The Drifter is a psychogeographer of videogames. Check out his new ‘man-cave’ diet — consisting only of what he can hunt, forage, or scrape from the inside of the old biscuit tins he uses to store his war-gaming miniatures. Join his inner circle today and for just $24.99 a month, you too could send your beer belly back to the stone age.

Gamers of the United States: I share your pain. I, too, am kept up at night by the thought of that great and awful choice that will shortly be yours and yours alone to make, knowing that the weight of history is on your shoulders. One possible future stars an unloved, hawkish woman, inheritor to a throne she has done little to deserve. The other stars a race-baiting corporate windbag with ridiculous hair, no experience, and a penchant for manhandling other people’s genitalia. Neither is exactly ideal, yet only one can go on to become the people’s champion of 2016. So what’s it going to be? Are you shelling out for Dishonored 2 or Deus Ex: Mankind Divided?

Personally — and I don’t mean to impose upon you here — but I already decided you should buy Dishonored 2 a long time ago. Frankly, I don’t know how Mankind Divided got the green light. Even those of you with a love for glory days of the franchise – and I count myself among that number – can’t claim that Human Revolution was a ‘real’ Deus Ex game, with values and gameplay befitting the glorious hybrid shooter of Warren Spector and Harvey Witchboy Smith. I know, I know: Emily Kaldwin is a little too ‘European’ for some of you. Suck it up. Seriously. You can’t let Eidos Montreal run roughshod over everything immersive sims have achieved in the eight years, turning back the clock to an era of searing corporate tower blocks, whack-job conspiracies, global financial meltdown, and trigger-happy cyborg cops gunning down ethnic minorities in the streets. We’ve come so far since the grimdark days of cyberpunk: do you really want to send us back there, plummeting towards an abyss where every new AAA game involves jacking in, jerking off and tuning out? Because let me tell you: I spent most of this summer watching Ghost in the Shell hentai in my bedroom, and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

I was trying to escape my own country’s problems: namely a political season of such remorseless greed, vaulting ambition and reckless stupidity that it made House of Cards look like… well, I guess, like the original British version of House of Cards. The climax was the abrupt, unexpected coronation of Disney villainess Cruella de Vil to the hallowed office of Prime Minister. Yet this period of egregious Tory Party bloodletting was only the beginning of our troubles. The decline and fall of the British Isles from horse whipping, slave trading imperial magisterium to drizzly, bankrupt social democracy has yet to resume. A few days back Cruella announced that in April 2017 she will launch a two-year Festival of Love, during which she plans to personally hunt down every last Polish plumber and Portuguese barista in our rotting market towns and post-industrial metropolises and make stylish coats from their supple white flesh, and handbags from any brown ones. Though I am a fully naturalised member of the nation state and thus couldn’t care less, Cruella’s past form in the area of un-PC sartorial choices unnerved my on-off-on-off-on-again girlfriend Hannah, who loves her spotted Dalmatians more than our own offspring and leaves me to take care of the childrearing while she cruises the parks of Kensington and Chelsea with the puppies, lapping up compliments from upper-crust gay men to substitute for the affection she never received from her mummy. Or at least, she used to. Now she’s scared to let the dogs leave the house. Fur, you see, is very much back in fashion, along with cigarette holders, foie gras, and blaming the Jews for all the world’s problems.

Great Britain's new Prime Minister on her way to Parliament.

Great Britain’s new Prime Minister on her way to Parliament.

You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with the psychogeography of videogames, so I’ll cut to the chase here. Jolted by our country’s abrupt volte face away from modernity, my beloved booked the pups into a five-star dog hotel near Heathrow and fled to the Big Apple, where she rented a Brooklyn Airbnb and began frittering away her inheritance on vintage dresses and kale and avocado lattes. For one munificent week I believed she’d left me for good. I let the dishes stack up erratically by the side of the sink and wore the same underpants two days in a row. I finally made time to clock Metal Gear Solid 5, though playing with DD only reminded me of the miserable lot our furry friends faced in the new, crueller Britain. All was going swimmingly until one blood-red dawn I received a text message from my absent love interest. “What in God’s name,” it said abruptly, “is POKÉMON GO?”

