Creative Nonfiction

BUTTON MASHING to the voice on the other line

24 May 2016

I went to a house party the other night. It was full of young professionals wearing red lipstick and suit jackets. There was white-collar punch and tapas. Nice heels. Aftershave. A girl I fancied in primary school told me she was working in investment banking. When she asked me what I was up to all I could think about was how my own suit still had cat piss all over it. About how I spent the last three days in my apartment killing ants with lemon, vinegar and chalk. My brother was there too. Telling people how to eat raw pasta in the shower. Telling them that when a dog humps your leg it’s actually an attempt at evolution.

No one was listening.

We were the token lefties. There to reassure everyone else that their lives made sense. It was awkward. I kept high-fiving people and positioning myself in front of the fire barrel all wrong. I remember rubbing my sore eyes and cursing myself for not staying home to play Dark Souls.

You see, gaming was always my social mediator.

All those cords, buttons and whirring machines alleviated any kind of social anxiety. Me and whoever was next to me were building an experience to which small talk was irrelevant. We were dealing with the real shit. Like how to stop Trevelyan in Goldeneye. Or how to defeat Ganon in the Pyramid of Power.

Gaming was divorced from any socio-economic hierarchies. It was a meritocracy. If you rocked up with a Mewtwo, no one cared what you wore, how you did your hair, or if your dad stunk like booze. I used to sit there mute at social events owning my opponents at everything. Tekken. Mario Party. Street Fighter. Even obscure stuff like Matt Hoffman’s Bro BMX.  

But now the game has changed. Now we’ve all been sucked into a digital space where some disembodied voice is telling you they want to sleep with your mother.

I’m in a state of permanent and confused anxiety. I’ve got my headset on croaking demands to prepubescent boys. I’m telling them to push the checkpoint. To play the fucking objective. But no one listens. They’re all laughing.

I turn on the Wii U to find someone to play with but it’s disconcerting. Little Mii characters are streaming across the screen like ants along my kitchen sink. They sound like high heels hitting slate floor. I can see my character walking across this giant white space looking for reassurance but no one approaches him. Maybe this is some video game purgatory necessary before reaching fulfilment. A room of purification.

Or maybe it’s some wretched vision of Hell.

A projection of gaming’s future; thousands of dead-eyed characters all bumping into each other and smiling but never actually forming sentences.  

A few years ago my friend got dumped for someone his girlfriend had met on Minecraft. She was getting drunk every night with him and roaming those great plains. They shared their resources. Built a home together. Defended it together. She would wake up hung-over but happy, scanning the horizon with her new pixelated, broad-shouldered companion. She moved to England to marry him. They had a child. But then the real dusk set. Who was this guy? Was he the same man that guided her through those caverns that night? The one who stayed up all night protecting her from the zombies?

Who was this guy doing beer bongs and sitting around in tracksuit pants all day?

I remember sitting by the public pool with Game Boy link cables, sitting close together so the cable wouldn’t fall out. I remember watching the beads of sweat on my opponent’s forehead when I picked up the hammer in Super Smash Bros. I remember being able to lean over and hit the guy that chose to play as Oddjob in Goldeneye.

And now a friend of mine is linking me an article about virtual reality and the Oculus Rift – about how we’re all going to be buying them in October – and all I can think about is me sitting there with my pants around my ankles nervously trying to seduce a woman with someone else’s penis.

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