I’ve always been a fan of video games. It’s a form of escape to a different world where I am someone else, breaking the rules or saving the world. There’s science behind why it’s intoxicating, but that isn’t the point of this story.
Like most, I hung out with a core group of friends in high school. We all had similar interests: cars, video games, girls and partying. We raced each other around town, we competed against each other in fighting games, we chased the same girls, and we drank each other under the table. It was fun.
Mortal Kombat was our game of choice and the master of our group was Jacket. That wasn’t his real name, of course, but that’s what we called him because he always wore the same jacket and never took it off, even in the heat of a Texas summer. We suspected he even slept in it.
Jacket lived on the poor side of town in a rundown house that smelled of trash and cat urine. He didn’t have much. He drove an Omega, a crappy old beater, for the longest time and we teased him about it continuously. Actually, we teased Jacket about everything. Looking back, it’s hard to understand why he even hung out with us. He was the butt of every joke. We excluded him every time we did anything with girls involved. I mean, he stunk. You can’t have that around messing with your game, right? Plus he wasn’t very attractive. We didn’t want to scare any of the girls off. Still, we were the only friends he had. We were the only ones that gave him any attention.
When it came to Mortal Kombat, though, Jacket was a god. He was unstoppable and relentless. No one wanted to play Jacket and Jacket was not a humble winner. No way. He always made sure to verbally abuse us during and after every match. This was his arena and he made sure we knew it.
It pissed us off.
I decided to do something about this, to put him in his place. In secret, every night, I practiced alone in my room. Mortal Kombat 3 was the game of the time and Kabal was my favorite character. With Kabal, I could stomp anyone into the ground, anyone but Jacket. Since I was most familiar with Kabal, I choose him to begin my training.
The concept was simple, play the computer on the highest difficulty and never back down. Video games of the time did not have the advanced artificial intelligence that they do today. Computers can make calculations much faster than our squishy little human brains can. The idea is that to compensate for this, and to make games enjoyable, the clock speed of the computer was slowed down to match our level of skill. To increase difficulty, you simply needed to unleash the CPU. Playing the game on its highest difficulty was brutal. It seemed as if the computer was cheating. As soon as I made a move I was planted in the ground. Every time. It was daunting and seemed impossible, but I knew that to be the best, I had to defeat the best. My opponent knew what I was going to do before I did and knew exactly what to do to counter it.
I set a strict weeknight schedule of two hours a night, but on weekends I could put in more time. Soon I was wiping the floor with any opponent using Kabal. I learned the importance of spacing and placement. I learned how to counter anything. The computer couldn’t touch me. I was invincible. Then I thought, “Why stop with Kabal? To be a fair challenger, I must learn all the characters.” And so I did. In a months’ time, I was ready to compete against anyone and, in true Sun Tzu fashion, my enemy had no idea I was coming.
The moment of truth had come.
I went to my friend’s house where we all gathered and sure enough, everyone was there playing Mortal Kombat, but more importantly Jacket was there.
I asked to get next.
“Sure go ahead. We’re tired of getting our asses beat,” came the response.
Jacket was there with that snide look on his face. He was ready for fresh meat and he was confident. I picked up the controller and selected Kabal. I was nervous. My hands were shaking. This was the moment. All my time and training. This was the test. Fear, doubt, etc. I know it’s just a video game, but we all know these emotions and this moment was important to me. Someone had to put him in his place and it was going to be me.
The match began and quickly I realized something.
Jacket didn’t stand a chance.
The first round I tore him up like a rag doll. There was no mercy. It was embarrassing.
He was pissed.
The second round, I let up but allowed him to get some hits in. I let him win that round.
By the third round I had gained full confidence. I was no longer nervous. My hands were steady. I was in full control. I kept it interesting but knew I could win at any time of my choosing and the moment he got cocky, I finished him.
Jacket demanded a rematch. Now. “And you’re not pulling that Kabal shit on me either! Pick someone else!”
I was happy to oblige.
“Who do you want me to pick?” I asked.
“The indian!” he replied.
The Native American character he was referring to is named Nightwolf and was considered by our group to be the weakest character. Not because of his race, because his moves were hard to use, but I had studied every character and learned them all to prepare for such a request.
I selected Nightwolf and proceeded to destroy Jacket. There was no denying it now. I was the best.
Then I started to realize something…
Jacket threw the controller against the wall and started screaming and swearing at us. He completely lost it. It was a sight to behold. The boy became unhinged. Everyone else was celebrating his defeat and congratulating me the whole time he cursed us. Then he stormed out and peeled out in his car. He had gotten a Camaro by then, so the tires could actually break traction now. A car he bought to be just like us. As he sped off, crushed, my friends rejoiced and I learned a lesson I would never forget.
Jacket had nothing. His father had left when he was little. His step father was a drunk. He lived in filth. We all had fast cars and we all had girlfriends. We all had families. Jacket had no friends but us, and we treated him like dirt.
Jacket only had one thing.
And I took that away from him. I did that.
The only thing that made him a winner, I took away. Why? Out of selfishness. To “put him in his place.” Who was I, but a stupid kid having no idea of how my actions affected those around me? I had to be the best. I had to beat him. He needed to suffer for the embarrassment he caused me. Someone had to pay. Someone had to show him. I wanted that. I wanted it and it was wrong of me.
I can still see them celebrating and laughing at him. I had been one of them, but not anymore. In them, I could see myself, but I had grown in that moment and their praises only brought me shame.
Jacket returned a week or so later and he too had been practicing in his absence. I had not.
He demanded a rematch and even demanded that I use Kabal. I had to honor his request.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that Jacket had not put forth the effort in his training that I had in mine. Even being rusty, he was no match for me. The challenge came in convincing him that his victory was earned. I’m not sure if it was right of me to let him win or not, but that’s what I did.
“I’m back bitches!” he exclaimed.
Everyone looked at me as if I had let them down.
I made excuses as to why I lost. I pouted. I threw a little tantrum. I made it convincing. I stomped off.
Jacket was king again and back to upsetting everyone with his smack talking and lack of humility.
Perhaps he had not learned his lesson, but I had learned mine.
Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
– Charlize <3
Cover image credit: Unknown