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
Wednesday, August 27, 2003  
Lately I've been getting my lunches at the Subway sandwich shop up the block. I'm not entirely sure why. The sandwiches are fucking awful. The bread is always borderline stale, and the "sandwich artists" are really fucking stingy with the cold cuts. (Put some fucking meat on there, son!) What I end up getting for $5.99 is basically a lot bread and lettuce.

The goddamn thing tastes like a big hunk of styrofoam that's been dipped in salad dressing. Yet I go back each day for some unknown reason.

One quick videogame recommendation: If you have any interest, any interest at all, in fighting games, by all means go directly to your local Electronics Boutique (my store of choice) and pick up a copy of Virtua Fighter 4: Evolution. Be sure to get "Evolution" and not the original Virtua Fighter 4. It retails for under $20. Trust me--you'll be glad you did.

5:13 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2003  
So next month ESPN is launching a two hour morning show called, of all things, "Cold Pizza." (Let's hope that's a working title.) The program is aimed at the 17-to-34 year old demographic, and covers sports, entertainment and--drumroll--videogames. They contacted my friend Chi at and asked if anyone from the website might be interested in being an on-air contributor for the games segments.

A number of the other writers for the site responded, but since I'm one of the few who actually lives in NYC (see? there are advantages, blackouts and all) I immediately had a leg up on the others.

I phoned the producer. She sounded like a nice enough woman. "Do you have a demo tape?" she asked. "Perhaps a headshot?" I have neither and told her so, but was quick to follow up my admission with, "Look, everything you want to know you can learn from a five-minute meeting with me."

And I got my meeting. With ESPN. On Friday.


For once, I don't feel like I'm at the mercy of every goddamned thing. And that little bit of light shining in the distance? Certainly looks like hope from here....

I know all this will probably go to hell, but the larger, more important point is, I tried. I tried to make something happen today. And I feel damn good about that.

5:14 PM

Friday, August 22, 2003  
Was poking around on a few message boards yesterday when I came across a post from a gamer who was chastising himself for buying a game that he instinctively knew was lousy. "You get desperate sometimes," he wrote, "and sometimes the anticipation of buying the game box and loading it up for the first time offers more enjoyment than the actual game."

I can absolutely relate to this guy's unique brand of "desperation." Can't tell you how many times I've cancelled appointments, rearranged my schedule, and frantically called the local Electronics Boutique to see if "Newest Game 2003" has arrived yet. (I actually have the phone numbers to several area EBs on a post-it note on my desk, and have on more than one occasion--this is so embarrassing--actually asked them to "hold" a game for me, telling them "I'm on my way over now".) I have to have it, not tomorrow--today. And I do feel like a lucky fucker when I manage to get the last copy in the store of Newest Game 2003 (retail $49.99). Then I ride the subway home, crack the box out of the shrink wrap (is there no sweeter moment than removing the shrink wrap? it's all anticipation, all promise, like the beginning of a budding, new relationship with a girl). Then I warm up the PS2, load up the game, only to discover that it's...just okay.

Inevitably, I have a moment when I think, Why the fuck was I in such a hurry to get this again?

There's this craving--it's actually a physical sensation, something I feel in the pit of my stomach. It's this sense that the next game, the next piece of software, will be the game that I've spent my entire life waiting for, dreaming about. It will be the answer to some abstract question that I don't even know how to ask. If I can just get that game, in some vague way, I feel like all my problems will be solved. All of them.

It never happens that way, of course. And my heart is broken over and over. And I keep blindly rushing out to the game store....

There are games that make it all worth while, games that don't exactly solve all my problems or answer any questions, but do give me many hours of enjoyment. Vice City was one. The latest Zelda was another. Midnight Club 2, Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner, Devil May Cry, Advance Wars--there are indeed great games out there. Which is why I keep showing up breathless and sweaty at my local EB on release days, hoping, praying for another winner.

11:26 AM

Been spending these warm mid-August evenings with Soul Calibur 2 (Xbox), and I'm enjoying it well enough, but I have a feeling that its day in the sun will likely be short-lived. Why? I've never been a big fan of fighting games to begin with, namely because the genre generally doesn't offer much in the way of a single-player experience (I'm a recluse, remember, so I don't game well with others). There's only so many times I can run through the Arcade mode before things start getting tedious.

That said, SC2 is big, bright, flashy, with almost non-existant load times. It's certainly faster, more intuitive, and more forgiving than Virtua Fighter 4 (SC2's closest competition). Yet there's a kind of dull, deja vu quality to SC2. No matter how much the game is hyped, it's still pretty much the same Soul Calibur we were all playing on the Dreamcast three years ago. And it's still just a fighting game--no matter what those TV commercials are telling you.

