Game on!

There was chaos at the small flat just off the corner of Brighton Road and Lansdowne Road in Surrey the other night, and the people causing the ruckus were lucky nobody called the police.

If you stood outside the door, or in the hall of the floor below, or even out on the street, you could hear them. At first it seemed like they were laughing and having fun, talking shit to each other, being jestingly competitive. But then it escalated. The couple’s voices started rising. Then they were screaming. You heard stuff being thrown across the room. You heard the dog howling for quiet. The floor shook as they jumped up and down.

It all ended with a loud, violent “MotherFUCKER!” and a piercing wail of “You know what? Fuck this stupid game! I’m sick of it!” Then another loud bang. There was no weeping, not yet anyway, but the pain was evident. This couple was ruthless, vile, twisted. Whatever mess they were in, they were in it deep.

Mercifully, the neighbour decided she couldn’t take this anymore, not when it was already after midnight, no way. She walked across the hall and rang the doorbell, nervous that she was about to become a witness to some gruesome bloodbath, but still undeniably (and understandably) irritated. Someone had to say something. People were trying to sleep, you know.

My mate Richard opened the door. “Oh, shit, ma’am, I’m so sorry,” he said in his best oh-so-polite voice. “We were just playing a game in here, and it was a really close game, and we got a little carried away. I’m sorry, sorry. Won’t happen again.” I was glad he answered the door (upon hearing the doorbell, I immediately hid under the bed); I was still too fired up to carry on a normal conversation, particularly one in which I needed to look remorseful.

He closed the door, I crawled out from under the bed and we met at the sofa. “Shit, we were kind of loud, eh?” I said.


“Maybe we should try to keep it down?”

“Might be a good idea.”

“Well, I don’t care how good he is, it’s just … there’s no way Messi should be getting four straight goals with Vidic right in his face. No fucking way!”

“What can I say? Leo’s the man!”

And then we sat back down, took the PlayStation off pause and proceeded to have Richard’s Barcelona team wipe the floor with my Manchester United Red Devils. Then we made a note of the score, and played again. Quieter this time.

Readers, you shall be the first to whom I admit it: I am a recovering video game addict, specifically a recovering EA Sports FIFA addict. I have successfully and steadfastly resisted buying a PlayStation, X-Box, Wii or anything like that and I’m quite proud of myself. I have even weaned myself off pretty much all the various video games on which I wasted so much of my youth. But when I visit any friend who has FIFA, it can still be a real problem. I try to drink, talk, read, write, ponder, mull, pontificate, masticate, abdicate, but I always end up in front of the TV with the damn game machine on.

It’s all Richard’s fault. We used to be neighbours when I lived in Surrey and we initially bonded over our support for Manchester United, in real life and on the PlayStation. Of course, back then we lived about 10 feet away from each other, as opposed to over 10 miles now. So it was out of control. We spent almost every waking moment when we were home at the same time, and there wasn’t a live game on that we could watch down at the pub, with the damn PlayStation on. We even spent many Saturday nights just sitting there, listening to music and playing until 3 a.m. We were lucky enough to never be interrupted by girls calling.

I’d always been inclined to this kind of addiction. My parents wanted their son to have a well-rounded growing-up experience, so they held off buying me a Nintendo. This just meant I would find kids in the neighbourhood, usually younger and more easily pushed around, who had one, and I’d commandeer it to play Pac Man, Frogger or Metroid… or Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Later on, I spent a lot of time after school, and a lot of my allowance, in video game arcades, playing all manner of shoot-’em-up, martial arts and car racing games. In the past, I have also have been taken in by trivia games, ranging from the high-tech (those bars that have those interactive games where you compete against fellow drunks) to the just plain nerdy (those insert-a-quarter contraptions you find next to the dart board at hole-in-the-wall dives).

In fact, it’s kind of funny how the games and my drinking went hand-in-hand. Last week, my mate Matt and I decided to grab a drink and get caught up on matters. We ended up at this sports bar, which, lo and behold, was running a World-Cup style PlayStation FIFA tournament where you could battle it out with fellow patrons over vodka and tonics. We sat there for about three hours, drinking and playing, before being eliminated in the second round. All the while, the sun shined vibrantly outside.

Rich and I, as you’ve probably gathered, can be intensely competitive in our showdowns. In fact, to be entirely honest, I’m quite likely to be heading off to Surrey next weekend to fire it up again. And the trash-talking shall ensue: “Oooh! Look at that shot, bitch! You like that? Do you? You want some more? Yeah, take that, I’ll give you some more! Who’s my little bitch now?”

I’m sure there’s no way anyone overhearing us in the hall would draw any wrong conclusions.