notes from a man who spends too much time playing video games

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This is where you stick random tidbits of information about yourself.

A Few Points Shy of the High Score
Monday, June 30, 2003  
Off this week. My first vacation in five-plus years. Heading to Maine with Joelle to stay at some $50/night old hotel on the ocean. Going to try to relax, take it easy, though I've never been especially good at such things. I've got my Game Boy squirrelled away in my duffel. You know...just in case.
9:47 AM

Tuesday, June 24, 2003  
I saw an ad in the current issue of Adult Video News for a video titled "Mega-Boob Olympics." I immediately decided it was my new favorite x-rated title (de-throning former champ "Bunghole Harlots"). Then I spotted an ad for a video titled "Boobsville's Hot Chocolate Shop" (a film which apparently features undersized white men being overwhelmed by obese black women). Now I've got a dilemma on my hands. It's "Mega-Boob Olympics" versus "Boobsville's Hot Chocolate Shop."

For the moment, the judges have officially declared it a tie.

I had knee surgery last Friday, but I don't feel much like talking about it, possibly because I've done nothing but talk about my knee for the past four days. Suffice it to say that the experience sucked, but I'm fine. Mostly fine. Now onto more pressing matters....

I've had several meetings in the past week with game companies. They usually come to New York a few times a year, rent out a suite in a swank hotel, then schedule appointments with the New York gaming press. I always make sure to schedule a lunch appointment for myself, that way I get a free sandwich (from the swank kitchen in the swank hotel) out of the deal.

My meeting with Atari...sucked. Really sucked. They showed me the new Unreal Tournament (I even got some quiet time with Cliffy B., the game's very young, very pierced producer), which failed to impress. Big innovation in this year's model: They have vehicles!! My response: Whoopie.

Atari also showed me Mission: Impossible (a blatant plagiarization of Splinter Cell) and the new Terminator game (which didn't look especially good). To make matters worse, I ended up getting bullied into looking at a demo of Magic: The Gathering, which I just could not have cared less about. I smiled, tried my best to be polite (oh, mama taught me well), tried to listen to the PR guy's explanation of the intricacies of the game, but I wanted nothing more than to leave the building as quickly as possible. Finally, I stood up and walked out. Worst of all: there was no bag of "swag." No parting gifts. No free T-shirts (which are usually so gay looking that I end up using them to dust my TV), no free games, no press kit--nothing. I walked back to the office in the rain, empty-handed. No one should ever leave a press meeting empty-handed. Ever. It's really cruel.

Nintendo, however, gave me a big, fat bag of swag--which included a Game Boy Player, a little machine that allows me to play Game Boy games on my TV. Okay, so maybe it doesn't sound like such an exciting gift. But for free? Oh, I'll gladly take it, thank you very much.

The Nintendo meeting was exactly ONE MILLION TIMES more electric than the Atari meeting. They'd wisely brought all of their third-party software with them--including the new Soul Calibur, Viewtiful Joe, the new Prince of Persia, etc. I somehow immediately got bullied (again!) into a four-way session of the new Mario Kart, which I just didn't want to be playing at all. I smiled (like mama taught), and gritted my way through it. "This is a great beer-and-pizza game!" one of the PR guys said.

I felt like saying, "I don't know WHO your friends are, but if I asked my friends to have beer and pizza and play Mario Kart, they'd break my frigging Gamecube over my frigging head."

As I "drove" my "kart" (I'd selected Donkey Kong as my driver), I deduced which button would allow me to use my weapon. My weapon, of course, was a banana peel. I dropped the peel, then sped off. A few minutes later, one of the PR guys said, "WHOEVER LEFT THAT BANANA PEEL FOR ME...THANK YOU FOR THAT. THANK YOU VERY MUCH. OH, I REALLY APPRECIATE IT." Apparently the peel had caused him to go into a horrible spin out. I finished, apathetically, in third place. He finished in fourth.

After Mario Kart, things took a turn for the better. In fact, Nintendo showed me so many promising games, I can hardly remember them all. F-Zero, P.N.O.3, Beyond Good and Evil, the remake of Metal Gear Solid, the aforementioned Soul Calibur--each game looked better than the last. As I rode the elevator down to the street, all starry-eyed from the experience, big bag of swag over my shoulder, I felt confident that yes, there will be great games to play this fall and winter. Possibly many great games. And the depression I'd felt in the wake of my meeting with Atari was whisked away....

One final note: If I see one more person over the age of 21 lugging around the new Harry Potter book, I'm going to fucking lose it. Fer chrissakes, people. I mean, come on.... Let's be reasonable, people.

