The cat considers me with its yellow eyes. It seems bored, but happy to just sit on my desk. It’s waiting to see what I will do. The ball is in my court.
“Dude, I’m playing Age III.” I actually call the cat ‘dude’. “You’re messing me up.”
It doesn’t seem to care.
“Hey, look, he likes Age of Empires III,” the new guy says. “You should put the mouse under his paw and take a picture of him. It’ll look like he’s playing. That would be funny.”
“This is your cat?” I ask him. I’m frantically trying to use hotkeys to bring up my defenders – Are my horse guys on the 2 or the 3? – while Trevor’s army falls on my base. Trevor’s not good enough to know to target my villagers in a battle. He’s more worried about taking out my barracks and stables. Bad move. My villagers run to safety. Trevor never learned the lessons of World War II, Vietnam, and Korea: to prevail in the long run, you have to target your enemy’s resource production. I’m sure that’s in Sun Tzu somewhere, but everything I need to know I learned in RTSs.
“No, he was at the door,” the new guy says. “You told me to let him in. I don’t even have a cat, so how could it be my cat?” He takes a pull from his IBC, satisfied that everything’s been explained.
I’m trying to see around the cat’s rump to make sure I don’t have any idle villagers getting slaughtered by whatever Trevor’s horse dudes are called. So far, so good. The horse dudes are chipping away at my barracks. Trevor doesn’t know that cavalry are rarely good at attacking buildings, which Sun Tzu might have also had something to say about. Meanwhile, my horse-killing infantry beat on Trevor’s cavalry. At least I think those are my horse-killing infantry, as I’ve lost track of what everything’s called and there’s no time to check the tooltips. What’s a Qiang Pikeman again? Who knows. I’m too busy trying to build more dudes to check. Where’s my barracks?
“So are you winning?” the new guy asks.
“Can you move the cat? I can’t see anything.”
“C’mere, cat.” As the new guy picks it up off my desk, the cat’s splayed legs sweep across my keyboard and queue up a bunch of god knows what units on the way to hitting the windows key. Now I’m staring at the Katee Sackhoff wallpaper on my desktop.
By the time I alt-tab back into the game, Trevor’s army is arranged in a neat semicircle around my town center. He’s got some kind of cavalry riding down my few surviving villagers, who blithely chop wood until they’re killed.
“I’m in your base killing your dudes,” he says, coming in from the other room. For all intents and purposes the game is over. I have only to resign. “I totally kicked your ass. Hey, it’s a cat.”
The new guy is holding the cat, offering it root beer. The cat isn’t interested.
“The new guy found it. It was at the front door. The cat messed me up.”
“He’s not an it. He’s a he,” the new guy says, blowing cat hair off the lip of his IBC bottle.
“How do you know it’s a he?” I ask.
“How do I know he’s a he? Did no one ever explain that whole thing to you?”
“You’re holding him wrong,” Trevor says. “Let me.”
The cat looks bored as the new guy pours its splayed legs into Trevor’s arms. Trevor cradles it. The cat seems mildly pleased, but mostly indifferent. It blinks its yellow eyes.
“Here’s his phone number,” Trevor says, ticking it under the chin and fingering the tag on its collar.
“Does it say his name?” the new guy asks.
“Hey, you got a cat,” Jude says, coming into the room to see if we’re still playing Age of Empires III or if we can all start playing Call of Duty 4 yet.
“It’s not my cat. Maybe we should call the number,” I suggest.
“What? No. That’s weird. They’ll think we’ve kidnapped their cat,” Trevor says. “Besides, it’s not like he’s lost. He’s just visiting. Right? You’re just visiting.” Trevor is talking to the cat now.
“Can I hold him?” Jude says.
“Aren’t any of you people allergic to cats?” I ask. “I thought more people were allergic to them. Maybe we should make him go outside.”
“Let him stay,” Jude says, holding it like a baby. It doesn’t seem to mind. “I call him for my side in Call of Duty 4. We should give him a name we can use while he’s here.”
“Okay,” the new guy agrees. “What should we name him?”
“Hey, you got a cat,” Peter says, coming in to the room to see if we’re really going to play Call of Duty 4 or if we can instead play something that won’t give him motion sickness. “When did you get a cat?”
“I didn’t get a cat. It’s not mine.” The cat blinks and lets Jude hold it. “They want to name it.”
We look around at each other. Who’s going to speak up first and risk ridicule?
“Link?” Jude asks. He’s been playing Phantom Hourglass. It’s his first Zelda game.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, everyone starts throwing out names.
“Not cat enough.”
“Marcus?” Trevor suggests.
“Yeah, like Marcus Fenix.”
“Who’s Marcus Fenix?”
“Gears of War.”
“You’re going to name a cat after Gears of War?”
“What’s wrong with Gears of War?”
“What about Halo? Is a character from Halo okay? What’s the sergeant’s name in Halo?”
“Cortana, I think,” Jude says.
“I thought the sergeant’s name was Chief.”
“That’s you’re name. You’re Chief. Master Chief.”
“Why do you want to name him after the sergeant?”
“Well, they’re both black.”
“I thought we liked Gordon.”
I’ve had years of interactive naming experience from playing RPGs with Trevor. No one will ever agree, so you just have to pick something and run with it, without thinking too much. “Okay,” I say, “Good, Cortana. We’ll go with Cortana. Jude, you can take it. Take Cortana. I’m going to set up the game.”
“I bet you want to name him Atlas, or Ryan, or Fontaine,” Trevor says. “Everything’s BioShock with you. BioShock, BioShock, BioShock. Maybe we should just name him BioShock.”
I actually consider this, but then it dawns on me that this isn’t my cat. From the scene in the room, you’d never know that it doesn’t live here. Everyone is scratching its head and petting it. They’re like girls around a baby. They’re a clutch of cat-loving idiots. The cat accepts the attention. It lets them pet it, blinking its yellow eyes and not looking at anything in particular.
“We don’t need to name the cat,” I announce. “It has its own name. It can visit, but it’s not staying.”
“Look.” Trevor puts his hand on my shoulder and adopts a serious tone.
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.