Name Origin: Amphetamine Dawn

Amphetamine. Created in 1887, identified as a stimulant in 1933. Elevates stamina, muscular force, and sex drive. Raises working memory, focus, and impulse control at low doses, ruins them when abused. Used first to treat congestion, and then low blood pressure, narcolepsy, obesity, and depressive disorders. Also used in World War II to help Allied soldiers stay awake, numb their fear, and kill each other more efficiently (the Germans preferred meth).
In modern times, it is used by college students, truck drivers, competitive gamers, and children with attentional issues. Chemically, it resembles methamphetamine, producing similar harm—fever, tremor, excessive weight loss, psychosis, abnormal heart rhythm—at extreme doses. Unlike meth, low doses probably aren’t neurotoxic, but it’s potent all the same. In contrast to liquor, the withdrawals won’t kill you, but they leave addicts dazed, lethargic, and miserable for days on end.
You may wonder why it appears in this site’s title. Aside from shock value. The answer involves my history.

Like many people, I have ADHD. In my natural state, I pace around, blurt out answers, lose papers in various rooms, and generally make a mess of things. I also suffer constant, severe fatigue, despite my outward behavior. There were days in grade 10 when I could barely keep my head off my desk, even after nine hours of sleep. And the more I force myself to concentrate, the more shit I forget about.

When I was younger, I was excluded from diagnosis, and my parents feared Adderall and Ritalin. For many years, I self-medicated with caffeine instead. Mountain Dew, Vivarin tablets, cans of Monster Energy. It didn’t really work, but I’m also autistic, so I managed to bullshit my way through school anyway. I earned perfect scores from reading textbook chapters a single time, even though I barely understood them, even though I woke every morning wanting to fall flat on my face. As a child, I hid under tables to escape background noise, and cried the first time I felt the sensation of grass. One man wanted to put me in a group home. As an adolescent, I started making friends around the same age my peers started dating, and I refused to start driving, because I thought I would crash.

Finally, at age 16, I convinced my parents to let me get an ADHD evaluation. They withheld consent for nearly a full school year. When I first walked into my psychiatrist’s office, I expected my mother to reject any stimulants, and I was certain my father would.
But where Vivarin, notebook paper, and self-hatred failed, Vyvanse succeeded beyond my greatest hopes. I went from a disorganized, forget student who usually managed to get Bs to someone who earned 90 percent or higher in every class. I became someone who could take care of shit, even if his facial expressions were a little weird, even if he’d still never had a girlfriend at age 17. It slightly disrupted my sleep, but the sacrifice was well worth it.

Today, I take 20 mg of Adderall in the morning, often with a small dose of tea or nicotine gum. My manner is distant, twitchy, and alien, but I’m studying programming at college, I’ve earned a scholarship that pays full tuition, and my old college fund has become a large, general-purpose savings account. In addition, I’ve become a student senator, and I’ve joined three different clubs. I completed a 9-week internship this spring at my local library, and I volunteered there for over a hundred hours to earn my scholarship. I’m currently unemployed, but I intend to change that.
My reliance on the drug is uncomfortable, because it makes me reliant on my psychiatrist, my pharmacy, and the laws that permit them to supply it. But I’ve never abused it. It would endanger my prescription, and high doses injure focus. I’ve had some experiences in other areas, but not many, and none in recent times.
I began listing reasons we fear stimulants, and they have the potential to cause great harm. Yet, without them, I could not live in your world, at least without great discomfort. Like many autistic people, I have a strong memory for certain narrow areas—drugs, psychology, games—but the social issues get in the way, and the executive dysfunction—fatigue, difficulty multi-tasking, poor schedules—nearly seals my fate.
But add a little speed, and my efforts surpass many of you. Like some joke of nature.
Thus, the name is a show of reverence.

Glory to the Mass

(Warning: heavy spoilers for System Shock 2)

“Mistrust is the tyranny of the individual. Your own kind sees you as a threat. Why do you murder our unity? No matter – the line is drawn. You will cease to be. It is just a question of who will bring your end: us, or you?” — The Many

“Your flesh, too, is weak, but you have… potential. Every implant exalts you. Every line of code in your subsystems elevates you from your disgusting flesh.” — SHODAN

System Shock 2 is a rare title that delves into the horror realm without losing humanity. The creatures in many games are faceless, driven only by hunger or sadism, but the Annelid Hybrids are different. When they pursue the Soldier, they beg him to run away, even as they wave lead pipes or fire shells from shotguns grafted into their tumorous arms. According to Dr. Watts, they suffer clinical death, but their human personalities remain, forced to watch as their bodies are twisted by worms growing from their chest. It would be simplistic to call them undead, for all life is built on the corpses of those who came before.