4:45 PM

Tuesday, June 17, 2003  
Last Friday I was in line at the McDonald's downstairs--I almost always treat myself on Fridays to a McMuffin, a small reward for making it through the week--when I realized that standing two people in front of me was the hooker. She was wearing a white jogging suit, the pants low enough on the hips to reveal a small portion of what looked to be a large, menacing tattoo on her backside. She looked tired, gaunt. Her sparkly purse seemed to have lost some of its sparkle since I last saw her. She ordered a hash brown and large Diet Coke--the hooker special, I guess. Then she stalked out of the restaurant on her high-heeled boots.

I'm reviewing Chessmaster (PS2) this week for the Cyber Gaming Network. I'm really not happy about this. The guy who runs the website ( asked me to do it as a favor, his thinking being that a well-written review of the game will improve the site's relationship with Ubi Soft (the producer). Just what the hell do I get out of it? Answer: A free copy of Chessmaster. But who really wants a copy of Chessmaster--free or otherwise? In the land of videogame journalism, this is truly janitor work.

Truth be told, Chessmaster is a pretty impressive piece of code. The tutorial is surprisingly deep, and there are tons of gameplay modes as well as 800+ classic games. Still, forgive my low-brow tendencies, but I'd much rather be torching mutant soldiers from the comfort of a suit of battle armor (Red Faction 2) than trying to decide where to move my goddamn Bishop.

I'm scheduled to have surgery on my knee this Friday. The MRI results are in, and they're not good. Diagnosis: torn cartilage. I'm sick to death of doctors and hospitals (I've seen far too many in recent years), and despite my promise to myself to avoid them for at least a decade, I have no choice but to go back again.


I'll be laid up over the weekend, and I can return to work on Monday, albeit with a cane. It'll be the Old Man Jones Show all over again, starring Old Man Jones.

4:42 PM

Thursday, June 12, 2003  
My review of Aria of Sorrow is up on Came out all right, I guess. I'm mostly pleased with it. Mostly.

I ended up returning the tobacco-stained N64 to the store Tuesday after work. As soon as the goateed cashier popped opened the box, he immediately wrinkled his nose. "Whew, this is really awful," he said, waving a hand in front of his face. "I'm a pack-a-day smoker and even *I* think this is bad." As I filled out the necessary paperwork for the return, another employee emerged from the stockroom. He was a short guy with tiny glasses.

"Dude, smell this," the goateed cashier said.

"I don't want to smell it," the glasses-wearing guy said as he backed away.

"Come on, just smell it."

"No way, man. Get it away from me."

Suddenly, the goateed cashier began chasing the guy with glasses around the store, waving the pungent N64 at him. "Smell it!" "Don't touch me with that thing!" "Smell it!" "Get the hell away from me!" They were both laughing.

Game store employees tend to be a curious lot.

The office recently shifted to summer hours. Instead of the usual 9 to 5, we're now open from 8:30 to 5:15. Fridays, we close at noon.

I've been getting here fairly early in the morning, usually between 7:45 and 8. This morning, walking from the subway, I spotted a strange woman meandering in front of our building. She had long, shiny black hair. A hard face. Tight, lacey shirt. Ridiculously tiny jeans. And a small, glittering purse. My first thought was: Hooker.

This block--28th Street between Park Ave South and Lexington--is notorious for being one of the busiest blocks in New York for flatbackers. I've seen them before on the nights when I stick around the neighborhood after work to have a beer with some friends. The girls usually only come out after dark.

But here was one in broad daylight, twirling her purse on the end of her fingers, lazily pacing up and down the block.

Then I thought, Just because a woman is dressed provocatively doesn't automatically make her a hooker.

While waiting for the elevator, the woman just happened to be passing right outside the doors of the building, her purse still spinning. The doorman--a bug-eyed Puerto Rican man who doesn't seem to like me for some reason--spotted the woman as she strolled by.

"New hooker in the neighborhood," he said, pointing at the woman.

"Guess so," I said, laughing a little as I got onto the elevator.

It was weird seeing the woman in the daylight like that, surrounded by people hurring to work, juggling coffees and newspapers and shoulder bags. Everyone on the sidewalk was giving her a wide berth, not wanting to get too close to her. I remember once when I was a kid seeing a bat flying around in the daylight. My mother made us all go indoors, because, she said, "It was probably rabid."

10:25 AM

Tuesday, June 10, 2003  
My knee is still troubling me, so yesterday my doctor sent me to have an MRI. The office was on the south side of Union Square, beneath the street. Either the elevator was very slow or else the place was very far underground, because it took me several minutes to reach the office.

The place was expansive and somber; it felt like an underground bunker. There were two other people in the waiting room: a thick-necked construction worker and a strange looking pale girl with straight black hair framing her face. A nurse appeared and ushered the construction worker through a door. I flipped through an issue Vogue, then wondered why the hell I was flipping through Vogue.

