It’s Friday evening again, and as we’ve done so many hundreds — thousands? — of times before over the past 30 years, the Bearman and I are drinking together. He’s got rye and water, and I have my usual crappy Korean beer. We’re sitting on a cliff at the edge of the caldera high on top on an extinct volcano, looking down into the crater lake under clear blue skies, enjoying the view before we get back on the road. We’re talking about our wives and our jobs and whatever else comes to mind, as we always have, just shooting the shit and trying to figure stuff out. And failing, but the fun is in making the attempt. A storm front looks to be coming in from the east, so we decide to head west, around the rim of the caldera, and make for the ocean coast. We finish our drinks, fire up our engines, and go. It’ll probably take us a couple of hours to reach the seaside, but we have time, and we have booze. The new thing here, though, is that he’s on one side of the Pacific Ocean, and I’m on the other, and there are no drink-driving laws being broken. We’re Online Freeriding in FUEL.
It’s 1985, and the Bearman, Rick and I are in the Bearman’s clapped-out Datsun F10, heading south along a mostly-deserted rainslick Granville Street in Vancouver under the orange halogen streetlights. It’s around 2am, and we’re drunk but wide awake, and we’re hungry, so we’re going to the 24-hour drivethrough McDonalds out on Marine Drive after a long session of boozing downtown. We’re singing along to AC/DC on the cassette player, because that’s what you sing along to when you’re drunk and you’re us and you’re 20 years old and life is both great and very cheap.
that’s what you sing along to when you’re drunk and you’re us and you’re 20 years old and life is both great and very cheap
We’re at a red light, and a couple of proto-bros about our age in a muscle car pull up beside us on the right. I’m sitting in the passenger seat, so the driver of the other car is a couple of feet from me. He revs his engine, and the whole front end of the car torques a bit, and he nods forward while looking over at us, inviting us to race down the mostly-deserted street ahead of us. I laugh out loud, which is clearly not the reaction he was expecting, because he looks pissed. I look over at The Bearman, who’s been watching this little exchange, and say ‘these idiots want to race us. In the F10.’ He gets a pained look on his face, because, you know, he’s certainly over the legal limit, and it just seems like a stupid idea all around. As usual, I’m all about Enthusiasm For Stupid and Dangerous Things, so I say ‘COME ON MAN DOOO EEET’ just as the light turns green, and some atavistic impulse takes hold of the Bearman’s foot, and he stomps the gas, and we’re off.
The other car pulls ahead of us almost immediately, of course, and after a few seconds and maybe half a block, Bearman eases off the gas again, and we have a laugh at the ridiculousness of it, and I light another Player’s Light, and go back to singing.
A couple of streetlights later, and there ahead of us is the same car who blew past us, piled into the back of a bus sitting at a bus stop. There are a few people clustered around. We slow down and drive by slowly, through the fan of glass and plastic, and the whole front end of the car is crushed and crumpled. There is blood. It’s pretty damned clear how unlikely it is that either of those guys survived.
We did a lot of stupid things involving cars and booze when we were young. That was one of the last times, but not the very last, I’m embarrassed to say. We did a lot of stupid things that we were lucky to live through.
We’ve known each other for nearly 4 decades, the Bearman and I. Even though it’s been 25 years since I’ve lived in Canada, he is still my closest friend, and on those rare occasions we get together in the same place, we still drink together, because we still love the booze, and we’ve been lucky enough that that love hasn’t ruined our lives or our livers. It’s also been about 25 years since we spent enormous of amounts of time together in cars, but back in the day, our adventures had two components that were constant and cherished: drinking rye, and the open road. Some of my most indelible memories of my late teens and early twenties are tied to automobiles and the drinking sessions they took us to, decanted us out of, or even, sometimes, played host to.
But we grew up and we got smarter and we got married and we drank less and stopped with the drinking and driving and me, I left Canada more or less permanently. Today, once every couple of years when I come back for a visit, we drink and talk and it’s just as rewarding and joyous as the old days were, but we stay the hell away from operating motor vehicles while the booze is flowing. Even though both of us love driving with a passion, and, no matter how aware we are of how wrong and stupid and held in justifiable contempt it is by society, we kind of miss those long ago sessions of driving around mostly deserted mostly small town roads with drinks in our hands, looking for someplace to happen.
It’s 1994, and I’m back in our hometown for a brief visit before leaving the country again. I’m staying at my mom’s place, and she has a computer and a modem. And Shane has given me a copy of Doom. We’re IPX connected directly via phone line — there’s no internet in the town yet — and I’m shooting him in the face and he’s shooting me in the face and it is completely blowing my mind. I’d been playing games on computers since 1977 when I got my first one, a TRS-80 Model III, but this. This. Is. Incredible. He’s at home, 15 kms around the lakeshore, and I’m sitting here, and we’re somehow, unbelievably, both in a virtual space in first person, running around and blowing each other up. As it was for a lot of people, this is my first experience with virtual presence, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
My mom comes into the room and peers at the screen, curious about why I’m whooping to myself in the office. I tell her that that blocky space marine on the screen is Shane, and ask him via the text chat to say hi to my mom. ‘Hi Sandy’ pops up on the screen. I think she’s convinced it’s some kind of trick. In a way, I guess, it is.
At least a couple of times a month these days, early Friday evening here in Korea, late Thursday night in Canada, the Bearman and I put on our headsets, pour ourselves some drinks, and go driving together in FUEL. Without fail, we’ll stop at some point and marvel at some spectacular vista or weather system or hilariously fun stunts we’ve manage to pull off on a quad or dirt bike, and without fail, we’ll also stop at some point to finish a drink and be quietly amazed at what we are doing. We’re 50 years old, we’re best friends separated by a third of the planet, but here we are, drinking and driving and talking and loving it just like we did a quarter of a century ago.
Of all the good things that gaming has brought into my life in recent years — a community of wonderful people at MefightClub, new friends, fun and wonder and entertainment, new ways to bleed off the pressure of the creative impulses that keeping pushing at my skull, all of it — I think this simple pleasure of time shared with an old friend brings me the most joy.
We couldn’t possibly have imagined it back in the day, this kind of continuity of shared experience transplanted from Real Life into a virtual world, that we’d be able to hang out and do the same sort of risky, stupid things we did back when we were young and dumb, but with consequences no more dire than a possible hangover the next morning. If someone had’ve suggested it to our 20-year-old selves, we would have dismissed it as science-fictiony dreaming.
But here we are — in fact, about 6 hours from now as I write this — there we will be again, because it’s Friday in Korea.
And I literally can’t wait for things like the Oculus Rift to become a reality, because I suspect 10 years from now, we’ll be sitting on different continents and drinking our drinks, the Bearman and I, and we’ll look back to 2014 and laugh about how primitive the experience was.
But for now? For now, it’s glorious.
[Update: I’m running a weekly giveaway for posters on Gamefilter, and I’ve bought four Steam key copies of FUEL that I’ll be adding to the prize pools over the coming weeks.]
stavros thewonderchicken has written 125 FGEC articles.