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Ormond Beach Observer Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 6 years ago

An age of empires and innocence


When the petards and trebuchets started attacking my castle, I knew I was toast.

“Getting flanked at my base's east end!” I yelped to Chris and Cody and Moey, frantically clicking my mouse all over the Mongolian countryside laid out inside my computer screen. And they all had computers, too — laptops opened around a table, eyes fixed on the civilizations we were working so hard to advance, eventually yield to conquer the world.

The name of the game was “Age of Empires II,” and the group of us makes it a point to reconvene, usually around the holidays, to get our fix of pixels and nostalgia.

“Army of skirmishers and long bowmen en route,” Moey said. And I watched the villagers in my camp continue to plow their fields and build their barracks, as if their home weren't being invaded right then and there — as if this weren’t their apocalypse, scored by the chaos of clanging swords and crumbling watchtowers.

“My forces grow tired,” I squeaked out. “AVENGE MEEEEEE!”

You wouldn’t know it by the looks of panic flashing across our faces, but these video game sessions reinvigorate something inside each of us. We’ve been having them since we were about 10 years old, and playing again now, as dweeby, lame adults, brings us back to those simpler days, before we had jobs or bills or realized that these civilizations — the Goths, the Franks, the Byzantines— were actually based on real races

Playing brings us back to ancient history

“Cavalry coming in hot,” Cody said, just the same as he might order onion rings with that instead of fries. Totally monotone. His focus is on the battle. Communication is a necessary evil.

“I shall send an army due west,” Chris added.

And nobody said anything after that. We all know exactly what was at stake here: We lose this hill, the enemy advances, they become more powerful and, inevitably, they conquer us. They reign victorious, pillage our towns and rape our wenches, bask in the spoils of our untimely extinction.

Basically, we'd have to start a new game.

And to that, we take up arms and say, “Nay!” And we thinks we doth protest just the right amount.

After my allies’ reinforcements arrived, the battlefield became crowded with the dead bodies of archers and infantrymen from all parts of the globe — a melting pot of valor and decay.

“’Twas a fine day to die,” I proclaimed. “My steed rode hard, rode true. But now, I must rebuild.”

“Aye,” Chris whispered. “Aye.”

But most of my base was still left intact, and that gave us hope which, these days, is sometimes hard to find. We had all graduated college not that long ago, just as the recession hit. Now, though, Chris has mortgage-sized law school loans to grapple with, which is to say, his chalice hardly overfloweth with mead. Moey’s one of those grads still living at home, working part-time, trying to figure out what in the world his degree is for.

I advised that the card stock makes for top-notch paper airplanes but, unfortunately, he found my jest crude and unfit for his court.

Convened at that roundtable, we were a foursome of complainers and underachievers. We were steeped in debt and lost potential. And we were playing video games, just like we used to back when the world was flat and simple and the far-off fantasy of adulthood was the most tantalizing brand of make-believe.

“I barely survived the scourge,” I growled, assembling my troops just outside the enemy’s gates. We built a small outpost there, and our warriors waited for our word, brandishing their spears and banners, wearing their scars and bruises hard across their chests like chainmail. “Prepare to attack.”

And then, we charged, our siege weapons and hand canoneers, our knights and long swordsman. This was our time. We raided. We fought. We stormed the gates in a desperate attempt to have history remember us, screaming wildly inside our heads, war cries of the fierce and alive.


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