A few minutes later, the construction worker reappeared. He looked very upset. The nurse was following him saying, "Sir? Sir?" "They told me this was an OPEN MRI," the man said to the receptionist, rapping his knuckles on the marble counter that separated them. "My doctor called here, and one of you people assured him that this was OPEN." The man paced in angry circles as he waited for the elevator. "Now just what the hell am I supposed to do?" he said.

This made me a little anxious. I'd never had an MRI before, so I really didn't know what to expect. I'd seen those pictures of people lying peacefully inside those lighted tubes. I figured they'd just put my bad leg inside the tube, turn it on for a few seconds, then let me go home.

The nurse appeared and called my name. She asked me if I needed to use the bathroom. "You're going to be in there for about 30 minutes," she said. I assured her that my bladder was nice and empty. She led me to a small dressing room and instructed me to change into a powder-puff blue hospital gown.

I quickly changed, then, wearing only the gown and my black dress socks, padded my way to the MRI room. There it was--this huge piece of machinery with a hole in the middle. Above the hole was the GE logo. Apparently GE makes MRI machines.

The nurse asked me if I had any metal anywhere inside my body. "Not that I know of," I said. "Are you absolutely sure?" she asked. I told her that I was absolutely sure.

I asked her if I should take my glasses off. "If you like," she said, "you can take them off, relax, take a little nap." I folded my glasses and set them on the windowsill. Behind the tinted glass I could see people in lab coats hovering over flashing control panels.

I climbed up onto a table. The nurse secured my knee inside a kind of vise-like rubber cast. She told me that I had to lie perfectly still for thirty minutes. "Perfectly still?" I said. "For thirty minutes," she said.

The nurse gave me some earplugs. "Oh, is it loud?" I asked. "It's loud, all right," she said. I dutifully crammed the plugs into my ears. The nurse offered me a blanket. The room was cold, but I refused. "Okay, just relax," she said.

Then she left the room. My table begin slowly sliding into the hole. Soon, I was in the hole all the way up to my neck. Well, I thought, so much for my "only the knee goes in" theory....

The machine around me made a few loud clicking sounds, like someone tapping a microphone before speaking into it. I thought, This isn't so bad....

Then the grinding started. The machine began humming all around me. This was followed by a few zapping sounds. Then more grinding sounds. Then more zapping. It was like being in the middle of a Star Wars space battle. Thank Christ for those earplugs, because the sounds were truly deafening.

My reaction: I started laughing. I thought, The weirdest fucking shit always happens to me.

The MRI was not pleasant. I did not do any napping. I could tell that the machine was working it's way through a series of two to three minute cycles, and I started counting the cycles, telling myself things like, "Okay, I can survive six more of these, I can get through six more." It was also a challenge to stay perfectly still. I'm sure I involuntarily twitched a few times. It was impossible not to twitch.

Finally, I heard the door open behind me. The nurse was pulling me out of the machine. "That's it?" I asked. "That's it," she said. I asked her if I was in there for the full 30 minutes. "About 25," she said.

As I got to my feet and removed the earplugs, I said, "That was much harder than I thought."

"Some people have a hard time with it," she said. "I've already had three people walk out on me today."

"I'm not surprised," I said.

I got dressed. I took the elevator to the street. There's a GameStop on Broadway between seventh and eighth street. My Nintendo 64 had quit on me over the weekend and I needed a replacement. I figured after surviving the MRI, I deserved a little reward.

They had just one system left. $29.99, and it was still in the box, which excited me. It's extremely rare to find old systems still boxed up like this. The box was yellowed from age (or so I thought), but otherwise in very good shape. It wasn't until I got it home that I realized that it wasn't age but nicotine that had yellowed the box. The box, the system, the controller--the whole thing reeked of cigarette smoke.

Even my fingers, after handling the box and the styrofoam, had yellow on them. The previous owner of the system must have smoked like a fiend. Hell, he was probably dead from all the smoking. No way was I keeping this thing. I couldn't have this here, smelling up my apartment. I put the box back in the bag and dug the receipt out of my wallet. I'm taking it back to the store later today.

10:53 AM

Friday, June 06, 2003  
No update today. (Moments ago finished my review of Aria of Sorrow and...can't...possibly...type...another...word.)
12:31 PM

Wednesday, June 04, 2003  
I haven't been gaming all that much lately, not by my usual marathon standards anyway. Played an hour or two of Jedi Outcast and a bit of Unreal Tournament on Sunday night (first-person shooters come in handy after tense visits from parents). A little Burnout 2 on Monday night (picked up a copy off for cheap) (it's not grabbing me the way Midnight Club 2 did). Tuesday night, I waxed nostalgic and dusted off my PS1 copy of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (which is generally considered to be the best Castlevania). I've been doing this for a couple weeks now, blindly casting around each night for something, anything, that might grab my attention. I load up my PS2/Xbox/G.Cube, open a beer...then, after playing for few minutes, I start getting restless and edgey and I eventually find myself staring blank-eyed at my shelf of half-finished/unplayed games, same way a hungry man stares into his refrigerator but can't find anything suitable to eat.

