“Jesus Christ is alive and well and watching over you today.” This phrase, hissed with cold fury, will always ramraid its way into my forebrain, and my cheeks will burn with embarrassment, whenever I think of ancient man-puncher Double Dragon.
The first time a game had made me feel shame, for it was the first game to make me blaspheme, which just so happened to occur at the house of a friend with deeply Christian parents. Double Dragon made me a bad man.
Or so I thought for the longest time, confused by the severity of my transgression. I had bellowed “Jesus!” as another same-faced thug had beaten my musclebro character into unconsciousness yet again. She, the mother, somehow made her way to us from two floors away in an instant, and then came the phrase I will never forget. (And did I also feel fingernails dig into my shoulder, or did the shame and shock of the admonishment make it feel as if physical?)
I was very young, but not so young that I hadn’t begun to have thoughts that all this God business was a bit silly, despite how hard my Church of England school pushed it at me. Early experiences of games, on Spectrums and Amstrads and BBCs and Commodores, were starting to morph from innocent distraction and into a form of thrilling transgression. Double Dragon was that made corporeal: this was not simply a game about jumping over the thing or not getting blipped out of existence because I touched the thing. This was a game in which it was fun to kick the living shit out of other humans.
To be clear – I had no belief that these were real people, nor any inspiration to go out and do the same to real people. It was the sense of naughtiness, of new forms of fantasy and challenge, that made Double Dragon so alluring. It is, perhaps, only right that some of my first steps into this world were met with a definitive statement that grown-ups did not approve. A child must be doing things that its parents (or friends’ parents) do not consider wholly appropriate: this has been the deal, eternally so.
The admonishment of my blasphemy was also the origin story of my atheism: a growing realisation, even if I could never shed the shame and the fear of the moment itself, that to be considered so vile for saying just that one word was high hypocrisy. That, perhaps, all this was really about control.
Double Dragon, a game about punching blobby men, so silly and simple and dated now, but to me, then, a shocking realisation that games, these things I’d so naturally inclined to since very young, were going to be looked upon by adults as something so much worse than a waste of time. That they would be considered a corrupting influence, to be hand-wrung about, accused of turning children into monsters.
Hey-ho, Fortnite, eh?
If Jesus was watching me play Double Dragon that day, he hasn’t had anything to say about it yet. Or perhaps the devil took my soul that day. I’ll see you in hell, Billy and Jimmy.