundwork for using Doom as a canvas for different forms of artistic experimentation. Map 06 of Hell Ground (released in 2009)—"Timeless"—is a notably off-kilter experience. It begins with a slow, dreamy float down through dark clouds into a stark, empty field during some sort of surreal half-day, half-night. A long trek leads to a central courtyard puzzle, which eventually take you through an odd series of portals. A small heavenly area with floating platforms that the entrance portal refers to as "EDEN" follows. Once you exit EDEN and solve the courtyard puzzle, you then take the portal to "HELL." Unlike every other map in Hell Ground, there are no enemies in EDEN.
Still, Eternal’s most wildly experimental maps are mostly just anomalies inside what is often ultimately straightforward and predictable Doom monster encounters and traps. You may be traversing many complex labyrinths or undergoing moody voyages, but the way you proceed through these environments is usually nothing particularly out of the ordinary, even when it can be cryptic. You really have to pick and choose if you want to find the most interesting bits among the sea of more conventional, disposable ideas and failed experiments. But Absolute Life Transformation, the strange little Doom wad mentioned earlier, takes some of Eternal’s wildest ideas—namely the architectural virtuosity and penchant for abrupt shifts in tone between maps—and pushes them into the stratosphere.
A.L.T. was originally conceptualized and heavily anchored by a Ukrainian modder known as Michailo "Azamael" Kolybenko. The rest of it is made up by Russian modders known only by cryptic pseudonyms like "Archi" and "Beewen." A.L.T. has a lot of the same tropes of other Doom mapsets from the community's Russian hub: industrial muddiness, broken down environments, often cryptic or idiosyncratic progression. But A.L.T. forgoes some of the focus on hyper-detail or hyper-difficulty and scope of many modern Doom wads and sticks more to using the traditional Doom tileset.
A.L.T. begins with the vision of a frozen death animation of our beloved player character, the Doom Marine’s, character sprite that abruptly disappears in a flash of damage as you move forward. Thus launches a highly bizarre and jarring first stage set inside an airplane under attack by the blue-suited Wolfenstein 3D S.S. Nazis (used as a joke enemy in Doom 2 in two secret Wolfenstein 3D themed maps). The use of the S.S. guards is very surreal here, especially as some stand sniping you on the airplane wing outside and some goofy and overwrought custom enemy sounds play. But, unlike the Doom 2 secret levels, it doesn’t play as a joke. The Nazis are threatening, and the general off-ness of this encounter feels disturbing.
This ability to suspend in that strange space between amateur mess and artistic focus is an important part of understanding the set as a whole. Once you proceed further through the plane, the map exposes you to what the set is named for: a large satanic portal with the text “Absolute Life Transformation” spelled out inside the hull of the plane. We will return here much later.
Even after you're outside of the jarring first map, A.L.T. doesn't seem particularly interested in meeting anyone's expectations for what a Doom mod should be. Predictable tropes you might expect from a typical Doom mod or first-person shooter to help you move through the space—straightforward and comprehensible environments and combat encounters—are reversed and subverted in many strange and humorous ways.
Some maps are cramped spaces of ugly boxy browns and grays while others explode with color and architectural complexity. Players are regularly transported into realms made up of all kinds of alienating and seemingly extraneous detail, where reality is constantly shifting.
Doors that should open don't, random triggered events happen out of nowhere, and the structural stability of environments randomly shifts and breaks down. Enemies appear to nullify their ability to attack you by constantly teleporting in a loop. You're forced to make bizarre leaps of faith that are sometimes sabotaged by Doom's lack of air control. Levels appear to have dimensions or progressions that did not seem at all apparent from the outset—making them very difficult to comprehend or mentally map. Oftentimes, these worlds appear to resemble other Doom maps because of their theming and texture use, too, which only further plays up that feeling of alienation and dissonance.
But perhaps the strangest thing about A.L.T. is that, in spite of all the wild and confusing things it does, in spite of all its weird ugliness, it actually seems to all make a strange kind of sense. There's a language to the design.
This odd internal consistency also means the levels are actually mostly fun? There's a playfulness to all the subversion and shifting of reality that is consistently engaging and interesting on a moment-to-moment basis in spite of the alienation. Like a Mario level or a Zelda dungeon, the features around it basically mask its function as a play box. But unlike Mario or Zelda, it mostly succeeds on that level while also consistently shoving its story back in your face and never making you feel like you can escape that hand of the narrative—or ever have a strong foothold on it.
