Richard and I sat on opposite sides of a huge mahogany desk. In his world, he was a success. He had been the vice president of a large international bank, and now he owned his own financial consultancy group, of which I was an employee. His manner suggested he had some serious news.
"We're going to have to let you go," he said. "I don't feel there's really a place for you here. I'm sorry."
And that was the end of my unpromising career in finance. In Richard's world, I was a failure. But I didn't care. I had been sacked because my attention was focused elsewhere: Quake III Arena.
id Software's Quake III was honed to a special kind of perfection over years of patching and layer after layer of mod coding. It was transformed from the basic idea of people running around in an arena blasting each other with outlandish weapons into a competitive experience which has yet to be paralleled by gaming science.
I was happy to be fired, because I clearly had better things to do. I might have been an unemployed bum with an ever-decreasing bank balance, but I had a Quake team to run. In that, at least, I was determined to be a success.
Yet, I hadn't started out all that seriously. At the time Quake III landed, I was playing the deathmatch version of hoodlum-shooter Kingpin and explaining to my Dad that yes, these were real people in the game and no, he couldn't use the telephone tonight. I joined a team, a "clan," and was happy to irregularly play in matches on Tuesday nights.
Soon, I was the top scorer in our team, and I was pretty pleased to leave my online gaming at that. As other games came out, though, the Kingpin scene began to disperse. Just to support my weekly habit, I found myself looking beyond Kingpin for the first time. I decided I liked the techno-goth horror look of Quake III. I hadn't enjoyed Quake II all that much, but hey, maybe this would be different.
It was. While Quake II's deathmatch had been oddly ponderous, with rockets that strolled along like pedestrian bricks, Quake III was twitchy, precise, faster. I was suddenly presented with a different order of challenge. I was hugely excited and asked the remaining Kingpin players to try this incredible new game.
They did, but for various reasons, they were uninterested or uninspired. I continued to play organized competitive games of Kingpin, but I soon realized that the older game was small potatoes compared to what was going on in Quake III.
In Quake III, I had been on a server where one player had killed 20 others before my map had even loaded. He was talking about high-end clan play to other gamers on the server. He killed multiple assailants at will. He was showing off. I was in awe.