August 23, 2008


December, 2001

The box art was Shinkawa-san's best work to date, he thought. He especially liked how the harsh strokes which formed the chin emphasised Snake's courage. If he could, he would have that image painted on his bedroom wall or tattooed on his back. But his dad said no.

Reese, fourteen, was a skinny kid with greasy black hair and big glasses lying prone on the bedroom floor over a stack of math homework. Reese had a fondness for video game t-shirts and tattoos; temporary ones, of dragons. He had two square inches on his left shoulder reserved for his 18th birthday present: the kanji symbol for "otaku". The Metal Gear Solid 2 box positively radiated in his hands, and after algebra, he would return to the U.S.S. Discovery. He'd woken up at five that morning to huddle around his 17" TV, with the sound way down, and play through the opening chapter in a sleepy haze. He did it that early because an asshole on a newsgroup had said how you didn't even play as Snake in this game; instead, some underpowered and effeminate teenager. Reese, through his Usenet handle DreamOfTidus, had called him a liar and a troll, then realised he'd better see for himself. He was right. Troll was wrong. Reese had smirked.

Then he had gone to school and the day was downhill from there. For the past month, all anyone wanted to talk about was the Xbox: Microsoft's latest misfire which had tried in vain to pry the gaming market from Sony's deserving clutches. The Xbox was made for a mainstream, casual audience: specifically, slow-witted jocks who cared more about shooting and beer than swordplay and honour. These casual gamers threatened to replace the hardcore (like Reese) if the Xbox was a financial success. Not that there was any chance of that: Reese followed the internet pretty closely, and he knew that the Xbox was failing everywhere. Except, apparently, within the confines of Reese's high school. Reese hated high school. Reese lived his life by the gentleman's moral code but the mutants he shared gym showers with believed in so little. Even college students, when they stripped freshmen frat pledgers naked and unleashed a torrent of cheap vodka and urine down their throats, at least believed in brotherhood. High schoolers were primal anarchists and they made Reese so mad. Especially at the new Xbox owners who now dared to call themselves gamers when they wouldn't recognize a Masami Ueda score if the maestro himself was in their bedroom jamming on a Casio.

He wished he could be broadcast, by some Xenogearian witchcraft, into the homes of every Xbox player; a megaphone by which he would call them out as newbies and retarded. If they knew how serious Reese was about video games; if they shut their fat mouths for one second and let him talk then they'd defer to him as an expert on gaming culture, instead of deferring his head into a toilet bowl like they usually did. Because Reese knew better. The console, a joke. The launch titles, pitiable. Amped? A glorified tech demo. Dead or Alive? It was disrespectful to leer at scantily-clad women. Halo? Halo. Reese had no idea why that monstrosity was so popular. Xbox fans too dumb to know the difference, he supposed, because everyone knew shooters only worked on the PC. Not that he liked PC shooters. Or PC games at all, really.

But, no, Halo. The so-called shooter dominated all gaming discussion. Reese suffered those fools in silence, allowing menacing thoughts to swirl round his head. I got three frags, bro. I got two frags. Moronic. Halo this. Master Chief that. Gamer-come-latelys. Had no respect. Halo, Xbox. Halo, Halo, Halo. They were assholes. Assholes. Fools. Clowns. Idiots. And gay. So gay. Project Gotham. Halo. Losers. Gay. Halo. Gay. Halo. Halo. Halo. Gay. Gay. Hay... Gay. Halo. Gay. Hey -- Haylo. Gay. Lo. Gaylo. Gaylo. Holy shit.

That was when Reese froze in shock; the moment that light broke through his insult cloud and snapped into focus on that one divine creation. Gaylo. So simple, so perfect, so holy. The collision of the syllables so natural, as if those two words were meant for this union and as if Reese was meant to say it. Was he a prophet, whose mission it was to spread this word? For it was too beautiful to be his alone. This alien shard of fully-formed genius had crashed into his brain, and now it belonged to him. He racked his brains and his heart raced and he knew he had never seen that word before. Reese wondered, was he the first? Could it possibly be? Did he have this? Did Reese have this one? Gaylo! That was it. That was it.

He had to make sure. Snake could wait. He had to know. In the computer room, PC booting up, he twirled in the desk chair, it was taking so long, so long, it was Windows 98, he hated Windows 98, begged Dad to buy a Mac but Dad said no, who cared though, Reese had Gaylo in his pocket, it was his, soon he could buy a thousand Macs. Double-clicked Netscape, yelled at his sister to get off the phone -- bitch could talk -- and dialed up AOL. He swore the dial tone stretched out an extra beat, taunting him now, as his heart was pounding and with clammy hands he typed in, having to redo it three times; clumsy, clumsy, stupid fingers. This was it, he knew it now. This was what he was always meant to say. 'Gaylo Halo'. Entered. Click. Search. And it was loading. And Reese stopped. The world was a PS2 disc, spinning in its drive, and God held his finger down to stop the revolutions.

