I've taken 10 minutes to get lunch, but I need to get back — back to billing my time in 6-minute increments. I'm walking faster than the city throng, avoiding collisions with the slow-walkers, scarfing a nori roll and trying not to spill soy sauce on my TM Lewin shirt.
There is a JB HiFi a block from my office. Going past it, I nearly collide with Brett, another lawyer and my office next-door neighbour, exiting the store. He is clutching a JB bag, whose bulges denote a more voluminous purchase than a mere CD or DVD. Brett falls in alongside, transferring the bag into the hand furthest from me, holding it slightly behind him.
"Mr Carver," I intone with a nod. Then I point to the bag and smirk. "New batteries?"
"No, it's ..." he hesitates, then holds the bag so I can see inside. "A headset and controller."
I take a peek. "PlayStation. Sounds like fun."
"Yeah, there's this game, SOCOM, where you lead a squad of soldiers and you give them commands with the headset. It's pretty cool. Um, my nephew likes it, anyway."
"So there is a use for our dictation skills outside the office."
"Heh, something like that. I don't play it much, actually, just when my nephew comes round."
I don't mention to Brett that after working with him for nearly 3 years, this is the first I've heard of his nephew, or that I have a PlayStation too and I've been playing GTA: Vice City every night for the past 2 weeks.
The 7 of us are marching down the street, talking animatedly.
I've finished the first week of my new career, trading in the always-on jacket and tie of corporate for the offline-server, open collar of public service. A few of my new workmates have decided to take me to the pub as an unofficial welcome. The original group of 4 has expanded since 5pm, joined by a spouse, then a girlfriend, then a boyfriend. The plus-ones clutch their partners and eye us in the bemused way that relatively sober people do.
We're heading to my apartment. It's a 10-minute walk from the bar. We need to regroup, get food and move on to the next phase of this impromptu bonding session before momentum dissipates and everyone comes to their senses.
Karaoke is mentioned, as it often is around people of a certain inebriation level. Indecisive patter follows about where to go and whether to book.
I mention that I've got karaoke at home: this thing called SingStar, and we could try it while we wait for pizza. The convenience of my argument seems to carry the day.
When we get to the apartment, everyone else is busy fussing with drinks, pizza menus and the bathroom while I start up the PS3 and cringe, controller in hand, while the system updates. No one seems to pay attention to the TV until the SingStar splash screen. I produce two microphones.
Mikail breaks the ice with "Gold" by Spandau Ballet, and with that, we are off to the races. Mikail's starting choice prompts some equally cheesy '80s and disco selections, and thankfully my song list is robust enough to cater to all without downloading anything. In order to keep participation levels high, I introduce dueling mode, so that 2 people can sing at once. No one asks specifically about the PS3, however I pick up some comments that the dueling mode and pitch detector are an improvement on "regular karaoke".
During the evening, I notice Alison perusing my games shelf. For the first time since buying the PS3, I am grateful that the shelf is quite empty. She picks up Heavenly Sword, studies the back cover briefly, then looks around and puts it back.
After a few hours of food, song, drinks and laughs, one couple makes to leave, prompting the exodus of the rest. There are hugs and smiles all round in the doorway.
I am actually excited on my ride in to work. There's so much to catch up on with my workmates. I lent Alison some games a few weeks ago, and she texted me last night that she'd finished one. The smart money is on Mini Ninjas, but I'm hoping it was Assassin's Creed or, better yet, Arkham Asylum.
At lunchtime, Mikail asks me to come to JB HiFi with him. He's got money to burn and wants me to advise on a good value console. Ultimately I counsel him to hold off until the new ones come out at the end of the year. As we wander the gaming aisles, we pass a pair of besuited corporates browsing the new releases. I think of Brett, which triggers a ping of shame for not keeping in touch since I changed jobs. I wonder if he comes to this section of JB anymore.
After lunch, I check in with Tarquin, see how his XCOM: Enemy Within campaign is going. He's been giving his squaddies gene mods, whereas I've run with a MEC-based team. I want to see if he's reached the whale mission yet. We say what a shame it is that he's on PC and me console, else we could face off in multiplayer.
I'm sure I've got some work to do as well. Better not talk to anyone about their Civ 5 campaigns, then.
On a whim, possibly induced by some daytime GWJ forum-lurking and reading about frustrating games, I've dusted off the only Souls game I have, Demon's Souls, and submitted myself for some punishment.
I muddle through the Shrine of Storms. Each time I die, I go to another level and farm an easier demon to regain my body. About the third time I do this, before I return to the Shrine, a message appears onscreen: "BrettyC_74 has invaded your game".
After panicking for a split second, I wipe the sweat off my palms, find a spot at the foot of a wide staircase, and wait with my crescent falchion and shield. Soon enough, a heavily-armoured, red-tinged male warrior rounds a corner in the distance, his huge pikestaff bobbing as he runs around in manic circles in the way that only human players or truly bad AI do. From the middle distance he starts walking cautiously, purposefully, in my direction. When he gets within spitting distance, he bows. I can't remember how to gesture and am too tense anyway. I am watching his pikestaff, which has twice the reach of my falchion.
After a bit of circling around each other, with me blocking a few staff thrusts, I bank on my mobility, roll in, swipe him a few times and roll out again. This hurts him, but he gets a thrust in as I stand up. With one blow I lose a third of my health.
I realise my character looks like a warrior with this armour, crescent falchion and shield, and in warrior terms I am outmatched. Luckily, all this falchion and shield business is my alt gear. I pull a swifty: somersaulting backwards to make some distance, swapping my falchion for my catalyst mid-tumble. Then I lock on and spam my fire spray spell, burning him when he blocks and rolling away whenever he decides to charge through my fire to get within poking distance. My stamina reserves are high enough to keep kiting him until I singe away all his health.
Although the room is empty, I raise both my hands to the ceiling and cheer. The controller tumbles to the floor, firing off another spell. Anxious to save my progress, I return to the Nexus and quit, ending my session on a high note even though I'd made no further progress in the game. I feel like I've kicked the winning goal in an indoor soccer final. I go to the fridge and pour a victory wine.
Only halfway through my glass of wine, when my heart rate returns to normal, does the name of my invader come back to me.
The next day, for the first time in years, I send Brett an email. We arrange to have lunch in a few days. At lunch, we talk about games the whole time.