Latest posts by Ian Scott McCormick (see all)
- Remembering Defunct NFL Teams: The New York Giants – August 20, 2019
- The Narrative: Thoughts and Prayers From the PUBG Hellscape – August 9, 2019
- From Off The Streets Of Cleveland- Harvey Pekar’s 2019 Browns Preview – August 8, 2019
With most sports, there exists the understanding that the competition will occur on the field of play. With others, it is the fans themselves who assume the risk. Certain soccer games are sure to produce violence between hooligans who come to the stadium with the specific intent to cause bodily harm. Bulgarian Kick Wrestling has been known to incite mayhem in the normally cold, dead eyes of their eastern bloc fanbase. But there is an event that causes a chill to fall on whichever locals are doomed to play hosts to marauding armies of psychotic fanatics. I am of course talking about Esports.
The Barclays Center hosted the East Coast Player Unknown Battlegrounds Championship. On its face, the tournament promised to feature some of the best gamers in the world, displaying a supernatural amount of hand eye coordination and resource recall to take one another out, so that one might be crowned the champion. But we do not live within a vacuum. And we all know what gamers really are.
We are in the middle of a mass shooting epidemic. And where some will say that it is our loose gun laws that allow for these tragedies over and over again, the adults in the room have all long ago come to the realization that the real enemy is the video game. And the gamers have become their sinister acolytes. Hardly a tournament goes off without the very real threat of rape and murder. So I hugged my wife and child, and boarded the R train to hell.
There is no way to mentally prepare for what I was about to witness. Everybody would be strapped to the gills. As the train rolled through Sunset Park, closer and closer to downtown, I could feel the encroaching threat of horror. Women clutched onto their boyfriends. Men clutched onto bibles. The everyday crazies were nowhere to be seen. Even they knew not to proselytize in their schizophrenic verse tonight. As the local train pulled into Union Street, one station away, I could hear the feint pop-pop-pop, and the solitary scream of a middle aged woman. Had it begun? Maybe in Norway or Fiji where these attacks never take place. But here in America, this was only the pre-gaming gamers having an appetizer, letting off steam before the main course.
I got out at Atlantic-Barclays Center, and took a quick look around. The usual taverns that catered to the before and after crowd were closed for business, but not locked up. McMahon’s had been firebombed, and my personal favorite watering hole, The North Pole, had been seized by a tribe in matching blue jerseys. The bottles had been swiped by pudgy kids with acne and Bushmasters, as they fired loose shots into the air, high above the three story brownstones. I looked down the streets and realized that nobody had left their lights on. Very few cars had been parked, and the few that remained were riddled with bullet holes, or upturned and set ablaze.
They don’t search for drugs at most Phish concerts, and they weren’t feeling anybody up for munitions as they clacked with every step into the tournament. I met up with a man named Phil, who would be my shepherd though this orgy of chaos.
“Stay out of the bathrooms. You’ve gotta think like an animal out here. You know why animals are careful where they do their business? Because they know they’re vulnerable. If you’ve gotta pee, pee in your cup. If you’ve got to shit, hold it.”
I thanked him, but he never stopped scanning the crowd.
“Don’t thank me. We haven’t seen anything yet.”
I’d scored tickets in the 200 level. I would have to give up the better views of the billed tournament, but this was a prerequisite for Phil, who said he’d never step foot down there again. Stay in the shadows. Keep the high ground. They might try to push you over the edge, but you cut down on their angles of attack.”
After the escalator ride up, I witnessed two small 12 or 13 year olds assaulting a middle aged woman. Their weak arms were still enough to throw her off balance, and instinctively, I made a move to score cheap morality points by brushing them aside. Phil’s thick hand caught my shoulder from behind and prevented me from going any further.
Just then, another bystander, a man of similar build to myself in a flannel jacket holding a $20 box of popcorn, moved in, unencumbered by a guide of his own. A third boy emerged from behind a kiosk and quickly fired three shots into the back of his skull.
I asked Phil how he knew.
“You should leave.”
Because it was getting too dangerous?
“Because you can’t spot the simplest of traps. There’s always somebody camping out. Never make the move they want you to make.”
We sat down among the scents of Axe Body Spray and Mountain Dew Code Red. What they don’t tell you about these tournaments is how edited the television broadcasts are edited to create the illusion of friendly play. In truth, barely a campaign can go by without the arena divulging into a gleeful embrace of terror. Though well placed snipers have their sights set on anybody who would cause harm to a sponsored competitor, the fans themselves are fair game. I asked Phil about his past.
“I’ve got a body count,” he mumbles, making it clear he doesn’t want to talk but feels compelled to share his story. I was a good kid. Two parent house in the suburbs. All that shit. But then I got hooked on the media. You know how it is. Movies and rock and roll. All of a sudden I was starting to view the world a little differently. Not as bad as it would get, of course. But differently. I was corrupted. Later on, and I’m not saying this so that you’ll write about it and make it sound cool to any of the youths out there, but I got into the rap. I kept that on the down low. I could listen with my headphones in my room and my mom didn’t know any better. But one day she had to work late, and I stayed with the neighbor kids. And they had a Nintendo 64. I messed around with some Star Fox. A little Mario Kart. Nothing that bad, right? Wrong. I was just opening the door. Pretty soon they were asking me if I was down for some Golden Eye. That was my initial first person shooter. I loved it. I didn’t fully understand it, but I was wandering around the map, finding stashes, finding re-spawn points. It was something I’d never felt before in my life. And then we left and murdered a jogger in the park. I thought that was a pretty good day.”