By the end of the set, levels have broken down into a series of abstract vignettes. Names take on concepts of existential importance—like "God is Dead," map 23. Hallways become comically long. The game stops feeling like a Doom wad and starts feeling more like some kind of grand statement about the nature of reality.
After "God is Dead," your character takes a lonely voyage on a rowboat to a barren castle inside of an empty void, a space seemingly outside of reality—a simulated space, perhaps. Structural continuity of any kind completely breaks in the next map, as bosses and enemies and ideas from other maps are revisited seemingly randomly.
This finally culminates in a giant stadium-like space that's named "Gehirn,"—or "brain" in German—that your character is forced to blow up to proceed. And then, finally, a journey back into the past—back into the source of your suffering from the very first map.
A.L.T.'s story is at heart a piece of existential psychological horror. There's a lingering sense of denial, dread and paranoia from trying to forget what cannot be forgotten. It's about traumas of the past, a personal subjective lens on larger historical tragedy. Despite evoking Nazis and WW2, it doesn't seem particularly rooted in any temporal period. It exists outside of time, jumping around to many different ideas and places. We can see this particularly at A.L.T.'s halfway point, Map 15: “Memoris Spiritus” a relatively short puzzle map set in a virtual reality space.
“Memoris Spiritus” also does something important—it returns us to pieces of levels in the original Doom & Doom 2. In the first’s infamous shareware episode-ending level “Phobos Anomaly,” which is briefly revisited in A.L.T., a climactic confrontation outside unleashes a couple of Barons Of Hell on you from their slumber. Once you kill them, the walls lower to reveal a large outside area with a pentagram-marked portal up a set of stairs that appear in the distance. Once you journey up those stairs and enter that circle, you're teleported to a pitch-black room filled with monsters that gradually kill you.
There is no way to escape “Phobos Anomaly’s” ending encounter. At the time of Doom’s release this probably felt like an incredibly scary twist ending for an episode that was paced to bring you to this moment. Now this feels a bit more like a cliffhanger gimmick, meant to get players to buy the registered episodes of Doom to see what happens next. Because even with the registered episodes, there's no real story to speak of beyond that. There are no great reveals, in spite of all the strangeness and atmosphere the environments create. It's just more eerie places to wander around and fight demons in.
That possibly feels a bit disingenuous for those whose imaginations ran wild after playing that first episode. It’s as if id Software led you to a tantalizing mystery, only to pull the rug out from under you and make you realize that nothing is there. It’s a cool and fun game at the end of the day, but there’s no deeper meaning. And that feels strangely incongruous to the density of its world.
By returning to that space in A.L.T.’s “Memoris Spiritus” something is revealed. A.L.T. exists within Doom, it reminds you, but it is not merely Doom. It uses that shell to take you into much deeper, murkier territories. This act of both re-establishing and taking you beyond the mysteries at the heart of the original Doom is a vital part of the entire experience.
On one hand, the fact that all of this stuff takes the form of a Doom mod seems sometimes largely incidental. Yet it is also obviously, indispensably a Doom mod, built around Doom's weapons and bestiary and textures and engine features. In that way it also functions as a criticism of Doom in pointing out all of the unmanifested realities a commercial game like Doom could never hope to touch upon.
Because A.L.T. is a free fan wad made of resources shamelessly ripped from other commercial games (a proud modding tradition) by outsiders, it feels like a pirate transmission. It's a manifesto, a hack, a shock to the system. This is also perhaps echoed in some of the pirate imagery in the game (including map 07 which is called "Pirates") or that it's credited collectively to Clan [B0S]. We're collectively made aware of possibilities that exist far outside the norm presented in the shell of a 25+ year old game.
That's not to say it always hits the mark—a handful of maps don't really contribute anything to the larger story and just feel like outsiders. You start to feel that it is a community project in those moments, where other portions hang together far more coherently. The set also includes a joke about Duke Nukem that can either be seen as some kind of odd statement against traditional masculinity or merely a cheap transphobic joke (or both) in a few maps. Though, the fact that I'm even unsure about this at least says something about the complexity of its world.
Part of the reason A.L.T. feels so oddly revolutionary in spite of its flaws is that the sort of epiphany it brings about seems like it would be reduced by it being a commercial product. It almost feels like it can only come from somewhere halfway across the world, with vastly different ideas and values of how to approach something like game design.
