Monday, March 3, 2008

Video Games Taught me to Kill: A Narrative (Updated, Revised)

I was eighteen years old when I first played Counter-Strike. Back then, it wasn’t a stand-alone game—it wasn’t even finished yet. I started playing at beta 4.1. And though that might not mean anything to you, let me put it this way: it took the developers four years after that to get to the working version today—1.6. You see, games don’t always start out as games. Sometimes, you need one game in order to play another game. Yeah, I know, I didn’t get it at first, either.

I was over one of my friend’s houses—Shaun was his name. For 1999, he had the best computer possible, so he also had the best games, too. His computer was a constant discussion at the lunch table. The other guys would drool on themselves when Shaun would talk about his machine. And Shaun was so sly about it, too. He’d squeeze a detail into an otherwise plain, common sentence and sit back as the reactions poured over him.

“Yeah, so, last night,” he’d say, “I was fiddling with my resolutions and figured out my monitor can get up to 1280 by 1024.” He’d then shrug and, shaking his head, add, “I didn’t ever try that high before.” Then he’d chuckle.

None of us could even get more than 800 by 600.

Anyway, while the rest of us were trudging through the Starcraft campaigns for the third time, he had Counter-Strike. I wasn’t even that good of friends with him, but he asked me over one day to show me. Like I said, he liked to show off. In fact, he’d been going around the lunch table, inviting someone else over every other day—it was just my turn, I guess. As much as I hated endorsing his ego, I wanted to see the game more. Listening to the admiration of the other guys was starting to wear on me.

I had just gotten my first car (a beautiful 1994 Sentra, tan) a few weeks before, so I was able to drive myself to Shaun’s place. And as I pulled up to the curb outside his house, he stood on his front steps, hands at his sides and a big, stupid smile on his face. I tossed the directions I had jotted down in the passenger seat and climbed out, putting my own smile on.

“Why hello,” I said.

“You ready?” Shaun asked, getting right to the point.

“You betcha,” I said, meeting him on the steps. I was such a dork.

He opened his front door and led the way inside. “No one’s home,” he said over his shoulder. “Mom works till seven and Dad’s out of town on business.”

“Cool,” I said. His house was ordinary—stairs leading up as soon as you walked in, living room on the left with a grey couch and a normal-sized TV, slight smell of some kind of pet in the air (I correctly guessed a cat). The carpet was blindingly, almost neon-white. And not a stain on it anywhere. It looked like it had been bleached just before I got there.

We made our way up the stairs and down the hall to his room—the only room with an open door. I could hear the hum of his computer half way there, and it had sounded very powerful.

And powerful it was—it certainly put my machine to shame. He offered the same weak explanation on how he afforded it—something about saved birthday money. I think the whole thing was rehearsed. Anyway, I wasn’t there to talk or stare at his computer.

He started the game up. Then everything was a blur. He showed me a quick run-around of one of the maps. Then another, and another, and another. The graphics were the most realistic I’d ever seen. The animations were as sharp and smooth as tinted glass. The guns sounded like real guns. My mouth must have been open the entire time, because by the time I left my throat was so dry it hurt.

After that, I knew I had to have that game. I needed it. The other guys would talk about it at the lunch table, but I wouldn’t bother. I kept all of my thoughts to myself. See, Counter-Strike was unlike any game that had been crafted before it. It was a shooter, sure, but it required actual skill. The guns wouldn’t always hit the spot where you pointed them, like in all the other games—bullets weren’t perfect. It was incredible. And it wasn’t bogged down by some over-reaching story. This game was all online multiplayer—all you did was kill other players. That meant it was constantly satisfying.

Now, remember how I said it wasn’t a real game yet? Well, that’s being technical. In order to play CS, you needed to have a game called Half-Life, which CS is a modification of. This basically meant that I had two major concerns at that time in my life—getting a half-decent computer and getting Half-Life. CS would naturally follow suit…it was a free download. Free. I couldn’t believe that.

So I worked my ass off all fall raking leaves. I went to every old person in my neighborhood and raked their yards—front and back. In two months I had over 250 bucks. The other guys had moved onto newer game announcements and other “latest and greatest” tech stuff, but I was only concerned with CS.

Once I had my upgraded machine, I knew there was one last thing I had to do before the end of highschool—kill Shaun in the game. So I hunted for him every day. I knew his gaming handle—“FatalDeath”—and the kinds of servers he played in. And one day, I found him. He was leading his team with the highest score in the server, and bragging about it, too. I ran up to him faster than any other players there, jumped, and swung my knife right across his face. His character doubled backwards with a spill of pixilated blood, defeated. Then, seconds after that, he disconnected. I never saw him online again.

I never told him I was the one that killed him. In fact, after that day he never talked about CS anymore, anyway. Then we all graduated, and as far as I know he hasn’t touched the game since. I, on the other hand, never stopped playing.

While everyone was getting summer jobs, I only played CS. I didn’t even bother with Half-Life. That game was like a coffee table—a simple object that’s only purpose was to hold up other, better things. I got accepted into college, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you the name of the place if I wanted parents took care of everything—the payments, the shuttling, the transfers. I know, I could I not know the name of where I went to college? Well, I never said I graduated.

