My friend Trevor points at a couple of monkeys. “Are they, uh, you know?”
I peer at them. I can’t really tell. He might be right. Monkeys always look like they’re doing something dirty no matter what they’re doing. Many people don’t realize this, but monkeys aren’t cute. They’re nasty and creepy.
“Probably, but you don’t have to point it out.”
We’re at the zoo, which means I’m sorry to tell you this isn’t going to have much to do with gaming. After nearly ten hours of Halo 3 on Legendary, we decided we had to get out and do something non-game related. It’s been a very busy holiday season for us. We needed to take a breather. We wondered what we could do that was new and different and had nothing to do with games. So now we’re watching monkeys doing undignified things.
“Is Zoo Tycoon any good?” Trevor asks.
“Not since it went 3D. But I seem to recall the original 2D one was pretty cool. There’s a new expansion pack out.”
“Yeah, the dinosaur one, right?”
One of the monkeys shrieks and waves its hairless ass at us. Several nearby kids giggle. Trevor giggles with them. He takes a sip of Pepsi from a big pink plastic cup shaped like a panda. It has a twisty straw rammed into its skull.
“Monkey butt,” Trevor says. “Hey, is it true there’s a game called Plant Tycoon?”
“You grow plants?”
“And sell them.”
“Is it any good?”
“You think I have time to play Plant Tycoon?”
“We should try it,” he considers.
We’ve joined everyone clustered around the tiger pen. The tiger couldn’t care less. He’s sprawled behind some grass, which makes him hard to see. People are craning their necks and angling at the corners of the viewing area for a clear look. The best you can hope for is a line of sight to his tail when it flicks.
“I can has shade,” Trevor says.
“I can has shade. I was trying to think of a caption for him. That’s all I could come up with.”
“I forget, did you take the tiger in Black & White?”
“The cow. Why? You didn’t take the cow?”
“I thought everyone took the monkey.”
“Monkeys are nasty and creepy.”
“There are monkeys in No One Lives Forever.”
“And System Shock 2.”
“God, for fuck’s sake, is everything BioShock with you these days?”
Now we’re at the food court eating some gross chili cheeseburgers.
“Did you bring your DS?” Trevor asks, reaching for his.
“No, I didn’t.”
“What, is it not charged up?”
“No, I just didn’t bring it.”
“Well how are we going to play Phantom Hourglass battles?”
“I guess we’re not.”
We eat our chili cheeseburgers. The fries are soggy. But we eat them anyway. We’re captives, with no alternative but to eat expensive zoo food or go hungry. It could be worse. We could be in Sudan.
It’s an arcade. Electronic bleeping and blooping sounds escape and run loose. We start walking towards it. You know, just to see what’s in there. There are mostly videogames. There’s a row of those skee-ball tables and a single mini-basketball throwing game. But it’s mostly videogames. There’s a big DDR rig off to one side. And, yeah, this is where we spend the rest of our afternoon, the afternoon we took to get away from gaming.
“We should talk about this in the podcast,” Trevor says, sideways jamming the stick on the Mortal Kombat game that takes a fifty cent token to play. He slaps a button with his open hand the way you can only do on an arcade cabinet. I’m doing the same thing. One of us dies. It’s pretty much random. We might as well flip a coin, considering we have no idea what we’re doing. No one’s in any danger of ripping anyone’s spine out, much less pulling the beating heart from the other guy’s rib cage. We’re just not that good at Mortal Kombat.
A pair of little kids looks on. They obviously have no tokens. They wish they were playing. “You guys want a turn?” Trevor asks when we’re done. They don’t say anything, but step up to the machine and wiggle the sticks and slap the buttons while the canned animations play.
“You have to put in a token,” Trevor says. They look at him. Do they not speak English? Trevor takes a token and shows it to them. “Here,” he says, sliding it into the machine and then realizing it takes two tokens before sliding in a second one. The game starts. Their eyes go big and they wiggle the sticks and slap the buttons with renewed vigor, delighted that stuff is happening on screen. They’re even worse than me and Trevor.
“Hey, you guys like Halo 3? We finished it on Legendary. Have you played it?”
“You have Halo?” one of them asks. The braver one. They might be brothers.
“Yeah, we got it at midnight on the day it came out. It’s pretty cool. You guys should pick it up. Hey, did you guys see the tiger?”
“We saw the monkeys. He’s scared of monkeys,” the braver one says about the quiet one. The quiet one doesn’t dispute this fact.
“Monkeys are all right,” Trevor says, “Donkey Kong is a monkey.” There’s no point telling kids that monkeys are nasty and creepy. They’ll learn that later in life, although the quiet one, being afraid of them, might be some sort of preternatural wisdom.
At this point, the kids’ mom comes over with a stroller. “Tony, Bobby, come on. Quit bothering these men.”
“They’re not bothering us,” Trevor says. “We were playing Mortal Kombat.”
“Did you thank them?” the mom asks. The braver one goes quiet. “Thank you very much,” the woman says for them. She hurries them away from the two weird grown men who are probably trawling the zoo for children to molest. The quiet one looks back at Trevor, obviously smitten. Was it the Donkey Kong comment? Because that’s probably how kid brains work.
Me, I’m terrible around children. They’re little and weird and I don’t know what to say to them. I have to be careful not to cuss. I think I make kids nervous. They certainly make me nervous. But Trevor talks their language. He’s a child whisperer.
“Cool kids,” Trevor says. “Okay, we’ve come all the way out here, we’ve got to do it. You ready?” I figure he means going to see the elephants or maybe doing that stupid safari ride where the guy points out a dozen varieties of gazelle and maybe a rhino, if you’re lucky.
“I’m ready,” I say. “What are we doing?”
“DDR. You and me. Let’s do it.”
Which we do. At this point, I’ll cut away to save myself the humiliation of detailing two grown men playing DDR in public. Like what the monkeys do, I’ll just leave it to your imagination.
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.