FORWARD FORWARD PUNCH KICK

Dave Perry is the Master of Disaster, the mutant-crushing king of the computer-games jungle, the man whose word determines what hydra- headed horrors Britain's teenage cyberpunks will devour next. JESSICA BERENS reports. Portrait by GEORGE WRIGHT
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The Independent Culture
Dave Perry lives with violence. Cutting, slashing, severing and impaling, these are everyday duties for Dave. His work takes him to places of unimaginable danger where the codes of conduct are arcane and the inhabitants are psychopathic. But Dave is a man of stunning agility and enviable courage. Challenges that would traumatise most people do not unnerve him. Faced with Shang Tsung and his flying fire balls, Dave will simply advance and kick him in the head; the Limb Ripping Fatality of Jax will not depress him, nor will the fury of Reptile, an alarming mutoid, born with the facility to spit gobs of acid. Horror and mayhem are part of Dave's life; he is accustomed to them because anarchy prevails in his universe. For Dave, the year is always 2068 and nuclear meltdown has destroyed the world's cities. Plague and biogenics have combined to create crowds of hideous mutoid babies and warriors with superhuman skills. There will be mass panic, gang fighting, masked Ninjas and helicopters. There will probably be a skyscraper-sized robot armed with an arsenal of cruise missiles, and there is more than likely to be a big-breasted, semi-naked nymphomaniac twirling a rice flail. Dave is lucky, for often there is a vine on which he can swing to safety, away from the aliens, predators and peg-legged pirates whose quest in life is to tear him limb from limb. You might think that all this opposition would become oppressive; not for Dave. The software superhero always has something to look forward to. The coming of Chaos Control, for instance, in which the Kesh Rhan armada has decided to destroy America. This offers a real- time extravaganza with original soundtrack and more than 30 minutes of 3D and cinematic cutaway sequences. Three different flight modes are available, and some fights use more than two million polygons rendered with Silicon Graphics machines. War has never been so much fun.

Dave's business card announces that he is the unstoppable games animal; the jacket to his book, Arcade Combat, notes that, because he has won "countless video game confrontations", he is "the best-known games player in the country". A self-styled cult hero, he is King of the Arcades, but his reign is causing rancour. At one computer show, mutinous inferiors spread the word that the Unstoppable Games Animal could not get past Level One of Sonic & Knuckles. The rumour spread like wildfire. The Animal had to damp it down with all his might; a petty thing, he admits, but a damaging one, for everything he does is based on his reputation.

"I always harboured an ambition to be famous," he says. "I have this deep fear of dying and not leaving a mark of any kind. If I walk past a graveyard I think of all the dreams those people must have had that were never realised. I would love to make a big noise...just for a short while..."

He takes on all comers - aged from four to 40 - at store openings and road shows around the country. He has played everything from NBA Jam to Bubsy 11 against "hundreds of kids", in front of huge crowds. He has had cool customers and expert ones; he has played the young and the terrified; the fresh and the nasty. And he usually wins. "I tend to get away with it by intimidation. I turn up with the bandanna and leather jacket, I do a bit of boasting. The kid is generally a nervous wreck by the time I am playing him. But if you get someone very good you might lose. Last summer, at three events, I played against 800 kids and lost 14 games. There is nothing wrong with losing as long as you don't do it too often. Because then people don't want you."

The Unstoppable Games Animal has been known to sulk; he has been known to have an artistic tantrum; he has been known to throw his joy pad, but he has never been known to have a real fight. When asked how far he would go to avoid one, he says "a long way". He has had a few "situations" (he supports Manchester United, after all), but he does not think fights solve much. "Even if you win, you might end up losing your teeth. You might have just bought a new pair of trousers for 80 quid and they might get ripped or get blood down them or something. No one wins in a fight. It's better to use your head."