“What in God’s name is POKÉMON GO?”

“I love you too,” I texted her back.

“Just answer the question,” she said. “Everyone has it. And that means I need it too. Or rather, I should have had it before they did, and now be SO OVER it. Instead, I’m behind the curve.”

I should mention at this point that after Hannah’s departure I made a Wicker Man in the garden from her back issues of Vogue, and thought about immolating myself inside until I remembered that I was no longer a virgin. What can I say? Even internationally-acclaimed videogame bloggers struggle to cope with the icy-cold waters of heartbreak. Her sudden return into my life sent me into a dervish whirl of unfamiliar emotions. I determined to follow my heart, or at least, my frustrated libido. I booked the children into a five-star dog hotel in Heathrow, bought a clean passport from a well-connected ethnic acquaintance, and took the first red-eye out to JFK.

***

It was at that very same rusted husk of an airport that I formed a friendship to sustain me through my brief spell at the rotten heart of the American dream. Retrieving my knapsack from the baggage carousel nine hours after I had left London city, I noted a tallow-white gentleman beside me, hiding his furrowed brow under a Yankees baseball cap. He was wearing a yellow scarf that made him look suspiciously like Harry Potter, twenty years older and nursing the mother of all hangovers, but I never forget a face.

“Sam Houser,” I cried. “British-born founder of Rockstar Games and creator of the bestselling Grand Theft Auto franchise Sam Houser!” I thrust out a delicate, womanly hand. ‘I doorstopped you once for a notorious tabloid newspaper – ‘Videogame Copycat Cop Killer Outrage!’ Perhaps you don’t remember?” Those were my salad days: shaking the hornet’s nest of working class parental anxiety about the lasting damage video games were causing their children, while two pages over, a naked high school dropout thrust out her new and improved bosom so far it could poke you in the eye. Sadly the British tabloids aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on any more, and it was never exactly expensive paper in the first place.

daniel-radcliffe-sam-hauser

“British-born founder of Rockstar Games and creator of the bestselling Grand Theft Auto franchise Sam Houser!”

I withdrew my hand awkwardly in the face of Houser’s blank bleary eyed  stare. “Where are you headed? Let’s share a taxi. Hey, maybe we can steal it,” I said. “Then cruise Harlem for prostitutes. I have a cold coming on and could use the boost to my immune system.” I feigned a sneeze.

“I’m going to take the subway,” he said.

“Great!” I said. “I can’t really afford a cab anyway.”

I picked up his suitcases and ignored his look of horrified effrontery. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I came to deliver you a world-exclusive feature on the future of videogames starring the genius behind Liberty City.

We began our voyage through the subterranean bowels of  New York aboard a crowded F-train. My mind was exploding like a pinball machine. I had so many questions for Sam! What were the chances that I, an internationally acclaimed videogame blogger, would end up on the same flight as an internationally acclaimed videogame designer? I gave him my creepiest smile.

“We’re the same, you and I,” I said, wiping down a patch beside me on the plastic bench so that we could sit together. He declined and continued to grip the handrail.

“Remind me,” he said, “who the hell you are.”

I landed a chummy punch on his shoulder. “I’ll ask the questions,” I said. “After all, I’m the hack here. Are you in NYC researching GTA VI? What can you tell readers of Outermode about the next instalment of your hugely successful criminal simulator? Are you ready to morally corrupt a whole new console generation? What’s Cara Delevingne like in person?”

“Are you ready to morally corrupt a whole new console generation?”

