Shoot Club

Shoot Club: Zoo Story

Tom Chick | 1 Nov 2007 21:00
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"Hey look."

It's an arcade. Electronic bleeping and blooping sounds escape and run loose. We start walking towards it. You know, just to see what's in there. There are mostly videogames. There's a row of those skee-ball tables and a single mini-basketball throwing game. But it's mostly videogames. There's a big DDR rig off to one side. And, yeah, this is where we spend the rest of our afternoon, the afternoon we took to get away from gaming.

"We should talk about this in the podcast," Trevor says, sideways jamming the stick on the Mortal Kombat game that takes a fifty cent token to play. He slaps a button with his open hand the way you can only do on an arcade cabinet. I'm doing the same thing. One of us dies. It's pretty much random. We might as well flip a coin, considering we have no idea what we're doing. No one's in any danger of ripping anyone's spine out, much less pulling the beating heart from the other guy's rib cage. We're just not that good at Mortal Kombat.

A pair of little kids looks on. They obviously have no tokens. They wish they were playing. "You guys want a turn?" Trevor asks when we're done. They don't say anything, but step up to the machine and wiggle the sticks and slap the buttons while the canned animations play.

"You have to put in a token," Trevor says. They look at him. Do they not speak English? Trevor takes a token and shows it to them. "Here," he says, sliding it into the machine and then realizing it takes two tokens before sliding in a second one. The game starts. Their eyes go big and they wiggle the sticks and slap the buttons with renewed vigor, delighted that stuff is happening on screen. They're even worse than me and Trevor.

"Hey, you guys like Halo 3? We finished it on Legendary. Have you played it?"

"You have Halo?" one of them asks. The braver one. They might be brothers.

"Yeah, we got it at midnight on the day it came out. It's pretty cool. You guys should pick it up. Hey, did you guys see the tiger?"

"We saw the monkeys. He's scared of monkeys," the braver one says about the quiet one. The quiet one doesn't dispute this fact.

"Monkeys are all right," Trevor says, "Donkey Kong is a monkey." There's no point telling kids that monkeys are nasty and creepy. They'll learn that later in life, although the quiet one, being afraid of them, might be some sort of preternatural wisdom.

At this point, the kids' mom comes over with a stroller. "Tony, Bobby, come on. Quit bothering these men."

"They're not bothering us," Trevor says. "We were playing Mortal Kombat."

"Did you thank them?" the mom asks. The braver one goes quiet. "Thank you very much," the woman says for them. She hurries them away from the two weird grown men who are probably trawling the zoo for children to molest. The quiet one looks back at Trevor, obviously smitten. Was it the Donkey Kong comment? Because that's probably how kid brains work.

Me, I'm terrible around children. They're little and weird and I don't know what to say to them. I have to be careful not to cuss. I think I make kids nervous. They certainly make me nervous. But Trevor talks their language. He's a child whisperer.

"Cool kids," Trevor says. "Okay, we've come all the way out here, we've got to do it. You ready?" I figure he means going to see the elephants or maybe doing that stupid safari ride where the guy points out a dozen varieties of gazelle and maybe a rhino, if you're lucky.

"I'm ready," I say. "What are we doing?"

"DDR. You and me. Let's do it."

Which we do. At this point, I'll cut away to save myself the humiliation of detailing two grown men playing DDR in public. Like what the monkeys do, I'll just leave it to your imagination.

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.

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