A man's game

Out there
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Indy Lifestyle Online
I want to run and never stop. I want to flee from it all, and most of all myself. I want to run until I drop, until I forget my own name and where I came from. but I can't run, not now, there's too much at stake. So instead, I fly.

I fly in my spaceship, I zip across the black screen, past tiny white stars, dodging enemy fire as I go. I bank and loop: the Z-key turns me to port, the C to starboard. Forward thrust is the return key, right-hand shift is the trigger. I hammer demented Morse code with my index finger, firing tracers at my foe, that spidery starship sitting centre screen, surrounded by three concentric rings of force field. To destroy it, I must shoot through these first, but once I do it can zap me with its plasma cannon. The rings are constantly spawning lethal yellow plasma bombs. It's a man's game, Cyclone.

It came ready-installed on my second-hand PowerBook. At first I took little notice. It was just another shoot-'em-up. Then Guy quit his flatshare and came to stay at my office for a while, so I introduced him to my little game. Next morning, I found he'd beaten my high score, which back then was about 12,000, Level 7.

I clawed my way to the top again, but the same thing happened. A pattern emerged: I'd leave work the champ and arrive next day to find I'd been trounced. Eventually Guy held first, second and third place, with a top score of 113,000, Level 12 and the signature "Read 'Em and Weep". While he could afford to go without sleep, I couldn't afford to give up work, so I decided to leave it there. He went to stay with Ed and I forgot about Cyclone. For a while.

And then one evening I stood up from my desk after playing for seven- and-a-half hours solid. My score was over 150,000 and I'd reached Level 16, so I felt validated. But my cramped little office looked enormous, like an aircraft hangar, and the walls were throbbing, and my knees felt like sponges, and I could hear the blood coursing through my head as I drifted along the corridor towards the toilet. I hadn't pissed all day. When I closed my eyes I could see the screen, and the rat-tat-tat of tracers, and enemy spaceships exploding.

I remembered rushing like this once before, after taking a Mandrax and drinking a quart of cider. No wonder pre-pubescent boys get addicted to computer games. If I was 14 years old, I'd want to feel like this all the time.

I clocked up hour after hour, although I knew I was hooked. I couldn't stop playing because I kept getting better because I couldn't stop playing. A callous formed on the heel of my shooting hand. As of yesterday my high score stood at 421,365, Level 36. My signature reads: "Perfection?"

But now I see that Cyclone is just part of a bigger, infinitely more complex game. Only instead of plasma bombs I'm fighting myself, dodging my own thoughts and feelings. I'm sick of my own opinions and I don't want to share space with them anymore.

I've blown it again. I'm a nightmare, The Date From Hell. I want women to fall in love with me, to validate me, authenticate and congratulate me. I hunt them down. Whenever I get low on ego, I drag another one into my lair, squeeze out what I want, and discard her. Coming to terms with this behaviour is not pleasant or easy. I feel like someone who gate-crashed a party after some effort, only to find the walls are covered with blood and the host is a vampire. So I soar through the skies shooting at my self-loathing, trying to annihilate that vast sense of loneliness that surrounds me. And you know what? I've noticed I'm not the only one. It's a man's game, Cyclone.

I cause pain and I get pain back. Talking of which, I think that soreness in the knuckle means I'm getting arthritis in my trigger finger. Great. Now I've got another reason to slope off when I should be working.

Some fly to remember. I fly to forget that I'm waiting for the phone to ring, hoping it might be her, and she just might say, "It's OK, Alix. I forgive you. I know you've got a problem with aggression, but we can work it out, because deep down you're a beautiful human being."

But I know she won't call, and that's why I want to run and never stop, keep on running until I forget who I am, where I came from. But I can't run, in case she calls. And so I fly through the endless frozen darkness of my two-dimensional universe. In space, nobody can hear the phone ring. Or not ring, as the case may be