For something as unique as A.L.T. to exist, it can't be too dependent on any usual systems or modes of thought that might cloud the clarity of its expression. It instead it has to exist in its own world, and take the form of something like a Doom mod. This choice makes it easier for its Russian/Ukranian authors to get it out into the world and noticed in a well-established modding community for people halfway across the world, in ways that works more dependent on understanding language and cultural context could not.
The Absolute Life Transformation offered in A.L.T. is partially about the form of video games, and their role as fantasy escapism. One manifestation of that is in the current evangelism around virtual reality, and the idea that through technological solutions we can build empathy machines to solve deeper societal problems.
That fantasy of technology spurring social transformation can be fun and impactful in its own ways, but inevitably always boots us back out to the uncomfortable realities affecting our world that technology alone cannot solve. Our problems are ideological, not technological.
We cannot transform reality without properly confronting all the upsetting things we’ve ignored and bringing them back to the surface. And so the existence of an Absolute Life Transformation is both a criticism and also a way out of this seemingly inescapable fantasy/reality dichotomy we've constructed. Ironically, the technology to confront the problem is actually in A.L.T. itself—the work of art as it exists in our reality, not the escapist technology the fictional Absolute Life Transformation portal represents.
Grasping for some larger insight or info into what went into the production behind this set, I managed to contact Lainos, one of the project's co-directors (and author of well-received sprawling and moody adventure maps like "5till L1 Complex"). He didn't make any of A.L.T.'s maps, but his influence is felt strongly over its narrative structure and especially the inspiration it takes from Clan B0S's previous set Sacrament, which A.L.T. expands on many of the ideas of and Lainos contributed to.
Lainos told me that A.L.T. started out as mapper Michailo "Azamael" Kolybenko's solo project and the intent was to make something that felt very art-house and non-standard, with many zones explicitly built to knock the player out of their comfort zone and into an unfamiliar world they don’t understand.
“This idea was manifested even in small things, for example in the title screen pic, which, in fact, is consisting of two combined landscapes and which gives the impression of something surreal,” said Lainos. “At the same time, we tried not to go too far with it, and not to go all the way down into schizophrenia. This required constant monitoring and corrections."
That balance between total randomness and design convention is perhaps harder to perceive from the outset, but very important reason why the set holds together so well in spite of the seeming chaos. Lainos argues that this ethos is the result of the unique characteristics of the Russian Doom Community (aka the RDC).
"I think that the RDC's approach is different in many respects because for a long time it had been developing autonomously," Lainos responded. At the time of Doom’s original release, PCs weren’t widely available, says Lainos. Even as access to PC games and the internet increased, a language difference kept the RDC isolated from other mod communities.
This led to a culture of trial-and-error design—and an open-mindedness about work that, in other parts of the world, might be considered amateurish. “People tried to find sort of an originality, to do something unusual to surprise others—there was a 'forgiving factor' for some roughness in their work.”
Over time, this turned into a key element of the RDC. “Later, people began to approach this a little more consciously... and then another question arose: what can we offer to (the world), how do we differ? Even if you do not think consciously about these (ideas), subconsciously questions like this will always arise."
"It seems to me that in the West, video games are perceived more as an attraction,” says Lainos. “On the other hand, we more often see them as an art, even if they may not be a high art. That's why people come to mapping: Many level designers (I know) are mapping for the sake of creativity, and not to 'prove themselves'. Therefore, they take it very seriously."
"It seems to me that in the West, video games are perceived more as an attraction,” says Lainos.
A.L.T.’s development history reflects this ethos—for better and worse.
When original A.L.T. mapper Michailio “Azamael” Kolybenko left the project, “Beewen,” the mod’s co-director told me through translation that he was left to pick up the pieces and turn what was largely a solo project into a community WAD.
This meant finding people who could live up to Azamael's totally original vision and to fill in a lot of the holes in the maps, both from Azamael and other mappers whose maps had to be modified to complete the narrative of the story. Beewen sent me the original versions of some of these maps—and the changes are everywhere—some subtle, like the surreal starry sky which was added in Map 10 "The Clairvoyant." Some are much more dramatic—like almost the entirety of what is still credited to Azamael—Map 23, "God is Dead," including the comically long winding hallway sequence at the heart of the map.