College was just a different place I spent time playing CS. I could get 100 kills without dying. I could jump and snipe at the same time. My abilities were inhuman. I was virtually unbeatable. Somehow, I had gone through one or two girlfriends while at college. I don’t remember their names, either. I don’t even know how I met them—I’d say through CS, but girls are far beyond a needle in a haystack there.

I worked to make sure my aim was perfect—as perfect as could be. I learned the art of pistol swapping, noting the angles and speeds that my primary weapons disappeared off-screen before my Desert Eagle flipped into action. At first the pump shotgun was particularly puzzling—it seemed to deploy from the crotch of my virtual pants. But I eventually learned where its proper, non-use resting place was—just below my crotch. I began to save up empty toilet paper rolls, taping them together and practicing gun swapping with them on my own time in my dorm room. I became very good at this.

Some people online would join clans—organized teams that would “compete” as if the game were a sport. But you see, the game was more than a sport for me. Joining a clan socialized the point of CS, which was beginning to get clearer and clearer to me—to kill. I mean, why would they have bothered to make the game so realistic in the first place? I would often concentrate solely on killing those that were in clans—those whose names had a bracketed acronym of their clan at the beginning. Those people made me sick. Those socializers.

I only played as a terrorist, of course. The game wasn’t designed to have a side of good, or truth, or salvation. The maps were designed for the enemy—for the terrorist. We had the bombs. We had the hostages. Occasionally, the counter-terrorists would helplessly scramble around like ants, futilely protecting some weakling “VIP” who had no more than a pistol to defend himself. The CTs were consistently pathetic. I was always the victor.

I paid more and more attention to everything about the game. When I reloaded the AUG, I watched how my virtual arm swung down, delivering that final, defiant, almost-sideways slap to the side of the weapon, clicking the first round into the chamber. I watched how the knife was held, both before and after version 1.3, and often became lost in the swiping, its lulling shink-shink entrancing me. Begging for replication.

When I wasn’t playing, I found myself comparing everyone to players in the game. I would go to the store for food, and know that every person I passed was a novice. I could easily rip them all to shreds, bullets flying through their lifeless bodies as I loomed over them, jumping and crouching at the same time.

I saved my money until my bank account read a clean $16,000—I’d have made more, but that’s the limit in CS. Don’t ask me what I did, I don’t remember. I don’t think I raked any leaves, though. I know I got fired a lot. Trust me, it took years to get that money. I knew that I had enough for anything at that point. So, I read about the laws. And then, I got a gun permit. Yes, it was that simple. After all, I was above any kind of social life and had no criminal history.

I went to my local gun store, as we all have, because I knew I needed to start with a pistol, armor, and maybe a grenade. Later, I hoped to get a P90. Or a scout, perhaps. Anyway, I knew exactly what I had to ask for.

The store was small, cramped, but fully stocked. The walls were covered with various firearms, and some larger weapons were suspended from the ceiling. A built, stocky man stood behind the glass-case/counter, cleaning the barrel of something very large. I casually walked up and stared at him until he noticed me.

"B-eight-two", I said to the store owner.
"’Scuse me?" he asked. He stood up and crossed his arms.
"B-eight-two," I repeated, then, "B-eight-four."
"The hell are you saying, boy?" he asked me.
"B-eight-two," I said, slowly.
The owner kept his arms crossed and remained silent.
I gave a frustrated sigh. "Alright," I said. "Alright, how about B-three-one. Have any of those?"
He looked at me with an irritated, blank glare.
I hadn't used a graphic buying interface for at least five years, and I knew it'd be tough to properly recall the weapon names. But I tried anyway.
"USP…45?" I asked. I scanned the wall of weapons that hung behind the counter. Nothing looked familiar.
"I don't know what that is," he said. "But unless you're gonna start making some kinda sense soon, I'm gonna have to ask you to leave."
I suddenly remembered something simple and asked, "How about a Glock?"

He stared at me for another beat, then dropped his eyes below the counter and reached down. A few seconds later and I was staring at the terrorist spawning weapon—the Glock 9mm. It was beautiful. So I filled out the paperwork then and there, and after the “allotted waiting period,” had my own spawn weapon, though it had cost considerably more than the normal $200 in-game price mark.

That college I went to, whatever it was, eventually forgot I was there. At least that’s how it felt. I never went to any classes—I don’t even remember enrolling—and no one ever asked me to leave. My parents thought I was just “taking my time,” so they kept paying the bills. After staying there well over six years, I guess I just blended in with the walls. Students came and went, no one paying any attention to me, which was fine—I needed the privacy to practice my out-of-game skills.

The first time I held the gun—really grasped it in my hands—was beyond exhilarating. I knew exactly how to hold it. CS had taught me everything. So, I took the gun, and held it at the absolute bottom-right of my vision, with only the very front of my arms visible. It felt a little awkward at first, but I knew I could get used to it. Sure, my hands were bent at wrong angles, but that was only noticeable outside of my point of view. And my point of view was where all the action and skill came from.

