We're getting the new guy situated at one of the computers. The game will be Call of Duty 2. It will be 3 vs. 3. One of the North Africa maps, naturally.
"You have to use WASD," Trevor explains. "No rebinding because then someone has to rebind again when your team loses and you have to sit out. That's a big hassle for everyone. So you're cool with WASD, right?"
The new guy isn't sure what WASD is, but he says he's cool with it.
"Use these four keys," I lean in to tell him. "WS for forward and backward, and AD for strafing."
"You guys don't have controllers, like for Halo?" the new guy asks.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that," Trevor says. "Now, do you invert your mouse?"
We all look at him. It's an important question. If you're on a 747 and someone has to take the controls so the tower can talk him down, you're going to want it to be someone who inverts his mouse. Trevor calls it the One True Mouse. Wars have been fought over it. Well, skirmishes, at any rate. Deathmatches, too. And CTF.
Lefties are also bad. They leave the mouse on the wrong side of the keyboard, and a lot of times they want to use the cursor keys instead of WASD. Then they whine when you shoot them while they're reloading, because it's not as easy to hit R if you're cursor keying. Worst of all, when you sit down at a computer last used by a lefty, you instinctively reach out to take the mouse, but your right hand hovers over empty air. It's a brief moment of cognitive dissonance, like waking up on someone else's couch after you've been out drinking the night before. Okay, maybe not that drastic.
"Invert?" the new guy asks.
"Yeah, you know, like upside down," Trevor says.
The new guy considers the mouse. He twists it around on the table so the cord is facing him. Inverted. "No, the other way is fine," he says, still considering it.
"He's on your team," Trevor declares. Because the new guy is getting used to mouselooking, this is basically a 2 vs. 3 game with the new guy firing wildly and walking into walls. We lose, of course.
"Okay, I call Command & Conquer 3," I announce three games later. "I'm invoking executive privilege." I can do that, since I live here. Mostly we vote, but sometimes I play the role of benevolent dictator.
"Have you played that one?" Trevor asks the new guy.
"I don't think so. Is it new?"
"You haven't played. I'm gonna Guitar Hero out while you explain it to him. Oh, and he's on your team."
"Don't sweat it," I tell the new guy. "It's a pretty easy game. Fun, too."
We sip our beers while I show him the basics about how to mine tiberium, how to build units and how to use the attack move. I suggest a direction up the tech tree, which is more like a tech shrub in Command & Conquer 3. I even propose a basic team strategy.
"Is the new guy ready?" Trevor asks, taking a break between Guitar Hero II songs.
"You ready?" I ask the new guy.
"I think so," the new guy says. "Let's try this."
"He's on your team," Trevor says. "I'll take Mike, who sucks, to balance out the new guy. 2 vs. 2, Downtown Dustbowl, full speed, crates."
"Half speed. We're not playing full speed. And no crates."
The game starts. Trevor immediately comes at the new guy with a half-dozen buzzers, just like I knew he would. The new guy has a watchtower ready to drop. The buzzers are quickly dispatched.
"Okay, next, he'll come in with a few vehicles," I remind the new guy. "They'll look like bugs, but they're vehicles. Be ready."
Trevor's second wave is fended off. "Stop turtling, fuck knuckle," Trevor yells from the other room.
"Fuck knuckle?" the new guys asks.
"It's a Shoot Club thing." The new imprecation this week is "fuck knuckle." Last week it was "shit biscuit." We try to mix it up, get a little creative. There are a few old favorites like "cock monkey" and "bitch nugget." but most of them are as ephemeral as college poetry.
Now Mike and I are beating up on each other in the middle of the map. We kill each other's armies. Everything is going according to plan.
"You ready?" I ask the new guy.
"Umm, I don't know. Almost. Give me a couple more minutes."
"I just took out Mike's army, so we may not have a couple more minutes. Let's move out now."
"Okay, let's do it."
Four Mammoth tanks roll out of the new guy's base, with two more in the queue. "You got the rail guns, right?" I remind him.
"They'll be done by the time we get there," he says.
"Good man. Here we go."