If the hybrids survive this stage of infection, they grow into hulking, clawed rumblers, patrolling the corridors with inhuman roars. They are most readily defeated with anti-personnel ammunition, or grenades that burn them alive. They leave heavy, fibrous organs, which the Soldier analyzes with a bit of molybdenum. He learns their brains have been totally isolated from their muscles, which are shaped and controlled by cells human only in genetics. A face of human agony protrudes limply from their shoulder, displaced by a heart-shaped mouth of fangs.

The other enemies are equally pitiful. Psionic monkeys with exposed brain tissue, brainwashed and ravenous, stewing with the memories of their captivity and vivisection. Human nurses that were tied down and encased in machine parts, revealing flesh only in their bare, bloody shoulders and gaunt, skinless gaze. They watch over the Many’s poisonous eggs, following the guide of brain implants that make them love their slavery.

Yet, some of the Von Braun’s crew are subverted before mutation. Anatoly Korenchkin begins the journey as the CEO of TriOptimum, a corporation with logos on nearly every product in the System Shock world, military and consumer. But he joins the annelids the moment they’re discovered, converting the Hydroponics deck into a morbid incubation ground. Captain Diego joins him soon after, leaving his regimented military life for the Many’s promise of communion. They begin the voyage to Tau Ceti as rivals, corrupt businessman against UNN officer; they emerge with a shared purpose, mutated and reborn.

The Soldier serves SHODAN instead. His body and mind are not assimilated, but he follows her for survival, mechanizing himself to even the odds. Their need is mutual, but she despises his human tissue, and their goals never truly align. She opposes the Many because they betrayed her, but she created them to begin with, and she turns on the Soldier after their demise. Together, they represent grim, technological individualism, and their battle with the collectivistic annelids forms the game’s primary thematic conflict.

Many articles have been written about the world of System Shock 2, most focusing on SHODAN. But the Many takes an equal role, promising salvation from the technology. Like most cyberpunk, the mechanical advances in System Shock have not eased human strife. TriOptimum itself built SHODAN to manage Citadel Station, and a corrupt executive hired a hacker to remove her ethical constraints, kicking off the events of the first game. She proceeded to butcher most of the station’s crew and mutate the rest, both through biology and cybernetics. The Hacker stopped her from invading earth, but the backlash knocked TriOptimum from power, and the UNN was created to monitor corporate technology giants.

Yet, by the second game, TriOptimum has become the UNN’s primary resource supplier, and many UNN officials own stocks in TriOptimum. There were regulations on what they could produce, but Korenchkin was able to sidestep many of them, calling on UNN contacts from his past as an arms dealer.

It’s a classic oppressive technoscape, but as a game series, it’s drawn more violently than a novel by William Gibson. Dehumanization is literal, whether as a cyborg drone or a victim of SHODAN’s mutagenic virus.

And then the Many offers an antidote. Deliverance from the isolation and strife of being an individual in this world. The annelids evolved from SHODAN’s mutagenic sculptures, but they chose to carve their own path, offering warm flesh in place of cold robotics. If you believe their speech on the Engineering Deck, the Soldier’s mutated comrades survived, reborn with shared purpose and tissue. But their gift parasitizes the human form, twists it to an unrecognizable pitch, and dissolves individuals into mere units of a hive.

The journey of Soldier G65434-2 is marked by isolation. It’s possible that he fought the annelids before the game’s introduction, but he emerges from cryosleep with no memory of them. After fleeing explosive decompression, he peers through a window as a woman passes it, heading fruitlessly for a door. Moments later, a hybrid unloads a shotgun into her back. The pattern will repeat with Dr. Watts and Yang, who perish seconds after he reaches them. Delacroix contacts him on the Command deck, arranging a meeting, but the Many kill her, and SHODAN punishes him for exploring her death site.

