This is a true story, not that it matters. The title is from a Foxtrot cartoon which shows Jason and a friend shielding their heads from a barrage of balls, while Jason says "Dodgeball, Schmodgeball. Just give me five seconds of Quake with these kids." I have this one, modified to reflect me, on my wall at work.
Age creeps up in funny ways, I'm learning. I'm still young by all standards that don't take into account my life. From many perspectives, I'm ancient - and defensive of my immaturity.
In an arcade on a pier projecting into the Pacific Ocean, I was confronted. At the time, I was playing Virtual On, a two-player robot combat game by Sega. I was alone. Actually, truth be told, I was taking a hooky lunch break from work, where I spent my time thinking about things that were roughly equivalent. The interruption was unexpected and jarring.
"Hey, Dad. We need the machine."
Look down and to the right. Four kids. Two Hispanic, one Black, one Caucasian; all decked out in street colors. Maybe fourteen at the outside. Thinking back to the days of the first vids, and the elaborate etiquette worked out, the rituals of interaction designed to allow erstwhile teenage opponents into the same crowded space to play the same machines.
"Yo, old guy. Are you listening or what? We wanna play two-player."
The smile that creeps somewhat evilly onto my face is a familiar yet rusty thing, dragged out of the years past when challenges were issued across particleboard cabinets with deadly serious intent despite the game at the heart of it.
"Oh, no, you little punk. Don't you know the rules? First you beat me. Then you get the machine."
The commentary from the back is instantaneous. "Oh, shit, man, he be gettin' up in yo' face, homes."
"Yeah, don't take that shit, man."
The leader sizes me up, visibly. He comes to the correct conclusion; I'm old, but I'm still bigger than all four of 'em, and could probably kick all their asses before they realized I was serious. God, what happened to the etiquette of the challenge? I can see the little shit is actually considering it, which probably means he's got some big friends in the area. Of course, then he's going to look like a whiner.
"Okay, pops, you on." Two tokens slam into the machine on his side; my game, which had been progressing in the background, stops.
The game throws up the stable of combatants. I go for a light, fast bot, figuring either the kid'll go for heavy to compensate for the size difference or he'll go mid-range because he doesn't think I'm worth actually taking seriously.
There is the standard 'carrier launch' sequence, then we're both on the confined space of the combat arena. The kid's chosen VR Temjin, a basic rounded-out bot; also, the default choice. I have him. He opens with a power move, eager to get it over fast- but Fei-Yen (in addition to being pink and female, which is why I was fairly sure he wouldn't pick her) is much too fast for that. Dance, dodge, heart laser from a distance and while he's reeling, turbodash in close and out comes the sword for a double attack, right-left. WHAP. He's down.
"Shit, man, finish this asshole."
second round. I stick with Fei-Yen. He goes heavier, betraying his inexperience. VR Dorkas; deadly in close combat against Fei-Yen's sword, well-armored... but slow. The match begins. I dance around at long range, nibbling with lowpower long-range weapons, until he gets frustrated and charges, firing his power weapon as he comes. I dodge it. By the time he gets in close, his weapon charge is still low from the power shot- and the sword takes him down.
"FUCK, homes, what're you waitin' for? I wanna play!"
Leader doesn't answer, just slots two more tokens. I shrug. This time, I go for Raiden as he goes for Fei-Yen, driven to the pink bot by tactics.
There is a moment of mutual dancing around the rim, then he angles to come in close to use the sword, with Fei-Yen's superior speed. Rather than duck behind cover, I wait until he's fairly close; he sees my action and tries to stop, but the TwinLaser takes his head off.
"Shit!" Ahhh, the first sign of frustration. I own this twerp.
Next match. We both go for Belgdor, an unbalanced but weapon-heavy bot; there is a close first match which he wins through nowt more than the order of the draw. Third match: Same bot choice. This time, I play it out. Homing missiles to harrass him, and grenades to knock him over as he comes in, then napalm on his head. Pow.
His cohorts are getting frustrated, too; after a brief angry consult, one of them takes over the left seat from Leader and slots his tokens, promising dire consequences.
Two up, two down. He gets one hit in in both matches. Slinking away, his friends jeer him.
And so it goes. On game fourteen, I barely bring it home, but manage. There is a silence. I turn to them, grin. "Next, son?"
"Shit, man, we're outta tokens. Why'd you blow it on this fool?"
"Shut up, man."
Each looks at me, once, before they slink away. Still on the same two tokens as I was when they showed up, I turn back to the game.
The Rolling Stones, in the background chaos of the arcade, sing about what a drag it is getting old. I grin fiercely, and take the arm off a computer bot before abandoning the game so as to make it back to work only moderately late.