It's slow going, but we roll over everything in our path. My Venoms hover overhead, fending off the Stormriders and Disintegrators. A Scrin carrier heaves into view and the Venoms are chewed up pretty bad. But they keep the alien fighters off the Mammoths. Then my Shadow Soldiers land and split off into pairs, each planting charges on three of Trevor's power plants. The Mammoths pull up to a row of blackened powerless Storm Columns. The timing is perfect. We hear Trevor cursing loudly in the next room each time the Mammoths knock down one of his $3,000 Storm Columns. "You fuck knuckles tank rushed me!"
"You've played before," he says to the new guy after the game.
"No. I swear. This was my first time."
"Maybe not this game, but other RTSes. Right?"
"Well, yeah, Warcraft."
"See! I knew it. Warcraft 3?"
"I don't know if there was a number after it. I think it was just Warcraft. It was a long time ago, when I was in college. My roommate showed it to me."
"I knew it. I fucking knew it. You're a ringer. That throws off the balance of Shoot Club when you misrepresent your skill level."
"Now, come on," I say.
"The first rule of Shoot Club is that you do not misrepresent your skill level. And plus he was using Mammoth tanks. Mammoth tanks are overpowered, just like I was telling you at Subway, and you know it. I bet you told him to do that."
"I did. I was air power, he was the ground assault."
"You can't use teamwork like that. It's totally unfair. Mike knew fuck all about what he was doing, but you didn't see me helping him, because it wouldn't be fair. You guys are cheap. That's just cheap. It's no fun when you do that. Plus, my arm." He slaps his cast. We shrug. "Fuck you guys. I'm going to play Guitar Hero.
"Without you," he adds.
The new guy is bummed. "Is he really mad?" he asks.
"No, he'll get over it. Give him a minute."
"Hey, new guy, get in here," Trevor calls from the other room. "Pick up that guitar. Let me show you something." In no time at all, they're playing co-op, with the new guy on easy and Trevor on hard, his plastered arm awkwardly wrapped around the little guitar. The cast makes an extra loud clicking sound on the strum bar.
In two days, the new guy will call me. "My wife doesn't want me to come over next week," he'll say.
"Look, you just have to come to some agreement with her. Use the one about 'would she rather have you going out to bars and drinking?' That usually works."
"Can you just make sure I leave by midnight? Just kick me out. Kick me right out. Promise you'll make me leave at midnight."
"I'm sorry, I can't do that."
"What if there are five of us and we need you for a sixth? What if you're in the middle of a 2 vs. 2 game of C&C, and it's really close? What if you're playing Puerto Rico and you're in the lead? I can't do that. There are bigger issues here than your wife. This is Shoot Club. These are games."
"I haven't pulled an all-nighter since I was in college. I was literally falling asleep at work. I'm surprised I didn't lose my job."
"Sometimes, a guy has to get a different job."
"That's easy for you to say. You have a cool job. You just play games all the time. How do I get that job? I want to do what you do."
"No. No, you don't," I will say, lying to make him feel better. "Look, maybe you could just come late, after your wife has crashed. She doesn't even have to know you're gone. And remember, you don't need to knock. Just come on in."
But now it's 5:00 a.m., the morning after the new guy's first night at Shoot Club. Technically, it's still the same night. We're at the loading screen for another round of C&C3. Three-player free for all. Jude is crashed on the couch where he fell asleep while playing Sudoku on his DS.
"I don't have to be at work tomorrow," Trevor beams, waggling his fingers at the end of his cast. That's when 5:00 a.m. is at its best. When you remember that you don't have to do anything the next day, so you can probably stay up another hour.
"Fuck! Work. I gotta be at work in two hours," says the new guy.
"That's right, fuck work. Two hours? That gives us time for at least one more game after this. Do you need to take a shower before you go in? If not, we can probably do three. Welcome to Shoot Club."
Tom Chick has been writing about videogames for fifteen years. His work appears in Games for Windows Magazine, Yahoo, Gamespy, Sci-Fi, and Variety. He lives in Los Angeles. Shoot Club will be appearing in this space every Thursday.