The kid wouldn't step away from the Zero Gunner machine; what's a guy to do?

Somehow the stench of cigarettes and old beer that lingers in my local pizza joint never seems to curb my appetite any. It's practically a Wednesday afternoon lunchtime tradition for me: I stroll up to the counter, my feet crunching as I walk on the scratched wooden floor, and order a personal pan pizza with the works. The guy behind the counter sniffs as he scribbles my order with pudgy fingers. "Quarters?" he always asks when I hand him a fiver. Oh yes, quarters it'll be.

Staring at the cigarette marks on the red and white checkered Formica tables doesn't provide me with much in the way of amusement, so my Wednesday ritual always involves paying homage to one of the decrepit old arcade machines they keep back behind the soda fountain. What was it going to be this week? Cruis'n USA? Arkanoid? No, this week I was dying for some shooter action, and only Zero Gunner would do. You know, the old shooter game with the airplanes and the screenfulls of enemies?

Problem: This week, there was a kid who couldn't have been any older than five hanging from the joysticks. I mean that literally: hanging, his untied shoes flopping a few inches above the floor. I cringed to think of what would happen if he broke the sticks. This place hardly repairs games and probably never plans on replacing them.

At first, I planned to be patient. I tried to amuse myself with the eclectic faded art collection that lined the walls. Dogs playing pool. An Italian restaurant. A picture of a chef who'd long since had a white Santa beard rubbed into his face with an eraser. I even tried to watch the employees work but had to turn away when the guy at the register started cleaning his ears with the pen. No, I had no choice. I had a pocket full of quarters destined for Zero Gunner.

I strolled over to the kid and tried to sound friendly. "Can I play now?" I asked. He had an unkempt bushel of straw-blonde hair on his head that flapped from side to side as he swung back and forth on the sticks. "I'm playing!" he responded, staring excitedly at the attract mode with giant blue eyes.

There was no sense in trying to explain to him what qualified as "playing" or not. In truth, I just needed him to scoot over. Hell, he wouldn't notice the difference if I was playing on one of the joysticks. "You know, two people can play at once," I reasoned.

"I'll play over here," he answered in a froglike voice. "You play over there!" He gestured with his head toward the Cruis'n USA machine.

Now, Cruis'n USA is a fine game and all, but it differs from Zero Gunner in two major aspects: 1. There are no planes and 2. At no point is the entire screen ever filled with bullets and bombs.

So I tried to get into the mind of a five year old... But when I was five, all I could remember was that time when my dad tried to show me how to play whiffleball and I accidentally hit him in the crotch full swing, learning some new words in the process. Ah! Then it struck me to take the kid's side on this one.

"You know," I said, trying to sound all fatherly and perhaps subconsciously covering my crotch. "If you push the red fire button, you'll do better." Sure enough the little fellow took his hand off of the right joystick in order to pound on his buttons. He even put his feet on the floor and stood on his tippy-toes to see the screen better. I stepped gingerly to his side, dropped in my quarters, and prepared to let 'er rip.

"Can I have some pennies?" the boy asked, watching my money drain into the slot.

Joystick in hand, I started flying my little blue plane and was suddenly surprised to see the little red plane come zinging onto the screen next to mine. I guess there had been a credit on the machine to start with -- we were playing two player! His plane zigged and zagged over my plane so much as I dodged and weaved that it was really confusing to tell who was who or which plane was which. The bullets started flying; the action was furious. The little guy was howling with glee as we played. I was converting new blood into the videogame fold!

Needless to say his plane blew up right away and his three lives were over pretty quickly. But ... get this ... as his last plane exploded into a hail of sprite shrapnel, I did something that my mother would be very proud of.

"Oh no!" I said in an exaggerated voice. "I just died! It's all up to you now!!"

With that, the little fellow began pounding on the buttons more furiously, while I kept playing. He had no idea his game was over. Every time I blew up a big boss plane, I said "Good work!" and every time something shot toward my plane I yelled "Look out!" as I dodged it. The kid was in heaven. His mouth hung open in a continuous squeal of joy as we hammered away at our controls.

I was actually having so much fun that I almost didn't hear the pizza guy announce that my food was ready. Often I would never get to finish my game when I was on a roll, and today I must say I was doing some of the fanciest flying I'd ever done. Anyways, there was no sense in letting my pizza sit there, so I patted the kid on the shoulder and walked to the counter.

On my way out the door I stopped to check and see if the kid had figured out what had happened yet. To my surprise, he was still wriggling his same joystick and pounding on the same fire button... even crazier, the game was still playing. In fact, he was playing. The controls I had been using sat motionless.

My planes must've blown up long ago.

[This Daily Victim based on a (mostly) true story submitted by GameSpy reader Casey Raymondson]

Victim Pic Small

He got his initials in the number one spot, but didn't know how to read.

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