CamTest02 Edit


The memorial wall at the former School Number One in Beslan.

When Mario Kart Arcade GP was released by Namco in the United States and Japan in October-November 2005, its main features included such technological game-changers like cameras mounted above the machine’s screen and magnetic save cards to record progress as though it was a console, and other extras such as Pac-Man, Mrs. Pac-Man and Blinky being playable characters. It was the first addition of a character from the Pac-Man franchise, let alone three of them, to be playable in an (unofficial) Kart title. However, also in the game was a dark, lesser-known secret that I will share with you in a moment.

Despite these technological and arguably aesthetical features designed specifically to enhance the gamer’s experience, it was overshadowed by a fact akin to the other stunted developments of the 1990s and early 2000s; it simply wasn't profitable enough and promptly flopped. Yet,with the advancements in technology since 2005, it’s been alarming how our progress as a forward-pushing electronic-oriented world we’ve grown into. 

I should probably get around to the secret now, shouldn't I?

Within the ROM of the game, there are three JPG files, camtest00, camtest01 and camtest02. The first was of colorful bars, like an emergency broadcast system or a LGBT Pride flag; the second was of Japanese children hugging colorful, fuzzy mascots in some Asian metropolis or urban thoroughfare; however, the third....

The third picture, camtest02, is something that is so bizarre that it’s haunted me for years on end, although it’s not the picture that gets to you but the actual, documented story behind it.



camtest02, taken September 2, 2004

The picture features, on one side, a young, shirtless boy (Naked Boy) clinging to the neck of a man in his twenties or thirties wearing a black t-shirt. The child looks terrified and the man, with a buzz cut (Buzz Cut Man), appears to be carrying him to safety; on the other, a man in his forties wearing a white and blue shirt (Tennis Man) peers over the corner of the brick and stucco structure in the background, looking for something, while an army soldier in army drab wears a combat helmet and carries a modern assault rifle (Army Man). The scene, you can tell, has a European setting.

The story behind the picture is even more disturbing.

There is an autonomous republic in North Caucasus, a region in the Russian Federation; this republic is called North Ossetia, and in North Ossetia is a town called Beslan.


Hundreds of hostages crowd the school gymnasium as wired explosives hung from the basketball hoops hang precariously above them. Picture taken September 2, 2004

On September 1, 2004, an Islamic extremist separatist group called the Riyad-us Saliheen Brigade of Martyrs quickly took control of School Number One, or SNO, which taught a good portion of the Beslan children. This siege was ordered by a 39-year-old Russian warlord Shamil Besayev, who wanted to bring attention to the independence of North Caucasus, also called Chechnya, after both the United Nations and Russia withdrew from the region.

On the first day, the group single-handedly took 1,100 people, including 777 children, hostage within the boundaries of the school. Over the course of September 2, an extremely tense standoff took place with both the Brigade nor Russian security forces refusing to budge. On September 3, after much deliberation, the security forces raided the school using tanks, incendiary rockets and other heavy weapons in one last attempt to save the hostages.


An unnamed Brigade member stands upon a rigged dead-man's switch as terrified hostages look on. Picture taken September 2, 2004

It can be noted that 385 people were dead by September 4; 334 of them hostages and 186 of them children.

186, most of them below the age of 16.

783 were also injured and many others were unaccounted for and reported missing.

Despite having social and political repercussions and controversy in Russia, the event had little to no effect on the conscience of the United States and became virtually irrelevant within a period of years. Simply put, the memory of the Beslan school hostage event of 2004 disappeared into the recesses of our history, and, to some, the spirits of the innocents who were killed died with it.

I never played Mario Kart Arcade GP, and I most certainly never will, but I became fixated on that image for a short time in my life. It was a snapshot of a place and time that even God seemed to forget.

Despite it being almost a decade since the event, there are some people who remember; the mothers of Beslan and some citizens of Russia that have an extended recollection. And, honestly, along as at least one person remembers something that occurred long, long ago and they are willing and able to pass it down to younger generation by generation, the spirit of a child can live on for an eternity.

 A spirit of a child can live on for an eternity.

There are many ways in which we can live like this. Spirits, or the essence of a person, can exist in different places, in different times; their presence among us may be tangible or intangible; but, in the end, the figurative immortality of a human being isn’t limited to a child. On this note, it cannot be just limited to a human being; it can be limited to a place, a time, or a convergence of the two; an event.

The Beslan school hostage crisis of September 2004 is still happening as we speak, because people remember it. The children are still alive, too, because we remember them, too. As along as one remembers another, we can systematically achieve immortality. As along as our memory lives on, we can live until we are forgotten. I personally think that the true nature of death is the act of forgetting. I’m not exactly sure what the developers of Mario Kart Arcade GP had in mind with including the picture, but it might possibly be for the purpose of helping those in future to remember the past.

To be forgotten is to die, and, in the case of the students of School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia-Alania, in the Russian Federation, they are teetering helplessly and hopelessly on the thin line between life and death. And so, to all who are reading this, I ask you, for all the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of Beslan:

Let them live.

Video games are one part of a bigger puzzle: our obsession with technology. We’ve become so enamored in a material (and electronic) possessions that we fill our lives with that we’re unable to see the world in living color. Humans are colorful. Children are colorful.

It can be noted that we believe, by some misguided anecdote, that we are moving ourselves forward with all our inventions and innovative magic and wizardry, but what we have surrounded ourselves with is anything but a ‘miracle’.  I’m not a Luddite, but I’ve observed that our compulsion for material objects has reached an apex.

On that note, what we have created as a technologically advanced society is in fact ruling us as its slaves, controlling us, pulling the blindfold over our eyes. We’re so wrapped up in our small, admittedly silly lives and around the finger of what we create that we’re unable to witness the truths and the lies that exist underneath our noses.

Like I said, we live under the reinforced delusion of self-control, when the reality is that we’re in the process of self-destruction. It’s nothing new, mind you, as society has been on a seemingly abysmal decline for some time now, and if you’re like me, you’ll wonder if it’s even remotely possible to pull out of this societal nosedive.

To be perfectly accurate, the nature of life and death is essentially our lives; how we begin and how we end. We have many truths and many lies to relearn, and I think this is where we need to start. So, again I ask, whether if you’re a mother, father, son, daughter, sister or brother, or anyone who believes that every emotion, sensation or movement that people encounter is in fact the only apparent miracle.

Let them live.

In truth, this isn’t about a video game, a hostage crisis, our craving for the next new gadget to hit the shelves, or about the essence of the dead that lingers in School Number One in  Beslan to this day. Our very existence has become deluded, and the existence of every person who has passed very well might become meaningless. I know everyone has someone whom they’ve lost, and, for both the living and the deceased, I’m vying for you to keep the past alive, not just the people or the place or the perpetual distinction of purpose in our lives, but something else entirely.


So, as I look at the picture this day, looking at the expressions on the faces of Naked Boy, Buzz Cut Man, Tennis Man and Army Man, and I think about what must be going through their heads.

And I remember.

July 11, 2013

Calgary, Alberta

Written by IdealisticPrawn