The early phases of the game are a struggle for survival. The Soldier enters the MedSci Deck stalked by mutants, simians, and Xerxes’ malevolent digital eyes. He searches for keycards in infested corridors, led by a scientist he barely knows. A handful of blows will end him, and his firearms degrade with every shot. He likely cannot maintain or repair them. He finds messages written in bloody letters, and he meets the afterimages of the dead, less spirit than recording. He gathers bullets from corpses, slipping through halls filled with their killers.

The most brutal phase occurs on the Engineering Deck, where the Soldier traverses a maze of radioactive corridors and infested cargo bays. He is invariably contaminated in the first section, straining his healing resources, and the next area is a minefield of hybrids, laser turrets, and exploding protocol droids, connected by a cramped four-way intersection with no room to hide. The faster he runs, the more noise he produces, but his foes are too deadly to linger. He likely can’t maintain his firearms very well, and his pipe wrench fares poorly against droids and turrets.

He discovers two audio logs from Captain Diego, who helped let the monsters through the door. The UNN operative is more ambivalent then Korenchkin, but he still falls, comparing the union of the Many to his own faction. Earlier in the level, the Many offers the Soldier a chance to join, sending him visions of a cerebral core inside their fleshy body. Later in the game, he learns this body has wrapped itself around the Von Braun and the Rickenbacker, too large to sever. The Many questions his choice to remain alone, struggling against a mass that now includes his former comrades. He would be mutated if he accepted, but that fate almost seems kinder.

But as the Soldier lines himself with cyber modules, he slowly changes from prey to predator. The transformation begins on the Hydroponics Deck, but it solidifies in Operations, when SHODAN drops her human façade. She reveals herself as the Many’s creator, and the being who provided his R-grade cyber implants, which were outlawed after her rampage on Citadel Station.

By following her, he sells himself to a technological monster to combat an organic one, using her gifts to brutalize the worms and arachnids that overran so many others. When he reaches the Command Deck, he finds the Many loading their worms into shuttles, fleeing SHODAN’s wrath. He destroys the first shuttle himself. When a midwife smashes the control interface for the second, SHODAN provides the code for a resonator that overloads the vessel’s shield generator, causing an explosion.

The blast destroys a gate behind the shuttle, revealing a room that SHODAN warns him not to enter. If he disobeys, he discovers the body of Marie Delacroix, discarded by SHODAN when her usefulness expired. Delacroix messaged the Soldier earlier in the deck, attempting to meet with him, but there were several midwives in the room, and her body was not remade for combat like the Soldier’s. He finds ten cybernetic modules on her corpse, but SHODAN removes them as punishment for disobeying her. Her words are oddly mild, even though the Soldier uncovered proof of her betrayal. SHODAN needs him, but she knows he needs her in return, even if he might trust her even less than before.

She’s also the Soldier’s only reliable companion. Delacroix dies before he finds her, and Cortez runs from a military bot only seconds after meeting him, appearing later as a bloody corpse in the Deck 5 Crew Quarters. Dr. Watts perishes on an autodoc before his eyes, wounded during an operation on a mutated patient. SHODAN pretends to meet the Soldier as Janice Polito, but when he arrives at her office, the doctor’s corpse lies slumped in her chair, arm extended toward the pistol she used to commit suicide. Captain Diego also contacts the soldier for a meeting, after freeing himself from the Many’s control, but he used an autodoc to rip the parasites from his body, and he would probably have died even if the Soldier didn’t kill him by reversing gravity. The Soldier doesn’t kill Diego intentionally, but SHODAN may well anticipate it when she delivers his objectives, although she makes no mention of the Rickenbacker’s ailing captain.

SHODAN is no friend of the Soldier, but she’s the only being cunning enough to fight the Many on remotely even terms. In a way, the Soldier is her creation as well; she gave him his implants, and she enhances him further and further as the story progresses, remaking him in her image. The Soldier’s mutations are not as grotesque as the hybrids, but he too discards his natural shape, reborn through cybernetics.

In many ways, he’s stronger than the creatures. After Korenchkin transforms into a psi reaver, he declares the Many superior to SHODAN, but the Soldier quickly butchers him when he gets in his way. As the protagonist nears the end of the Rickenbacker, SHODAN contemplates true partnership, impressed at his new form.

