Whether as a result of playing so many video games, or something else completely inconsequential, I was finely attuned to small things. Because I notice small things, I can usually figure out who’s crushing on whom, where somebody’s pen disappeared to in the classroom, and which of my peers were also fanatical Anarchists.
For example, the back of Davis’s phone case was emblazoned with the Anarchy emblem: a dual set of skyward wings wrapping around a lonely fire. The same insignia could be found on a button pinned to Jayne’s backpack, or rudimentarily drawn and taped to the inside of Jordan’s locker. The West Wing locker. He had another one near the cafeteria. Not sure what he kept in each, but it was easy enough to get two, especially if you were as cool and popular as Jordan was.
However, it wasn’t until about halfway through the Spring term, at the tail-end of a Friday, when I noticed a disturbance of unusual stature. I’d just wrapped up my final class of the afternoon, environmental geology (gag me with a fork), and was passing a usually vacant classroom when I was startled by the familiar sounds of Anarchists raging. In particular, a girl’s voice was screaming protest regarding an in-game character named “Bluffy”.
I hated Bluffy. He was from one of RequiaTek’s least known franchises, some obscure title called Antics. In it, Bluffy was a goofy clown-ninja thing, who’s only job was to hop through obstacles to deliver balloons to children. But in Anarchy, Bluffy was a spawn straight from the loins of Satan himself, with a strange kit (‘kit’ being Anarchy slang for the available techniques possessed by a character), and insulting mannerisms which made it feel like he was always teasing you. He was also supremely difficult to kill, as he could plant balloons off the stage and use them to return to the arena.
Obviously intrigued, I followed the wall-piercing pleas of anger to Classroom 202.
I took the liberty of entering without knocking. Five souls were gathered around a television, the contents of the screen very predictably being a game of Anarchy. Three of the five were not participating in the current match, and turned to analyze the intruder immediately. One of the players spared a fractional look over her shoulder, and the other was adamantly stuck on the task at hand, more interested in playing the game than giving me any attention.
“Um,” an unfamiliar boy said, “Can we help you?”
Looking around, I fluidly recognized two of them. Jordan, the aforementioned, prodigious owner of two lockers, and Davis, who now brandished a headband with the same Anarchy symbol previously described. The classroom desks had been pushed away from the front of the room, clearing space for the television, game console, and a couple of open chairs. An aching, fluorescent light buzzed overhead and accented the walls, dreadfully empty of trappings.
My lips pursed without my meaning to, eyes sharpening. I looked past the conversationalist and towards the game. Whoever was playing Bluffy was up a stock, and their opponent was using…
Sweet baby Helix, who specialized with the Dax and Petre duo? Dax and Petre were a monkey and his pet bird, who traversed their world through vicious puzzle-solving misadventures to save, you guessed it, a princess. Not only does their original game profoundly lack creativity, but in Anarchy they were considered to be absolutely awful. Like, I wouldn’t play Dax and Petre if you threatened to de-rib my entire family. They sucked. They were bottom-tier, and even among the other bottom dwellers, D&P ranked notoriously low.
Dax and Petre died on the screen again, Bluffy using a cannon made of popcorn streamers to shoot them off the ledge and outside of the screen, where they exploded into playful colors and lights. The girl groaned like she’d been punched in the gut.
Oh, of course. That made sense. Naturally a girl (staggeringly low Anarchy-playing demographic, I assure you) would play Dax and Petre. There’d been maybe two or three girls who’d ever been good at Anarchy in the history of the universe, and one was currently enthroned as a member of the top five players. The Anarchy Sovereign. This clearly was not such a girl.
“Hey,” the guy said again, “What’s up?”
I shook my head absently, “Nothing. Just seeing what the commotion was about.”
Tongue literally against cheek, the guy examined me with a distinct air of uncertainty, “Okay, I guess. Just playing a game.”
“Anarchy, I know,” I nodded, still watching the unfolding gameplay, “Why does she keep jumping like that?”
Jordan had been watching me before, but now he was studying me, his gaze zeroing in on my every movement and word, as if I were a strange answer to the world’s oldest question. Or maybe, as if I were mirroring his very thoughts.
“Jumping like,” the unnamed fellow turned back to the screen, where Bluffy continued to juggle the inept Dax and Petre player. Literally, he juggled them. It was one of his ‘grapples’. Tossed them like a couple of oranges. “What do you mean?”
Admittedly, my next expression might have come off a little condescending, but if I offended him, he didn’t show it, “Well, Bluffy has a particularly powerful air-game. You can’t beat a decent Bluffy player if you try to outmatch him through aerial attacks,” I watched the game progress, vaguely aware that everyone in the room was listening to me, even if a few didn’t seem like it, “And this guy seems to be a far cry more than just ‘decent’.” Plus, who on God’s green earth plays Dax and Petre?
“You can exploit the aerial game,” he said with immediate defensiveness, “If you do it right.”
“Sure,” I said, “But…” I nodded towards the game, and the final stock being stolen from Dax and Petre, ending the match.
The girl laughed, and I thought it quite a pretty laugh, if a little too loud, “I’m still not very good.”
