‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. That’s because the house belonged to a game journalist, who was at the time getting shitfaced at his office party.
“Ladies and gentleman!” shouted chief editor Russell to a crowd composed more of the former, and even then pushing the definition.”We here at the Escape Artist online magazine have, for almost ten years now, celebrated the growth of gaming culture. We watched as games became more elaborate and showed their potential to be true art. We witnessed as they were less and less accepting of adolescent drivel and seeked out to find meaningful experience. We saw the gaming nerd stereotype be shattered as the world recognized most gamers are responsible people with families and children.”
His word filled the room with expectation. They expected him to shut up soon. Someone shouted a half-hearted ‘yay’, obviously out of fear that he would try to remedy the crowd’s apathy through further discourse.
“Of course”, he continued, “we here still fit the stereotype, because we are here playing Rhythm Heaven and getting drunk instead of celebrating with our annoying families. To a gaming Christmas!”
The roar the followed was as genuine as the previous ‘yay’ hadn’t been, and the crowd returned to its stated purpose of playing Rhythm Heaven and getting drunk, preferably not in that order. But just then, the office’s double doors were flung open, and an aging man in a snow-spotted trenchcoat entered the room, being accompanied by a cold gust of wind and a tiny maelstrom of ice. He walked inside and held up a basket.
“Merry Christmas. I brought you a press kit” he said in the same tone one might say “I run over your cat, but that’s OK, I’m rich.”
Russel approached and took the basket from him in a gesture bordering on diplomatic. “It is a honor” he said, trying his hardest not to make that sound sarcastic, “to be visited in person by one of the most profilic men in gaming, the CEO of VisionActive, Enebezer Roberts.”
“It is a pleasure to be here”, Ebenezer replied, being far more successful in not sounding sarcastic. “We had some logistics issues this year, and I felt it was a good opportunity to meet some of the people who have been... less than fully supportive of our company’s efforts.”
“Oi, real sorry here, chap” shouted a shrill voice from near the punch, in a heavy British accent. “We should maybe be more like those other so-called news outlets who are getting paid to review yer games the right way, ain’t that right?”
The crowd at the party parted like a Biblical metaphor, exposing a rotund man, who was now moving towards the new guest in the purposeful but wavering path of the angry drunk.
“That’s quite a serious accusation”, Ebenezer returned. “I assume you, as a renowed journalist, has undeniable proof.”
“Oh sure, just let me call my industry contacts here... Oh wait, my mistake, they’re not industry contacts any more, because you bought out their studios and then closed them. That’s proof you are a prick, not of - urp, of that other thing we were just talking about.”
“I assume you have put together an elaborate chart showing how those studios wouldn’t have gone bankrupt had we not purchased them? For I remember buying them for cheap.”
“Oh yeah? Must’ve been a real bargain, unlike buying all the crap DLC for your crap franchises! Except you put out sequels that are more like DLC and DLC that are more like pulling stuff from the bloody game! Why can’t you pass the saving on to us, ya big fat prick?”
Ebenezer dropped the act. It fell with a thud.
“It’s easy for you to say, isn’t it? All you need to do is to sit there and complain about every little thing we do. We release a new game, it’s ‘Ebenezer Roberts Milks Another Franchise Dry’. We push downloadable games, it’s ‘Ebenezer Roberts Finds Another Way to Push Blood Money’. We donate money to charity, it’s ‘Ebenezer Roberts’ Evil Cannot Be so Easily Forgiven’. You may know all about gaming, but you know nothing about business, and gaming is my business!”
There was a short but deep silence, enough to pierce the veil of drunkenness, until the large reporter responded, in a quiet voice, “It’s more than a business to us.”
Ebenezer made a pause before responding. “What is your name, boy?”
“Tim Sterling, but on the site I usually sign Tiny Tim.”
“Well, let me explain what is wrong with you, Tiny Tim. You want your big million-dollar interactive experiences, but you can’t stand the idea that we’ll need to spend multiple millions to deliver them, is that right? Bah! Humbug! Art doesn’t feed anyone, and doesn’t pay the salaries I have to pay, my boy. When you take down all the ads in your site for the sake of the purity of the gaming journalism experience, then you can lecture me!”
He stepped back to the center of the room, looked around, and decided not to care about whether or not he had made an impression. “And now, I must be off. Merry Christmas.”
After he left, the awkward silence stayed back like an awkward something else, until someone remembered to ask Tim why the fuck he was talking in a British accent if he was from Mississipi, and he said he’d been playing Killing Floor too much for the new Christmas achievements, and in a storm of ‘DOSH’ and ‘GUVNAH’ the party clicked back into gear.
Ebenezer Roberts was a hardened man, not one to linger on what is past, but that Christmas night he spent some time as he stared out of his humble penthouse thinking about what he had heard.
“Ah, it’s nothing” he said to no one in particular. “They don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“I don’t know. They might be right” someone in particular replied. This caused Ebenezer to scream, for there was no one else with him in the house, in particular or not. As he turned to meet his uninvited guest, he was glad to see it wasn’t a robber or kidnapper, when he stopped freaking out over the fact that he was floating and transparent.
“Marley?” he stuttered, recognizing the ethereal face.
“It is I, Ebenezer” the apparition replied.
“Marley? My old business partner?”
“No, Ebenezer. It is I, Bob Marley. What’s up, mon.”
“Bob Marley? What are you doing in my bedroom?”
“Of course I’m your old business partner, Ebenezer. I was being sarcastic. That may not have carried well with my ethereal, ghostly voice.”
“Marley! What are you doing still here?”
“Mark me, Ebenezer! I bring thee grave advice on which depends the well being of your immortal soul!”
“By God, Marley! What is it?”
“Stop being a dick!”
Ebenezer felt deflated, even though he wasn’t the one who had been floating. “Very nice, buddy. Specific. I’ll fix up my life by tomorrow.”
“Yeah, sorry. I wouldn’t have done a thing if a ghost had come calling when I was alive, either. But then you die and next thing you know you’re wandering the world of the living wrapped in chains and carrying a tiny lockbox. Or in my case a novelty lockbox shaped like an N64 controller, because I was evil to gamers I guess? You think when you die someone will come along and explain the mysteries of life and death and the universe, but nope. You’re a ghost now, deal.”
“That sounds... inconvenient. Sorry, friend.”
The ghost shrugged, causing it to bob softly in midair. “I know this, though. You will be visited by three ghosts tonight.”
“Who are the other two?”
“You will be visited by three other ghosts tonight. I hope they are more convincing than me, for your sake. And I hope you take off that ridiculous nightcap you’re wearing.”
“What? This is my lucky nightcap!” It was a light blue nightcap, as long as Ebenezer was tall and with a fluffy white pom-pom at the end. “It belonged to my grandfather!”
“That’s not surprising it all. It belongs to the 1930’s. Probably in a cartoon character’s head.”
Ebenezer took off his nightcap and inspected it, and when he lifted his head to retort the image of his dead partner was completely gone. He looked around for a while, until he decided to just go to bed, as he was probably imagining things, and even if he wasn’t a ghost that shows up in the dead (heh) of the night shouldn’t expect people to stay up for him. He defiantly put his nightcap back on and tucked himself in.
(To be continued...)