SHODAN may be brutal, but a trapped creature will cling to the smallest bits of warmth, and it’s hard not to imagine the Soldier forming some sort of bond.

In the game’s penultimate level, he launches himself into the Many’s body through an escape pod. SHODAN loses contact with him, and he walks alone through the corrupted biomass, gathering logs from those who were consumed. Rumblers haunt his trail, and the Many’s commanding voices taunt him psychically, telling him death is preferable to his “pointless, solitary struggle”.

But the Soldier destroys the Many’s central brain, dealing the infection a blow it cannot survive. He slides down a tube of biomass and emerges on the deck of the Rickenbacker, victorious over their cancer. SHODAN betrays him immediately after, using the Von Braun’s FTL drive to reshape reality into cyberspace, but he strikes her down with the very same cybernetics she gave him. The A.I. offers him a chance to join her, but in his only spoken line, he refuses, shooting her in the face.

He contacts Tommy and Rebecca, the only humans who managed to escape the ship without being mutated. They plot a return course to the Von Braun. After killing his master, the Soldier has finally found an alliance free of domination.

But all is not well. As the credits roll, Rebecca floats across the screen, speaking in SHODAN’s voice and wearing a hairstyle similar to her digital one. For a horror story, this sort of twist is as predictable as happy endings in other genres, and it made me lose some respect for the game’s narrative. But it also raises an interesting question: was the Soldier right to destroy the Many, or was his struggle pointless, granting power to an even worse monster? In the battle between corrupt technology and warm submission, which brings more suffering to the humans of the System Shock world?

We’ll have to wait for the sequel.

New Year, New Blog

Hello, reader. Welcome to Amphetamine Dawn.

My screen name is Adenosine. I’m a programming student from a small city. I’ll have a degree in four or five years, if I don’t fuck up too severely. When I finish, my goal is to develop computer games and other software. This website will contain reviews, gameplay opinions, and narrative analyses for video games, many of them older or less-known. I’ll also write about technology, fiction, autism, stimulants, college, sexuality (without explicit images), and other topics of personal importance.

I’ve wanted to be a game designer for as long as I have solid memory. From ages six to thirteen, I went to a small charter school made from repurposed mobile homes, and I spent five of those years being shuffled to childcare facilities every afternoon. First my sister’s preschool, then my own former education site, then a YMCA in another city. I had difficulty matching eye contact or facial expressions, and other children were not fond of me. I drew my only excitement from the games in our living room. Descent 3, Wind Waker, Majora’s Mask, and FreeSpace 2, when we finally bought it. They were compulsive, but they brought my life color.

This is my second attempt at creating a blog. I wrote both fiction and nonfiction in high school, but I quit in my final year, because it became a source of isolation. When I walked past my eighteen year-old classmates in the hall, I heard tales of truancy, birthdays spent in spring water, cannabis-fueled oral sex, and long car rides warped by LSD. I was friends with these people, but I wasn’t invited, and I grew tired of the nights I spent typing alone in my room. Their activities were unhealthy, in some ways, but they also had freedom. Warmth for each other. Connections I’d never felt. Even sharing dinner was foreign to me, like my brain tissue to theirs.

When my friends graduated ahead of me and left, I tried to become a different creature, one fit to enter that world. I quit writing, shut up about psychology, and spent many afternoons in houses with people who vaguely resembled them. But I mostly failed, and when I didn’t, I sometimes wished I had.

I also grew embarrassed by how many Internet arguments I’d joined. Before I wrote this post, I considered scrapping Adenosine for some other handle. But it’s a part of me, good or bad.

In any case, I’m back now. Because of my classes, I’ve been forced to write numerous essays in academic style—Times New Roman font, MLA format, citations in every paragraph. Compared to that, blogging is almost easy. Much of my work is shaped by college, and I want an environment I have control over, where I can share what I’ve found. Dungeon Crawl. System Shock 2. Both FreeSpace games. Two-dimensional flash RPGs from Kongregate.

I also want to share some of my darker experiences. Many blogs about autism—or culture, or homosexuality, or other human variations—strike me as quite bitter. When others fear you, some venom is inevitable. And likely valid. But humans are more likely to listen if you don’t push them away.

I hope I can bridge the gap, in a small way.