“Funny you should ask,” he said. “GTA VI isn’t going to be on the next console generation. It’s an AR game for smart phones, and it’s going to be huge. I couldn’t just sit around watching Nintendo’s share price shoot through the roof and not want to eat a slice of that sweet Augmented Reality pie. Soon middle-aged legal secretaries who’ve never even played a videogame will be jacking cars, wielding baseball bats, mowing down cops, and generally having a wild old time. Grand Theft Auto is about to get real. And this,” he gestured, taking in not just the subway car but the whole of New York, “is where it starts.”

It was a vision that sent shivers of excitement down my spine. Even since my Molotov-stuffing teenage years I’ve been susceptible to the dark allure of imminent social collapse. But as I was shortly to discover, New York City was in thrall not to the romantic genius of anarchism but a far more subtle, violent and insidious threat. Its name was Bulbasaur.

happy-bulbasaur

“Subtle, violent and insidious”

***

An hour later I ascended from the Dantesian horror of the subway with my videogaming Virgil still in tow. Bushwick baked in the midday sun. Malnourished children lounged about on the steps of brownstones smoking Camels. I knew first-hand what it meant to be home-schooled and I feared for their emotional health. A pair of immaculately coiffured twenty-somethings in plaid shirts narrowly avoided walking into us, their eyes rooted firmly to their iPhones. “Did you hear about that attack on 9th?” one asked his companion. “Reds took a gym that used to belong to us. Six Muzzlepuffs and a Sneezatcho died in a blaze of fire, and for what?”

“This is where we go our separate ways,” Sam said. “I’m already late for the launch party. Lazlo is DJing inside a refurbished shipping container and I should really show my face.”

“Soon middle-aged legal secretaries who’ve never even played a videogame will be jacking cars, wielding baseball bats, mowing down cops, and generally having a wild old time.”

I kissed him Mediterranean style on both cheeks, then went in for a third. He baulked and awkwardly withdrew.

“I want you to know,” I said, “that I will never forget our time together. Anything you need in this city, I can make it happen: you only have to ask.”

It was a promise I had no intention of keeping. I knew no one in New York besides my girlfriend, and she didn’t know anyone at all. It hurt me to think of her walking the mean streets of NYC, tottering from one department store to the next in a pair of knock-off Manolos with only a handful of freshly caught Pokémon for company. A schoolteacher once wrote on her report card: ‘Hannah is her own worst enemy,’  and it was true to this day. How could I expect her to build a balanced menagerie of different Pokémon classes, fully appreciating the importance of mixing fire and water, grass and steel? I dreaded to think of her with a hundred Nigglepoofs and not a single Bumfluff.

As I ascended the stairs to her apartment I noted the graffiti decorating the peeling walls – Pokémon Go Home. Suck My Charizard. So: my beloved was holed up in a blue collar tenement whose inhabitants were hostile to her new passion. Lucky that I, a trainer of such considerable experience that the words to the Pokémon song trip off the tongue even on occasions liable to cause intense social embarrassment, could teach her the skills she would need to tune out the haters. I knocked on her door. It opened a fraction to reveal a familiar face.

Tune out the haters.

Tune out the haters.

“I thought you’d never get here,” Hannah said. As she unhooked the door chain and invited me inside, a savagely thin black cat slipped out and stalked away to terrorise the neighborhood’s few remaining birds. Hannah waited until I’d put down my case and wrapped an arm around me awkwardly, like I was a leaking refuse sack that needed to be held as far away from her body as possible.

“There’s the girl I fell in love with,” I said. “The girl that I’ve travelled halfway across the world at great personal expense and sacrificed the best years of my life for.”

“You’re going to love this place,” she said. She was right. The walls of the apartment were insulated with an expertly curated collection of 1980s prog-rock vinyl. I counted six different ways to make coffee in the kitchenette alone. “Every third shop round here is a vegan, organic PokéStop,” Hannah explained. “Six months ago this district was a crime-ridden ghetto occupied by small business owners with skin pigments different to our own. Now it’s Poké-City. Rents are through the roof. Landlords are paying three-times, four-times market value for a well-run Gym. Some residents are holding out. But it only takes one to fall and the rest tumble like dominos.”