My copy of F-Zero just arrived, fresh off the FedEx truck, so I'm planning to give that a run-through over the weekend. (I'm slated to review it for gamecritics next week.)

Picked up a copy of Wipeout Fusion (PS2) at the Electronics Boutique a couple weeks back. It's easily one of the most underrated games of last year. I can't recommend it enough. A first-rate racing game all around.

Tried getting into Silent Hill 3 on two separate occasions...and failed both times. Well, I didn't fail; the software failed me. Sure, it's eerie, the art direction is unrivaled, blah, blah, blah. But after working all day long, the last thing I want to do is enter a world where I'm using a rusty butterknife to defend myself from a swarm of 8-foot-tall monsters that look like bloody pillows.

No. Fun. At. All.

11:00 AM

Wednesday, August 20, 2003  
The office keeps strict bankers hours--in by nine, out by five, no exceptions. Believe it or not, we're actually required to sign-in and sign-out, marking down our arrival and departure times on the office sign-in sheet, right down to the minute. Seems unnecessarily draconian if you ask me.

On occasion I'll do something I call a "jailbreak." Around four or four-thirty, I'll shut down my computer, grab my shoulder bag, and just walk straight out the front door.

Monday, I realized that I hadn't done a jailbreak in several months, so I decided to do one. The conditions were right for one--one of the two owners of the company was out for the day golfing, the few people who generally police attendance were also out. So, at 4:30 sharp, I grabbed my bag and headed for the elevators.

Waiting for the elevators is the most stressful part. At any second, I expect to be caught, scolded, sent back to my desk. I wasn't, of course.

The key is to look confident, cool, like you have someplace important to get to. The girl at the front desk was in the middle of a heated IM session, so she barely noticed me. As for the sign-in sheet...I wrote down something illegible--could be a four or a five. That way, my ass was covered, just in case.

Being down on Park Avenue, heading for subway, knowing that my co-workers (suckers!) were still sitting at their desks was even more exhilarating than I'd remembered it being. Monday night I actually got home before anyone had even left the office. This tickled me to no end.

I enjoyed my Monday jailbreak so much that I decided to do another one on Tuesday. The conditions were once again ideal. At around 4:30, I checked the hallways, made sure the coast was clear, then headed for the elevators. I've never done a jailbreak two days in a row before, so I was setting a new record here. I thought to myself, This is so goddamn easy. Maybe I'll start doing this every day. Look at all these fools, still sitting here. They're practically dead. They have no balls at all.

Unfortunately, I didn't make a clean getaway this time. The other owner of the company (the one who wasn't golfing) happened to turn the corner near the lobby just as I was about to exit. "Hi Scott," he said in a friendly fashion. Then his eyes noticed my shoulder bag, and his expression changed. He looked at his shoes and continued on down the hall. No, he didn't stop me, but he knew full well what I was doing.

Thought there might be some kind of fallout from it today, but so far no one has mentioned anything.

Looks like I'll have to lay off the jailbreaks for awhile.

4:58 PM

Monday, August 18, 2003  
Funny thing about the blackout is how quickly it already seems to be fading in everyone's review mirror. Here it is, Monday in New York. The lights are working. The phones, computers, trains, air conditioning--all working. After my co-workers and I spent the first hour this morning sharing our stories about how we got home, how long our power was out, how we passed the night, etc. it seemed we were already exchanging the more mundane bits of information, like what food items we had to throw away, etc. I wandered back to my office thinking "Shouldn't I have more to say about this? Shouldn't we all have more to say?", and wondering how such a significant event (the fucking! power! went! out!) was exhausted as a conversation topic so damn quickly. How did this event become such a non-event in the span of a day or two?

Fact is, once the power started flowing again, the crisis seemed to instantly lose its edge, its drama, its currency. It was old news. Power was out yesterday? Who cares? It's on today, and that's all that finally matters.

This is what I remember: the two-plus hour walk home across the Manhattan Bridge (I was among those poor fuckers--"like ants!" everyone says--in the now-ubiquitous photos). I remember the violence with which a cab struck a van on Lexington, shattered glass spraying everywhere. I remember how upsetting it was to see that the traffic lights were out, how I felt like a chicken trying to cross the Avenues, cars bearing down on me at reckless speeds. Thankfully I had good shoes on, my sensible shoes, the Clarks. And I had plenty of bottled water with me. I remember stopping in a bar called O'Conners on Fifth Ave in Brooklyn, knowing that I was close to home. I sat in the dark, drinking the coldest Heineken I've ever had. I remember watching a table of mannish lesbians, by candlelight, tease each other by dripping candlewax on their forearms. I remember how quiet the streets were. How dark Prospect Park was. How the moon, a dull yellow, hung above the black trees. I remember delis lit by flashlights, people carrying candles on the sidewalks. I remember strangers calling "hello" to me in the dark, trying to be friendly, and also trying to see if I was someone they could trust, someone who wouldn't do them any harm.

