Games


A recent description of outgoing disgraced President Donald Trump as a “sore loser” reminded me of when I myself was last a sore loser. Thankfully I was 11, not 74. And it wasn’t a presidential election I lost and a Republic I then tried to overthrow, it was just a Big Brothers/Big Sisters fun softball game at a park in Hollywood.

The team that I and my volunteer Big Brother Lloyd Miller were on had run up a huge lead — something seemingly insurmountable like double digits — that we then somehow managed to blow in the last inning and lose. When their winning run crossed the plate and the game was over I was furious. I mean like ugly-crying furious. I didn’t congratulate any of my opponents, I didn’t shake any of their hands. I ran from my position at first base into the outfield almost out-of-control bawling and screaming to the point where when Lloyd caught up with me he didn’t yell and he didn’t scream. He just tersely told me to go finish my tantrum over by his truck in the parking lot, which I was more than happy to do because I couldn’t stand that everyone else was laughing and enjoying themselves and couldn’t have cared less about the outcome of the game.

When he finally came over we got inside and he drove me home. He was quiet for the first mile or so. Then he told me he apologized to everyone on my behalf. Then he told me he absolutely hated having to do that. Then he asked me why I’d gotten so upset. I told him because we lost. He asked if that was the first time I’d ever lost at something, and of course it wasn’t. Then he matter of fact told me that he hated losing too, and asked me if I’d ever seen Steve Garvey or Jack Youngblood or any of my sports heroes behave similarly when they lose, which of course I hadn’t. He said they probably hated losing more than me because it was their job to win, but that they behaved the way they did because they were Men, which if I was going be one I’d better learn and quick how to be mature and not only handle my emotions and reject such bad behavior but also be polite in treating my opponents and the sport I play with respect and decency whether I win or lose.

He finished by saying how ashamed and embarrassed he was by my disgraceful behavior and that because of it we were going to take a couple weeks break from getting together, during which time he wanted me to think long about if I wanted to be a good sport and a better person or continue to be a bad sport and a lesser person, and to give him a call ONLY if or when I made the RIGHT decision.

I called him a few days later. We remained Big and Little Brother for another six years.

Little has changed from how the field looked in the mid-1970s. Thankfully I changed plenty.

PS. I have never gone past that field still there at Cahuenga and Santa Monica Boulevard without feeling both shame and pride, the latter because of my Big Brother Lloyd, thanks to whom I left a petulant child behind in the outfield that night and took my first steps towards being a man.

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.