Evil Ed leans forward in his chair. He sips his Cuervo shot, then sips his Budweiser, puffs his cigarette, and considers the girl.
"I want to be the hero," he tells her. "I want to save the world."
"When I'm online playing Unreal Tournament against some guy in Tokyo, I'm not only pitting myself intellectually against this person, but also physically -- you sweat during the game, you're grinding it out. It's so much better than chess. Because chess is a representation of a battle. It's the battle of the wits using your rook or pawn or whatever. But when you're playing Doom or Quake, you got your armor, you got your weapons. You can decide the attributes of your character -- strength, wisdom, intelligence, dexterity, charisma, ego.
You come up with a persona, you, and incorporate that persona. It's dreamlike, but it's also a whole world that's receptive to you. You're going to a new place. A different place. And that is the place that is going to win over everything. No presidents. No laws. No nothing. It's just you . . . and the game."
They met five minutes ago. She -- young and shapely -- was walking through the GameWorks bar. He -- obnoxious and dramatic -- hailed her with his monster-truck voice, insisting she join him for a drink.
At her former table, a would-be suitor is giving Evil Ed the evil eye.
"But you're not being yourself," she says, swimming against Evil Ed's wave of pro-video-game patter. "You're not thinking for yourself."
"I'm going to give you my home number," he says. "You're going to come over, and I'm going to show you things and places that you've never seen before."
"I have more in my mind than a computer could ever show me," she says.
"Look," he says, "every person has the desire to do whatever the fuck they want. Video games give a person the one thing they don't have in society -- a free will. In life, if you make one decision that's wrong, then you go to jail or you're penniless. You're totally restricted in our world. In video games, you do something wrong and you can hit Reset. Movies you can't do that! Television you can't do that! Nowhere else can you do that! Me, as an extremist, I want to have everything that's available to me to express whatever I want to express."
She shakes her head. "I would rather read a book."
Evil Ed looks away. "It's only because she's scared," he says in a stage whisper. "She's perfect."
And turns back to her. "I really like you," he says.
Evil Ed is the self-proclaimed "God of Video Games." She is the fourth woman Evil Ed has really liked tonight. Evil Ed acts like he's 22, looks 28, and is top secretly 39. Evil Ed claims he is worth $5.3 million, yet says he has trouble paying the rent on his one-bedroom Mesa apartment. A drunken Evil Ed will readily tell you the retail value of his gold jewelry and claim he is an angel sent by God.
Evil Ed is a celebrity, of sorts. He has a popular game review Web site, "Evil Ed's Video Game Action News" (www.eviled.com). The site is supported by Southwest Television Productions (SWTV) and Bryan Media Group, two Valley-based companies banking on Evil Ed's ability to tap the lucrative video-game fan base.
Two years ago, Evil Ed pitched executives at SWTV his vision for a television show. He told them it could be the first program to exclusively target the massive video-gamer audience.
"The traditional gamer geek, the guy who spends thousands on his system and peripherals, that's about 10 percent of the gaming population," Evil Ed says. "General audiences are what I'm shooting for. I'm trying to bridge the gap between gaming geeks and normal people."
SWTV liked the idea, but balked at producing a full-blown television show. It agreed to fund "Video Game Action News" as a Web site instead. The site has text-based video-game reviews, industry news/gossip and taped video clips produced by SWTV and starring Evil Ed. The clips show Evil Ed partying with famous game developers and flirting with models.
"Putting girls and games together was my idea," he says. "Now everybody is doing it."
Last month, Evil Ed went to a television producers' convention in Las Vegas armed with demo tapes. There he landed an agreement to bring his PlayStation pontificating to two million homes as host of a new show called "Trailer Trash Theater." It's a two-hour showcase for cult films with wrap-around segments hosted by Evil Ed. Think Elvira meets Duke Nuke 'Em.
"He's got a vision for this thing, and he's been plugging away at it for a long time, and we're hopeful that it will happen," says SWTV spokesman Josh Woodard. "There are a handful of stations that are highly interested in Evil Ed."
"Trailer Trash Theater" will debut in September on B Mania, an East Coast-based satellite cable network.
Soon, very soon, Evil Ed's message will be televised and his age of domination will begin.
Evil Ed meets strippers.
