"Have you ever been doing something, some lengthy, repetitive, dull task, and found your hands start working all by themselves and your mind begins to wander elsewhere? He was like that with videogames. He was into Buddhism. I'm not sure he bought or even understood all of it, but he really liked that whole meditation thing. He said that when he sat down in front of a television screen, he found that the concentration focused just a small part of his mind, while releasing the rest of it. So he started meditating while playing Tetris. It sounded crazy at first, but the more I thought about it, the less dumb it sounded. I actually tried it out once. Didn't quite get the hang of it, but I got the point.
"What I didn't get was how meditating made him so darned good at videogames. I mean, he must have been receiving distilled wisdom of the ancient gamers direct from Buddha or something, 'cause he could beat us at any game. Even if we ganged up on him. Quake: he'd walk into a room full of rocket-toting veterans and rail them all to hell. Walk out without even getting singed. This probably doesn't mean anything to you, does it?"
"So this one day he got this parcel in the mail, from America. Said it was the fastest version of Tetris ever created. He got it customised from one that was already on the market in Japan. Got a programmer acquaintance to take a look and modify it, take out all the speed restrictions. This thing would run to the limits of the console's hardware and beyond. He was very excited about this. I knew he was. Tetris is his favourite game. 'A combination of white-hot concentration and detached bliss' he said about it once. Probably trying to be deep."
"Yeah, I can tell you who the programmer was, but listen, he isn't a suspect here. I know what happened and I'm about to tell you, and it wasn't his fault. ...All right, all right. Got a pen?"
"That's his number, I forgot his address, but I can find out for you. It's in Michigan somewhere. So my mate was all excited, he cleared an entire weekend, got a whole load of food and drink and settles down on his bean bag to play a single, solid run of one-player Tetris, from Saturday night to as far into Sunday as he could manage. That's a hefty whack of gameplay you've got there."
"No, it's not unusual. He's done forty-eight hour stints before now."
"Well I decided to sleep through the slow early stages, and turned up at his house Sunday morning. Score was already somewhere in the hundred thousands. The tetraminoes were moving very fast - thunk, thunk, thunk, pretty rapid, but he was keeping on top of it, he was doing okay. We had a short conversation, I had some breakfast. He didn't want to stop playing, so I fed him some fruit and water while he played on."
"No, at the time I didn't see anything unusual. That was about ten in the morning. By noon the blocks were going thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk, three or four a second. I was having difficulty following the blocks as they fell. Certainly I couldn't see how he was keeping one eye on the current block and another to see what the next one was. His hands were jittering about the joypad too fast to follow. He wasn't responding to questions until I repeated them two or three times. Obviously his concentration was being eaten up. After he got half a million points I stopped asking him questions, so he could keep his concentration. Sat behind him eating popcorn.
"By one o'clock Sunday afternoon, he was landing something like ten blocks a second. Thunkthunkthunkthunkthunk, I couldn't understand how he was even seeing individual blocks, let alone moving his hands fast enough. I thought he might have got himself a customised, ultrasensitive joypad, meaning he only has to twitch his fingers very slightly to activate the buttons. The screen was a blur. I could just about make out individual states in the playing field as they went past, and I could tell that despite the pressure he was still getting Tetrises."
"You know, when you drop the four-by-one down the side and get four rows at once? So by this stage I figured he was pretty near the end, so I cued up the videotape and started recording. I went upstairs and got his camcorder too, so I could film him playing live. Yeah, that film. Did you see the point where I went in for a close-up of his eyes?"
"Don't ask me. I haven't a clue. All I know is, by this time his score meter was a permanent blur. He kept going. The blocks went faster. The sound of them falling accelerated until it was like a continuous rumble, then a whirr, then a whine. By this time, the blocks are falling about as fast as the processor can handle... The game, I then realised, had been reprogrammed to handle this. First it cut out the 3D animated backdrops. Gradually it started cutting out visual effects and sound effects and backdrops until there was nothing but monochrome lines, rising and falling like a graphic equalizer. No sound effects, the only sound in the room was the sound of his fingers on the pad.
"At five in the afternoon, the tape I'd shoved in the VCR ran out. He was still playing so I stuck a new one in. It was obvious to me by now that he was in some kind of trance. He was playing far beyond anything I'd ever seen before. The framerate on the screen topped out at about 60Hz. I watched the score skyrocket and figured that he was landing at least five blocks a frame, which, even if I bought the rest, was categorically impossible. By this time I was definitely starting to realise that something was up. Something I've not met before."
"I didn't really know what I was expecting to happen. I don't know that much about deep meditation. For the record, I certainly didn't know there was any risk involved."
"So six o'clock comes and he thunders towards the one million mark. I've still got the camcorder running, to catch the momentous score on tape. Did I say that the world record was only about five hundred and ten kay? One million flashes past. Forty-five seconds later the thing which nobody ever, EVER thought possible happens. The score tops out, at one million, forty-eight thousand, five hundred and seventy-five lines. The game freezes, locks up solid, and so does my mate."
"No, I was nowhere near him. You can watch the tape. I was holding the camcorder. I had him and the screen in line of sight the entire time, you can see I never touched him while he was playing."
"Well, the first thing I did after he collapsed was roll him off the pad and check his pulse. Nothing. Fumbled my phone out of my pocket and I was calling an ambulance within about thirty seconds of the game freezing. Gave him CPR as best I could - my last lesson was a long, long time ago - but by the time the medics arrived it had already been about eight minutes and he still wasn't responding. I stood back to let them try to jumpstart his heart, but by that time I was beginning to think. Cogs were whirring."
"No. It wasn't hunger, it wasn't thirst, I kept him topped up the entire time. There was nothing in the water I gave him. He wasn't anorexic, or diabetic, or epileptic. He definitely wasn't on any drugs. Not even caffeine. The post mortem will tell you that. I did nothing to him, I swear. The autopsy will tell you all of this."
"Listen to me. You asked me to tell you what happened, and I'm telling you what I think happened. He did not die, officer. He is not DEAD."