Douglas mashes the accelerator and the Mustang veers off into the sand.
“Too much car for you, Doug?” Trevor asks. He knows Douglas hates being called Doug.
“Jesus H. Fuck on a pogo stick,” Douglas says.
“Douglas, dude, come on.” Donny is fourteen and his parents are Methodists who don’t let him play M-rated games.
“I mean, ‘Darn’,” Douglas says. “I don’t know why it matters. You say ‘fuck’, don’t you Donny?”
“Sure,” Donny says.
“No you don’t,” Trevor says. “You know you’re not allowed to talk like that.”
“I don’t do everything my Mom says, you know.”
“This car sucks balls,” Douglas notes.
“What? ‘Sucks’ or ‘balls’?”
“This car sucks. It can lick my balls. How’s that?”
Sometimes I wish there was a way to disinvite people from Shoot Club. Of all my friends, I like Douglas the least.
“This car sucks balls,” Donny says when he takes his turn behind the wheel of the Challenger, which we got after paying 100,000 to switch home regions. “You know who has a car like this?”
“Pee Paw?” Douglas asks. “What the fuck is that, a Pokemon? You play Pokemon, Donny?”
“Pokemon sucks balls,” Donny says.
“It’s his grandfather,” Trevor explains. “Pee Paw has all kinds of cars, Donny.”
“Yeah, one of them is like this one, though. Like you see in old movies.”
“Chicks dig these cars, Donny,” Trevor says.
“Oh, do they?” Douglas asks. “Since when do you know what chicks dig?”
“You’re one to talk. I saw you playing Oblivion on Xbox Live last Saturday night. Remember you said that girl from the sushi place was coming over on Saturday? But you’re playing Oblivion at nine-o-clock. Do chicks dig Oblivion, Doug?”
“That chick? She came over, but I sent her home. She was on her fucking period. Can you believe it?”
I’m watching Donny listening. “Hey, Douglas, can you come back here in the kitchen for a second.”
“Uh oh, I think I’m in trouble.”
“Come on, man,” I tell him in the kitchen. “Donny thinks you’re cool. Watch the language.”
“He thinks I’m cool because I don’t treat him like a little kid, like you guys do. It’s not going to hurt him to hear how people talk in the real world and on Xbox Live. Lighten up. You think he doesn’t know about girls getting their periods?”
“I don’t know. I’m just saying. His folks probably wouldn’t be cool with you talking that way around him.”
“So they’re going to keep him from hearing how people talk? Last I heard, it’s a free country.”
I can’t believe he just played the ‘free country’ card. That’s a tough one to beat. What are you going to do, counter that it’s not a free country? Go to the ‘yeah, but you still can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theatre’ argument? That’s not even what this is about.
This is about different people’s ideas of protecting kids. Whether it’s talking a certain way, or buying into scary pedophile/kidnapper hysteria, or legislating M-rated games, it’s an expression of our better parts. What could be more noble than protecting a child? Does it matter so much if it’s misguided? Better to do something, anything, than to blithely regard children as adults, but shorter. So here’s my contribution. It’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got, and it goes like this:
“Who do you think you are to … to … I don’t know … undermine, or whatever you want to call it, his parents? Go have your own damn kids if you want, but don’t fuck around in my house with someone else’s idea of how they want to raise their kids.”
Like I said, it’s not much.
“Look, man, I just got divorced.” He waggles his newly ringless finger. “How am I going to have my own kids? Relax, I get you. I’ll be cool.” He strolls back into the living room.
“Someone got his panties in a bunch,” Douglas says. “Now I can’t cuss anymore. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, kid. Is it my turn yet?”
“You can take my turn,” Donny says, handing him the controller. “These guys owe me three dollars and twenty five cents now.”
“Tell you what, I’ll give you five bucks if you can drive the wrong way around the track and hit all the other cars.” Douglas looks at me. “That’s cool, right? Or is there a rule I don’t know about a kid making a buck?”
Of all my friends, I like Douglas the least. And now he’s banging my Chevy Challenger into the wall at the hairpin curve at Tsukuba and getting his handsweat all over my 360 controller.
“Which do you like better, Douglas, this one or the Civic?” Donny asks.
“Well, this one effing blows, but at least dude over there didn’t draw a picture of a puking cat on it.”
“It’s Godzilla, dumbass,” Trevor says.
“Puking Godzilla. Whatever. You kiss your mother with that mouth? Hey, you know what game rocks that we should try?” Douglas says. “Do you have Burnout 3?” he asks.
“Burnout is tight,” Donny says, excited. I give Trevor a look. I’ve done my part. Now it’s over to him.
“Okay, Burnout 3. But for every race, you have to pay back one of the quarters you made from Forza. It’s like a carbon tax for gross polluters.”
We wait. We wait. He doesn’t fart. And we spend the rest of the evening playing Burnout 3, another great spectator driving game, but for completely different reasons. By the end of the evening, Donny has broken even. Instead of learning his lesson about safe driving, we figure we’ve taught him a lesson about quitting while you’re ahead. Hopefully, it will serve him well one day in Vegas. When it comes to the children of the world and bettering the future and all that, we’ll take what we can get.
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.