This year was to be the first year I spent American Thanksgiving in America. And oh how I hungered for it. I had been told bedtime stories involving lakes of yams, mountains of pumpkin pie and roast turkey that even other turkeys couldn’t resist. But it was not to be, as unforeseen circumstances (aka dog no. 2, aka Jupiter) kept me in Toronto while Vanessa went stateside to spend the holidays with her family. So here I find myself, alone in the big city, stuck with three pledges:
1) I will not play Half-Life 2 until I have upgraded my video card.
2) I will not play Half-Life 2 until the next column is completed.
3) The next column will not be about Half-Life 2.
I drop Vanessa at the airport, and return home determined to work and work and work.
I bring home the new video card in swaddling cloths and spend much time obsessing over it. The BFG GeForce 6800OC is an overclocked-out-of-the-box gizmo that stands at the bottom of the top of the line. This means that the GPU runs hot, so bolted to the silicon are two cooling fans and a large, copper heat sync. The fans require their own cable; when power flows through it, the card glows blue. I holler to Ness to come see, but then I remember that she’s gone to service Master Turkey. To save face, I act fast and it comes out something like “Va… Jupiter! Come see, there’s a glowing steak in my computer!” Jupiter sees right through that and remains unmoved, so I sit alone before my computer’s exposed guts, staring at the blue light. Vanessa calls to report that she got to Indianapolis in one piece. I revise The Pledge, then fall asleep reading and snacking, staying on my side of the bed.
I wake up, confused by the absence of another warm body. Games are played. An afternoon meeting with a freelance client is dreaded. Around 3 PM, a Slashdot post reminds me that I should clean myself up before I go to the office. I drag myself downtown, pretend I know what I’m talking about for sixty minutes and then return home. The Abridged Pledge is reiterated to the dogs, who bark encouragingly at me as work on the column resumes. Non-Half-Life-2 ideas are floated: Holiday Shopping Guide for Dorks. A review of Suse Linux 9.2. An interview with the dogs. They show mild interest in the interview, but none of my proposals get their tails wagging. Half-Life 2 beckons. And then my trusty editor swoops in to save the day:
Semicolons Save Lives: Why not write about Half-Life 2? Make it into a diary: “What I did while my wife was away.”
ddamico: I really, really, really, really want to. But lately I’ve been feeling like I’m doing too much about games ... do YOU think it’s too much about games? Did I already ask you about this?
Semicolons Save Lives: Games are popular. People like to read about them—well, certain people do. People like you.
ddamico: I suppose a diary wouldn’t need to be 100 percent about games.
Semicolons Save Lives: No, it would really be about your state of mind, your descent into madness.
ddamico: Madness!? I am perfectly sane, I assure you.
ddamico: nov. 23: sane.
ddamico: wait, what day is it?
I walk the dogs, prime the credit card and prepare for semi-instant gratification. You see, in addition to traditional in-store distribution, Half-Life 2 is being sold online, via a game subscription platform called Steam that allows the user to browse and purchase games from Valve’s catalogue, which are then downloaded in their entirety. Regardless of how you obtain the games, they must be authenticated against Steam over the Net, and much controversy has erupted over whether that requirement is acceptable.
The main thing is that I’m supposed to be able to type in my card number and be playing within a few hours—as long as it takes for the bits to come down the pipe. No, siree. My card, which I assure you is definitely (possibly) in a non-repo-encouraging state, is declined. The Visa operator says everything’s working. But again, denied! There will be no Half-Life 2 tonight. So instead, I write an entreaty for help to their billing department, get high and watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force with the dogs. Ness calls up.
“What’d you do today?” she asks.
DAY 3: THANKSGIVING
I cannot wait for Steam’s support department’s five-day turnaround, so as soon as the dogs are walked, I depart on an odyssey spanning several large box-shaped stores (many of which are predictably sold out of Half-Life 2). After slaying a Cyclops, I return to the computer, bruised and battered but with prize in hand, and begin installing disc one. Then discs two through five. Then connecting to Steam to validate. Then watching a progress bar as the files decrypt. Then waiting an extraordinarily long time as the game itself loads. I begin to wonder if Steam’s detractors might have a point.
