A PlayStation arrived in our house last week. I know this because the spawn were unexpectedly spending long hours downstairs. Normally, we are lucky to see them on the ground floor for anything other than meals.
Suddenly — like the zombies they were spending long hours shooting — they had invaded the lounge and we had to fight them back. At the end of the night, as we were heading to bed, they would arrive at the door of the room, hollow-eyed and moving slowly but with the wordless determination that can be assuaged only with the type of laser-guided weaponry that we discourage around the house. Efforts to fight them off always proved fruitless, reprieves short-lived. They always returned, looking more dangerous than the time before.
In two decades of parental retreat, the PlayStation was our one successful hold-out against technical incursion. As the spawn became ever more insistent, we fought back against the odds, zapping every effort to secure a games console for the homestead. It was not, in truth, that difficult; each time they asked us to buy one we said no. But this week disaster struck. The boy somehow secured the long-term loan of a PS4 from one of his mates, and I arrived home to the sound of gunfire and the screams of mutants.
The game was called The Last of Us and it seemed to consist of players killing zombies as they try to escape from an abandoned building or hipster coffee shop — it’s not always easy to tell the difference. Overnight, I heard the boy lumbering around the lounge in the small hours letting out belches of frustration when the zombies got the better of him. He has since explained that it is wrong to call The Last of Us a zombie killing game, as “technically” the assailants are not zombies but rather cannibalistic creatures infected with a mutated strain of the Cordyceps fungus (back story is everything). This kind of condescension is irksome, not least because nothing is “technically” a zombie — except perhaps the Liberal Democrats.
So anyway, there the damn console sits, a monstrous black box with countless wires heading off into an extension socket so that the corner of the lounge now looks like the engine room of the Nostromo. And after years of sole possession, the parents of the house must again fight for control of the television (apparently, the latest thing in home entertainment does not work with laptops — go figure). This is deeply irritating if you want to watch TV but don’t want to watch anything in particular; those evenings when you crash, exhausted in front of the box just wanting to veg with something that isn’t Love Island. For while the spawn understand that they take second place if you want to watch something specific, they question the need for your primacy if you are just ossifying in front of The Bourne Ultimatum on the Sony Movie Channel for the umpteenth time.
Mercifully, the thing will be gone in a week and we are left congratulating ourselves on the wisdom of our decision not to buy one. We would, on this evidence, have struggled to get the spawn off it in term time, and though we know they play games on their own laptops, the PS4 experience is infinitely more immersive.
In the meantime, we have made some useful discoveries. We have learnt that the girl must never be allowed to drive, especially in the jungle. We also now know not to venture into abandoned buildings or sewers in a post-apocalyptic USA. In the Trump era, this could be useful information.
There has also been the benefit of all sitting together in the lounge again, disturbed only by the splat of zombie viscera against a factory wall. It’s been nice, the chatter of family, the laughter of children, the exploding of heads. I am not saying I see this as a satisfactory long-term arrangement. For one thing, school and college soon resume; and, for another, I’m fed up with missing Match of the Day.
But we have enjoyed the communal time. The single-player approach means three of you can talk while the fourth gets on with butchering mutants. We talk, we laugh, we kill; just like any normal family.
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