I remember climbing the six flights of stairs in my building, clinging desperately to the banister, not being able to see where I was putting my feet. I remember trying to find the keyhole in my door with my fingertips, then trying (and failing many times) to get the key into it. I remember my desperate search for matches, I remember lighting candles, I remember showering in the dark. I remember looking out my window and seeing nothing but blackness in the place where I normally see thousands of lights. I ate a cold can of soup, then went to bed.

The next morning I woke up to learn that I was among the lucky third of the city to have power. I fixed coffee. I watched the TV news. I ran the air conditioner. I felt civilized. I washed my eyeglasses with dish detergent (they were practically petrified with dust and sweat). I dealt with a slight hangover from all the Heinekens I'd consumed on an empty stomach, but otherwise there was order again in my world. I had power. My milk was miraculously still good. And the blackout, for me, immediately began to seem like some surreal, alcohol-fueled dream--a bizarre, sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, all around exhausting-as-all-fuck dream. Like all dreams, even the best ones, it's already fading.

4:33 PM

Wednesday, August 13, 2003  
Took the subway down to Tribeca today to meet with Ubi Soft (makers of Splinter Cell). They were hosting a press event at The Sporting Club--upscale sports bar, millions of TVs, etc. Exactly the sort of jackass place I'd normally avoid at all costs. As soon as I arrived, I filled a plate at the buffet, then sat alone at the bar, feeling conspicuous in my aloneness. Everyone seemed to be paired off, chatting merrily. Not me. I sat alone and ate a little too quickly, without chewing, trying my best to look like someone who didn't mind (I prefer it this way!) sitting alone.

Lately I've heard rumors that Stuff--sister magazine of Maxim--is starting a videogame mag here in New York. Would be a coup to write for them, freelance or otherwise, so a few days ago I emailed the two people I know at Maxim, hoping to get the official word on the magazine. I have yet to hear back from them, the damn, dirty bastards.

Just as I'm polishing off my plate of chicken piccatta at the bar, I overhear a conversation a few feet away from me. One woman says to another woman, "So. You're from Stuff Gamer."

And suddenly there she is: a living, breathing contact at Stuff Gamer. I thought, This is what opportunity looks like. Here is the moment that successful, ambitious people recognize as a golden chance. I simply need to walk up to the woman, introduce myself, give her a business card, be a little obnoxious for a moment. That's it.

For some reason, my stomach started going sour on me--either from stress or the lousy buffet food. Probably both. I watched the woman as she toured around the room. She looked bored. She was alone. She wasn't attractive or anything, but she had thick glasses and a cool T-shirt. Now! I thought. Talk to her now! Take a chance for once! Goddammit, do something! I pulled a business card from my shirt pocket....

I won't draw this out any longer than necessary. Long story short, I said nothing to the woman. She left, completely unaware of my existence in the world.

Trouble is, I've got no balls at all. I'm timid as a goddamn church mouse sometimes. Just once I wish I'd open my mouth. Maybe then I'd actually get somewhere in the world, I'd cover some ground instead of being stuck here indefinitely.

Not talking to the woman felt like the equivalent of signing on for/resigning myself to another year of working here. I know that's not the reality of the situation, but that's what it felt like at the time. And that's what it still feels like now, a couple hours later.

One of the games Ubi Soft was showing off today was the flashy, new Prince Of Persia. One of the remarkable aspects of the game is, ironically enough, the ability to rewind time. Get hacked up by some bad guys? Simply rewind and have another go at it.

Hell, even if I could go back, sad truth is I'd probably do the same goddamn thing.

5:08 PM

Monday, August 11, 2003  
There was a shorts-and-sandals guy sitting in front of me on the 12:03 New York-to-Boston train on Friday afternoon. Disheveled, college age, a little thick in the neck and face, premature pot belly. He was merrily placing cell phone calls, this despite the fact that we were sitting in what's known as The Quiet Car, i.e. no cell phones allowed, conversation must be kept to a minimum, etc. (I love the Quiet Car and always make a point of riding in it.) I was tempted to say something to him--I have no qualms policing cell phone jackasses--but the guy was being so discrete, so hushed, I actually didn't mind. He even phoned his mother at one point, and was speaking so quietly to her that I could make out almost nothing of the conversation.

Finally, as we pulled into South Station, I overheard him say into his cell, "The Commissioner has arrived." He said this with a smirk. "I repeat," he said, "the Commissioner. Has. Arrived."

Cab from Galvin's to South Station on Saturday afternoon was, not surprisingly, covered with peeling shamrock decals. The driver: shaved head, overweight, hunched over the duct-taped steering wheel, mirrored sunglasses wrapped around his head. There was idle chatter over the cab's radio between the dispatcher and other cabbies. While waiting at a red light, the driver picked up the the cb microphone, brought it to his mouth, and said, quite clearly, "No balls."