No results were found for your search term gaylo halo. Colour returned to his cheeks and he cracked a nervous, sweaty smile. He was the first, he realised, and that made him quite sure that he was a genius. He was the inventor of the devastating slur Gaylo. Perhaps Sakaguchi-domo would even pull him out of high school to do this professionally. Regardless, he at least held high school in the palm of his hand, ready to crush it like Sephiroth. He could picture Nick's face now, reduced to cowardice at this revelation of his mighty intellect. Nick could not compete with his wordplay; who could? Reese would be the hero of the high school, securing adulation from all; a celebrity, like Chris Tucker. He could, in his benevolence, even teach the others a thing or two about video games. Jane, who liked books and poetry, was sure to tear up at Ico, and after witnessing the tender love of Tidus and Yuna she wouldn't need Psycho Mantis' hypnotic hooks in her to fall all over him.

He was looking at the official Bungie website. Hideous. Too much white space, too many sidebars. Still, Reese acknowledged that he must know his enemy if he was to destroy it. By his hands Halo would be reduced to a laughing stock and that would be his legacy. Susannah came into the room then, five years older but almost twice as tall. "Hey," she said to Reese's back, "are you fucking done? I had Matty on the phone because Sam is in the hospital right now getting her stomach pumped and you..." And she saw the screen. "You," she said, jaw dropped, "you kick me off the phone for one of your dumbass computer games?" Reese spun around in his chair and drew himself up to his full height with a confidence that surprised his sister.
    "Hey," he said, "this is not one of my video games."

Dinner was a lousy casserole and was consumed in satisfied silence. Reese smugly tore through the over-cooked folds with his fork, thinking about the message. You like Halo? Son, that's Gaylo. It needed a rhythm to it, it required an eloquence that honored the concept. Only morons play Gaylo. Gaylo's for jerks. These were all good ideas. The dinner tasted like crap. Gaylo tasted like glory.

Bargaining with his sister gave him fifteen more minutes online. In exchange, they would tape Ally McBeal next week instead of Angel. Fifteen minutes was ample time to log on to Usenet and incinerate with "Halo? More like Gaylo." They'd never know what hit them, but they would tell the police it was something magnificent and powerful. Infiltrating the newsgroup, he realised, had brought him full circle. He was Solid Reese, who wore a sneaky suit and dealt deadly blows. And then Solid Reese saw it:

Right, like you're the only one to associate "gay" with the GameCube... Such an immature usage of that word... You could just as easily call HALO "GAYLO" and get the same result... Grow up. HALO rocks, by the way -- getting pretty good at the Heroic difficulty.

To Reese it seemed an impossibility. Posted by silverx10 -- who? -- ten minutes ago. Silverx10 had to work for Metacrawler, because that's the only way he could have pried the secrets from Reese's brain. How else to explain it other than that evidently silverx10 was a Liquid Reese, tearing down what Reese creates? A panicked Reese tore through all his options, thought about how to reverse time and reclaim his prize, cursed his father, his sister, but casting a shadow across that maelstrom was the looming thought that it was all over, that he was not the first. Not the creator. Not the genius. Not anything. A rising heart rate and disbelieving horror whipped his thoughts into a storm that raged and roared and eventually subsided to circle the drain and leave his head, and then he was done.

Sinking into the living room carpet, Sadness Reese counted ceiling tiles. He was reminded of when he lost Aerith. One day the trauma would fade and eventually he would only ever think about ceiling tiles. Susannah was laid out on the couch, where Reese had vaguely informed her of his tragedy, and she watched him struggle quietly with life's injustices.
    "You know, Matty said," she said, tracing a painted finger along the cushion, "he was reading this book called The Prestige, and in it there were these two scientists, who invented, like, I think, something, they invented calculus, but they both did it at the same time from different parts of the world, like a total coincidence, and they became enemies and they ended up fighting because of that."
    Weary Reese raised himself from the floor. "Newton and Leibniz invented calculus," he said, and Susannah watched her brother leave the room, "Tesla invented radio. You don't know anything."


Unknown said...

It's hard to know how to praise a piece that ironizes the very act of praising it, but I'll try.

This is absolutely haunting, Duncan. All the more in that it makes me feel foolish for finding it haunting, too.

Possibly the best reflection on fanboy culture I've ever read. Thanks.

Duncan said...

Wow, thank you very much Roger! I'm glad you liked it. (I thought I had responded to this already... apparently not.)