Recently, he has started to reach a wider audience as co-presenter of Games World, Sky One's early evening series. Designed to appeal to the booming population of computer gamesters, it is watched by about 500,000 people. It requires the participation of an audience and, to this end, platoons of small street warriors in baseball hats gather at the Old Sarsons Brewery in Tower Bridge Road, central London, where a low-budget set has been created to give the illusion of post-apocalyptic rumble. There are walls that appear to have been blown up; an effigy of Super Mario, and, around the place, student-actors, or "cyberpunks", dressed in Doc Martens, World War One helmets and gas canisters. Dave sits behind a desk which seems to have been made out of the parts of a discarded washing machine. He wears a Union Jack bandanna, ear-rings, and a leather jacket on which his face has been painted. He introduces the competitors, who have been selected to sit in front of a television screen and play NBA Jam in front of a crowd of screaming students. It has been known to be too much for some. "One kid weed the stage," says Dave. Others cope. Lee, aged nine, having lost, said, "I'm cute, so it doesn't matter."

The atmosphere is tense in the games room, where last-minute practice is under way before the final rounds take place in front of the cameras. Rows of round eyes stare at screens as lightning fingers flick joy pads. Forward Forward Punch Kick. "God, it must be awful being the Queen," a female videator with fake tattoos says from behind a copy of Hello! magazine. Behind her, children are fighting for their lives. Down Forward High Punch. In one corner, Fatal Fury stars the Bogard boys, Terry and Andy, both, according to the instruction booklet, specialists in the "ancient art of bone breaking". Their opponents include Laurence the Blood Thirsty Matador ("his brutality to bulls is unbelievable"), Jubei Yamada ("the most powerful 70-year-old man alive") and Billy Kane, the vengeful Pole Pounder, who, dressed in bandanna, jeans and boots, is sartorially similar to the Unstoppable Games Animal. A little girl of ten, Marie, can't quite get the hang of it: they have Streets of Rage at home - the one where the loser gets their heart pulled out. When Marie starts going out with boys she will know what this feels like. Her mother, Kathleen, is a registered childminder. "Oi," she says, "Richard - let Marie have a go." Marie, in the guise of Chin Shin Zan, is kneed in the groin by a break-dancer wearing a mohawk.

Annette Breeden has come by train from Birmingham with her 12-year-old son Daniel, who was invited to appear on Games World after attending an audition in a local library. He has played with computers since he was three - they have Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat 2, but Annette doesn't play the latter. She thinks it is "gross in the extreme". She does worry about the violence and she talks about it with her son. "Daniel is actually a very gentle person," she says. "They do know the difference between fantasy and reality. On the way to the studio we saw a traffic accident. There was blood all over the road. All three of my sons were appalled."

"With some films and books, you get the adrenalin rush but you never get to release it," says Dave. "That's why you see guys walking out of Rocky pushing each other and punching the air. There is nowhere to channel the violence. With computer games, the adrenalin is released; you get het up, you knock the other guy's block off or whatever, but there is a definite beginning, middle and end. If I had children, I would be more worried about them watching some videos than playing Mortal Kombat, because with a game they have to load the cassette in and they are controlling the characters; the violence is obviously fantastical. Films wash over you, there is no interaction, and they are far more real."

At the end of the day, the Unstoppable Games Animal takes the train back to Bournemouth, where he edits Games World, the magazine that took its name from the tele-vision show. His reviews matter in software city, where more than 60 games are launched each month and the consumer has to discriminate between Cannon Fodder and Captain Commando; Samurai Shodown and Mutant Rampage Bodyslam. Last year, Mortal Kombat 2 (£64.99), backed by a £7million marketing campaign, made £32 million in its first week. At Christmas, the European Leisure Software Publishers Association reported that sales of videogames were up by 104 per cent. In England, interactive titles are grossing more revenue than some blockbuster films. Sonic 2, for instance, made more money than Jurassic Park. The games might be fearsome, but the biggest fight is in the marketplace.

As teenage magazines once bought Marc Bolan and the Sweet into the parental home, they now bring Balrog and Sagat and a cut-out guide to "Sure-Killing Techniques". Computer games titles spill over the leisure sections of newsagents - there are at least 20 of them - and they are creating icons. Pacman has mutated into Mr Vicious Lunk-Head, but he still needs colour and dimension; Games World and its ilk bring the creatures of computerised graphics alive and have created a new world with its own language and its own family. Giveaway colour posters show Riptor, half-man half-dinosaur (like Keith Richard but with more claws); problem pages are full of kids from Catford wondering how to get into the dwarf's mine (the answer, according to Amiga Action, is to wear a beard). Games World, like Paragon's 12 other computer-based titles, is highly shiny and highly coloured. More importantly, Games World cops an attitude that was once seen in the music press: Us against Them.