“Pretty soon after that I was getting into Doom. Quake. Duke Nukem if you gotem. I was an animal. Sold drugs to buy a PC, so I could get into serious gaming. GTA 3 came out and I bought me a car so that I could pick up hookers, fuck em, kill em, and get back my money. I was all the way into the game.”
A roman candle fired off in the opposite corner from our perch among the spectacle. It felt almost quaint. Several others near the amateur pyrotechnician had fashioned melee weapons out of their broken armrests and seat backs, but we remained in the eye of the storm. I asked Phil what brought him out of the game that he seemed to have loved and could almost feel his jaw clench.
“Happened a few years ago. I’d been pretty hard into Call of Duty. Like everybody else, I’d always played multiplayer, but one night when my internet was down and I was left with nothing better to do, I started playing the campaign. And there I was, in the middle of a military funeral. I’m thinking whatever. Who cares, right? And then the game does something I totally wasn’t expecting. Instead of telling me to run and gun, or find cover and wait for my window to strike, it tells me something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life: Press F to pay respects.”
Phil wiped a tear from the corner of his eye, briefly losing his focus on the madness below.
“I can’t explain it. The moment got to me. And I started to think that for some people, there is no respawning. And then I took a moment and really deconstructed everything that I knew about video games. Once you start to consider the fragility of life and the finality of death…well, it isn’t very long until you start to see wanton murder in a problematic light. So that’s not my game anymore.”
So does he still play video games?
“Not nearly as much as I used to. I try to stick to the Switch mostly. Maybe a little Overwatch once a month. And I’m done with the mass shootings. I might kill a drifter or a wayward prostitute, but nobody with a real future. I mean, I still play some video games. I’m not dead yet.”
Nobody’s had to press F to pay respects to you yet?
“Haha. Not yet.”
The main event ended to a shower of confetti, with people of all races converging around a gigantic silver trophy cup. The strobe lights caused a brief break in the shootings, as nobody could properly aim anyway. And then we entered the truest darkness. Phil whispered a prayer and led me to the concourse.
A 15 year old with a Desert Eagle blasted round after round, maniacally screaming “Video games made me do this.” It was only when he ran out of ammo that he suddenly seemed mortal, seconds before a girl with a snub nosed revolver blew the back of his skull out at point blank range. She squealed “You know they really are a murder and crime simulator. But don’t forget about the movies.”
I found myself struggling to maintain my journalistic integrity. I wanted to get out, pushing my way past women and children, never knowing who was strapped. Phil led me to a less used stair well.
“Are you ready? Because it’s about to get real.”
That wasn’t real?
“Those were n00bs. The real gamers are already out on the street.”
Sure enough squads in matching jerseys of red, blue, gold, green, and silver had coordinated against one another. A faction of the blue squad had smashed through the window of the nearby Stop N Shop and picked off anybody who would attempt to challenge their line of sight. Green team members had taken over the Shake Shack. The red and gold were desperately battling for the turf in front of a Modells.
I moved toward the subway platform, but Phil grabbed me.
We waved through the crowd, trying at once to look menacing enough to leave a would be attacker with something to consider without leading anybody to believe that we would fire if they didn’t put us down first. A delicate balance to be sure.
Horse mounted cops began to fire teargas into the streets, in an almost hopeless attempt to get the swarm of bloodthirsty kids to disperse. Phil pulled his shirt over his head to keep the burning clouds out of his eyes and breath. It was only then that I could see that he had been hit, and was limping through the street. He threw his body in front of a Mini Cooper, being driven by a scared woman.
She obliged and ran as fast as she could into the darkness. Phil sank into the back seat and slowly began to bleed to death. I lied to him. I told him that it was going to be okay. He saw through my empty condolences as I nervously drove to New York-Presbyterian.
“I’m done, man. God damn these video games.”
I tried to tell him to calm down and keep pressure on the wound.
“Ian, you’ve gotta promise me, you’ll stay away from those damn video games. Listen to what the President says.”
I mentioned that a lot of people thought that his own rhetoric was fueling this violence.
“No. He’s condemned violence a few times. This is all video games and the mental illness they cause. And the media. And gangs, to some degree. But really, it’s the video games. It just crazies up our blood. We can’t help ourselves. And what has Hillary Clinton done about any of this? Nothing.”
I told him to rest and stay with me.
“Just promise me…you’ll listen to the President. And his…supporters…aren’t racist. That isn’t really relevant to the discussion, but it’s been weighing on me, and I wanted to get it out there. Promise me. Promise me that you’ll…listen to him.”
And that was it. I lost him in a stolen car at the corner of 7th Ave and 3rd. I pulled into the ER parking, its glowing lights as seductive as an oasis in the desert. Medical personnel ran to the car. I explained that he was already gone, and they shook their heads.
“This was that damn tournament, wasn’t it? When will people learn?”
I walked. It was miles and miles to get back home to my wife and kid, but I’d walk all across Brooklyn in the dark, praying for the dawn, and wondering if anything could ever change. The game developers aren’t going to reform themselves. And America isn’t going to do away with their games so deep into an addiction. I’d always thought that video game violence was something that happened to other people. And now it had affected me, and taken away a good man who I had only just met. So if nothing else, this piece will be a means of showing my respect for Phil.