Martin, 29, joins the game for the first time. He's playing on a laptop with a mouse connected because he thinks it's a thousand times better than a gamepad. It doesn't seem to help, really. We die together, minutes after we drop off at Verdansk. We speak through microphones and I can hear in his voice that he's not having a particularly great time. In the second or third game, with bullets whizzing by, we hide in one of the houses. We hear shots fired in the distance. A helicopter's rotor slaps the air in the distance with great force, sending wobbling pressure waves from afar. A truck passes by down the road. We can hear the floor creaking, door opening. We're sure we're not alone. We die moments later – a sniper first takes me down, then my friend, as he's trying to revive me. The tension, excitement and feeling of danger are the fuel of the night, and we stay up until two in the morning.
There's five of us, so one person can always take a break. And there's somebody playing nearly at any given time of the day – beckoning, tantalizing, and messing up daily schedules. I haven't seen some of them since February, and all those people are my good, "real-life" friends. Before the epidemic, we used to spend a lot of time in pubs playing darts. It was our slightly pathological form of shared entertainment. We could get together, play darts for hours in a smoky den, stay up till the red morning light, then come to work with bloodshot eyes. At times, we'd enter the zone, and completely stop talking, only non-verbally exchanging information: Whose turn is it, where's my darts, who hit bulls-eye, who cleared my score, are we playing double-out? 301, 501 or cricket? And of course: who's buying the next round?
I guess we all came to these meetings for different purposes. I just loved spending time with friends and mellow out after a hard day. Among friends, in a place where I knew the bartender by name, and where the speakers emitted simple, uncompromising punk rock. I am not a terribly effusive, either. I do not readily talk about my inner experience, no matter how violent it is. In most situations, I'm perfectly fine with basic interaction, casual conversations, silly jokes and jabs. Simple comradery.
Of course, this "simple comradery" is underlined by hours upon hours of discussion, debates, and arguments. We knew that spending time together was working wonders for us, even if we thought we had already known everything about each other. We knew our strengths and we knew our flaws even better. Perhaps that's why Call of Duty: Warzone is the game that drew us so relentlessly. In these weird times, entering the game's lobby and our Discord channel became substitute for darts and beers. How are you? How's life? How's work? How's your girl? Where are we going? Should we play contracts? Who has sniper ammunition?
You see, I'm a rather difficult person. Bearing up with me takes a little getting-used to. And why should anyone care? Hence, I have nothing but admiration for all those who, after all, are able to take up with me. For some time, my friends and I have been wondering – especially during the period of the tightest lockdown – how we can we still get together, not lose touch. We tried webcam meetings, but playing virtual Sword & Sorcery for the 50th time is not exactly the definition of quality time. And then (I still wonder how I was able to) I managed to convince them to try Warzone. And so it begun.