The Design Observer Group

Posted 11.13.04

Michael Bierut

First Person Shooter

Photograph by Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times, 2004

My partner Daniel Weil pointed out an extraordinary picture in the New York Times on Wednesday, the day after U.S.-lead forces began its assault on Fallujah. It all looked oddly familiar: the central figure, frozen in mid-action; the curiously featureless, textured rectangular void; the array of other characters in the background; the sense of portals to other settings, yet unseen. I stared at it blankly for a moment. "It's a video game," he said.

I'm still not used to seeing color photos in the newspaper. The Times publishes superb ones. They simultaneously bring us closer to events and, oddly, distance us from them. Not only are we barraged with images, but those images are ever harder to decipher. Are they real? Are they manipulated? And how do they manipulate us?

In a faraway place, real people are brutally dying. What we understand about these events is inevitably filtered through what else we know; what we see is filtered though what else we've seen. How strange that we've reached a point where reality reminds us of the simulation, rather than the other way around.