It begins like any other day: I snooze five times before throwing the alarm clock against the wall. Shouldn’t have decided to start that Blackrock Depths run at 1:14 a.m. last night. The shower does little to revive me. I cobble together the least wrinkled shirt-and-tie combo from the closet and shuffle out onto the streets of Brooklyn.
Mass transit spits me out in midtown Manhattan and I walk briskly along the street canyons to my own private cubicle. You see, a few years ago, I sold out and started working in Corporate America. I shed my creative dignity for a few extra bucks and I now spend seven hours a day, five days a week working for The Man. Ostensibly I answer phones, make copies and do other mundane tasks, but in practice, most of my time is spent trying to play videogames without getting caught.
But pimping ain’t easy. The company I work for has strict controls on what its employees do in cyberspace. When I was a temp, it was impossible to even access the internet at all, which kind of goes against everything that temping stands for. Even though I now have a password which allows me to surf the internet, my access is restricted. I can’t look at porn sites (which is understandable), but I also can’t access Yahoo!, Gmail or any other web-based email. Streaming video is a crapshoot, and a lot of forums are blocked.
After sitting down at my cube, I sign in to my workstation. I briefly scan my inbox for anything juicy, pop up Firefox and check the net for anything new. I have several go-to sites, but today I decide to call up Thottbot’s forum parser, which pulls all the latest Blue posts (by moderators and developers) and formats them into a single page. Since the official WoW forums are offline to me during “work” hours, my only link to up-to-the-minute news is from third party sites, of which Thott is my favorite.
Like a lone gazelle drinking from a water hole, my ears are finely tuned to the sound of any predators. From behind me, I detect the faint rumblings of footsteps coming my way; my swarthy boss walking by, breathing too heavily through his nose. No need for him to see what I’m actually doing, I responsibly minimize Firefox.
“Did Mr. Bergenstein call?” he asks me from the doorjamb of his office.
When he turns the corner, I maximize and head over to wowinterface.com to see if there are any new add-ons worth grabbing. One of my greatest joys in playing WoW is creating the cleanest, most functional user interface possible. I look up from scanning the new Ace add-on database and notice that three hours of “work” have passed. Nicely done – it’s almost time for lunch.
I check my inbox again and see that it’s my move. Clicking a link brings up a chess board with pieces in various positions. After taking a few moments to reorient myself with what’s already gone down, I move my black queen to g5, avoiding that nasty-looking bishop. I press submit and close the window. My opponent now has three days in which to move.
While I don’t think I could get away with playing real-time chess (too much of a chance for the dreaded boss walk-by while engrossed in the board), Gameknot.com allows me to play in 30-second intervals spread out over quite a long time. The last game I finished took over three weeks to play, and it was only 30 moves. Right now, I have five games going on simultaneously. If you’re nice, I’ll answer your challenge.
It’s 12:36 p.m. and my stomach’s growling. I leave for lunch and return an hour later with lips and stomach burning from an extra spicy chicken udon. “Ah, look, how quaint.” Someone has left a stack of papers on my desk with a little note asking me to make five copies. “Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” I say to myself, sliding the stack to my left. “Tomorrow.”
Time to play some games. I click open my All-in-One sidebar in Firefox and open the Games folder. There are tons of web-based games on the list, but I click on Mafia Boss, a little turn-based gem that lets me recruit whores and bootleggers, hitmen and thugs. If I keep ’em happy with guns and dope, they make me money and defend my turf if another player tries to steal my cash. But last night, they lost a vicious gang war. I’ve been Zeroed. All my tough guys are dead, but I see the perp left me with a few whores and card sharks and a cute digital note which reads, “I made you an offer you couldn’t refuse.” Time to recruit some more big guns and stick it to the wannabe godfather who messed up my crew. La Cosa Nostra – It’s not pretty.
