“Guys! I got a new game!” Benji exclaims, hefting his brightly-coloured retro bag onto the table. It was lunchtime at college and we had stayed behind in the computer room, pulling one of the tables into the middle of the room so we don’t get told off for eating here.
We were an odd bunch, but we got along well. Benji was my best friend. He was a passionate guy with short blonde hair and a stick figure build, he was a bit spoiled by his parents, who basically allowed him to buy whatever he wanted. As such he had spent a lot on old game consoles which we’d all play together regularly. Benji unzips his bag and pulls out a video game case.
“Benji is this one expensive? The last time you brought one to show us you dropped it and it broke remember? You were inconsolable then,” Hitomi shook her head, but her eyes gave away her interest in the game. They were shining bright as normal. She was a good friend, one we could always trust. She was born here to parents that had moved from Japan, and was fluent in English. She had dyed her hair bright blue recently and it was only starting to fade now, but it was still the brightest down her ponytail.
“It’s fine, Hit, I didn’t take the disc to college this time. Just the case. What do you think, James?” He passed it to me; it certainly looked...quirky. It was an older style case, made out of blue plastic. The cover had a weirdly-realistic-looking dude on it with a charming smirk on his face, standing in front of this vehicle that looked like it came right out of the mind of a 10-year-old.
“Revnation...World War? That’s a cheesy title, even for the time.” I hated my voice, it was way too deep. I turned the cover over to read the back. “Five arenas, 16 tracks, spanning across multiple dimensions?”
“It’s quite reasonable for the time I think, especially the design of them. I’ve watched some old videos on it. It’s quite a rare game.” I passed it to Milton across the table, who was sitting next to Hitomi. Milton was a gentle giant with curly black hair, and I’d first met him after coming to this college with Hitomi and Benji. He quickly became a great addition to our small group, and always went along with us to play despite not being very good at games.
“Another racing game? Well I’m at least better at these than I am at shooters. When are you heading home today Benji? I’ve only got the next period then I’m free to go home.”
“Me and James are done for the day, but we’ll wait until everyone’s free,” Benji says, pulling a sandwich out of his bag and unwrapping it. I nod, agreeing with him.
“Well I’ve only got a Biology class in about 20 minutes, then I’m done as well.”
“Sweet! Me and James here will kick back for an hour or so then meet you at the bus stop out front?”
“Yeah that works, lets eat!” Milton grins, cracking open a packet of crisps.
“Way ahead of you, Milton,” Benji takes a bite of his ham sandwich whilst Hitomi and I take out our lunches.
“So like, why this game Benji?” I ask, brushing some of my fringe out of my face. I had been growing my hair out a bit; my previous school had regulated that boys' hair had to be short and I hated it. “You normally stick to RPGs and fighting games.”
“This is supposed to be a mix of RPG and racing, which intrigued me. Plus, I don’t know, something about it attracted me to the Ebay listing.” He shrugs. “It looked cool.”
“You always have been a little childish,” I scold him with a smirk.
“And you sound like my mum,” he playfully punches my shoulder.
“So,” Hitomi begins, cracking open her lunchbox which has always been prepared by her Mum with precision and skill. “RPGs are usually solo games, does this one have a co-op career or something?”
“I don’t think so. Co-op careers and stuff are a bit too new of an idea I think for this sort of game — it’s got an arcade mode.”
“That makes sense I guess.” I took a bite of my sandwich I had gotten from the corner shop this morning; it was average but tasty enough for me. I was a picky eater, with certain flavours and tastes that would set off an instantly bad reaction, leading to me never touching them again. I hated baked beans for example, and other sorts of food and drink like fizzy energy drinks. I tended to stick to just the things I knew. I haven’t really introduced myself have I? I’m James Cobran, a 19 year old autistic boy with your average sort of worries and anxieties, but my hand wasn’t dealt too unfairly. At least I was reasonably intelligent, and not unskilled.
Like Benji I loved video games, and mainly spent most of my free time playing racing games, which meant that this new acquisition Benji had made was probably going to end up in my possession eventually. Most of my games I got because of his recommendation or that he just gave them to me. I really liked games with cool character customisation too, even if they were old. There was nothing cooler to me than being able to pick and design every part of my character, which was usually a girl to be honest. I used the excuse that I’d much rather be spending my time looking at a character I found attractive…
...but to be honest a real question mark hangs above the “boy” part of my own personal character profile. It was a quiet debate I’d been having with myself for a long time, and it was nowhere near over, but that’s something I’m not quite ready to admit to anyone yet. It was soon time for Hitomi and Milton to leave for their lessons and that just left me and Benji alone in the room, or we would be if we hadn’t been kicked out by a teacher arriving to begin his next lesson.