The magazine journalists, young, short-haired, long-necked, are pictured on the contents page pulling faces and referring to "babes". Inside, readers are shown how to enter "Gore Mode" in Mortal Kombat. This allows the blood to flow when Johnny Cage, for instance, tears the heads off his opponents. But, as the magazine points out, you don't want your parents seeing "all those gory fatalities". It advises the player to opt for alternative moves, "Babalities and Friendships", where the violence of the end of the game is camouflaged by the loser turn- ing into a screaming infant, or by the offering of presents.

Reviews provide the main body of the magazines, and a critical consensus can make or break a game. Syndicate, a predictable scenario pitting cyborgs against the world, won the support of Games World, which noted: "The fact that the game play involves arranging drive-by shootings, killing innocent civilians and police officers with ever more deadly weapons like shotguns, Uzis, mini-guns and flame-throwers, has enraged almost all do-gooders silly enough to poke their heads into the high-intensity line of fire."

The Unstoppable Games Animal takes his work seriously. Indeed, he takes it home with him, to a small house on an estate where there are two pedigree Persian cats and his girlfriend Nicky. His games room has an Omega computer, Philips monitor, Sega Mega CD, Sega 32X, Super Nintendo, NES, Game Boy, Game Gear and Philips CD-i. In front of the window there is a "multi-gym"; to the left a photograph of himself launching the game Bubsy 11 at an event co-hosted by Word presenter Dani Behr. Once or twice, opening and launching things, he has been in a limo. Dave loves a limo.

"If I come home in the evening and Nicky is working I'll sit in here and play games. If I get a spare moment at the weekend, I'll play games. There are certain games that come out, and I know that I am going to be asked to play them against people; they are going to challenge me in arcades and at events. I can spend six hours practising, particularly with new games like Mortal Kombat 2. I'm pretty well accepted as being an authority on that - so I have to know all the moves off the top of my head. You can see how many there are."

He indicates a chart showing the roster of freaks that comprise Mortal Kombat's population. Twelve in all, each with their own weapons and their own methods of attack. Kitana, for instance, with her Death Kiss Fatality; Baraka, master of the Outlands, with his shredding blades designed to decapitate, and Noob Saibot, a shadowy Ninja seen only by those who have won 50 rounds in a row. Dave has seen Saibot - as he has seen Jade and Smoke. These are the ultimate accolades of the games warrior.

Dave was born in Torquay, where there were conker trees and barns and blackberries and now there are housing developments. As the real country disappears, he thinks that the teenager is more likely to travel in Donkey Kong Country. "The teenage boy is more isolated than the teenage girl," he says. "She discovers adult life much earlier and won't need to fantasise about heroes or role models. Girls tend to resent role models they know they can't live up to, whereas boys never seem to cotton on to the fact that they will not be Rambo. With computers they can be fantastical heroes, and there is a forum for them to compete against each other. It is very important for young developing males to be able to compete against each other."

Dave could have been an accountant, like his dad. At first, he wanted to be a rock star, Anything to get noticed, to get out. He was most downcast when he had to admit failure and sell his guitar. He still loves Gary Glitter. The Unstoppable Games Animal has stolen a lot from The Leader. "I believe in showmanship," he says. "People turn up because they want to see something. If you are going to be in magazines or on the television, I believe in giving them something to see."

He studied graphics at Bath College of Higher Education and bought a computer. The machine did not have the desk-top facil-ities promised by the man in the shop, but it did have computer games: F-18 Interceptor and Batman to be exact. He is 28. He doesn't see himself playing computer games for ever. Indeed, he feels it would be pretty sad if he was doing it after the age of 30.

There is, of course, a school of thought that still associates algorithms with lonely saddies who need a life. The console, says Dave, has changed this. Games, now available to the in-expert and the non-boffin, "have an enormous amount of street cred".

"When I transferred to television, I wanted to fight against the geek stereotype," he says. "There are lots of kids out there playing the games who don't want to be perceived like that. I don't want to be Brains from Thunderbirds. I have tattoos on my arms. I'm fit. I work out. I play sports. I might be an extrovert, I might be a bit of a character - but I am not a geek."

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