"438," said the young man.
Phillip's eyes snapped open. He sucked in a short, sharp breath and shook his head with a quick jerk. He looked up from his notepad to the young man and said, "I'm sorry what?"
"438," the young man, Jim, repeated. Phillip just stared at him blankly. "Hours. That's how many hours I've been playing WoW."
"Right!" Phillip smiled and nodded. "That's right, and you said this has been virtually non-stop since you purchased the game?"
"That's correct," said Jim.
"Describe 'virtually' non-stop for me," Phillip said. He looked down at his notepad and read his notes: Jim Stanfield, 26, unemployed, Mother's house, World of Warcraft, hours? The list continued with a few renderings of cubes and swirls. There was the beginning of a sketch of the new receptionist at the office. He'd finish that later.
"Well," Jim started, puffing his chest up, "by virtually non-stop I mean I play as often as I can and still live. I take 4 hours a night for sleep and 1 hour a day, combined, for meals and a few minutes in change for the bathroom, depending."
Phillip stopped jotting down the figures and looked up, "Depending? Depending on what?"
"Depending on if my wireless keyboard is charged and what, exactly, I'm going in there for. If it's a big one I take the keyboard into the bathroom with me." Jim motioned to the open door in his room. It had a direct line of site to the computer screen. "If it's just a little bit I use the bucket." Jim motioned to the bucket next to Phillip's feet.
Phillip followed Jim's finger down to the covered bucket and jumped back nearly knocking it over. A wet sloshing noise came from inside. Phillip closed his notebook.
"Hey, there Phil, how did that WoW guy do?" Phillip's editor, Carl, said into his Bluetooth headpiece.
Phillip held up his notebook in front of him with his cell phone pressed against his ear. "He's almost 30, has no job, no girl, pees in a bucket, and since his bed looks like an old glazed donut I'm not even sure that this hourly break down of his nights is completely accurate."
Carl whistled with a smile. "Damn," he said, "a bucket huh? Did you get a picture of that?"
"Look Carl," Phillip huffed, "this is not what I signed up for. Interviewing troglodytes that crap in portable containers is not my idea of gaming journalism."
"Come on Phillip we've been through this before," sighed Carl.
Phillip looked around Jim's Mom's kitchen and then leaned into the phone. "No, Carl! No! You've been through this! I never get to finish. Why can't I go interview that guy in Washington? You know the guy that pumps gas that helped make that game we play in the office? I'm sure I could get more than a thousand words out of him."
"And who the hell is going to read your thousand words Phillip?" Carl barked. "Gamers? You think they are going to take 5 minutes out of their busy schedule of WoW and Battlefield 2142 and Texas Hold'em to sit down and actually read your little expose?"
Phillip ducked outside as Jim stomped down the stairs. "Come on," he said. "You aren't giving these people enough credit. Not everyone is like Jim."
Carl chuckled as he said, "you mean they haven't quite reached that point yet?"
"I mean they aren't goddamned mutants!" Phillip shouted. "Regular people, Carl, they are regular people. Blue collar and white collar, middle class men and women. That's who we should be writing for. We need to get off this shock value crap and get back to reporting."
Now it was Carl shouting, "No, you need to get back to reporting! What the hell are you doing talking to me on the clock anyway? We can talk about this when you get back. Now go back in there and finish up your interview. I need this slob's pathetic life story on my desktop by Friday."
Phillip gave out a defeated sigh. "Sure thing, Boss, while I'm at it I could interview the Mom. Maybe get a nice little piece on a mother's opinion of supporting a deadbeat gamer."
"Don't tempt me, Phil. Just get your story and get out of there. I need you in Vermont tomorrow. Kid died yesterday when he and his friend were playing Mortal Kombat in the back yard." There was a pause before Carl gleefully added, "Fatality!'
"You're disgusting Carl," Phil mumbled.
"What was that? Sorry Phil the phone cut out," Carl said.
"Nothing," Phillip sighed again. "I'll be out there tomorrow."
"Cheer up pal. Hey, after the dead kid why don't you take some time off? You've been working pretty hard and I'm sure a little break will make things clearer for you," Carl said.
"Things are pretty clear right now, I think," Phillip said. "I signed up to write about gaming. Now all I do is fly around and interview these head cases that have no way of telling the difference between fantasy and reality, and when I'm in the office I just write up some wild conjectures about upcoming releases. That is, whenever I can get enough page space after the ads and 'sponsored' reviews have moved in. We don't publish anything to represent the gaming public at large, just the bad and the made up."
"Yeah," Carl growled, "and what are they going to read instead? Huh? What's the alternative for these yahoos? I'll tell you what it is: nothing. We're all they got baby!"
"You think they won't choose nothing over crap? I don't read our site, Carl. I don't think you do either. Not anymore." Phillip said.
"Just do your job, Phillip, and pray that you never run out of head cases. While your at it, pray that you never stop hearing about GTA rampages and dead guys in coffee shops. Pray that Rockstar keeps getting sued and that Jack Thompson keeps running his mouth. Most of all, pray that you are always there, right there in the front, with the exclusive. You might hate what this site is but we report what the people demand. The 'everyman' you keep talking about? Blue collar and white collar alike? They crave this crap, and if we stop reporting the bad and the bizarre then they stop reading, we stop getting sponsorship and we die. Then you might actually have to get a real job. You wanted to be a gaming journalist? You wanted to be in the thick of it and report what is important to these people? Well guess what, sweetheart, you made it. So stop crying about it not being what you thought and get your head on straight. You're idea of what this site should be is a dream, Phillip, it doesn't exist, anywhere."
Phillip was breathing hard; choking back his stomach as he shakily answered his editor. "You're wrong Carl. You're wrong. There is a better way."
"Prove it," Carl shot back.
"I will." With that Phillip closed his phone and tossed it side hand into the open garbage can next to him. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He walked inside and found Jim's mom making cookies. "Mrs. Stanfield? What's the best way into Washington from here?"