Pardon our mess. Building for Your Future. Your tax Dollars at – wait, that one doesn't fit. But you get the idea.
Since there have been times over the last half year or so that I have felt decidedly un-comic and/or mischievous (and since I'm sick of hearing Pyro bitch about that lime green Jester) I've decided to rename this space. Welcome to the unveiling. I hope you like it.
Why unveil the new header on a Saturday, you ask? Hey, thanks for asking. For two reasons, actually. First, this story just couldn't wait "˜til Tuesday. (Hush, hush. Keep it down now. I know you're excited, but voices carry.) This tale has been sitting on the computer since Wednesday, and I couldn't let a full week pass by before giving it to you. Yes, that's how much I love you.
Second, as my experience in television has taught me, if you want something to be really successful, you have to premiere it when no one is watching. I'm not sure why that is exactly. If that network was still in existence, I'd pick up the phone and ask someone, but the last I heard was that everyone in charge of that kind of thing had been fired. Still, you have to believe me, it works. I'm sure of it.
"Lose, Loser," he said.
I slumped in my easy chair at that point. Not that I should have taken offence, really.
For one thing, it's not like my gamertag, 4lw4y5_l05in8, has anything to do with the fact that I'm always losing at Halo2. I mean, I am, but still, that's not why I chose it. Besides, it's not like the dolphin-violating solicitor attached to the other end of an Xbox Live headset is going to influence my life or anything "…
But still "… WTF did I do to him?
What to do?
I loaded up my favorite game variant, Hamburger Hill and challenged the bitch to beat me fair and square.
I should explain a bit about Halo 2 Night. Or at least, what used to be called Halo 2 Night. It then switched briefly to Halo Zombie Skate Night, and is now referred to by a name that will probably place us all in the Eternal Hot Place.
There are many, various reasons why a certain, rowdy few of us have gravitated towards a weekly Halo 2 Night, but the main impetus, I think, is that Xbox Live is the best dolphin-humping, multiple-user VOIP chat service in existence. The fact that we can slay each other with abandon, using a variety of user-configurable game options, is nothing compared to the fact that we can hold hour-long, sixteen-deep conversations on anything from the role of old-school gamers in the modern gaming journalism scene to the multiple uses of the index finger in self pleasuring. Far and away above every other online gaming experience I've ever had, Halo 2 Night feels like a gang of friends hanging out and having fun.
Which is why I am so shocked and appalled that I find myself the object of regular ridicule by said "friends."
"OMFG. I got killed by Fletcher!" said a certain gamer, whose name I won't mention (but it starts with a "Lester" and ends with a "King") back in February. He was shocked, to have discovered that it was I who had slain him. I let that slide because at that point, in all honesty, I was more often drunk than sober and getting killed by me was a rare occurrence. Still, it stung. It stung hard.
My first multiplayer, online experience was with the venerable Quake. I was a HUGE Doom 1&2 fan, and had been reading rumors about this mysterious "Quake" project for months on the Internet (via numerous AOL accounts). By the time it arrived on my couch (I lived in an apartment complex managed by a really hot chick named Melody. She saw the package outside my door and let herself in to set it on my sofa. If I hadn't been too much of a geek to realize that she only did so as an excuse to see the inside of my pad, then I might have also been wise enough to realize that she wanted to see the inside of my pad because she was into me. However, since I was that much of a geek, it took me five years to figure all of that out, and the chance to screw the lovely Melody passed me by while I wasn't even looking. Like Pratt, Kansas just west of Wichita on US 54. *Blink* Gone.), I was ready, willing and able to spend every waking, non-working hour attempting to master this brave, new world of multiplayer, online FPS gaming. So I did. Literally. 1996 was The Year of Quake. Since I wasn't screwing Melody I had plenty of free time. When I wasn't trolling AOL Chat, I was fragging. Or trying to. I don't think I ever got to the point with that game where I felt like I knew what the hell I was doing. If I stuck with it for hours on end, I found that, as the elites drifted off to bed, I could p0wn for an hour or two, before other elites logged on, and that was as good as it got. Eventually it became too much of a chore, and I moved on to other hobbies.
Several years later, Quake 3 came out, and it was the sh*t. Born and raised for multiplayer Frag-Fests, it performed as advertised and somehow, despite my aging reflexes and all-consuming job, I kicked ass. With a vengeance. Every frag, every rocket jump and every golden medallion above my head was payback for the humiliation I had suffered at the hands of those who had swung their Quake axes better than I. To be honest, I had the best rig (I used the TSS Ultimate Gaming Machine during off-hours), the fattest pipe (TechTV's T3) and a lot of free time (my fiancÃƒÂ©e thought I worked 16-hour days), but I had my skillz honed, and I was a proud, man-killing machine.
Then a number of things changed (none of which are relevant here), the result of which was that I didn't game online (at all) for a very long time.
Fast-forward to late 2004. Halo 2 has been released. I'm broke and out of town on a job interview, but despite the fact that I have 0 dollars in the bank, I decide that since I'm in tax-free New Hampshire on Halo 2 release day, that I should not question fate and just buy the stupid thing. Damn the zero cash flow! Full charge ahead! Thanks K-Mart!
