My friend Trevor just tried to kill some of my villagers. He got two of them. Now I’m trying to figure out whether I should build Yabusames or Naginatas, which look the same to me. I hope that’s not racist, but it’s true. Just to be fair, Uhlans and Hussars also look the same to me. So I’m studying the tool tips in Age of Empires III – in other words, I’m in deep – when the new guy leans his face down close to mine. It startles me a bit.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he says. Even the new guy knows there’s an RTS zone. An RTS takes a lot of brain power, and precious little is left over for things like talking to your buddies. Other games don’t really use the whole brain. While playing a shooter, I can explain to Trevor how 30 Days of Night did, in fact, suck. I can listen to NPR while playing a shooter. I might even try to answer the Geo Quiz. ‘Guangdong province,’ I’ll guess. Or ‘Brussels’ or ‘Madagascar’. But if I’m playing an RTS and the radio is on, I’ll be all, like, ‘What happened to the Geo Quiz? Did they not have it today?’ Then there’s something like Hellgate, which requires zero brain power. I could probably watch a movie or read a book while playing Hellgate. In fact, there’s an idea.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the new guy says, “but I have a question.” He is knocking out of my head the fact that the Yabusames are the ones good against enemy cavalry, and therefore what I need to build to keep Trevor’s Keshiks off my villagers. Not that I can tell a Keshik from a Steppe Rider. They all look the same to me.
“Where is the bottle opener?” the new guy asks. My kitchen isn’t vast. There are four drawers in it. Only four. Sometimes I wonder why we keep calling the new guy the new guy, even though he’s been coming to Shoot Club for several months. This is not one of those times.
“Dude, there are only four drawers in my kitchen. Did you at least check any of them?”
“Well, I didn’t want to snoop around in your stuff.”
Fair enough. Maybe he knows people who kept their porn in the kitchen.
“Far right drawer when you’re facing the sink.”
“What is that?” He’s holding a bottle of IBC.
“Root beer. Is it okay to have one of these?”
“No, no, that’s fine, you can have anything in the fridge. But that’s a twist top. You don’t need a bottle opener.”
“I know, but it hurts my hand.” He holds up his palm to demonstrate the part of himself that would be afflicted. And now I’ve completely forgotten what I was doing – building Naginatas, I think – and I have six idle peasants. If Trevor didn’t suck as bad as me at Age III, I’d be dead.
Soon enough, Trevor is all over me with Arquebusiers, or maybe they’re Chu Ko Nu crossbowmen. They all look alike. The new guy leans his face down again.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he says, “but there’s someone at the door.”
Why is he telling me this? At Shoot Club, you just walk in, like on a sitcom. You don’t knock. You don’t queue up. You don’t wait to be announced. You just come in.
I’m trying not to lose focus on the fact that my Samurais are on a separate hotkey from my Yabusames, who need to flank around to kill those stupid flamethrowers Trevor built. The Chinese had flamethrowers? I guess it’s not that far a stretch, considering the magic all-seeing Buddha statues, shrines that hypnotize animals, and ass-kicking monks doing killer kung-fu on monkeys and bears. Just let me summon a dragon already, Age of Empires III. You know you want to.
“Just let him in,” I tell the new guy.
“Okay,” he says, as if what I just suggested was somehow strange.
It turns out Trevor didn’t bring Arguebusiers or Chu Ko Nus. They were Qiang Pikemen. The tooltip tells me Qiang Pikemen are good against cavalry, but I don’t need a tooltip to tell me that. The piled up corpses of my Yabusames make it pretty clear. Now I’m checking tooltips to figure out what’s good against Qiang Pikemen and wondering if I should build whatever these guys are who are called Ashigarus. Maybe if I’d played more Dynasty Warriors I’d know this stuff already.
As I’m bringing up my Samurai, something happens that totally throws me. It’s so unexpected that I confuse my twin realities for a millisecond. Is this fast black shape with bump-mapped fur darting before my eyes in Age of Empires III or the real world? It doesn’t belong in either.
It’s a cat. Having jumped behind my keyboard but in front of my monitor, it sits there and considers me, its rump obscuring the part of the screen that shows how many villagers I have on each resource, not to mention the minimap where Trevor’s army is a red blob descending onto my base. The strange thing is, I don’t have a cat. It doesn’t seem to care. It just sits there and considers me with its indifferent yellow eyes.
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.