And then all is forgiven. Half-Life 2 is amazing. Without a word of exposition, you are dropped into a near-future Eastern European city where people wander the streets, shell-shocked by the apparent rule of an authoritarian government called the Combine. While exploring an alleyway, you stumble into a raid on some resistance fighters. They secret you away even as the police—a frightening bunch sporting gas masks and automatic weapons—are knocking down their doors to seize you. As you make a run for the rooftops, you can see that these people know that by saving you, they’ve guaranteed their own demise. No, really. You can see that in their faces, and you run like hell. It’s absurdly absorbing.
My freedom fighting is interrupted by a phone call from Vanessa. She reports on her fight for freedom from sobriety, then goes on to describe the feast she’s just enjoyed. I have a heart attack and die. Next year. Next year.
“What’d you do today?” she asks.
“Important research. Tell me again about when you’re coming home?”
I go out for a non-Thanksgiving dinner with friends, return and begin wrestling with some PHP, the language I’m currently learning. The fire alarm steps in to save the day, though. The dogs and I retreat to the street, and watch in amazement as every fire truck in Toronto turns up to put out a large fire in the apartment directly above mine. It is cold out, so the dogs and I are invited to warm our buns on a commandeered TTC bus. As I sit there in the pulsing light of the sirens, I consider the possibility that I wasn’t learning PHP at all, that perhaps I blacked out and set the blaze myself. Perhaps I’ve gone mad. The dogs look at me expectantly. I wonder what Ness is doing.
Back in the apartment, I wake up to the smell of burned ass and wet charcoal. In the morning light, I can see hints that the firefighters were in my bedroom while I was on the bus. There’s a large sooty smudge across an entire wall. It smiles at me, and I say good morning. “So that’s how the windows got opened,” I say. My insane wall-talking stirs the dogs, who come tapping across the floor to my door. I thank my stars that the three of us got out, and then wonder what else I might have rescued, had the fire been my problem. Eventually I settle on nothing, as the insurance settlement would have gotten us better gear. Maybe I would have taken the box of pictures. Maybe not, though. With all the fancy technology they have these days, money could have bought better memories, too.
Mood: Stink lines
Argh. More coding this afternoon. If you want to know how to do an inner join on a MySQL result set, just ask me. I now know how! As daylight wanes, I finally get back to Half-Life 2. Apparently, I’m driving a fan boat around now. This part is dumb. Ness would never drive a fan boat around; she’s way smarter than this guy.
Next it’s off to a friend’s place for free food and video games. He has purchased a Nintendo DS, and it’s a very interesting device. I try out Mario DS and the new Metroid Prime Hunters, both of which are neat—though only Metroid makes effective use of the system’s touch screen. After much fun there, I return home and talk to Vanessa.
“What’d you do today?”
“Important research! Come home!!!”
Today is the day of Ness’ return! But there’s a bit of time for Half-Life 2 before the airport, right? Wait, no, this is the inevitable portion of every first-person-shooter game where the large insects start coming around. That can wait until I’m not alone in the house. I turn off the computer and head for the airport, itchy all over.
We are reunited! “What’d you do all week?” she asks. “Important, uh … watched cartoons and played video games with the dogs. They’re really good at Zelda!” In the car, Vanessa tells me all about her trip, about how her father wanted a Casio keyboard for his birthday, about all the trucks sporting “Yup, it’s a Hemi” decals, about the beautiful hills of Southern Indiana and, most importantly, about the food. I begin to tell her about Half-Life 2, about the incredible quality of the acting, about the unbelievable verisimilitude, about how much fun it is—other than the stupid fan boat—and about how I’m going to make her play it with me for a damn long time. “Hell no,” she says. “There’s no way I’m going to drive some stupid fan boat around.”
David and Vanessa currently live and toil in Toronto--for a large technology corporation and a non-profit, respectively. They met via their blogs, and were married in the winter of 2002. They have a hamster and a dog, but no yacht. Nerdworld appears every second Sunday.