Not long after that, Halo 2 Night was born. Those first, heady days were something else. We were all discovering the joys of Halo 2 simultaneously. There were ups and downs, but by and large the marvelous Xbox Live front-end and the fluid game play hooked us all. Halo 2 Night became to us what Poker Night must have been to our fathers, who were unfortunate enough to live in the dark ages, hundreds of years ago, before the Internet.
I've missed a few nights in all of that time, but I'm among the top two or three in terms of attendance. Which, you may be thinking, is odd because in all of that time Fletcher1138 does not seem to have improved. If you're thinking this, not only do I hate you, but you're right. I'm not that great. Not as good as I once was at Quake 3, anyway. The reasons are various, I'm sure, but it probably has more to do with the fact that I just don't care. I'm there to have fun, and getting stressed out about making kills just hasn't been fun to me for a while.
"Fletcher sucks at Halo 2," says a certain gamer. I'm tempted to not name his name (you know, out of respect), but screw that. He's thrown down the gauntlet as far as I'm concerned. It's one thing to think it. It's another thing to know it for sure. It's yet another thing to whisper it in dark corridors, but it's an all together separate thing by an order of magnitude to announce it to the assembled crowd at the most highly populated Halo 2 Night since 2004. Respect, therefore, is no longer an issue for me.
It was Thin_J. Or "cabbot" as he calls himself on Live. Or Mr. Absent McNot_there_son, as I've taken to calling him, since I haven't seen him at Halo 2 Night in almost three months.
"Lose, Loser," he says. Laughing.
I may not be the world's best Halo 2 player, but I know my way around the game variants. Mainly thanks to Tak's wonderful creations, but I've made a couple of my own. One of them, Hamburger Hill, I particularly like because it plays a lot like Quake 3. Fast, furious and very, very messy. There's no time to think, not time to reload, it's just a mad rush to the Hill, and everyone you see is a target. If you can stand alone on the hill, you accrue time, but to be alone on the hill, you have to kill everyone else.
The time to win is set to two minutes. There are sixteen or so of us. It takes us almost twenty minutes to get even one player up to thirty seconds, a quarter of the way to winning, and against all odds, despite the jabs, the jeers and the doubts of my fellow gamers, I'm right there at the top. With Coldforged and, yes, Cabbot.
The three of us switch places time and time again, but it's always one or the other of us in the lead. 0:38. 0:42. It goes on and on and on. We accrue seconds at a time, after minutes of slaying. Bodies are piled on top of the hill like carpet fibers. We can no longer think, no longer feel. This must be what it was like to be a British infantryman in Africa ca. 1879. Instead of Martini-Henry's we have shotguns, but the enemy keeps coming and coming and coming.
Finally someone begs to declare a winner at 1:00. There is agreement. We slog on. Then, at 0:58 something strange happens. With victory within my reach, I feel my blood begin to turn. My senses quicken, my fingers meld to my controller. I am, quite literally, in the zone.
Homer calls this the Aristeia or "Shining Day." It is the word he uses when a hero appears unstoppable. It is a combination of rage, skill, and blood lust. After the death of Patroclus, Achilles had his Aristeia. He was described as having a "head of fire" and all whom he met on the field of battle knew that they were about to die.
In those brief seconds, I knew my first ever Halo 2 Aristeia. I clawed my way to the hill, slew two opponents and claimed it. I turned just in time to blast another in the face, and turned again to blast another who sought to challenge me. They had no names. There were merely shapes, enemies, things to be killed. Two more approached, I took one of them down, but not before the second had me in his sights. I fell at last, and as I fell, I looked at the time. My death had not been in vain. I had reached the magic number.
I had won.
There is of course a small chance that, knowing how enraged I had become, my assembled friends decided to "let" me win. Thinking on this possibility does not offend me in any way. If they had done so, it would just reinforce my belief that they truly do love me. Which is nice. However, regardless of how it came about, I'm still the winner -at least this once- and that's good enough for me.
The night went on. There were other games played, other jokes, and other rivalries. After my one, deeply satisfying victory I decided to let go. I opened a bottle of wine and committed myself to having fun. I felt confident that I had proven my point, that I could, if necessary, kick major ass.
Zombie, the perennial favorite, took over the evening, and we all had some very good times slaying each other and feeling the creeping fear that is facing a horde of unstoppable killers while your own numbers dwindle away to nothing. At some point, though, the zombie movie premise to that variant gave way to the ridiculous. The game then became Jehova's Witness, and despite the possibility that we may have insulted some very nice people, we had great fun crafting unique spiritual sayings while attempting to slay each other. God f*cking loves you god dammit! is one of my favorites.
Attendance at Halo 2 Night has waned of late, after the release of a new crop of games, but this night it felt new all over again. I was with my friends, new and old, and we were playing a good game and having fun doing it. Then, in the midst of this great sea of joy, my worst nightmare came true. We had begun a free-for-all variant (I can't recall which), and as the loading screen gave way to the brief moment of blackness, before the rendering of the map, a lone voice cried out into the dark "Don't let Fletcher win!" and laughter followed.
I'm still crafting my response to that one "…