June 16, 2015

1000 Days of Syria: An excerpt from DEATH BY VIDEO GAME



Two years earlier, in 2011, journalist Mitch Swenson was present in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on the first day of the revolution that helped instigate the Arab Spring, the wave of revolutionary protests that spread across the Middle East, unseating rulers in its wake. Since then he’s visited a clutch of troubled nations: Libya, South Sudan and the Congo. He’s ‘been around men with guns before.’ Even so, this autumn night, clammy with cloud and heat, saw him enter a different kind of battle. ‘Syria is a type of conflict that humanity has never really seen before,’ he says. ‘All of the rules are out of the window.’

For the next ten days Swenson and his partners (David Axe, the founder of War is Boring, a blog that covers war zones, a photographer and a local fixer) travelled with members of the Sham Falcons Brigade, a group of rebels opposed to the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and his troops, the Syrian armed forces. Few foreign journalists have remained in the country; the dangers are extreme. The preceding day two Spanish journalists were kidnapped while preparing to leave the country (they were eventually released in March 2014). During his brief time reporting in the country Swenson interviewed soldiers and smugglers and saw first-hand what he describes as an ‘all-consuming, merciless and heart-eating machine of war.’

Then, on October 4, Swenson left Syria. He was due to start at college the following week.

When he landed in New York, Swenson began to write about his experiences. But the prose failed to capture the urgency of the chaos and distress he had witnessed (or, at least, failed to stand out from other similar reports written by foreign journalists). Moreover, he shared a challenge with many an overseas news reporter: how to interest readers in a faraway nation and its remote problems, ostensibly unconnected to their own.

Swenson decided to move from written reportage to something entirely different: video-game reportage.

Read the rest in Death By Video Game—available for purchase here, at your neighborhood independent bookstore, at Barnes & Noble, or at Amazon.

Simon Parkin is a journalist whose writing has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, the Guardian, ESPN, and a number of other publications. DEATH BY VIDEO GAME is his first book.