Encouraged by the relative quietness of the cubicle savannah, I decide to kick it up a notch and bring on some action. Flash has given amateur game designers the tools needed to create some pretty intense side-scrollers, RPGs or shooters.
Newgrounds.com, AddictingGames.com and miniclip.com all have huge (sometimes overlapping) libraries of free games that have better graphics than most designed in 1993. You have to battle through ads and blinking banners, but the games are there, and they are really good at grabbing and holding onto your attention – for about five minutes. It’s akin to how I feel about strip clubs: The idea is preferential to the reality of the situation.
My boss drops by my cube to let me know he’s going home, but that I should stay until 6:00 to cover for him in case his boss calls. I could just wait five minutes after he’s gone and take off myself, but his absence gives me courage. Why go home when I have a working computer right in front of me? Can I achieve the four-minute mile of videogaming at work and install a commercial game client on my PC? There is only one way to find out.
What game should I install? Anything that came out in the last year is probably going to crunch a little bit too much on my Dell-piece-of-crap-not- so-great-for-gaming rig. As much as I’d love to be playing WoW at work, I’d rather not be looking at a new frame every five minutes as I check my mail in Ironforge. I settle on Civ 3. It’s a great game with endless possibilities of time-suckage, and it’s not so flashy that the onboard graphics chip will explode every time I move.
With a furtive glance over my shoulder, I press the shiny red button to open the CD drive and gingerly slip the disc onto the tray. I wait for the autoplay splash screen to load with a combination of glee and anxiety. “Install Civilization?” Hell yeah. Time to test this mother: I double click the icon and fire it up. Splash screen seems peachy, the intro movie chugs, but, hey, it does that at home. I select “New Game,” pick a random civ and wait for the gaming magic to unfold. I can’t believe I didn’t try this before. My boss leaves early almost every day during the summer. I could have been gaming for at least two or three hours in the afternoons all last year. This year, I’m gonna get my game on. The game has finished loading and there I am with my flashing pink settler unit, ready to found a nation of (damn it) Franks.
I whirl around in my swivel chair to confront the gruff voice. There he is. In the flesh. All five-foot-six of him, dressed immaculately in a pressed, black suit. Mr. Robert Bergenstein. My boss’ boss. “Yes?”
“Is Tommy around? No, I guess not, the lights are off.” He squints his eyes looking into my boss’ office. “I just had a meeting here, thought I’d drop in and ask him something. Tell him to call me first thing tomorrow.”
“Will do, sir.” I scramble to find a pen and jot down his name on a Post-It note.
“Good man. Say, what’s that you’ve got there?” He nods at my screen. I am mortified. I’d forgotten to minimize Civ 3 or even quit out. I should have turned off my monitor, told him it was broken, anything.
“Is that what I think it is?” He eyes ratchet between me and the game.
“You know, this company has a strict policy against playing games like that on our computers. It’s a violation of so many rules and regulations I can’t even begin to list them all.” After he drives that home by boring holes in my face with his eyes, he looks at my screen again and seems to focus on what is being displayed there for the first time. “And for God’s sake man, Civilization 4 came out months ago. It’s time to upgrade. See that Tommy gets that message.”
With that, he turns away and leaves me incredulously watching him walk away. I shake my head and quit Civ. Packing up my things, I casually wonder if Bergenstein is going to blow the whistle on me or not. I’ve heard talk from his assistant that he’s actually pretty lenient about most things, but I never pegged him as a gamer. My money’s on him letting me off with a warning, but I figure he’ll throw the book at me if he catches me again. Unless I’m playing Civ 4, that is. I make a mental note to come up with some way to minimize out of a game quickly if he ever comes around again, or smuggle in an nVidia card.
Greg Tito is a playwright and standup comic residing in Brooklyn, NY. He is currently splitting time between World of Warcraft, a new D&D 3rd edition campaign and finishing one of his many uncompleted writing projects. He also blogs semi-regularly at http://onlyzuul.blogspot.com/.