By my own reckoning, I’m a nice bloke. And unless I’m hopelessly deluded, anyone who’s ever met me should be able to testify to that fact. But I carry a secret shame: losing makes me angry. In fact, losing can make me furious, petulant, ridiculous, destructive and vile. Losing makes me…well, not me.
I write this in light of the fact that I recently broke my PS3 controller during a game of Call of Duty: World at War online. In spite of my real life pacifism, I’ve spent many a late night over the last 18 months stalking the battle-scarred landscapes of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia, scything through enemy players from around the globe with a range of machine guns and brutally knifing them at close range. It’s been fun!
However, when playing a couple of nights ago I just could not get a break. I was mown down by machine gun fire, sniped from distance, knifed at close range, had my limbs blown off by ridiculously accurate grenade throws, torched with a flamethrower, blown to smithereens while trying to lay my own Bouncing Betty, savaged by dogs and showered with mortars. It was quite simply the worst session on Call of Duty I’ve ever experienced.
I was so furious with constantly getting killed, I momentarily flipped out. Holding my controller with each hand, I pressed my foot against it (as if trying to break a branch), which subsequently led to the dislocation of the left analog stick when my foot slipped. Brilliant.
The sickening cracking sound was sobering, and I held the broken controller in my hands and tinkered with it for a while in a fruitless attempt at fixing it. I felt like a man who’d just beaten his lover to death during an uncontrollable rage, but was now tearful and remorseful, cradling her head in my arms and animating her lifeless hand by lifting it gently to my face. But the controller was gone, and the left analog stick sat at an unnatural angle – like Eduardo’s ankle after Martin Taylor had finished with it. The cost of my being a petulant and destructive baby: £34.
Shamefully, I have a track record on Championship Manager as well (later known as Football Manager). I once cracked the casing on my old laptop when I hurled it a short way across the floor after my unbeatable Manchester United team was inexplicably trounced 6-1 by a rampant Manchester City. And when I used to play the game on my old computer, I took out every defeat on my long suffering mouse. It was eventually reduced to an unresponsive chunk of plastic, about as effective as a potato tied to my computer with a shoelace.
My sister won’t even play Monopoly with me anymore because of the way our games used to turn out. In a nutshell, I would be cocksure and happy when blessed with multiple property developments (albeit built across the likes of The Angel Islington or Pall Mall), where I would pinch bank notes from her hand with a “rent, please” smirk on my face.
However, when my sister had a more profitable property portfolio (Mayfair, Park Lane, Bond Street) it was a different game entirely. Because when my lovely sister tentatively – and with not a hint of glee – quietly asked for the rent for her properties, I would grumpily sell-off my houses and practically throw the money in her face, while sneering that she was “smug”. She was nothing of the sort. But I was borderline Mafioso in the way I reacted: “You like money, eh? Well here’s your fucking money! I wanna see you eat it! Eat the fucking money…I wanna see you choke on it!”
My sore losing (and bad temper) was also evident when I used to play football and badminton at university during my lean and healthy years. These were meant to be enjoyable sporty pursuits with friends, but I often made them excruciatingly miserable experiences. (Although, my friends often told me that my meltdowns often made for hilarious viewing.)
I remember breaking my badminton racket once when I smashed it on the ground after going down a few points to my best friend. As we’d only just started the game, I then had to play the remainder of the match with a hired racket. So while my best friend reaped the benefits of smash after smash with his ultra-lightweight graphite racket, I struggled with something that appeared to have been fashioned from solid oak, strung with leather strings. As a result of my ridiculous outburst, I suffered an even heavier defeat than I might have done originally.
Football was no different.
During our five-a-side games, I was usually the most vocal. We had a lad called Ben on our team who we used to invite simply to make up the numbers. Had the secrets of Josef Fritzl’s basement been known in 1997, I would’ve strongly suspected that that’s where Ben had spent his formative years. Watching him develop during the first year of university was like watching Brendan Fraser’s thawed caveman character, Link, discovering the modern world around him in California Man. He chased around the five-a-side court like a gangling, but loveable, moron who’d been instructed to man-mark a wasp for the duration of the game.
Whenever we were losing, it was always poor Ben that used to get an earful. However, rather than shouting something motivational or encouraging, I used to become incensed with his performance to the point of near screaming. (If you imagine Ben as the grandma in the Aphex Twin’s ‘Come to Daddy’ video, you get close to what he endured.) Added to that, I’ve kicked walls (nearly broke my foot once, actually) and even briefly fell out with my best friend and housemate when he dared to utter the words: “it’s only a game”. That was a decidedly frosty drive home.
I remember one of my mate’s cousins visiting from Liverpool one weekend. He played football with us (on the opposing team to me), so I played like a man possessed to ensure that we got the win, while frequently barking at Ben during another one of his classic sub-standard performances. I genuinely can’t remember what the final score was. However, I do remember the visiting cousin chatting to me over a pint at the Union that night, and saying in his broad Scouse accent: “I can’t believe what a nice bloke you are…because this afternoon, playing football, you were a fucking maniac!”
I’ve recently tried to reign in my appallingly bad behaviour, which I blame on acute competitiveness. Only last year, I played (and enjoyed) several games of football with my mates at Maverick Television. And in spite of us losing heavily to the London office during one match, which had the potential to tip me over the edge, I didn’t have a single meltdown. I’ve even had some very good natured badminton matches with my best friend…and my racket is still intact.
However, given that I’m currently a PS3 controller down, I’m obviously still not immune to flashes of self-defeating stupidity. But I want to play nice, I really do. Maybe when the rest of my life is a success I’ll stop caring so much about winning the meaningless little battles, and enjoy them instead. But until that day, things might get broken…a bit.
Before 2009 was through, I’d hurled my badminton racket at a wall and broke it. I’m currently playing with my best friend’s racket, which means I have to remain calm – even in the face of defeat. Oh, and I’ve since had to buy yet another PS3 controller. The other one was faulty. Well, it was after I’d kicked it to death.