Maple Valley, nice and autumn and high speed. Trevor's tooling along in his Wing West Civic, far in advance of the other cars. The AI is set on easy.
"I've got a license," he says. "A license ... to drive."
"That doesn't even make any sense. Of course, you've got a license to drive. That's what people think of when you say 'license'."
"License to drive," Trevor inflects. "It's the name of a movie, too."
"I don't doubt it."
"Corey Feldman is in it."
"No, Corey Haim is in it," someone says.
"Which one is he?"
"He's the one in License to Drive."
"I'm pretty sure it was Corey Feldman."
"Dude, I'm telling you, it was Corey Haim. I totally remember that movie."
"Which one was in The Goonies?"
"That's the guy from Sliders."
"No, he was in Stand By Me."
"Was in Stand By Me?"
"No, he was in License to Drive."
Donny has no idea what we're talking about. "You guys are old," he notes. He's patiently waiting his turn, but he's losing interest. We've told him we'll give him a quarter for every race he finishes without damage. We own him seventy five cents at this point.
"I've got a license. A license ... to drive."
"That doesn't make any sense."
"You know you wanna say it. Say it with me. I've got a license. A license ... to drive."
"You're messing me up," I say. I've just plowed into that first hairpin at Tsukuba, the one that suddenly jumps you after you're proud of yourself for soaring through a gentle chicane.
"More camber," Trevor says.
"It needs more camber. A little less toe."
"Okay. You don't even know what that means."
"It needs more rear bump stiffness."
"That's not a real setting."
"It is. Rear bump stiffness. Your car needs it."
He's all but giggling at himself.
"And an oil change and windshield wiper fluid," the new guy adds, having completely missed the innuendo but aware that something funny is being said and hoping to piggyback onto the joke.
Forza 2 is a great group game. We pass the controller around, taking turns doing races. We do the early races with really good cars so all we have to do is steer. We'll be level 20 in no time. Our real opponents aren't the other cars so much as our own speed. No one can resist the temptation to go as fast as he can whenever he can for as long as he can. Maybe this isn't such a great way to teach good driving habits.
Unlike other games, we're talking and goofing around as we play. RTSs and shooters require serious attention. 'Don't talk to me while I'm playing!' attention. But a lot of Forza is just showing up. These races are almost a formality. We're like pilots on a long transatlantic flight from level 1 to level 20, handing the controls off to each other as we go.
"Beer? Beer? Beer?" the new guy asks, pointing to everyone in succession as he heads into the kitchen. He's just done Nurburgring, which is exhausting. We're all glad we won't have to do it.
"I'm in AA," Douglas says. "No beer for me."
"Oh, jeeze, I'm sorry," the new guy says. "I didn't know. Is it okay if we drink?" Several of the guys already have beers. We're used to Douglas.
"Yeah, but if I fall off the wagon and end up drunk in a ditch, it'll be partly your fault," Douglas says. He then has to explain to the new guy that he's kidding. The new guy slinks off, deflated, to get beer.
"You'd think he's never seen an alcoholic before," Douglas says. I can see Donny listening, but I'm not sure if he knows what an alcoholic is. Do fourteen-year-olds know this stuff?
"Why did we start with Asia as our home region?" I ask as Trevor starts an FWD race with his custom-painted Civic. FWD means it's only for cars with four wheel drive.
"Because they're bad drivers, so we'll clean up over there."
I don't have much to say to this.
"Not funny?" he asks.
"I've heard worse."
"Did you guys hear the one about Michael Richards on vacation in Niger?" Douglas asks.
I ignore Douglas. "Look, the deal with starting in Japan is: guess what cars we're not going to unlock as we level up?"
"That's what starting country does?"
"Yeah, you get regional cars as awards. There may not be any way to get a Chevy Challenger unless you start in North America."
"I didn't think of that."
Douglas shakes his head. "A Chevy Challenger? You guys are pretty fucking stupid."
Me and Trevor don't know much about cars. We know that Mustangs and Challengers are the cars from Bullitt, even if we're not sure whether they're made by Chevy, Dodge, or Nova, or whether it was Steve McQueen or Paul Newman in Bullitt. We know these cars were cool when we were kids. Muscle cars. Cars with lap belts in the front and no seat belts in the back. Cars that will work your subwoofer for all it's worth. Cars with engines that you can feel low in your belly the same way you'd feel if Jessica Alba was blowing raspberries on your tummy. Cars with the kind of broad flat hoods T.J. Hooker can cling to. Cars with back seats that offer plenty of room to pile in your buddies on a Sunday afternoon or fool around with a girl on a Friday night. Last of the V8 Interceptor kinds of cars that could tear up the Australian outback after an apocalypse. Cars that get eleven miles to the gallon because they were conceived when mileage didn't matter because wars were things in Southeast Asia and there was no one in the Middle East worth fighting who the Israelis weren't taking care of anyway. Did our fathers look back at Studebaker's the same way?
"You're up, Douglas."
"Chevy Challenger. You guys are such morons. Also, Civics suck ass. They're fifth rate rice rockets that only homeboys on welfare drive. How about we try this Dodge Mustang? You ever hear of a Dodge Mustang, Donny?"
Of all my friends, I'd have to say I like Douglas the least.
To be continued...
Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club appears in this space every Thursday.