My friend Trevor is explaining it all: “Things are different now. You’ve been chosen. That’s how these things work. The cat might come and go, but he may very well end up living here. That’s the way of cats. They come to places and people. They decide to makes those places and people theirs. Cats drive. You ride. You ever wonder why you never see people put cats on leashes?”
“I’m pretty sure I’ve seen cats on leashes.”
“No, you never see people put cats on leashes because it’s really the cats who are in charge. Get used to it. Now, if you’re going be a gamer who owns a cat, there are some very definite rules.'”
“I don’t own a cat. It’s not mine.”
“That’s not for you to decide, okay? That’s actually part of the first rule. What the cats says, goes. If your keyboard is taking up too much room on the desk and he wants to lie there, the keyboard will have to move. The same with any mouse space. Mouse space is prime real estate for cats, because they think it’s empty space, and empty space is for lying in, especially if any form of attention is directed to that empty space. Say an open book or a pile of laundry from the dryer. That’s where the cat wants to be. It’s their way. That’s cat physics.”
“Should I be writing this down?”
“Actually, I’ll give you a copy of my book. Your Cat and You: The Gamers Guide to Living with a Cat.”
“You wrote a book?”
“It’s more like a FAQ. But I can print it out for you.”
“I don’t need a FAQ, because it’s not my cat.”
“And actually, if I put it in some nice binding, it’s just as good as a book. It’s easy to do at Kinkos for, like, ten bucks. I made them for Christmas last year. I put a picture of my cat on the front. He’s sitting on the couch and I put a 360 controller in front of him so it looks like he’s playing a game.”
“Hey, that’s pretty funny,” the new guy says. “That’s what I said we should do before, remember?”
The cat knows we’re talking about it. It’s making a great show of not caring at all.
“Now you should maybe get two chairs for your computer,” Trevor continues, “because sometimes the cat will be using that one.”
“In which case I’ll just move him out of my chair.”
“Yeah, no. That’s not going to work. Really, it’s not your chair anymore. The cat might let you use it some of the time, but the trick is to just stop thinking of it as your chair. Now, another thing to be aware of is that you’re going to have to be very careful when it comes to playing games you can’t pause. I’m thinking here of MMOs and online shooters. Let me draw you a scenario. Say your guild is doing a Molten Core run and you’re a priest, in charge of healing everyone.”
“Molten Core run? I don’t even play World of Warcraft.”
“Okay, Moria, or Ettenmoors, or whatever it is you people do in Lord of the Rings Online. The specifics don’t matter. But let’s say you’re in the fourth hour of a six-hour instance, and the cat wants to be petted. What are you going to do?”
“I don’t play MMOs. And I certainly don’t do six-hour instances.”
“Good. See? You’re learning. You might consider taking up turn-based strategy games for a while. I hear that Civilization IV is very good. If you’re going to play real time strategy games,” Trevor says, gesturing at the Age III postgame screen detailing my defeat, “consider one that lets you pause and give orders. Supreme Commander has this feature, I think.”
“I’m not playing Supreme Commander for any cat. It’s not my cat.” The cat doesn’t care. It is a sleek dark furry mass of nonchalance. It is on my desk, upright, dignified, and indifferent. In the light of my desk lamp, I can see it’s not truly black. It’s a sort of dark chocolate brown, with faint stripes on its haunches.
“You can’t live here, Cortana,” I tell it, “but you can visit.” Cortana doesn’t sound right. “You know, Cortana doesn’t sound right. I’m going to go with BioShock. Its name is BioShock.”
“That’s a stupid name for a cat,” Trevor says. “Plus, you know, not everything is about BioShock.”
I tentatively pet it and it sits up even more upright, pushing into my hand. It rolls its head under my palm. The purring starts. But it’s a very indifferent purring. It turns around once, still indifferent. It considers me with its yellow eyes.
“I thought you were going to set up Call of Duty 4,” Jude says. “Or are you just going to pet your new cat all night.”
“Yeah, Call of Duty 4,” Trevor says.
“You guys come get me when you play something that won’t make me throw up,” Peter says. “I’m going back to Viva Pinata.”
“Can I take the cat?” Jude asks.
“I think it wants to stay in here. Don’t you, BioShock?”
“I can’t believe you’re going to try to make that name stick,” Trevor says. “It won’t work.”
The cat settles down onto its front paws, Sphinx style, under my desk lamp. We all play Call of Duty 4 and it doesn’t care. Then Douglas arrives, announcing that he won three hundred bucks at the poker game he goes to before Shoot Club.