Outside, we went in search of another place to hang out, but there wasn’t really anywhere we could talk easily outdoors, the college was constructing a new building where the old tennis courts used to be. So we gave up and took a short stroll to a nearby shopping centre to browse a games store we knew of, Space Intraders. It looked like a tiny shop but was actually really deep set, with row after row of physical media stacking on its shelves. The walls above lined in video game and movie posters. Figurines in glass cases line the front of the store, with everything from the latest Star Wars to some properly obscure anime.
We went straight to the back to find the old stuff, lots of Playstation 2, original Xbox and Nintendo games. As always Benji was on the hunt.
“Stevie! Aurora! Got anything interesting?” Benji calls out, Stevie and Aurora were the co-owners of the store, Stevie was an overweight chap with a tufty goatee and a hawaiian shirt, he was always pretty nice to us when he was there, but he was usually out back vaping. Aurora was his bi girlfriend who was constantly showing off her tattoos, even in winter she never wore anything with sleeves. She was also kind to us and was always giving off recommendations.
“Nothing new I’m afraid, Benji,” Stevie shrugs his shoulders, leaning on the counter next to a stack of cases.
“Well that’s okay, check this out!” Benji slips the case out of his bag and shows it to them. Aurora leans over to take a close look. She was wearing a Mario themed black tank top and I could hear the heels on her feet as she shuffled over. I was wondering if she looked taller.
“Oh that looks...interesting, I haven’t heard of it but then again racing games aren’t my sort of thing.” She shakes her head.
“It’s not just a racing game actually…” Benji lets off the same explanation he gave us at college, all the while Stevie stares at the game case in front of him, his expression growing slightly darker with time.
“I don’t know Benji, I’m not a superstitious bloke but something about that game is worrying me.”
“You think it might be a fake copy?” Benji inquires, looking a little down. He really respected Stevie, he was an only child and I think considered him to be like a big brother.
“No no… I don’t know, something else. I can’t put my finger on it.”
“You’re being silly Stevie. You sure you haven’t smoked something you shouldn’t have that I should know about?” Aurora pokes him in the ribs.
“Ow! Maybe. I don’t remember doing anything like that, but still...”
“Ignore him Benji. And you, Steve love I’m going to search our apartment head to toe this evening...” she scolds him, turning around and walking towards the back of the shop. “I’m going to go check inventory.”
“Looks like you’re in trouble Stevie. We’re going to have a browse and shoot back to college. We’ve got a bus to catch.”
“No prob you two, you’re always cool to hang out here you know that.” His face told me he was still worried but his tone was calm and polite.
The bus ride to Benji’s house was half an hour of sweltering heat, the double decker wasn’t really new enough for air conditioning, and since we always sat at the front on the bench seats we were ahead of all the pop in windows. I don’t know why we always sat there, but we did, it was pretty much tradition. Benji had the game case out again and was meticulously studying it.
“What did they say again?” Hitomi asked from the bench seat on the other side of the bus.
“Nothing really, but Stevie seemed a bit wary of it for some reason.”
“That’s surprising,” Milton chimes in, staring out the front window at the road ahead of us. “He usually knows everything about games, maybe we shouldn’t play it?”
“Nah, I’m sure it’ll be fine, what's the worst that could happen?” Benji looks up from the case and looks towards us.
“Could brick the console,” I say, remembering the last time that happened.
“I’ve seen it being played! It’s not a bootleg version! Plus it came from a reputable seller...” he moans, still giddy to play the game I imagine.
“Alright, but don’t blame us if it is. We did warn you after all,” Hitomi says, plugging in a set of earbuds into her phone, which we pretty much all followed suit with our own. I was listening to my normal mix of J-rock and J-pop, alongside some older dubstep and electronica. An ex-girlfriend had gotten me into anime and as such I slowly got more and more into J-pop and the likes.
The half hour passed quickly then and after thanking the bus driver, we all got off just up the road from Benji’s place. He lived in a really nice part of the town, in newly built houses with trimmed lawns and all sorts. Hitomi adjusts her patterned choker, which had shifted at some point on the journey.
“Man it’s hot today!” Why don’t buses have air conditioning?” Milton moans, dabbing his brow with a handkerchief
“Some do,” I say, looking up at the blue sky. “Our ones are too old though, and we’re too stubborn to move from the front.”
“The front is a position of power!” Benji exclaims. “Now, come on!” He takes off on a jog in the direction of his house. Hitomi follows suit and me and Milton leisurely move at our own pace.
“Those two are as excitable as ever,” I say, shaking my head with a smile. My internal worries kept me from growing excited for many things.
“You would usually be as well, what's up?” he asks, watching them scarper down the road.
“I don’t know, things I guess, it’s hard to say. Have you ever like-”
“Hurry up you two!”
