Personal note to Mike N., if you’re reading this: lunch at 12:45, okay? I lost your phone number.

Sorry about that. Now, public matters:

I know I shouldn’t wonder about these things; I should accept them as necessary to the story line. But I have to wonder what sort of society invents a game like Unreal Tournament 04. I don’t mean the computer game; I mean the game the game is about. If you know what I mean.

Start again.

Okay, so I’m a citizen in the distant future. I have volunteered to play this game, which consists of running around huge environments, picking up weapons, and suffering the sort of painful explosive death that could only happen if A) you ate ten Serrano peppers, washed them down with nitro and stuck an RPG up your fundament, or B) had your torso removed at close range with a rocket launcher while you were attempting to take a flag – a stupid FLAG – back to your base. In the game, you die often. But seconds later you respawn, and you’re back in the action.

Now. I ask you. If this takes place in a society where you can be atomized by a ray gun and promptly rematerialize with all your clothes and memories, then I can see why people might volunteer to participate in this hideous carnage. But if people do not respawn, no one in their right mind would play the game. Imagine the orientation session:

Okay, you go in the giant abandoned factory and look for the flag, then bring it out here. Be careful that no one in the rafters six floors up rains rockets down on you, or you’ll be dead.

Then what?

What do you mean, what? You’re dead. End of story.

But –

This is the Unreal Tournament. Didn’t they explain that part?


What the helll was that?

The frozen head of Harry Caray. With some upgrapdes. He does color. Mostly red, as it turns out. Anyway, didn’t anyone explain this?

Uh - no? There wasn’t anyone around when I showed up. In fact this whole thing seems very understaffed.

Yeah, well, everyone is pretty much dead; it’s been that kind of day. Now take this insufficient weapon and get in there.

I don’t want to!

Go, or you’ll forfeit the match and have to pay 512 credits.

Fine! Fine! Here’s your money. I’m outta here.

Wait, you forgot your change. You gave me 520 credits –

Keep it. I’ll take it out of your pockets after you’ve been exploderated.

That's not a word. I think you mean AAAAUUUUGGHHHH (Orientation advisor rides the lightning gun and gets vaporized)

At one point tonight I walked away from a Capture the Flag came and went outside for a cigar. I could hear the combatants through the upstairs window; it went on and on and on, past the 15 minute deadline, with no success. I find this fascinating, just as with Quake Arena and Halo – these programs, these constructs, these flickering emanations of computer code running around on my screen, randomly generated, randomly interacting; whatever happened in my computer tonight has probably never happened before. And most of it didn’t happen on the screen at all; it took place in imaginary rooms in a building over the hill out of sight. Code warring with code for no purpose whatsoever. Hella cool!

I never thought the Sopranos would jump the shark. Whack the shark, yes, but not jump it. Last night I was watching the latest episode, and I realized with horror that this was all a dream sequence. That’s one of the signs a show is dead, the other being an episode that gives everyone an opportunity to sing and dance. But it was fascinating. It suffered from the thing that kills all dream sequences, the point of view. Dreams are experienced in the first person, so attempts to describe them in the third person end up stagey. At least there wasn’t a lot of fish-eye-lens weirdness (anyone ever had a dream where things were seen through a fish-eye lens?) But it had the disconnected feel of a dream. I think it worked. Except for the horse. And the length. And the symbolism. Well, they tried something different. It’s still my favorite show, along with Enterprise. I love Enterprise.

And I would now launch into a discussion of the incidental music for the original Trek series, but I realized that this is a Wednesday Bleat. There isn’t supposed to be one. This morning I finished the Newhouse column. Then I wrote the weekly site update. Then I took Gnat to school, and used the downtime to write the Thursday Strib column. Tonight I wrote the Sunday column. Now I’m doing this. I’m done! Over and out; more tomorrow.

Here’s the new stuff.

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c. 1995-2004 j. lileks