This also led to some compromises— A.L.T. noticeably sags for a few maps around the middle of the set. The original maps 17 & 18 were the source of community drama with one prominent member of the Clan (they were replaced by two maps by a mapper named Chaingunner), and helped lead to the dissolution of Lainos's founded Clan [B0S]. Though, for all the different authors and gaps left in Azamael's vision, the set generally holds together remarkably well and feels like an entire piece. Perhaps that is partially a result of Beewen's perfectionism over the final product.
When it came out in 2012, A.L.T. was met with a mixed response from the larger Doom community. Many saw it as too strange or cryptic, and didn't like the bizarre custom sound replacements or the confusing open-ended environments. In spite of all its creativity and range, it did not receive the Doom community's coveted Cacoward that year (compared to Lainos's own single map "5till L1 Complex," which did win an award).
Since then, Azamael seems to have left the Doom community for good, and many of its Russian members have moved on to slightly more conventional, less high-concept mapping. For example, A.L.T. contributor Archi's more recent combat-oriented mapset "Rush" is far different from his more abstract, experimental maps in Sacrament and A.L.T.
Lainos seems to have noticed this shift happening. "It seems to me that that spontaneity is gradually leaving, people have more or less clear standards how to do this, and how not to do that,And for the majority, perhaps, it is easier to learn to follow instructions than to puzzle over, inventing their own solutions to design problems, and inventing new means of expression."
But for what it's worth, Lainos and Beewen seem to still be following the path set out by A.L.T. and its predecessor Sacrament. Lainos told me " I have not said everything that I want to say in Doom-mapping yet." And indeed, he's released multiple things in the last five years, including 2016's Comatose, which was just recently written up as one of the best 8 Doom wads of the last 8 years in The Escapist Magazine.
Beewen (who designed three of A.L.T.’s maps, including Map 22 "AcidJazz", one of my favorites)—also sent me a work in progress set of his called Voyager, a truly massive and impressive work of art that deals with the theme of moving between different modes of reality, like A.L.T.
After having played a good chunk of the set, I'm confident in saying that Voyager could have its own article written about it—if it's ever properly finished, that is. Voyager's maps are mostly very dense and detailed puzzle boxes. They’re also more visually striking and polished than most of the maps in A.L.T. But because of how large and punishingly cryptic many of them are, they also lack some of the range and sense of playfulness that keeps drawing me back to A.L.T. Still, it's not hard to look at Voyager and see Beewen's incredible talent for making unique environments and see his large influence all over A.L.T.'s design.
It’s hard for me to let go of A.L.T. That such an enigmatic, multifaceted experience that has so much to say about our world—and contains so many ideas and angles of approaching it—can go so ignored is really sad. It's a piece of art that summarizes and encapsulates our confusing times perhaps better than anything else I can think of.
Maybe this is because there are no real cultural signposts for judging the quality of a lot of work out there—especially in isolated places like video game communities online. We might think that if a work is so brilliant and distinctive, it will somehow make itself known to the larger cultural consciousness. But that isn’t the case for so many things in the sphere of new media, A.L.T. included.
There are a million reasons for totally singular art like A.L.T. wallowing largely in obscurity, but that’s why we can’t forget about them. If we’ve overlooked this, what else out there have we missed that’s just as brilliant? Maybe entirely new canons can be built out of works that have been previously ignored or dismissed by cultures that didn’t “get” what these works were doing.
We live in a time defined by a desperate search for new narratives and canons that are an “alternative” to a rigid and out-of-touch established order. The title itself— A.L.T—connects to the brief #altgames movement that popped up as an alternative to indie games' rapid commercialization and cult of celebrity. It also sadly connects to what became branded as the "Alt-Right," the far right nationalist, xenophobic political group that violently advocates for white and male supremacy, among other things.
Like most others, I find almost everything about the current political situation in the West totally demoralizing. The world seems to have collectively lost its mind, and it's hard to know how we’ll ever escape the cycle of perpetual trauma many of us are being exposed to now. This cloud of despair and panic reveals how everything is a political act, but it also flattens deep critical interest or engagement in ways that can be really dangerous and reactionary. These times might push us even further towards finding comfort in fantasy, and those voices who can provide it will have a lot of control over our culture.