“Ah fuck it, come on,” I speed up, the moment to admit my problems was gone to me. It wasn’t right. We’re here to have a good time and I don’t want to force my problems onto everyone else.
A few houses down we came to Benji’s house, the place where we spent a lot of time together playing games. His Dad was big into fishkeeping and had a pond in both the front and the rear garden. He was out watching the fish today, which were splashing about feeding on pellets. “Hello Mr Keitel” I greet him as I walk up the path alongside their drive. Which had a modern looking Honda parked on it.
“Hello James, Hitomi, Milton, how was college?” Benji’s Dad was nice enough, if a bit old. I think he was in his 40s when they had Benji.
“Okay, it was a short day for me and Benji today,” Benji was standing in the door holding it open for us. I enter the building and hear Benji’s Dad calling out from behind us.
“Have fun, you lot!”
Hitomi was already inside and standing at the top of the stairs waiting for us, I walked into Benji’s room and made myself at home, sitting on one of the beanbags he had for these occasions. Hitomi went straight for the other beanbag and Milton grabbed a chair from the spare room. Benji appeared at the door.
“Do you need anything to drink? Or are we good to start?”
“I’m fine... Milton? Hit?” I say, looking around at the other two.
“Uh, I’ll take a glass of water,” Milton responds. “I’m feeling a little dehydrated.”
“I’m good, I think,” Hitomi said.
“Right, glass of water. Be back in a sec then.” He seemed slightly disappointed someone took him up on his own offer. He vanished back and I could hear him trotting down the wooden stairs. He quickly returned with a glass of water with some ice cubes and placed it down on top of a small cupboard next to where Milton sat. “It’s time! I’ve been waiting for this ever since I ordered it.”
He turned around and delved into his shelves of games, picking up an old unlabeled case that was resting on top. He wasn’t the type to leave a disc lying about. He walks over to the TV and reaches around the back to turn it on, before moving his hand down and turning on the PS2 as well. He presses the red button then the blue button in turn to stop the console from auto-loading the game already in it. The vertically sitting console’s disc tray slides open and he takes the disc inside out and replaces it with this new game. I could barely see from where I was sitting but it almost looked as if an arc of electricity pinged between the console and the disc, I didn’t think much about it though.
He made sure the 4 player controller adapter was plugged in before pushing gently on the disc tray to close it. I grab the TV remote and switch it to the correct AVI mode. He passed the controllers out, for convenience's sake he had a collection of wireless controllers available.
“Let’s hope this works,” I murmur, watching the blocks of the main screen fade away and the game begin to start up, a few company logos come up. “I’ve never heard of Matili games before.” I look to Benji to see if he knows them.
“I think this was their only game, I don’t think it sold too well.” The menu loads up and is overlaid upon a lot of explosions and cars racing and battling, almost like a trailer. He hits multiplayer and four seperate boxes pop up on screen, each with the same 3D model of a car in it. This was apparently a car selection screen.
Benji grabbed the first option, which was this slightly boxy looking red car with a huge engine sticking out of the bonnet. Milton picked a buggy with the engine at the back and huge tyres. Hitomi picked a bike-looking car with four wheels but positioned all right next to each other.
This left me with the option of an SUV/Half-track combo which looked a bit like a tank, a shark-looking car with rows of razor teeth, or an open wheeled silver machine that was chrome blue and had weird wheels that didn’t appear to have tyres. It also pulsed with energy. It apparently had a spiked knife weapon, whatever that meant. I picked that one as it had a really cool design.
“These are pretty cool designs, actually,” Milton comments, rubbing his nose as if it was itching.
“Are you all happy with your choices?” Benji asks, he was raring to go, and before any of us had a chance to argue. He hit start, to which the screen went completely black.
“Is that supposed to happen?” I ask, after it remains black for a conspicuous amount of time.
“I don’t think so.” Benji attempts to stand and check the console but he can’t seem to put the controller down. “Um, guys? Something is really wrong here.” The light on the centre of the controller is glowing brighter and brighter red, Benji starts glowing too.
“Oh shit!” Milton and Hitomi say in unison, their controllers also seeming to be attached to their hands, each of them glowing in the same colour as the car they picked.
“Whats happening!?” The panic was growing in my voice. “I can’t feel my hands.” The glow is overtaking my hands, I can’t even see them over the blue light anymore. The numbness grows as the light begins to push up my arms and overtake my body, it is so blinding that the entire room is pulsating with bright multicoloured lights. It would have looked like we were having a disco, entirely located within the room.
“Nor can I!” yells one of the coloured balls of light.
“Me neither!” shouts another.
“Help!” they all yell, and then the red ball that was Benji grows to an overwhelming intensity and disappears. along with the green a few seconds later and the yellow after that. Which left me alone in the room, for a few seconds until the blue light overcame my body and I couldn’t see or feel anything but blue.