But then we begin in earnest. I don’t know what’s gotten into me but now that we’ve both got a handle on the controls – mostly – I’m feeling an unusual little spark of competitive spirit. Maybe it’s all the testosterone pumping through the air con. Maybe it’s how good my hair looks. Maybe it’s that I’m twitching mad with sleep deprivation and stress and trying desperately to keep a tightly-fitted lid on the fact that my life seems to be spiralling out of my control again and the Australian political climate has put the fear of death into me and I think I’m going to die in poverty, probably within three years, and the pressure of maintaining this facade is cracking my heart in two.
Whatever it is, suddenly my habitual cheerful grin becomes a snarl, lips peeling back from teeth as I lean into the screen and tighten my grip on the controller. The high-pitched, chirpy tone I use in public takes on a metallic, harpy-like edge as I screech and growl my rage. I do the swooping motion and it is no longer a clumsy flick of the stick but a precise and controlled dive; the attack of a Stymphalian bird, bronze-edged and glinting in the furious sunlight of my rage as I hone in on my colleague’s weakness.
It is the fastest match yet. My fist pounds into his jaw. My sole connects with his mouth and nose. My arms scoop him up and deposit him almost tenderly on the floor, but then my torso slams against his and in a moment he’s over on his stomach and my knees are on his spine, enacting a brutal pressure. My fist connects with his head again and again and again and again, as blood first spatters and then pools on the shining white mat.
My colleague had been expressing his enjoyment by doing a fairly good impression of a commentator but his tone changes during this assault. His “a brutal blow there; he felt that one” turns into hushed, shocked exclamations of “oh, Jesus” and “Jesus Christ” and “I don’t know what to do,” as he fumbles at the controls. Now he’s getting frantic, and there’s an edge to his voice of helplessness and confusion. “How do you,” he asks nobody. And finally, “Stop that!”
I don’t stop. One last punch to the ear and the TKO comes – but still I don’t stop. I’m remembering 30 years of being weak and small and helpless and alone in the face of the horrors of the world; I’m remembering the few short months after a growth spurt when I used my feet and fists and rage at the world to show children smaller than myself that nobody would or could protect them either. One more blow after the match is made, a punch to the back of the head, to the neck (which actually makes us both lean back a little from the screen when, after we’ve disengaged and cooled down a little, we see it in replay a few seconds later).
“That’s an illegal move,” my friend shouts. “That’s actually illegal! You’ve killed him. He’s dead.”
My lips are back in place over my teeth. My eyes have returned to their normal, slightly blank expression of friendly interest. I can speak in my inside voice again. “Oh yes,” I say sweetly. “I snapped his neck.”
I have won three for three, two by TKO. I realise people have been watching; a cameraman has been filming both the match and our behaviour during it. Suddenly the adrenaline drains away and I feel ashamed of myself. I’m not a competitive person. I don’t like to gloat. I’m not violent. I pack up my things rapidly and make an exit, blushing a little.
It’s pretty alright, that UFC game.
EA Sports UFC is coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 17.