My sister has sent me a video of some football play, where both teams agreed they’ll let the sick kid run through the whole field to score a touchdown. It was a nice thing to do. There’s plenty of these feel-good videos on the internet, and it really is beautiful, but it’s also artificial and kind of fugazi. This one time, we did something similar on a PC game Doom. The difference was, the other team wasn’t in on it. Here’s a story of real, hard-earned success.
We loved the mode CTF—Capture The Flag—where two teams try to capture each others‘ flags. The principle is similar to when you tried to snatch a flag from the other team of kids at a summer camp. A key difference was that in the twisted world of Doom, you had much more than your fast-twitch muscles to carry you through. Projectiles from hypermodern weapons were flying around. Within about thirty seconds after the game began, the maps were littered with bodies of the poor suckers who failed. It wasn’t that dramatic: just smash the space bar, yell an insult or two toward your competition, and try again.
The better players played private games, usually three versus three, where it was not only an option but a necessity to get co-ordinated with your teammates. Through the years—thanks to some very competitive players—the simple point-and-shoot videogame became a serious tactical struggle. The weaker players were forced to playing messy, „public“ games, which were capped at eight versus eight. But you could just as easily find unbalanced games to such monstrosities as six versus two. These games generally meant plenty of bodies to kill with a minimal amount of strategy involved.
So very often, you would see RobertK in these games. We didn’t know much about him, except he had a Canadian flag next to his name, and he cared very little about stealing the other team’s flag. Most of the time, he played his own game: trying to get unstuck from some random corner of the map, randomly shooting at walls, typing nonsense and screams in the game-chat. When he figured out there’s a rocket launcher on the map, he spent the rest of the game happily going there to collect it so he could splash himself up against the wall over and over again. No rocket launcher? No problem: he would dive in the lava all day long. Every single map, he ended up with negative points. That was pretty much law.
Having Robert as a teammate meant carrying an extra body; even worse so because sometimes he’d block you, or when he took a particular liking to you, he’d take you down into the lava with him. Once or twice, Robert’s mom visited us in the chat. She was happy that we let him play with us; it’s so great that he has friends because things are not easy for them—Robert being mentally disabled and all. Surprising? No. Sad? Tragic! That’s how Robert became a mascot, in the best sense of the word, and kind of an icon. When he was on the team, the rap fans turned Cypress Hill down, the metal fans did the same with their Slipknot, and everyone was that much more concentrated on the game. It was no longer winning despite Robert; it was winning for him. By doing so, we made the world a slightly happier place.
One time, after long practice with our national team—oh yeah, that twenty-year-old game had national matches—we felt like we still have something in the tank, and we want to shoot around some more. We entered one of the public servers, where Robert did things that made Robert, well… Robert. We surrounded him with our team. After about thirty minutes of nothing interesting happening, he left his base to explore the middle of the map, where most fighting happened. That alone was not normal. Then on his way to the enemy flag, he survived five or six „reaction-time encounters,“ that’s when you’re face-to-face and personal with an enemy after one of you turned the corner. Usually, that kind of situation ends with the slower player dying; and nobody was slower than Robert. Plus, he only carried a basic pistol incapable of delivering any real damage.
Somehow, he survived all these encounters: every single enemy missed his shot and didn’t care to follow through after realizing, „oh, it’s just Robert“. Finally, he approached the enemy’s flag. He touched it. This happened maybe two times before, and that’s optimistic. There was no time to savor the moment. If something was going on in Robert’s head, that thing had to turn to full-speed now. He was no longer stuck in a corner, free to explore a design of some arch. He was suddenly thrust into a spotlight, and now everyone on the other team wanted to hunt him down. Just getting to the flag is the easy part, now comes the real challenge: run home through your enemies‘ merciless shotguns and become a hero.
We played some tense games against the USA or Great Brian; there was a lot of respect and healthy rivalry. We also played against French and Belgians that we straight-up hated and who hated us back with as much vigor. Playing in the same room, instead of the internet, Doom wouldn’t be on the agenda; it would be a fistfight. Serious bragging rights were on the line, and dozens of people were watching. We were used to it, calm as cucumbers. But this? We later compared how we felt the adrenaline pumping—Robert held a flag, and there was a chance for something special. Because we had really good chemistry, nobody had to say anything. Within a split second, everyone, including the defenders, dropped what they were doing and pushed forward aggressively to cover the flag-carrier with such care that it was experienced by nobody before or after. Robert was escorted back home by a group of virgins, trained to never miss an open shot, armed to their teeth. If Kennedy in the 1960s had this kind of protection, the modern history would certainly be different, let me tell you that.
Robert ran like the wind. Because he didn’t really arm himself before his little road-trip—because why would he—, he didn’t carry any heavy weapons to protect himself. As a result, when he now randomly shot twice or thrice, it wouldn’t do any damage even if he connected his shots. It didn’t bother him much because behind his back, there was an elite commando at work. Imagine Jason Bourne on steroids and high on cocaina. Every shot had a clear purpose, and they all connected. Teammates who were busy reloading at least covered Robert with their body, more than willing to take a bullet or two for him. Robert dodged three rockets in a narrow hallway brilliantly—by simply not reacting to them. Anyone with a reaction time below two seconds and a little bit of self-preservation would undoubtedly react to the first rocket, leading his steps into the second one; it didn’t work.
After this cold-blooded run-through, the success was at his fingertips. Between the improbable flag-carrier and the home base wasn’t a single enemy, so all he had to do was keep running for another five to six seconds. Who knew Robert realized that it’s still early to celebrate, many things could still go very wrong. But there was no doubt; it was the run of his life. He didn’t bump into any wall; he never made a wrong turn or decided to go explore a floor pattern. Not this time. Finally, with a mere 7% of health left, he scored. It was now 1:0 and we all individually—yet, together—felt a giant firework going through our brains. Tournaments and national struggles with the French fruitcakes be damned. This was a great moment, worthy of remembering, savoring, and sharing. Even the demoralized opponent knew—for the rest of the game, they didn’t show anything resembling rhythm. That’s what happens when you realize that you’re just a practice cone, an artificial obstacle on this Canadian kid’s way to immortality.