From Scratch

It was a thing of beauty: three computer science majors just leering over my newly-arrived box from NewEgg. Like rabid hyenas over a fresh kill, eyes twitching, they ached to tear into the sumptuous, bubble-wrapped chipsets. Many a fine geek will know that special joy – the hallowed ceremony where friends hand-construct your first decent computer – and do it before your very eyes. But this one? These three were in a Computer Science program where Bill Gates almost literally hand-delivered hay bales of cash. One of these three would be a millionaire before the age of thirty. Each had near-fanatical ideologies on what should happen next. CS major #3, Walt, wanted the whole thing to be Linux, open source and free, man. CS major #1, John, was officially Having None of That Shit. And, by the way, fucked if any of them were plugging in the “On” light. That was a pain in the ass. Making it fast, like some laser-equipped death cheetah? That, to my growing delight, seemed for them the fun part.

Those first sweet steps into Counter-Strike, once I had my very own miracle machine? Like first stepping onto a pristine forest path. Or walking over the warm sand of a Hawaiʻian beach. It was freedom. Just after those first few steps, however, I'd be brutally, fully, repeatedly cut to pieces by AK-47s, Desert Eagles, combat knives, machine guns, shotguns, automatic shotguns, .50 cal sniper rifles, and my own hilarious clumsiness.

Computer Science major #2, George, favored gems like, “fucking idiot” and “full retard” when assessing my play. The former chess / Smash Bros. champion stood over my shoulder, heckling, pointing out the myriad ways in which I sucked. He also pointed out their common roots: a lack of forethought, experimentation, and attention to detail. George questioned, for instance, my penchant for merrily spelunking, gun in hand, into the midst of ten or twelve commandos. Or my inability to shoot straight. By virtue of teenage reflexes, I'd been a passable player. George taught me to be good. To be clever under fire, to practice smart, and to execute a plan.

The kind of basic life lessons that serve me to this day, in fact.


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