That's it--"No balls"--with just the slightest pause between the two words for dramatic effect.

Why I remember these two moments so vividly isn't one hundred percent clear to me.

5:07 PM

Wednesday, August 06, 2003  
Regarding my co-workers:

Aside from the few people who seem wholly asexual to me (i.e. I cannot imagine them having sex) and one deviant (he frantically IMs with strangers each morning, then vanishes over his lunch hour for what we quietly refer to as "a little afternoon delight"), the office is relatively normal. Most people are married, or else have S.O.'s of one kind or another. Working with pornographic material each day, handling it, frankly doesn't seem to have prohibited us from finding long lasting, meaningful relationships. To put it another way, it doesn't seem to have warped anyone in any noticeable way.

There's a young guy in the office who works down the hall from me. His name is J.R. He handles our various websites. I personally can't stand the guy, and try to avoid him at all costs, not because he's younger or better looking than me (he's clearly both), but because he's obnoxious and stupid and has no social graces whatsoever.

Whenever I pass him in the halls, he says, "Dude!" drawing out the "u" for three or four, sometimes five seconds.

Douche bag.

He's from Florida, which maybe explains a lot.

J.R. has been looking glum lately, and I learned today why: His girlfriend found out that he works in porn and she's giving him hell for it.

My policy with girls is to always tell them up front about the job--no exceptions. One first date in particular comes to mind. Two winters ago I took a girl to Veselka in the East Village. When she asked where I worked, I told her. She immediately gathered her things to leave. I managed to convince her to stay, and we talked more and ended up dating for a few weeks before I had to break it off because I decided she was slightly crazy (she was heavily medicated and at the mercy of "spells" of some kind; and her breath was always bad because she never ate).

Sometimes girls want to ask questions, do some investigating regarding my workplace. I answer as honestly as I can. They want to know if I meet the porn stars, if I spend time with them. I explain that I'm on the lowest end of a very large totem pole (pardon the phallic metaphor), and that the few porn stars I come into contact with haven't expressed even the slightest bit of interest in me.

Another girl wanted to know how I could look at all these "perfect" bodies all day long, then look at hers. I carefully explained to her that the ideal expressed in the magazine (large fake breasts, blonde hair, etc.) wasn't necessarily my ideal. It's true. And I said this to her as earnestly as possible.

Occasionally girlfriends have started campaigns to get me to leave here, to find a job outside the sex industry. One girlfriend in particular really pressured me on this issue. Then, to my shock, this same girl during an intimate moment asked me to bring my porn skills to bear and tell her an exciting, X-rated story. I tried, valiantly I might add, and failed miserably. The hypocrisy of the situation left me feeling bitter, and ultimately led to the Final Act of our relationship (me, leaving her apartment in the middle of the night, all my clothes thrown into a black Hefty bag, trying to hail an uptown cab on Lexington).

I've had women, once they found out what I do, turn their backs on me at parties, refusing to acknowledge my existance any longer. It always hurt me when this happened, and I felt certain that this job was a liability, a handicap. But then I started to think of these situations in a more positive light. I began to see this job as a filter--any girl willing to turn her back on me because of it most certainly wasn't a girl I'd probably want to be spending my time with anyway. We'd inevitably find conflict in other areas, I'm sure.

Joelle, to her credit, never once questioned my job. The few brief conversations we ever had about it (always prompted by me) ended with her saying, "It's a dumb job, just like all the other dumb jobs in the world." Bless her little heart....

A few moments ago I passed J.R. in the hallway. He's looking more wounded today than he did yesterday. "Dude," he said quietly, almost whispering it. I could barely even hear him. Hell, I almost feel bad the guy.

Almost...but not quite.

5:13 PM

Monday, August 04, 2003  
So I'm single. Have been for nearly two weeks now. Joelle and I have decided to end things, though we're still talking on the phone every few days, hoping against hope I guess that we'll figure something out, some way to make it work. So far, no answers. Nothing.

She's asked me to mail her her hairbrush. I'm reluctant to do so. It's all I have left of her at this point.

Two of my plants have recently started to droop and turn brown. I told Joelle about them during one of our phone conversations, and she said, "They probably miss me." She always saw to them whenever she visited, fluffing their leaves, giving them water.

Galvin came down from Boston for the weekend and slept on the pull-out. It was comforting having him to pal around Brooklyn with for a few days--all the hours spent talking, listening to music, playing videogames (namely Need for Speed 2: Hot Pursuit)--but as soon as he walked out the door on Sunday morning, despite my best efforts, the loneliness and self-pity came flooding back in, overwhelming me.

I spent much of the day with my head in my hands.

4:29 PM

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