“Every third shop round here is a vegan, organic PokéStop.”

Pokémon Go is a passing fad,” I said. “By the end of the summer reality will have hit and we’ll go back to using our phones as they were intended: to stalk former lovers on Facebook and show our quote unquote friends the delicious breakfast of Eggs Foriestiere on sourdough bread we’re sitting down to eat on a Shoreditch rooftop with our hashtag soulmates. Enjoy it while you can.”

“Sure, it’s a bubble,” Hannah said. “I want to ride it until it bursts. That’s why I asked you to come here. The way I see it, soon there’ll be a Davidicke in every stoop and a Copafeel on every corner and when that happens, people like me need to feel safe. We can’t go out catching rare Pokémon with ugly people still around and filling up our screens, contaminating our Instagram shots of a cuddly little Mahbooboo or an Okie Smokie.” She let the thought settle, then said: “I’ve had an idea. And I need your help to make it come true.”

“What is it?” I said. “I’d do anything for that beautiful face.”

She smiled at me coquettishly for the very first time, and declared: “I want to use Augmented Reality to eradicate the working poor!”

It wasn’t the first time my girlfriend had expressed questionable opinions. “Listen,” I said with a deliberate calmness that I knew she would construe as patronising. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. My friend Sam Houser built an entire multi-million dollar franchise letting kids mow down Hari Krishnas like wheat. Hell, my favorite thing in the first Grand Theft Auto was to block the end of an alleyway with a limo and go on a bloody rampage, murdering every homeless person trapped inside. Erasing the most disadvantaged people in our society would diminish one of the richest profit centres the entertainment-industrial-complex has to offer.”

“I don’t want to kill anyone,” Hannah qualified. “Just make them invisible, so we can walk the streets of New York without having to tolerate their bad hair and fatness. Also if you could stop them talking, that’d be a bonus. I’ve got enough to worry about without needing to stay up to date with their favourite telenovelas.”

The Drifter's weapon of choice.

The Drifter’s weapon of choice.

There was little sense arguing with her. Hannah came of age in the era of the iMac and iPod, and denying the parentage of her own children wasn’t the only thing she had in common with Steve Jobs. She too dreamed of a simpler world derived from Zen Buddhist principles like oneness, harmony, and not paying a cent of tax despite being the richest corporation the world has ever known. Hannah was going to build a megacult to fill a void in the lives of technologically-inept middle class people even if – or perhaps especially if – it meant the systematic extermination of every busker, beggar and whore in New York.

Luckily our debate was cut short by a ruckus drifting up from the street. I peeked through the blinds. A flabby middle-aged man in cheap pinstripes was dragging a woman kicking and screaming from the seat of her Volvo. “I’m so, so sorry,” he panted as he wrestled to untether her seat-belt, one hand still clasped around a glittering black Galaxy S7. “But if I don’t drive this car onto the blue spot next to my vaguely Serbian cousin in the next thirty minutes I’ll never unlock Staten Island.” He threw her brusquely onto the sidewalk and clambered into the car while the pedestrians around us continued to waltz indifferently past, consumed with thoughts of tonight’s lustrous reheated takeout. As he revved the engine I heard him cry: “Don’t worry. Insurance will pay!”

So this was the future of AR. Somewhere in NoHo Sam Houser was rubbing his pasty chin, watching the value of his Rockstar stock climb faster than one of Elon Musk’s new recyclable rockets. I felt dizzy with the realisation that we were on the verge of a post-truth age, where fictions of every kind consume our waking lives and not even the imminent threat of extinction can distract us from the urgent need to level up our mobile avatars. Soon NYC would crash and burn and humans — real, living breathing humans — would suffer horribly. But in the meantime there was moonlight and music, love and romance. I took my lover by the hand, zipped up my hoodie and whipped an aerosol can out of my luggage. It was time to face the music and dance.