An hour later, I was back to try again, and a few hours after that, after tapping the limit of my sparse understanding of BASIC programming, I'd "optimized" the configuration files so that my boot disk would actually work and the damn game would actually play.
I'd gotten up at the crack of noon that day to celebrate my victory over the creeping tendrils of mediocrity by purchasing a top-of-the-middle-of-the-road PC and the year's hottest game. It was well after dark by the time I actually fired it up, but as soon as I did, I knew all of the trouble had been worth it.
The LucasArts logo appeared on the screen, followed immediately by music I'd have known anywhere and the slow crawl of yellow text up the screen. Instantly, my own world faded away; my fears, my disappointments and my unrealized dreams detached from my mind and fell about 10 feet behind me. I was no longer Russ Pitts, live-at-home, retail working, failed student and breakup victim. I was TK421, TIE Fighter pilot, Imperial Naval Officer and generally evil badass.
There's something liberating about being a bad guy. You're not restrained by the same morality, the same rules of behavior as we are in our normal lives. And let's face it: The bad guys always have the best-laid plans. I often find myself rooting for the bad guys in films, in spite of the horrendous agony and emotional distress they inevitably cause. Because seriously, an underwater volcano base complete with space shuttle launching pad? No amount of patriotic, save-the-world mumbo-jumbo tops that. And no amount of living-by-the-rules, saving money, studying and "taking me to football games" "satisfaction of doing the right thing" on that particular day could top being the bad guy in my favorite movie universe of all time.
On that day I learned two things about myself that have remained true to this day. The first was that I am irrevocably a gamer. The second: When given a choice in the matter, I will always choose the dark side.
Sorry, Universe, their side goes to 11.
I've blown away his shields, but his wingmen are coming on strong. I break off to thin them out a little.
They go down easy, their pathetic training shooting womp rats in Beggar's Canyon back home is no match for the extensive training regimen of the Imperial Navy. I gleefully imagine their muffled http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilhelm_scream" title="Wilhelm Scream" target="_blank">Wilhelm screams as they die horribly, exposed to the vacuum of space as they eject from their crippled craft.
"Stay on target," I say, laughing, as I re-engage the leader.
With his escort gone, he's lost a bit of his cool. He's jinking wildly and varying his speed. He's harder to lock onto but still no match for the power of my evilness. With a few easy twitches of the Flightstick's HAT control, I redirect power from my shields to my blasters and blow him out of the sky.
His X-Wing incinerates around him, pieces of it twirling away into space as I go to full throttle, fly straight through the fireball and start scanning the blackness for more rebel scum to kill. There are none; I am victorious.
John Williams's haunting, martial music surges, and I feel a twinge of pride. I grip my joystick tightly, stare out through my cockpit at the blackness of space and prepare to reclaim this sector in the name of the emperor to the accompaniment of a stuttering, triumphant horn section.
I'm a TIE fighter pilot. And to steal from Roddy Piper, I've come to kick rebel ass and chew bubblegum. But I'm all out of bubble gum.
Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He has written and produced for television, theatre and film, has been writing on the web since it was invented and claims to have played every console ever made.