My friend Trevor cocks his head. "Did you hear that?" he asks. We listen.
"There. You hear that?" It's a tentative knock on the door. We look at each other. Who's knocking? Why would someone knock? I go to the door while everyone waits.
"Hey, it's me," the new guy says when I open the door for him. "I wasn't sure if this was the right place. Why is the light off?"
"You can just come on in next time. No need to knock," I tell him, checking down the street to see if anyone else is out here. "We're in the back. Come on in. We're just about to start."
It's his first night at Shoot Club. He'll be known as the new guy for a few weeks. That's assuming he makes it through a few weeks. Then he'll get a nickname, or he'll be stuck with his own name because no one could think of a nickname that sticks. But mostly, who you are at Shoot Club is not who you are in the rest of the world. I introduce him to everyone.
"Why are all the lights off?" he asks.
"That's just the way it is," Trevor says, stepping forward. Trevor is wearing a red jacket and a T-shirt that says "godmode ON," just like that, with the "on" in capital letters. His right arm is in a cast. He's standing under a single bulb lighting the center of the dim room. It's like a UFO just beamed him down to Earth.
There are six computers running in the rooms behind him. There's a big TV in here, and most likely two or three of the console systems will soon get left on. Add to that the PSPs that are always charging. Someone might make popcorn in the microwave. Shoot Club drinks electricity like it's going out of style. So we leave off non-essentials like lights that aren't needed for boardgaming. It's a matter of resource allocation, like in Command & Conquer 3 when you turn off your barracks so you can drop an extra anti-infantry turret.
"Gentlemen, welcome to Shoot Club," Trevor announces. He is overweight and losing his hair, which is too long. There are Doritos in his beard. The godmode ON T-shirt is fraying. It might even stink. But he doesn't care. We're just a bunch of dudes. "The first rule of Shoot Club ..."
"... is you don't talk about Shoot Club?" the new guys offers. "Heh."
Trevor fixes him with something like a glare. "Actually, you should totally talk about Shoot Club. If people didn't talk about Shoot Club, guys like you wouldn't be here."
"Everyone says that, though," I tell the new guy, so he doesn't feel bad. "Everyone makes a joke that the first rule of Shoot Club is you don't talk about Shoot Club."
Trevor resumes. "No, the first rule of Shoot Club is you must bring food or drink to share with everyone."
Everyone lifts his contribution. Twinkies. Diet Pepsi. Carrot sticks in little packets. About six varieties of chips. Mike brings a jar of Skippy peanut butter, some cheap grape jelly, and the most generic godawful white bread he can find. He is brilliant.
"The second rule of Shoot Club is you must bring food or drink to share with everyone. The third rule of Shoot Club- what is that?"
Jude has a Nintendo DS and is tapping at the screen with the stylus.
"I can see that. What is that you're playing on it?"
"Sudoku." He holds it out to show the little grid. He's only got part of a couple of rows filled in.
"The third rule of Shoot Club is you do not play Sudoku at Shoot Club."
"You just made that one up."
Trevor looks at me to back him up. I sort of shrug. "It's pretty close to a crossword puzzle. Are we going to start doing crosswords at Shoot Club? What's next, needlepoint?"
Jude knows I have a point. He claps the DS shut.
"The fourth rule of Shoot Club is if you announce you're reloading, the other guy isn't supposed to shoot you, but he will anyway. The fifth rule of Shoot Club is since I'm disabled" - he points to his cast - "I get to use the 360 to play whatever I want. And the last rule of Shoot Club is if this is your first time, you must shoot."
The camera zips by him, the Dust Brothers soundtrack swells and there's an awesome montage of us playing Call of Duty 2. At least, that's how it would go if Shoot Club was a movie. Instead, it's just a bunch of us guys. We argue about who gets the best computer and who wants to play co-op, split-screen Gears, which would mean we only have five for Call of Duty, while Peter petitions for a shooter that doesn't give him motion sickness, and Mike is looking for a clean knife to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while Jude digs around for the cookie sheet for the tater tots, hollering from the kitchen to ask if I have any ketchup. Everyone else is talking about whether Starbuck is a Cylon.
"How come we don't play SWAT anymore?" Peter asks no one in particular.
"Well, do you at least have ketchup packets, like from Jack in the Box? We can't have tater tots without ketchup."
"Here's some thousand island dressing," Jude offers.
"It expired in 2005."
"I'm sure it's still good. Those dates are just to protect them from lawsuits."
"Can we make popcorn?" Jude yells from the kitchen. "Will it kill the power again?"
"Your arm is busted," the new guys says to Trevor. "Can you even play?"
Last week, for the second time since I've known him, Treovr broke his arm. The first time it broke when he was riding his nephew Donny's Razor Kick Scooter. Most recently, he broke it during a highly public display of gracelessness I was present to witness.
"Yeah, how about that? You should do an article about disabled gamers," Trevor says to me, waggling his fingers to demonstrate that he's a disabled gamer. The cast makes him look like someone who was doing karate or maybe snowboarding. It goes from his elbow, past his wrist. His thumb is locked at an angle and the plaster goes all the way to his knuckles, leaving his fingers to splay out of the end of the smooth, white tube, like the tentacles at the end of a chthonian or some sort of sandworm.
"How'd you do it?"
"Parkour injury," Trevor says dismissively. He's not entirely lying. Crackdown, Parkour, who's counting?
To be continued...
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.