Right around the time I dinged 17th level, my friend Trevor let me borrow his Fellowship of the Ring DVD. I was curious to re-watch it.
I hadn't seen the movie since it was in theaters, and it didn't make much of an impression on me back then. I remember exposition about all these rings, and I was wondering when the dwarves and elves and whatnot were going to bust out their rings for some cool fantasy ring-on-Ring action. Instead, two old dudes had some Matrix wire-fu battle in a tower, Liv Tyler and Cate Blanchett were shown in soft focus, and then Ian McKellan fell off a bridge. Two years and three movies later, I still had no idea what happened. Why didn't the other people with rings help? Why didn't they just burn up the Nazguls with torches during the battles? Who rezzed Gandalf? Why didn't that eagle just fly out and drop the Ring in the lava?
Trevor told me this DVD version was some sort of special three-hour director's cut that would explain everything. Three hours? Three-hour movies tend to be boring. They're usually about Important People, like Gandhi, Schindler, or Maximus. You don't need to take three hours for a swords-and-sorcery movie. Heck, I could probably make a level and a half in three hours.
But then I watched it.
"Did you cry when Boromir died?" I asked when I gave Trevor the DVD back.
"Me either. I was just wondering if you did."
"No, I didn't."
"Yeah, I didn't either. I can see how some people might."
"Yeah, he did."
"But I didn't."
"No, no. Me either. So, Tom Bombadil. Goldberry. The Old Forest. The Barrow Downs. They're not in the movies?"
"Nope. Sucks, huh?"
"But they're in the books."
"Yep, just the books."
I nodded slowly.
"You want to borrow my copy of the first book?" Trevor asked.
"Yeah, can I?"
"Do you want to borrow the other two movies?"
"I already ordered the boxed set from Amazon."
It's going to be a weird Shoot Club this week. The only thing I've been playing lately is Lord of the Rings Online. And now we're going to play shooters like Call of Duty 2 and RTSs like Command & Conquer 3 and maybe even some Guitar Hero again. It feels like it's been a long time. That's what an MMO does. It kills other games.
Trevor has arrived before everyone else, as usual. He's looking at me, waiting for a reaction.
"Is it too much?" he asks.
"It's, well, yeah. It's probably too much."
"I like the way it feels on my shoulders."
"And it's pretty cool when I walk fast."
"I can imagine."
"I just thought I'd try it out tonight, see how it went over."
"As opposed to just, like, wearing it to work?"
"Well, after tonight, I'll probably start out smaller. Take a walk around the block. Maybe go to the store or an ATM."
"Where'd you get it?"
"I've had it. SCA."
"Ah, right. Why are you doing this again?"
"I just am. That's why."
There's a certain beautiful oblivious simplicity in this statement, suspended halfway between childlike innocence and utter stupidity. You simply do not wear a cape in the real world if you're over eight-years-old. Of course, you generally don't pretend you're an elf in Middle Earth either, but that hasn't stopped me and Trevor from playing a lot of Lord of the Rings Online. A lot. Seriously. I mean a lot. Don't even ask me to type in /played. I'm not going to do it.
"I've been staring at Lazara's cape all week," Trevor elaborates, "thinking how cool it is. The capes in WoW are so stubby. They're cooler in Lord of the Rings. One day, they'll be a lot cooler than that, like how they do Batman's CG capes in the movies. How cool will that be?"
He's right. Good animation, detailed textures, anti-aliasing, and so on are all good and well. Water and smoke have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go with things like hair and capes.
"In real life, women get hats and jewelry. It's not fair. What do we get? What do dudes get? So as more people play these games, I think capes are going to come back. They're mainstream now, you know?"
"No. MMOs. Stephen Colbert talks about them sometimes. And World of Warcraft was on South Park."
"At least you don't have the cast anymore," I say. "The cape would look pretty silly with the cast." Trevor's recently liberated right arm looks pale and thin. He broke it attempting a Crackdown-inspired rail jump.
At Shoot Club that night, pretty much everyone does a double take when they see Trevor.
"Whoa, I didn't know it was superhero night," Judes says.
"If it's between that and tights, I think you made the right choice," Eric says.
"What are you doing?" Bobby asks. "No, dude. Just no."
Douglas literally does a spit take when Trevor comes out of the kitchen. "Jesus, dude, what the fuck? I'm drinking a beer here. Did your mom make that for you?" Douglas asks.
"No, your mom made it for me," Trevor retorts.
Trevor keeps rolling the wheels of the chair over his cape while we're playing Call of Duty 2. He eventually retreats to the couch to play Virtua Tennis, wrapped in his cape. Me, Trevor, and Mike keep stealing glances at each other. We're waiting on everyone to get bored of PC games so we can jump onto Lord of the Rings Online. But Call of Duty 2 is still going strong at 11pm. There's talk of doing a big 3v3 Command & Conquer next.
"Executive privilege?" Trevor suggests. Since I live here, I could kick them off the PCs.
"I'm not going to do that. They'll get bored soon enough. Maybe you can lure them away with Guitar Hero. I'll go pretend to start a board game. That might pull a few of them."
A half hour later, the three of us are in the back room, double clicking the sweet gold ring icons. Trevor has his cape bunched up in his lap.
"I can't believe you let me actually wear a cape," Trevor will say to me two days later. But right now, we're busy with something else. We're logging in and we know we'll be here until dawn.
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.