It's hard not to talk about any politics these days without running in the high density of theories about Russia's involvement in Donald Trump's presidential election. Some of these are presumably factual, but a lot of paranoia that has proliferated has also re-established Cold War-era scaremongering about Russia.
When Pussy Riot co-founder Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, who was imprisoned for protesting Putin, says that western liberals are scapegoating him perhaps the situation is a bit more complex. After all, a large part of Russia's current situation is a result of its economy being decimated and pillaged by US-backed capitalist reforms in the 1990's. But the broader point to make here is that perhaps this post-Soviet culture contains far more insight into our own current cultural situation than we in the West might think.
A few weeks prior to the 2016 US presidential election, British documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis released a film called HyperNormalization, named after a concept in the book Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More by Alexei Yurchak about the paradoxes of Soviet life in the last twenty years before its collapse.
In Yurchak's book, he says there was a sense that the people knew the system was failing but there was no alternative to the status quo, so people maintained the appearance of living in a functioning society. In his documentary, Curtis goes onto explain in the film how this tension was articulated by Russian culture in 1972's sci-fi novel Roadside Picnic (eventually adapted into Andrei Tarkovsky's film Stalker, and inspired the series of STALKER video games) in the form of "The Zone," a dangerous place of unreality where the rules of reality were constantly in flux. To navigate The Zone, you need to be accompanied by a Stalker—a person who fully understands its dangerous and rapidly shifting nature. And living in Russia of the 1970’s, with its crumbling institutions, felt very much like living in the Zone.
Curtis made the relevance of this idea even more explicit in an interview immediately after the election on Donald Trump on the popular left-wing comedy podcast Chapo Trap House when he said: "we live in The Zone now."
More than a year later, his comments feel more prescient than any other commentary that has proliferated about Trump and our current age. Things feel so utterly chaotic and confusing, and it’s hard for a coherent narrative to rise to the surface. Trust between many is broken, and new alliances have started to form out of nowhere. Life inside The Zone, however, doesn't have to destroy us. It also means a new sort of pattern or structure can emerge out of the confusing and shifting realities. A glimpse of something is in the distance, hidden behind barriers and blockades. We might have to walk a different, much stranger, and more challenging path to find it—but it's there. And maybe it's the way forward to help find a new foothold and boot us out of the despair of our times. This is the path a work of art like A.L.T. offers us.
2017 in the videogame sphere was met with major critically-lauded reinventions and reimaginings of games past. But viewing most sequels and franchise expansions as truly reinventions can feel more than a bit disingenuous too. The fun of a Mario or Zelda game, even at their absolute peak, masks how deeply regressive they often are at their heart. Most of mass-marketed commercial games all tell essentially the same variant of the well-worn Hero’s Journey tale: a tale that forms the backbone of so much of video game culture yet seems to have less and less of value to say about our current reality than ever.
Our hot-selling franchises of today can never be so forward-thinking or challenging in their content as to seriously challenge and potentially alienate their consumer base either. Why would they? Their goal is to sell copies and make money. The problem is the absolute ubiquity of these same stories being told, over and over, in different variations all across the worlds of video games has helped build a culture that worships a superficial comfort above all: one that has carte blanche to rewrite history towards these narratives and erase anything that ever tries to seriously challenge them. There are serious transgressions that the culture space created by these games never allows us to make.
And we need those transgressions. And they’re much more likely to come from people with nothing to lose—who don’t already have their own sense of identity in the world. Maybe they can come from parts of the world that have no previously established creative industries or creative languages, and therefore where artists are working from within themselves and building their own languages. Or maybe other voices who've been ignored because of their gender, or the color of their skin, or their sexual orientation, or what language they speak, or what medium they're working within. Maybe they’re all just now finding a new voice and new place within the cultural landscape.
I don’t know where they're going to come from. I only know that there are a lot of stories out there and that are not being given the space they should be right now because the culture we have does not want to give it to them.
We live in The Zone now. And if we want be able to wade through the muck, we have no real choice but to forgo the usual comforts and take the step into a strange new space. We must know that it will probably be upsetting and painful. We know that some parts of us will die at the end. But that death doesn't have to be in vain. It opens up the possibility of a rebirth—one that could have never come if we stayed comfortable.
After all, we might not even have a choice.
Correction: an earlier edition of this piece had the incorrect title for Alexei Yurchak's book. The piece has been updated to reflect the proper title.