The strip club is Babe's Cabaret. Joining Evil Ed is his long-suffering personal assistant/bodyguard Eddie DiAngelo. DiAngelo plays a buffed-out Waylon Smithers to Evil Ed's hard-drinking Monty Burns. DiAngelo tolerates Evil, but barely. His facial expressions are a hilarious projection of thoughts not spoken.
"Ed needs, well, 'baby-sitting' isn't the right word," DiAngelo says. "He needs somebody to cover his ass."
Evil Ed and DiAngelo enter the strip club in the midafternoon. The room is nearly empty. Beams of light from a mirror ball wander the burgundy carpet.
"They know me here," Evil Ed has promised. "I've dated a couple of the girls. I'm friends with the owner. We're going to get VIP treatment."
Evil Ed takes a seat by the stage and waits for service.
He moved to the Valley five years ago from California, where he grew up. There he tried a series of career tangents -- tech-support game counselor for Sega, stock manager at Nordstrom. Evil Ed once wanted to be a rock musician, then later a video-game designer. Now he wants to save the world by becoming a TV star.
Evil Ed was worried, though, that the "Trailer Trash Theater" deal would fall through. His partners were negotiating his contract for the hosting gig the same week the Santana High School shooting dominated the news. He watched the TV coverage, desperately hoping the newscasters never said the words "video game" when they talked about what might have inspired the 15-year-old shooter.
"People need heroes," he says, picking up his lecture. "Real heroes. I find my heroes through video games. People need to be challenged. People are not challenged anymore. This is a way people can rebel against the establishment."
So you rebel against the establishment by purchasing video games?
"It's not about buying games. How do I go against all this bullshit that's out there? All this corruption? If you do anything to go against that, you're screwed -- you'd end up like John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King. But if I go into a private world, I can go against it and I'm still a good citizen."
Wait, how do you rebel by playing a game?
"You can only spend so much time in front of a screen," he says. "What I'm talking about is education. If you educate yourself through this medium, that same intellect and feeling you accomplish through this medium will translate into your daily walk of life. I am a fighter because I play video games."
And speaking of fighting . . . Evil Ed has been waiting 10 minutes without any attention.
He swings around in his seat. Where are the strippers begging to give him a lap dance? Where is the waitress offering to bring him tequila? Where is the VIP treatment? Everybody is ignoring him, even the girls on stage, as if some silent command to freeze out Evil Ed has been issued from an unseen Babe's command center.
Muses DiAngelo: "I think something bad must have happened the last time Ed was here."
Evil Ed goes to the DJ to demand attention. He goes to the bar and demands a drink. The God of Video Games is angry.
"Don't you know me?" Evil Ed yells. "You're blowing it! You have real high rollers here! I've got somebody from the New Times with me!"
DiAngelo quickly gets up and leaves. Covering Evil Ed's ass in a bar fight is one thing, he explains. Trying to protect him against strip-club bouncers is another.
As Evil Ed stomps out the door, the Babe's DJ says: "Aw, the kids have picked up their toys and are going home."
When Evil Ed was 8 years old, he had a fantasy about being a gas station attendant. One day he made a paper hat, wrote the word "gas" on it and topped off the tanks of several cars on his block -- using water from lawn hoses. His stepfather was furious. He said that this Eddie kid must be possessed by a demon, he's evil, he's "Evil Ed."
This is Casa de Evil, the home of Evil Ed the adult. Here is a collection of porn DVDs and select feature films, such as The Matrix ("Best movie ever," says Evil Ed). There's the obligatory lava lamp. There's a bunk bed ("Like Tom Hanks had in the movie Big"). There are gobs of action figures sealed in their original boxes and autographed girlie posters. It looks more like a movie set than a home.
"It's everything you wanted as a kid but are afraid to buy as an adult," summarizes Evil Ed.
But Evil Ed does not have to buy his favorite toys. There is a knock at the door and a UPS driver asks Evil Ed for his autograph -- more free video games for review.
Evil Ed tears open the present and finds a collector's edition of Diablo II.
"Oh, cool!" he says. "Look, they even included boards and dice so you can play it Dungeons & Dragons style!"
Yes, at Evil Ed's it is always Christmas.
Except for Evil Ed's Webmaster, who is about to be demoted.
Sitting cross-legged on his living room floor, Evil Ed phones eviled.com's Webmaster/editor. He asks the Webmaster about his recent motorcycle accident. How did it happen and how badly was he hurt?