Easy fix. Don’t play mothereffing Dax and Petre. “You’ll get better with time. Especially if you keep playing with somebody of his caliber,” I nodded again towards her opponent, a boy I’d seen a few times in the halls but had never spoken with.
“I’m sorry,” Jordan approached, suddenly taking the reins of the conversation, “What was your name, again?” He held out his hand in that familiar, warm gesture that American’s use, most without knowing why. I shook it.
“Joel,” I answered.
Jordan was a tall, lanky boy with quietly caramel skin, smooth black hair, and an expression that dripped both a sense of welcome and deep curiosity. “Who do you main, Joel? And what’s your tag?”
I smiled. A ‘main’ was your Anarchy character of choice in competitive battles. Of course, you were free to play with whichever character you wanted at any given time, but if you were to, say, enter a tournament, you’d want to have one avatar of which you’d become supremely familiar and competent. That was your main. The very best players usually had two or three mains. I, however, only had the one.
“Brave,” I said, levelly, “And my tag is Myth.”
This seemed to satisfy Jordan, even if it was only arbitrarily. His lower lip momentarily dominated his upper, and his eyebrows raised, “Good choice.”
“If it’s not too much to ask,” I continued, “What’s happening here?”
“Practice,” the girl said, jovially strolling from her seat to the space in front of me. All I could think while looking at her is how much Perry would be drooling at the color of her eyes. They were blue as a clean sky after ten days of storm. In her entirety, she could be considered by many as cute, or pretty. Not many would supply the adjectives of ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’, but those didn’t fit all girls anyways. No, this one was cute, even with the little bit of acne spreading through her cheeks. I’m pretty sure it’s because her smile was bright enough to light a city.
In similar fashion, she thrust out her hand. I took it firmly, and was surprised at how much force she returned. “I’m Comet”, she said, “My main is Dax and Petre. And my tag is just ‘Comet’.”
I nodded again, and started to wonder if anyone thought I looked weird for repeating the action so frequently. Nod nod, nod nod. Like one of those creepy toy birds that dipped their beaks into the water.
Suddenly, each of the other members rose to introduce themselves. It was an exercise in reading small things.
First was Garrison, the first person I met when entering the room. He mained the psychic twins Solar and Luna, and his tag was ‘GG’, an endearment everyone seemed to favor instead of his actual name. GG was a bit plump around the edges, but good lord if he did not have some of the most bodacious, golden locks I’d ever seen on a man. I knew girls who would kill for that kind of color. Also, he wore this look of serious curiosity that put me in stitches for half of our introduction.
After GG came the wielder of Bluffy, a book I totally judged by his cover. His name was Sid, and he looked just like the Sid from Toy Story. Listen, I’m a bit of a liar, but I’m not giving you crap on this one. This guy just radiated deviant vibes and a desire to maniacally blow up dolls and action figures. But, I must stress in his favor, he had perhaps the best handshake of the whole group. It was firm, resolute, and almost…inviting of a challenge? For this reason alone, I liked the guy. He had spunk. Also, his gamer tag was ‘Famine’, which is probably one of the most hardcore things I’ve ever heard.
Next up to bat was Davis, a Shiva main. Shiva was a sort of moon-maiden character, from a game called Tribute the Truth, which I absolutely adore, so I took to Davis very quickly, as he obviously had good taste. On top of that, Davis simply carried himself like a bro. Instead of a handshake, he broke in what I’d already expected to be our long-lasting friendship with a fist bump. What’s more, for no apparent reason, he started to quote Bane’s little monologue from The Dark Knight Rises about how Batman falsely believed the darkness was his ally. As far as I was concerned, we were already besties. Davis sported what I quickly picked up was considered his signature red jacket, and his game tag was ‘Merc’. You know, short for mercenary, but not giving enough of a crap to speak the whole word.
“On weekends, we play Anarchy competitively. I’m the captain,” Jordan said, “GG is our Vice, Sid and Davis are Corporals, and Comet is still a Soldier. We recently lost a member, or we’d have a full crew of six.”
Naturally, my interest hit the ceiling like a loaded spring. But then I thought of Perry, and dialed it down to something manageable. I’d never been to a tournament, but that’s mostly because I never imagined being able to stack up with the players in attendance. However, if I were part of a crew, a team to work and train with, then just maybe…
But they only had one open slot in the team, and I was not about to leave Perry out of the fun. He was perhaps even more interested in eventually entering the tournament scene than myself.
Still, the Anarchist in me was burning to see how I compared to these people in terms of skill.
I didn’t have a chance to ask for the opportunity. Jordan invited me into a challenge before I ever got around to it.
“Sure,” I said, only half containing my excitement.
This seemed to please Jordan, who I realized hadn’t yet told me his main or tag.
And because I was acquainted with the churning of small things, I picked up on the infinitesimally thin glance of disapproval Sid gave Jordan from afar. I’m not sure what it meant, but it was definitely there, hidden among the dark underpinnings.
I turned towards the television, unslung my backpack, and perched in the nearest seat, taking the controller in my hands. The weight of the plastic in my hands was comfortable and smoothed the edges of my apprehension until the only thing remaining was excitement.