What does this mean? Means maybe I need a break from gaming. A few days off perhaps.
Hell, maybe I should start reading again, start watching TV, or maybe meet some friends for drinks after work. Things that normal people do.

Or maybe it means I should stop by the Electronics Boutique on the way to the subway and pick up a copy of Ultimate Muscle.

Atari and Nintendo are coming to town next week. I have appointments with both on Thursday at the W Hotel in midtown. Hopefully they'll show me something worth getting excited over.

This week I'm working on my review of Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (my deadline is Friday). I'm reviewing the game for gamecritics. This review, once posted, means that I will have effectively met all of the criteria for the site and will officially be a game critic (sound the trumpets! alert the press! dry clean your slacks!). All the official critics on the site have little photos of themselves, so I guess I'd best start digging around for a picture of my big old head that I can use....

4:32 PM

Monday, June 02, 2003  
My parents were here over the weekend. They brought down a bedroom set for me--dresser, nightstand, bedframe. Classy.

They got here around two Saturday afternoon. Rain started falling as soon as they arrived, and my Dad and I carried the furniture from his van to the service entrance of my building in a driving rain.

We hauled it upstairs, then arranged it in my bedroom. It looks good. My mother wandered through the rooms, changing around my rugs to suit her tastes. "I think this goes in the hallway," she said, "and this goes in the kitchen." She kept singing a song to herself--"You were always on my miiiiind," she sang--which was starting to get on my nerves.

Dad helped me install my air conditioners. Then we ate sandwiches together. I noticed that my mother had brought along this very cheap looking cutting board. It had decorative red flowers on the edges. "I thought this might look good in your kitchen," she said. I felt my jaw clench.

My mother also brought her long-promised knickknacks. Two little glass bluebirds. An old lantern. A suncatcher. She began arranging them around the place as my jaw clenched more and more.

I have this fern in the bedroom, and my mother began lobbying for me to to move it to the living room. I calmly explained to her that the fern would block the windows in the living room, and that I would very much prefer to keep it here.

They insisted on rearranging my bedroom several times and the three of us--my mom, dad, me--picked up the bed and spun it around time and again. In the end, we put it back in the place where I'd had it all along....

I only raised my voice twice. Once when my mother was trying to turn on my stove. She kept turning the knob the wrong way. "The other way, Ma," I said. Still, she kept turning it the wrong way. "THE OTHER WAY," I said. "You were always on my mind," she sang quietly, finally turning the knob the right way.

Rain fell the whole time they were there, which made things feel especially claustrophobic. I kept thinking, This is like a play where this guy's parents visit him, and they have to stay indoors the whole time because it's raining, and in the end someone ends up getting stabbed with something sharp like a pair of scissors.

"You were always on my miiiiiind...."

Joelle arrived and my mother fixed us dinner. After dinner, we decided to go see the movie Bruce Almighty, because I thought my parents would enjoy it, because it seemed kind of wholesome. My father can't take swearing for some reason. He'll say things like, "It was a good movie but there was too much swearing in it." This from a man who's worked construction his whole life.

I had a couple of leftover Xanaxes (a guy at the office gave them to me months ago when I thought I was going to have something painful done to me in a doctor's office) so I discretely took one. What a difference. Worlds and worlds.

As soon as we got downstairs I realized I'd forgotten the umbrella, so I hurried back upstairs to grab it. When I came back down, I found the three of them--Mom, Dad, Joelle--inside their van, trying to stay dry. I paused for a moment, and looked at them, huddled behind the rain-streaked glass. They hadn't noticed me standing there. They were talking together though I couldn't hear what they were saying. It struck me as a strange moment, profound somehow in a way I can't describe.

All I can say is bless Joelle's heart. She was a fucking trooper through it all.

The movie was unfortunately sold out, so we walked back to my building in the rain, all of us soaked to the bone. We dried off--towels all around--then fixed popcorn. Dad had brought his DVD of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is inexplicably his favorite movie of all time (he despises going to the movies, but for some reason saw MBFGW three times in theaters).

One strange moment: As I bent down to put the DVD into the Xbox (which doubles as a DVD player), I could feel my mother, father and Joelle all watching me, waiting. For some reason I grabbed my ass with both hands, looked over my shoulder, and glancing in the direction of my butt, I said, "Okay, put the DVD in here."

I'm not really sure why I did that. Joelle cracked up though. Maybe I needed to blow off some steam. Or maybe it was the Xanax doing the talking.

5:00 PM

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