I couldn’t practice shooting it, though. That would have been too loud. I mean, if I was going to fire it, I’d want to shoot an enemy, anyway. I couldn’t be wasting my ammo on nothing—that’s what new players did. You had to play every game as if there was no respawning. So after I practiced my pistol swapping and my gun positions, I knew I needed to get more guns.

Here’s the problem, though: You can’t buy any more guns until after the first round. That’s how CS works. You start with the spawn weapon—the pistol—and then go from there. Sure, I had the money, but I couldn’t break the rules. That’d be like cheating. And I’d be damned if I was going to start cheating. Players got banned for cheating. So I had to start the first round. Thankfully, I was surrounded other players, and because they were all novices, the first round would be over in no time.

I suited up in the best character attire—pale greenish-tan cargo pants, a tan long-sleeved shirt, and reflective sunglasses. Just like CS. I drove to a nearby office complex—the place was exactly like one of my favorite CS maps. My Glock was loaded, I had two extra clips, and my sunglasses reflected the world around me. I was in the zone. I moved my gun up to its perfect viewable position, and the round started.

“Novice” didn’t remotely describe these players. No one had so much as their knife on them, and they didn't even know how to attack. But as soon as I tried to fire, my gun locked up. Nothing happened. Like I said, I didn't think I needed to practice anything like shooting the gun. My mouse clicks were always spot on, after all. In CS the gun just always...did what it was supposed to do. But this gun didn't do anything. Most of the people just stared at me, confused. Finally, I shook the gun enough that I was able to squeeze a round off.

The bullet zinged into the ceiling, sending flecks of plaster realistically floating to the ground. No one was staring anymore. I guess they figured out the gun was real. But when I fired again, my wrists snapped back at an angle I didn't think possible, and pain shot through my arm. No matter, I thought, this is how it was supposed to be held. But every time I fired, the same pain would return.

Workers were screaming and running through the maze of cubicles, supervisors harboring secretaries into meeting rooms and locking the doors. Someone set off the fire alarm. None of my shots were registering.

"Bullshit!" I yelled. I had fired half the clip and not so much as a single bullet had even grazed anyone. I screamed, "R!! Reload!! R!!" shaking the gun in my hands demanding it to reload, but nothing happened. I finally ran out of ammo. I shook the gun until I thought it would fall apart, but no empty clip fell from the damn thing. When I looked up, the place was empty. Everyone had run away. I could hear more counter-terrorists coming.

I eventually shook the Glock enough to get the exhausted clip out, and I jumped when it clanked to the floor—such a thing had never happened in CS. I fumbled for another clip, and slammed it into place, but when the chamber clicked shut, the tip of my finger got caught in it.

“Shit!” I yelled, dropping the gun. I pulled my finger to my mouth, shaking my head and looking down at the gun. After a few seconds I picked it up and re-asserted my gun-holding position. When I looked around again, I saw the first CT. He looked exactly like the ones in CS, right down to his pistol. I could not have been more prepared. I turned and fired, but again, my shot went clear into the ceiling. Then he shot back.

I guess I was hit. I don’t really remember being hit. All I know is that I was outnumbered at the end. The teams were so unfair. I hate servers like that—with no administrator. Things get so out of whack when there’s no admin. Anyway, I’m still waiting to respawn. I guess there were more people on my team when I died. See, you can’t respawn until everyone on a team is killed. I wish I knew who my teammates were—I could have used the backup. But at least when I get back in there, I’ll know where the CTs will come from. And hopefully I can get a better gun. After all that practice, you’d think I’d be better at this game.

I hope you all enjoyed that. Satires are fun.

I certainly hope you enjoyed it more than I enjoyed this, anyway. NIU was/is a tragedy, and should never be belittled and demoralized by the soulless scum of existence that is Jack Thompson. Even FOX News saw his horseshit (to agree with Kotaku)--something that nearly blew my mind. Holding a mouse and keyboard is not the same thing as holding a gun. Pushing buttons is not the same thing as buying one. Shooting polygonal characters that spray pixelated blood is not the same thing as shooting a person. And if you stop taking medication for a serious mental disorder and shoot up a school, maybe the lack of meds had something to do with it a little more than Counter-Strike Half-Life...some kind of awesome hybrid game I have yet to play. Hopefully it comes out soon.


I just..I'm sorry. I have to post this as well. Via Rock, Paper, Shotgun, a transcribing of Jack Thompson's final sentence in that YouTube clip:

"One of the things personally disturbing for me dist, including the fact that we have a community now of survivors and victims’ families all across the country like at Perduco who go through the trauma of these type events with the families who are, uh, most immediately hit in this way most recently because they themselves have endured these type situations is the, um… err, the… uh, fact that, you’ve got, um, uhhh, uh, I wrote a, I’m sorry I lost my train of thought, because, uh, but, uh, I wrote a book called Out Of Harm’s Way for a Chicago publisher in which, the, the only chapter they deleted was a fictionalised of, of one of these incidents in which I I said that a kid should walk onto a stage in an audatorium and open fire with a shotgun and they dist they deleted it because it was too disturbing.”

... ... .. ....::explodes::

No comments: