There is a subculture of people who enjoy the game. I don’t need to name which game. The game encompases pretty much anything that’s not for real, and yet, as a product of the human imagination, is still a representation of what can be important to us. The other day, I was playing a game of Halo with 15 other players. Yes, that’s right. It was a full house, which is something that seldom happens– mostly due to server-player distances, the sheer computer power and bandwidth constraints usually make it impossible to do– or at least, supper choppy in a very un-fun sort of way. But no. That day was something different. There was no lag, and everyone on that server was making the best of it.
It was a simple game of capture the flag in the Blood Gulch– physics engine loads up, the narrator announces snidely “Team Capture the Flag” and then I check the radar– I’m running right forward, and the blips tell you that though you can’t see them thanks to the tunnel vision of your monitor, every one of my teammates is there running too, so that my radar looks static. It is a nice feeling.
I jump in a jeep and before even having to check the rearview mirror, one guy’s jumping in to ride shotgun, and someone’s behind manning the Big Gun behind me. He gives off a warning shot, signalling that we’re ready to go. Beside us, another Warthog has been similarly decked out with 3 cyborgs with rifles and grenades, and behind leading the pack on either flank is a pair of ghosts. They’re not even trying to take safe routes or move under cover of hills or trees– they’re moving as fast as they can to get first strike initiative.
There is nothing quite as comfortable as hearing the engines of your alies in stereo headphones on either side of you. My passengers take a moment to introduce themselves:
Church to All: red rolls over blue foos
New001: C1, f/b/h p/u. k?
(Circle the bunker once — i’m jumping — will indicate front or back or help. Ok?)
I tap the spacebar 3 times while making a jump with the jeep, signaling morse code for “O” (meaning, OK). Because, you know, while you’re driving it’s not safe to be text messaging.
About 2/3s of the distance to the ennemy base, the first shot is fired as an ennemy, similarly positioned and incoming fast, trumpets their charge. By the time we get to the halfway point of the map, all hands are on guns or grenades.
When we arrive at the ennemy base, deffenses are tight. As much as you can take out ennemy soldiers by running them over, shooting them or blowing them up, they respawn in their base 5 seconds after you kill them. So, for every skilled frag you make, it really only buys you 5 seconds of relief. New001 dives out of the passenger seat.
Narrator announces: Blue team has the flag.
Narrator annouces: Red team: Flag returned
That’s shorthand for “help”. Church dives off the back of my ride. You see, we really can’t do it like in those old 30s gangster movies– if you park your ride outside and wait with the engine running in halo, all that’s gonna get you is a peperoni coating of sticky grenades stuck all over you and your vehicle. So, there is no such thing as ‘parking’ in Halo– the entire battlefield, no matter what level you are on, is a strictly enforced No Parking Zone.
Since i’m at the wheel, I don’t have any hands on guns, so I’m doing my best to run the red team over. In one instance, I ram an ennemy jeep (with passengers in it) and it flies about 20 feet into the air, spinning and spraying hot lead in all directions like a roman candle.
I drive round to the front, where church is running like a madman with a flag (not exactly discreet) and with New001 close behind, trying his best to fend off pursuit.
Before Church gets in, he’s runned over.
New picks up the flag, jumps in and mans the gun. We start running like hell, as ennemy ghosts and warthogs converge on us while our other teammates do their thing– they start running deffense, while one of them hides in the ennemy base, already ready to steal the flag again if we drop it, or when we score.
We make it about halfway across the map when our vehicle is blown up by a tank shell.
The flag’s out in the open. I respawn just in time to see that one of the ennemy just got our flag and is running right past my visor, jumping into the teleporter.
We take it from there. I won’t bore you with the details.
I’m going to coin a new term. A few terms, actually. When I say “vee ninety-nine”, I mean to say it’s a new idea. Like version 0.99 that you get on beta releases. If I say “one point oh”, that means it’s standard– it’s the production model, it’s supposed to be solid. It is ‘conventional’. If I say “one point oh one”, I mean that it’s a bit better than standard because it’s been reviewed and improoved somehow, but it’s not necessarily an interesting idea.
Playing games involves a lot of these grades. When you’ve gotten a feel for the game, you start making up your own subroutines, some algorithms by which you are seeing if you can group the frequent occurances so that you can be more efficient. For example, if you’d asked me about a week ago, if my opponent had a rocket launcher and I only had a belt of grenades, I had a procedure which was still v99– it was a prototype, not quite fleshed out but with promising results. But if you ask me today, we’re in the 2.0 stages now. Not only can I do it, but i can do it solid.
A lot of people dimiss games (not just video games, but any games, including board games, sports and other things– with the exception of game-shows, which aren’t really games but zoo displays). Which is unfortunate. The usual idea behind this dismissal is that a game isn’t real– it’s a pale reflection of reality. In some cases, it’s a downright fantasy– I mean, only in D&D and such can we battle dragons with a thong of +1 resistance to dragonfire. Or something.
But playing games is no more unreal than participating in the conventions of modern north american life. Fashion. Education. Career. Family life.
How different, really, is life from a game?
Like a game, life is probably not worth enduring if it’s not fun– and yet, in aspiration of getting better at it, we sometimes take detours from the yellow brick road in order to get better. The training. The v99 experiments.
There are some people out there who takes the 1.0 models only– they don’t feel the need to be at the bleeding edge, or to do their own experiments. But for most, the v99 is a daily occurance, in some way shape or form.
I usually order cha siu (roasted pork, roughly translated) from the butcher shop in chinatown from the brother of a chef who used to work with my dad back when my dad was in the restaurant industry. My dad’s friend, the chef, used to make all the cha siu– until all the radiation from the oven of his kitchen arranged a title match with cancer. It’s not that restaurants are slow-wick chernobyls or anything– but, spending about 9 hours a day next to an oven at 600 degrees is not necessarily good for your eyes, or anything else about you.
And yet, he’s been doing it for over forty years, every year, every month and day straight, starting at 5am, including holidays. They do not wake up at 5am (like I do, very reluctantly, to get to work for 6:30 am). They are at work at 5am, because they have to have those pigs, ducks and chickens ready for the openings of the various restaurants in chinatown which they supply.
My dad once asked him “Now that you’ve been diagnosed… you still gonna do it?”
And his friend told him he was trying to see if he could pass the business on. He loved his work– it was, to him, a game– and he had won at it. Many people will tell you that his goods are the best in chinatown. He’d come out on top with few disbeleivers, and there was nothing to regret. And what is a life threatening disease? What does death, really, do to us, except rob us of opportunities? And having spent his life perfecting his art, then what could he possibly feel he had missed?
Anyone can be nitpicky. Anyone can say he could have seen the world, done things differently– and yet, this is jealousy talking in most cases. We live ordinary lives day by day and we tend to get better at some things than others– but what does it take to be the best? What would you sacrifice for that?
Take any art, push it to the wildest edge of edges, and then you enter the realm of magic.
And that’s not to say that he’s dead. He’s not. In fact, his treatments have been going rather well– he’s just now stockpiled enough of a fortune and enough confidence over years of hard work and discipline that he’s gonna try out new things. It is, apparently, boring at the top.
Whenever I go to the YMCA and play a few games of badminton, it’s like going back to that clubspace which is always still alive. I’ve wasted a fair share of my teenage and young adult years in clubspaces back in college. But every year I go back for a visit, something’s changed. Faces. Attitudes. Furniture.
“Fucking pansies,” swears Giulio on the subject of the current generation Martial Arts Club at Dawson. He became the president after Chili and I left, but like all of us, he graduated and left it in ‘capable’ hands. Or something. “They’re there to socialize. They don’t know a thing about training.”
Oh dear, it seems that I’m talking like an old man, making the past sound better than it probably was.
In any case. YMCA.
The thing about the YMCA in Chinatown is that there is always a special something about that place. You know, the YMCA was supposed to be this driving community force– something to bring people together. When I first joined, do you think I beleived that? Hell no. I thought it was just a bunch of christian minded propaganda.
But really, it turned out to be just what they said it was. It’s a community.
There were, and always will be, the assholes who treat you like dirt– as if they were born with skills and smart talk. But they weren’t. People start off as equals… and largely, as life progresses, most people hover around that average.
But even if you don’t. Say you’re a noob, as I once was. Does being good at something make it alright for the seniors to pick on the juniors?
There were, and always will be, the assholes who treat you like dirt– but they’re not the people that make up the community. They’re the antithesis, the background against which a community is defined.
When I went to the YMCA, I remember going with Vittek a few times a month to play with ‘the night crowd’. To me, these people were unbeleivable. They moved, they hit, they did everything so much better than I did. In actuality, I went to play with the night crowd, but ‘play’ is such a misnomer– I went to get butchered. I lost every game. And no matter who my partner was, no matter how good, I made them lose too.
But there were people at the YMCA who were always nice to me, despite my inadequacies. And these people are still there today. The clothing has changed. The haircuts too. But the attitudes– that welcoming call when they see you, that makes you feel as if you’d only been gone for a day, even though it’s been weeks or months– every time, it makes you feel fresh.
People tell me sometimes that games are delusional. There’s a balance, I agree. But don’t tell me that we shouldn’t obsess over the activities we love. You show me someone who doesn’t play games, and I’ll show you someone who is sad and bored. I’ll show you someone who does play games– and these are the passionate people of the world who inspire and form the communities upon which our humanity depends.