On my first trip here, I experienced what I guess I’d call a sort of temporal dissonance. I was in a taxi, heading up the Gianicolo towards my hotel. The Gianicolo is a hill that sits in the south-west part of the city, meaning that from the top, you have a perfect view of historical Rome on the one side, and a fantastic view of the Vatican from the other. Now, maybe it was just the jetlag, but sitting back in that taxi, I had an of out-of-body experience: I realised that I would soon be living in Rome, a place I always thought of as almost fictional, a mythic place where all the history happened. The rational part of my brain decided this was my only chance to feel overwhelmed by the city before I would have to get on with day-to-day life, and so I sat back, reeling at the weight of it all.
Strangely, this is the only time I have felt this way. Now, I’m cutting across St. Peter’s Square – a magnificently opulent, overwhelming place – on a daily basis and only when I’m halfway across do I gain any sort of awareness; holy fuck! I’m cutting across St. Peter’s Square!
I’m blaming this on everyone’s favourite scapegoat: videogames. When we first visited the Pantheon, I wondered what was up on the second level of the building. In my imagination, I saw a dark place, filled with wooden crates, lever-puzzles and bad guys with Uzis. But hang on a second… Wooden crates don’t actually exist in the real world, not really. They only exist in videogames as containers for ammo and/or health. And bad guys with Uzis? Jesus. Then I realised, I had seen the inside of the upper levels of the Pantheon. Or, at least, a Pantheon. In a videogame. (Tomb Raider perhaps?) And in the end, a tiny part of me was disappointed by the actual Pantheon because I didn’t get to go exploring all its dark corners.
Gears of War has affected my experience of Rome more than any other videogame. The look of the game, the so-called “Destroyed Beauty”, was heavily influenced by Romanesque architecture. For the most part, the game takes place in wide streets flanked by marvelous, oppressive buildings and everything in a massive state of disrepair. Well, this being Rome, there’s no shortage of Romanesque architecture. Or wide streets. Or marvelous, oppressive buildings. But there’s more to this than simple generalities. On Via Nazionale, there’s a building whose long, winding entrance I would swear is the direct inspiration for the Fenix Mansion part of Gears of War.
I’m still blown away by Rome on a daily basis, especially when I stumble across some particularly beautiful place. But still, a tiny part of me is waiting for the moment that the Locust Horde comes pouring out of the ground. Where’s my Lancer?