Then, once the tiresome formalities are finished . . .
"You don't have enough time to run my site," he says. "I'm tired of bugging you. You can retain editorial control, but as it stands right now coming out of my mouth, you're no longer the Webmaster of the site. Now give me the password."
The ex-Webmaster says something Evil Ed does not appreciate.
"Look, I could have a $100,000 deal with Palm Pilot drop through because I can't get a picture changed to our site. It's my name! It's my vision! It's my future!"
Evil Ed hangs up. He turns back to his guest. He senses disapproval.
"What!?" he asks. "In a perfect world, it would be nice if he did his fucking job."
Evil Ed meets gamers.
It's a Saturday afternoon in the conference center of the Ramada Valley Ho resort ("'H-O' as in 'my bitch,'" Evil Ed says). The conference center is housing an Arizona LANBasher's League party.
If you've never seen a LAN party marathon, it is a fascinatingly creepy event.
LAN (Local Area Network) gaming is when a group of players connect their computers with Ethernet cables for head-to-head multiplayer competition. Most parties are for small groups of friends. The games of choice are usually first-person shooters such as Quake 3 and Counter-Strike.
LAN parties can last several days. Players form teams, the teams form leagues, and leagues sometimes host massive LAN events, renting out warehouses for dozens or hundreds of players. LAN parties are like raves for the antisocial.
The Arizona LANBasher's League party at the Ramada Valley Ho was a 24-hour event advertised as "All Frag -- No Lag" (translation: nonstop killing with smooth game play).
Inside the conference rooms, 250 players set up their systems on rectangular banquet tables. The floors are covered with snaking cables and discarded fast-food wrappers. The lights are turned off to reduce screen glare.
When competition begins, the gamers lean forward into their screens. The players fall into the immersive motion of the game, the flowing pixels of strategy and action, the explosive sound effects and looped music. Sometimes they gulp high-caffeine sodas such as Bawls, Red Bull or Surge, their eyes never leaving the action.
The room is filled with the sound of clicking controllers and players yelling to their nearby teammates. They're virtually killing each other and having a blast doing it. Their dialogue is full of aggressive lingo that reads like a sci-fi movie script as written by David Mamet:
"Do you have radar yet?"
"You have longer life, but it's not infinite."
"Fucking Billy5000 is running ahead and fuckin' fragging me."
"Grenade flush right!"
"Fucking plant! Plant! Plant!"
As game play intensifies, the room grows warm. Event staffer Celeste "Moderatrix" Barrett says she posted a notice on the LANBasher's League Web site reminding players to shower and wear deodorant before coming to play. "After a few hours of playing, the room gets rank," she says.
Barrett is one of the few women here. About 90 percent of the players are white males 12 to 24 years old.
Looking across the conference hall, there is something vulgar about hundreds of sweating teenage boys yanking joysticks in the dark. At first glance, one might assume they're watching pornography. But the multiplayer games can be more seductive than porn. The game is nonstop tension without a climax. The intoxication can go on forever.
High school junior Jeff "Monster" Holtz won a second-place prize.
He goes outside for an interview, blinking and wincing at the sunlight. Holtz's neck is sore, and his fingers are cramped. He has been playing for about 20 hours, taking only short breaks to consume Bawls and a slice of cold pizza.
Holtz says he plays games online for about five hours a day. Many here fight online, knowing each other only by their nicknames. When they attend a large event such as this, players get to meet their virtual competitors in person.
Holtz says he's never heard of Evil Ed and seems to have nothing in common with him. Yet when asked what he likes about gaming, his answer is identical.
"When you're in there, you're zoning," Holtz says. "It's just you and the game."
LANBasher's League co-founder Brian "Zoner" Pavlich has heard of Evil Ed. When asked about Evil Ed's reputation among the gaming community, Pavlich is a bit cautious.
"There's a little friction," he says. "Not too many people like somebody making fun of people right to their face. It's kinda like somebody on MTV who everybody hates."
Pavlich is interrupted by a bellowing voice from across the patio. A bearded gamer has slouched too close to Evil Ed.
"Why don't you shave that filthy thing off your face?" Evil Ed yells after him, then laughs.
"See?" Pavlich says. "Like that."
Ray Powers, co-owner of the Gamer's Edge store in Chandler, seconds Pavlich's assessment.
