I sit on the ratty pool table in Reggie’s basement.

“Wasn’t that more fun than what we were doing?”

My first kiss, if I don’t count all the awkward pecks on the cheek. This was real. It’s what I came for, and I got it, though I barely survived the full frontal assault on my face. We both have colds, our noses clogged to the point that I considered snorting Drano. She is hell-bent on shoving her tongue down my throat while I struggle to breathe without blowing snot on her face. Unfortunately, she isn’t as considerate; one explosive sneeze later and I’m wearing a trail of snot from my left ear down the side of my neck and onto the shoulder of my Superman hoodie.

Without a word, I slide onto the shag carpet, crawl to the 32-inch Zenith of which her father is so proud, turn the volume back up and calmly pick up the green controller plugged into the second-player port on the Nintendo 64.

Sitting on opposite ends of the pool table, we silently finish our round of Mario Golf. I win and ask her mom to drive me home.

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Tally up the reasons I have biffed relationships. Narrowly eking out emotional immaturity and fear of commitment stands the number one culprit: electronic entertainment. Nowadays, the industry incorporates sex and love into more videogames, but how does today’s gamer handle sex and videogames?

If my story is any indication, he (or she) doesn’t.

***

Sophomore in high school, and I’m standing in Anne’s doorway waiting for her. The third youngest of her seven siblings is playing on the family computer in the living room. I’ll be damned if I can remember his name but I sure as hell remember what he was doing: cheating.

It’s Age of Empires II. His enemies are throwing rocks at him while he commands a fleet of cyborgs and a car with laser guns on its hood. The little bastard used a cheat code.

“What’s wrong?”
I think she asked twice before I noticed.
“Nothing.”
She leans in, concerned “No, something’s wrong, I’ve never seen you this angry before.”
“You’re right, you haven’t.”
“You don’t get angry.”
“You’re right, I don’t.”

I stride up to Kato, my rusting ’94 Cavalier, and for the first time in the seven months since we started dating, I don’t walk around and open her door. We head to my house and watch The Cosby Show as I cool down, and she lists the things she may have done to upset me.

“I made you mad didn’t I?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“If I shouldn’t worry, it isn’t so important that you can’t tell me.”
“Bad logic.”
“Please?”
“Your brother was cheating at his computer game.”

She knows me too well, knows my sense of humor, knows that is exactly the kind of warped jackass response I would give. She knows I try to make jokes to sidestep what I’m really thinking.

“That wouldn’t be funny if it was true.”
“I never use codes.”

She playfully jabs my ribs so I put on the fake smile. We talk about when our relationship would hit a point where we could start making out.

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“When we kiss, like for a long time, what do you think of?”
“You mean during a marathon session?”
“Exactly.”
“What game I’ll throw in when I go home.”
“I think about how much I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“I should’ve made you answer first.”

***

I’m playing Dawn of War over my dorm’s network with my ally Randomman against the two Mikes. A gorgeous day, and we are squirreled away in our separate rooms. The Mikes have Randomman and myself cornered, but if we can capture the Relic and put up a wall of resistance for two minutes, we may win

I hear a light knock at my door, not the heavy thud of my friends or the cautious rap of my roommate Jeremy, but I’m too engrossed to notice.

“Not locked.”

The door opens and closes but I don’t care. Must have been somebody looking for Jeremy.

Randomman and I flank the Mikes and rush to control the Relic as a pair of frigid hands slap over my eyes.

“Guesssss whooooo!”

A crackling whine explodes from the two-way radio on my desk. “Weepin’ Jesus on the Cross … get her the hell out of there. There’s a war on and I need you focused!” Anne jumps away from me as if she’s been struck, and I switch off the radio.

“What was that? Why did that happen?”
I glance at the watch hanging from the corkboard behind my monitor. “You’re 8 minutes early.”
“I was going to surprise you.”
“Mission accomplished.”
“Why do you have walkie-talkies?”
“Randomman and I went halvsies. It helps us coordinate.”
She picked it up, hovering her thumb over the power button. “Is he still talking?”
“He never stops.”

The gamer’s high fades, and I slowly shift from WoundedRiot, general of the Blood Raven Space Marines, into Brendan Sears, boyfriend. I snake my left arm around her waist and pull her bony frame onto my lap.

“I dare you to turn it back on.”
She’s intrigued. “You dare me?’
She thumbs the power on and drops it on my keyboard while the tinny speaker wails “WHYYYYY, SEARS, WHYYYYY?”

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“I’m glad you aren’t that serious about your games.”

My left hand holds the walkie-talkie high, making a show of turning it off, while my right blindly AIMs an apology to Randomman.

***

Time passes, and I’m now with Amy, who catches me on a bad night. We didn’t have plans, and I wanted to play Battle For Middle Earth. Not as good as Tolkien’s books, but I’m stressed and need an outlet. She appears unannounced and things turn sour. She gets snappy and I lash back. I couldn’t bring myself to say “I need a game night.” So I dump her.

Amy leaves in tears and I turn off the lights and hunker down in front of my monitor. Lord help the Orcish hordes. I reclaim the land and drive back the darkness and cry and stop for four minutes to furiously beat off around one in the morning and resume playing. My best friend Alec swings by around four, stumbling in and pulling up a chair, burying his nose in the screen and offering odd bits of advice.

“Shoot that guy.”
“Heal that guy.”
“You just conquered land, build an armory.”
“Build a farm.”
“Get Gandalf up in that action.”

I tell him about my evening, about my addiction to games, about being alone and pathetic.

He straightens his slouch, his epic slouch, and slurs, “Well, now you’re wrong. Look at us, we aren’t the best guys around but everyone tends to like us. We’re nice, and even when we’re losers we’re honest, which is the most important thing. So what if we play games, we’re fun guys and people like to be around us.”

He carries on, building steam and conviction. I conquer a neighboring territory and begin to think that things aren’t so bad, that I’m not such a mutant. “I can’t think of a single bad thing to sa- build a farm!

It’s been four years since my relationship with Amy ended, and the realms of videogames and love still clash. It doesn’t get easier, but thanks to Alec and the mistakes I’ve made, we have a war cry mighty as “bangarang!” or “waugh!” to loose when we fail. It doesn’t fix our problems, but nothing takes the sting out of a failed relationship like climbing to the rooftops and bellowing “Build a farm!”

Brendan Sears is a freelance writer and improv comedian living in the Quad Cities area (on the Illinois/Iowa border). Drop him a line at [email protected].

Stolen Pixels #7: Vulture Milk

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