Games


During a neighborhood stroll some years back Susan and I chanced upon a pile of discards that included an old backgammon case that we brought home whose well-worn board told of countless games played upon it.

Since it has  sat pieceless atop the piano as a place to stand a vase or put a book. Then out of nowhere I decided it was high time to repopulate it with its movable parts to make it playable again. At first I wanted to do a slow search gathering an eclectic array of  round and flat items, but when I realized that was going to take a lot of work so instead I went to a backgammon resource in the internest and ordered me up some basic wooden pieces, dice cup and dice.

It’s a game I learned when I was not more than 9 or 10, and I can actually remember where. It was at a burger joint on the west side of La Cienega Boulevard south of Wilshire near where mom and I lived and it seemed they always had a backgammon board set up at a table outside with someone usually available and willing to teach you how to play. One day while waiting for our order I was watching a game in progress and my mom asked me if I wanted to learn. I shrugged off a “sure.” Next thing I know when the game being played had ended, I was invited up and taught the basics and fell in love with it. I don’t know if it was my next birthday or Christmas, but one of my gifts was a self-contained case similar to this one, except it had pockets to hold the pieces and die.

I haven’t seen that case since I moved from Encino in 2001 and I’m hoping it’s in a box somewhere in the basement, since I don’t want to imagine throwing such a cherished item out.

It’s been at least 12, maybe 15 years since I last played so I’m not entirely confident I have the pieces pictured above in the proper starting order, but I expect one theoretical rainy day I’ll double check so that Susan and I can sit on opposite sides of it and get our gammon on.

When I found out Modern Warfare 2 was available for the Playstation3 platform I wasted no time getting a copy… that I then let sit around unplayed for more than a month.

Why? Well, part of it was because I knew it was the kind of game that I could end up playing for hours and hours and hours, and I just haven’t really had that kind of free time lately. And part of it is that it’s a shoot-‘em-up that Susan would no doubt enjoy for about 30 seconds  before leaving me to be a big kid while she goes back to acting like an adult and wishing for games that weren’t so violent and loud.

But there was something else. Frankly I was a bit apprehensive of it. This after reading a review in which the writer didn’t hold back the horror he felt upon discovering a nightmarish mission early on in the game. His rational side couched the episode as being a bold and risky move for the games makers to take, but his gamer side was pretty totally freaked out by it.

Well, I finally got around to giving the disc a spin, and yeah it’s freaking awesome. The first couple missions are standard Good Guys v. Bad Guys and you’re tasked with killing anything and everything that’s trying to kill you — first in some Middle Eastern urban hot spot, and next in a frozen military base in Afghanistan. The action’s intense, the graphics are stellar.

Next up, you’re given an undercover operation and your commander cryptically says something like “You don’t want to know what it cost to get you in this close, but it’s a small price to pay with what we can ultimately accomplish blah blah blah.”

I’m all: whatever. Bring. It!

Next thing you know the screen is black and there’s just audio of weapons being loaded and movement of some sort and such for a few seconds, and when the scene fades in you find your character in an elevator with several other men all dressed alike. At first, you’re thinking these are fellow soldiers. Cool, good guys. Then the elevator stops, the doors open and all of you walk almost casually out of it into a Russian airport terminal jam-packed with people waiting in lines to check-in.

Some of the would-be passengers and an airport police officer look over at you almost disinterested as you enter, and for a second you’re wondering what’s going to happen next. And then it happens. The carnage. And the panic. Without warning your fellow gun-toters open up on the innocent civilians. When they’ve mowed everyone down there they proceed through the building killing more. They even slay people who stand with their hands up in surrender. One guy caps a wounded man dragging himself across the floor.

Once pretty much everyone inside is dead or dying, the squad heads outside and confronts an army of Russian law enforcement. You advance through them just as bloodily and violently until the end of the level is reached in the form of an escape vehicle.

My first time through, I just watched, gape-mouthed and in total wide-eyed chilling shock from the first shot and the first scream. I didn’t fire a shot until I finally got angry and tried to kill the killers. The first time you wing one you’re warned rather ironically to watch your fire. The next time you hit one of them he turns, yells out “Traitor!” and kills you.

So the next time through I clench my jaw and fire a lot of rounds, but I aim at everything but moving targets. The idea of killing innocent people was sickening to me — even if those innocents were just essentially cartoon characters in a fictional game scenario. Once outside, I let the real bad guys do most of the dirty work while doing the same wild firing, while trying to avoid getting shot by the cops firing back with much greater accuracy. Unfortunately I had to kill a few who got too close for my survival, but at least they were armed.

Eventually all five of us arrived at the escape vehicle, and for a fleeting moment I think I’m free and clear until the leader climbs inside and turns around suddenly — having apparently known all along I was an infiltrator — to put a bullet in my head.

In short, it’s a game you can’t win.