"There's definitely a love-hate thing. He never stops going until he gets what he wants," he says. "But at least he's been awakening the local [gamer] scene more than anybody. He looks like a California surfer dude, but once you start talking to him about games, you find he's got the breadth of knowledge."
Also, he adds, "Ed leads the lifestyle that a lot of gamers wish they did."
Powers may be on to something there.
Evil Ed calls himself "a living animated character." He is an obsessive halter-top chaser who lives to party. He arrogantly announces every thought in his head and recklessly gets into fights. Evil Ed just might be the human embodiment of the repressed video-gamer id.
Evil Ed meets the real world.
The idea is wonderfully low-concept and pure Evil Ed. It has nothing to do with video games, but Evil Ed is convinced his God of Video Games persona can launch a non-virtual, non-televised business concept.
This . . . is Extreme Bikini Bowling.
Extreme Bikini Bowling combines two seemingly disparate activities: flirting with bikini models and bowling. Each player pays $25 for four hours of lane use. Evil Ed guarantees a scantily clad girl will bowl at each lane. The models will rotate lanes, "so you don't get stuck with the same girl."
It is a truly visionary idea because it is so difficult to imagine.
At the debut of Extreme Bikini Bowling at Tempe Village Lanes, Evil Ed is uncharacteristically nervous. He paces the alley wearing his favorite red jersey, the one with "Evil Ed" printed on the back. Evil Ed says he invested $6,500 on the advertising materials and promotion.
Extreme Bikini Bowling is scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. It's a few minutes past, yet there are only about 100 bowlers here. Many of them are Evil Ed's friends and did not have to pay at the door.
"It's because this is Phoenix," he says. "If this were Los Angeles or Las Vegas, this place would be packed. Phoenix has no sense of culture."
Men bowl to the music of Mötley Crüe and ZZ Top. The lane lights are turned low, giving the alley a nightclub feel. The girls are huddled in bikini-thonged packs in the back of the alley and have yet to join the bowlers.
Evil Ed explains he originally booked the Kiss Wear Bikini Team calendar girls to bowl. Then he did the math (12 months = 12 calendar girls = not enough girls for 30 lanes). So Evil Ed also invited the Bud Girls and the Castle Boutique Girls.
Now the calendar team leader, Kristi, is angry that Evil Ed invited the Boutique Girls to their "clean" event. She sets up a table for her girls to sign calendars instead. Her girls will not associate with the Castle Boutique Girls, she says, they will not bowl.
By now it's 10:30 p.m., and Extreme Bikini Bowling has yet to begin. The bowlers are irritated. They glare at Evil Ed -- what's the holdup?
Evil Ed tries to summon the girls to the lanes on the bowling alley PA, but they ignore him.
"The next time I'm not going to get nice girls," he mutters. "The next time I'll get strippers."
He urgently flags two Bud Girls.
"Will you bowl?" he asks.
"Oh, no!" says one, laughing. "I can't bowl."
Evil Ed turns to the other. "What about you?"
"I'm a horrible bowler!" she says.
"But . . ." Evil Ed struggles. "That doesn't matter!"
At 11 p.m., Evil Ed's few paying customers have become a dangerous liability. Burly, impatient bowlers hunt down Evil Ed and square off against him.
"This is a fuckin' joke," says one. "You're a fuckin' joke. I want my money back."
"Hey, I'm doing the best I can," Evil Ed says. "What can I say? The girls won't bowl. Who can tell what women are going to do, right?"
Evil Ed floors the charisma pedal, offering to buy the men a drink. It works. They're shaking hands and backslapping within minutes. Once his customers are satisfied, he runs into a crowd of chatting models.
"Bowl! Bowl! Bowl!" he yells.
But, alas, Extreme Bikini Bowling is a lost cause.
Evil Ed retreats to the bowling alley bar.
He orders tequila and Budweiser. He hangs his head. Mortal, after all.
"Somebody cut my balls off if I ever come up with such a stupid idea again," he says. "I have a television show. I should stick to television from now on."
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"You know what my Grandfather said just before he fuckin' croaked?" he asks. "He said, 'Man makes plans, God fuckin' laughs.'"
Two more disgruntled Extreme Bikini Bowling customers are hunting for Evil Ed. They enter the bar.
Edward Green looks up.
There's no Reset button anywhere.