“What are you guys playing? Is that that Battlefield game?” he asks.
“It’s Call of Duty 4. You have to make your own profile if you want to play. There’s, like, experience and everything.”
“Hey, there’s a cat on your desk. A cat.”
“Ask him its name,” Trevor says while trying to snipe Jude, who’s on the other team and is really good.
“I don’t give a fuck about its name. Keep it away from me.”
“You don’t like cats?”
“They carry disease.”
“Cats carry disease? I don’t think so.”
“Totally. That’s what my wife said. She was all freaked out about it when she was pregnant. Cats have toxic plasma or some shit like that.”
We didn’t know Douglas’ wife was ever pregnant. He never mentioned kids.
“You guys have kids?” Peter says, having wandered in to see if he can talk Douglas into playing Guitar Hero.
“No, she miscarried. Twice.”
He undoes two buttons on his shirt and pulls open the collar. On his left breast are tattooed the names Ashley and Douglas Jr.
“The first time she swears it was because of the neighbor’s cat. It’s why we moved. “
“Jesus, man. I’m sorry, that’s really, that’s just…Stop fucking shooting me, I’m talking to Douglas.”
“Naw, go ahead and play your game. I know, I know, sometimes I think it’s kind of morbid,” he says, buttoning his shirt back up. “But it helps reminds me of what’s important. Let me tell you, I thought it was going to be tough to explain this to girls. But chicks dig that tragic shit. Anyway, it’s nothing to get worked up about. It was a long time ago. But I wouldn’t touch that cat if I was you.”
“I’m not pregnant. I should be okay.”
“But what if you touch someone who’s pregnant? That’s how diseases work, you know.”
The cat gets up and arches its back casually. It briefly scans the room with bored yellow eyes and then hops down from the desk. It veers towards Douglas and brushes his leg. Douglas kicks it. Well, he doesn’t kick it so much as he scoops it away by swinging his leg out. The cat looks briefly confused and then settles on its haunches, indifferent again.
“Dude, you kicked BioShock.”
“BioShock? You named it BioShock?”
“You kicked it.”
“I didn’t kick it, but I will if it keeps trying to rub its fucking disease on my slacks.”
“It’s a him, not an it,” the new guys reminds us.
“BioShock, come back,” I call, trying to shoot Jude and running out of ammo instead. We end up losing Call of Duty 4, and not just because Jude has the game at home and plays a lot. He uses the single fire on the G36 to great effect and we hate him for it. Even with Mike on his team, we still lose. We lose because the cat was our good luck charm.
“Come on, man, don’t be a dick to the cat.”
“Let me tell you something,” Douglas tells us. “When I see a cat on the road, I swerve to hit the fuckers.”
I think back to a time when I was a kid waiting for the school bus. Some older kids were pulling caterpillars off a tree and throwing them into the road. They laughed as cars ran over the caterpillars. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t tell them to stop. Seven or eight caterpillars must have died that day. Maybe as many as ten. I did nothing.
“If you kick that cat again, I’m going to ask you to leave. I’m serious.”
“Jesus, just be a fucking pussy, why don’t you? I didn’t kick it anyway. I just pushed it with my foot. It’s fine. Look.”
BioShock considers nothing in particular with its yellow eyes. It doesn’t look like a cat who’s just been kicked. So we play more Call of Duty 4, then a little Unreal Tournament 3, then the new guy shows us a funny video on YouTube of two cats meowing at each other like they’re having a conversation, then we follow a long trail of funny cat videos while Douglas looks on, disgusted. My favorite is the little kitten that stands on its hind legs and waves its front paws at a big bored orange cat. As people start leaving, Trevor and I play another game of Age III. BioShock sits on the desk, this time off to the side under the desk lamp instead of in front of my monitor. This time I win.
“Okay, congratulations on your new cat,” Trevor says as he’s heading out the door. “Call me if you have any cat questions.”
After everyone’s left, the cat watches while I clean up. I throw out beer bottles and half-empty bags of chips. Someone left a half-eaten burrito on the arm of the couch. As I’m washing a few glasses, I talk to BioShock about how you have to make sure to have a lot of wood as soon as you hit the Colonial Age. But you also have to be careful not to pull too many villagers off food. Maybe I do have a cat.
BioShock goes to the front door and makes a yowling sound. I ask him what’s up. I open the door and he looks outside, his ears twitching and his eyes going bright and curious. It’s getting light out there. He makes a decision and hurries out into the morning without looking back.
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.