Ode to the Elite

It's very, very late at night. You slouch, joypad sweat-glued to your hand for something like the fifth consecutive hour. The folks are in bed, there's no light but the blue widescreen glow of The Game, and soon, birds outside will start singing. But you ignore this. You try to block the world from your senses and concentrate your attention on what has, over the preceding months, become the monster which swallowed your life.

This game holds the same importance to you that air does. It is Everything. Your challenge? Beat it. The hardest level, the hardest difficulty setting, the fastest time, the highest score. Nothing less than total mastery will be good enough, and perhaps not even that.

Tonight is The Night. Your will is strong. You will not move from your position until you succeed or die trying. This must happen. To quit now would be to nullify the value of everything you've poured into it, to deny the weeks of effort their vindication.

The Restart option haunts you. Again and again you are forced to return to it and it seems to laugh louder every time. Every time the doubt increases, every time it suggests a little harder, "Time to sleep now. Give up. Try again tomorrow." But your resolve strengthens - you can do this. You WILL do this tonight.

For the hundred thousandth time, the game begins. Enemies and challenges rise and fall in a pattern learned centuries ago, a pattern which pervades your every thought so hard that you're said to recite it in your sleep occasionally, a pattern that your thumbs trace by themselves when your concentration lapses. Your higher brain functions take a back seat as muscle memories perform the task they know so well. You watch, detached, as your hands try, restart, try again, restart - restart - RESTART. Success always follows you for so long, but failure, as you have seen on a infinity of past occasions, can strike even a micrometre from the goal. Only when the final target is hit and the game ends will you KNOW. "Nearly" counts for less than nothing.

Then the end screen appears, and a mental alarm wakes you from your dreamlike trance or trancelike dream. Something's different. A tremendous chill runs up and down your spine as you read the cold hard minutes and seconds. You pinch yourself and the data remains on the screen that proves that YOU, sitting there joypad clutched astoundedly in hand, are the best in the world.

You did it. You broke the record. Tomorrow - well, today - you return to your life, to your studies or your slavery to the wage, as if nothing happened. Your folks won't know and your friends won't care - videogames are for kids, for messing around after the pub.

But here and now, for a couple of seconds, you are God.

Stop the tape. Rewind and relive it.

You were taping, right?


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