28 Dates Later by Willard Foxton: Part Twenty-Six, The Video Gamer and the Zombies

In which Willard goes on a date that involves hiding in a barn from some zombies.

So, after 25 Dates, I was starting to get exhausted. That's part of why the blog has been moving forward with all the alacrity you'd normally expect from a Mississippi sheriff's department investigating the murder of a young black man.

The other reason was that the end was looming, and I was still single. While at this point I'd met at least two women I'd thought about ending the blog for, it hadn't panned out. I was starting to dread writing some kind of nonsense about "every woman being date number 28" or something equally trite to round this damn thing off happily. No, the "every woman is date number 28" thing would never work. I mean some of you are married or lesbians or part of the whole QUILTBAG or whatever.

Anyway, feeling exhausted and burned out by the relentless grind of the dating (well over 50 dates at this point) and the blog, I decided to take a bit of a break, take stock and indulge in some of my hobbies - you know, the ones that don't involve receiving sex injuries while searching for Ms Right. I luxuriated in a couple of weekends without dates, where I could just slob around in my dressing gown, playing computer games, watching box-sets of TV I've missed, and at no point having to make small talk while drinking an overpriced gin and tonic. No, I was at home, so I could make myself a cheap gin and tonic, while kicking myself about forgetting to buy ice.

I always feel a bit guilty about drinking at home alone, and I especially feel guilty about playing co-operative computer games drunk. I've written before about how playing particular games is a bit like being in a bad relationship, and we all know how fast that can go downhill when you add booze. In between playing games, I was still logging on to dating sites, trying to find a particular kind of lady.

I was determined to get at least one date off of a site that catered to people who like playing computer games. It's always been a bit of a dream of mine to date a woman who I can play games with. I've got a couple of friends who met and married through playing World of Warcraft together (you know who you are, Alice and Phil). Once you've been to a wedding in Stormwind Cathedral, I suppose it leaves a mark. 

Stormwind Cathedral. Nice venue, but the catering charges are extortionate.

They have a lovely daughter called Caelia now, and I suspect if she ever has to ask her parents how they met, "raiding the Troll city of Zul Gurub to slay the Snake headed blood god Hakkar" is a pretty amusing, if non-standard answer.

As I've got closer to the end of the blog, I've realised that I may never get a date off sites I'd quite like to do, like arranged marriage website Shaadi.com (although a successful date on that could complicate the blog as I've already done Ashley Madison), circus performer and clown dating site, Boo Hiccup (no sexy trapeze artist for Willard, it seems)  or that one where your Jewish mum creates your dating profile and talks to other Jewish mums about how great you are. I'd even suborned a New York Jewish comedian friend to pose as my mother, but alas, no takers.

You'd think finding a gamer girl would be easy, given that something like 48 per cent of the gaming market is ladies these days, but actually, not that easy at all. I suspect it's because while tons of women play and enjoy games, very few self-identify as the kind of person who wants to go on a gaming dating site. I suspect it's because most people imagine a gaming dating site will be not unlike this Tim and Eric bit:

Ahem. I could probably find a lovely woman who could tell a Space Marine from a Colonial Marine on something like Ok Cupid or My Single Friend, but the point was to get 28 dates from 28 dating sites, so I persevered.

There's quite a variety of gaming dating sites out there, and in my brief dating hiatus, I've tried most of them. It's not the most promising of fields. In digging around, I managed to find, Date A Gamer - a website which prompted Harry Langston of Vice to say of it:

Gamers – no matter how integrated into mainstream culture gaming is becoming – are still thought of as lonely, weird, socially awkward individuals who struggle with the opposite sex. Not all gamers fit within those stereotypes, just like not all footballers are racists who sleep with their teammates' wives, but, as with that particular example, there are always some who snuggle up comfortably within the cliche. 

Date a Gamer seemed dead, at least in London;  the adult hookup version, ShagAGamer.com seemed to have quite a lot of escorts, not a lot of real women looking for dates.

Another, GamerDater, had one of the ugliest websites I've ever seen, and I struggled to find a date from it, or even get a response to a message. I choose to believe that's because it's a mostly console dating site, and I'm much more of a PC gamer. Ahem. Yep, that's the story I'm sticking to.  Quite a few others - including Warcraft specific site World of Datecraft, and bizarre "pay girls to play games with you" site Gamecrush seem to have gone bankrupt.

The best one I found was LFG dating - LFG being gaming slang for "Looking for Group". It's a small American site, but at least it seems to have real people on it. It's pretty basic, although slightly tweaked for a gaming audiences. For example, amongst your preferences for going out, there are boxes to check for "LAN parties" (where a bunch of people get together in a house and link their PCs together, a very 1990s phenomenon) and  "LARPing it" (dressing up like a goblin and being hit with big rubber swords).

Having found a site that was at least alive, I commenced looking for my gaming lady. There was one problem - LFG doesn't have many Brits. Still, think back to the story of Phil and Alice, when they "met", he was in Aberdeen, and she was in Southampton. For this date, maybe it didn't matter where the lady was, at least in the first instance. Also, I'm a sucker for an American accent. So, a bit more looking, and I eventually struck up a conversation with a lovely Yankee lady.

I explained the whole blog thing, she was charmed, and thought it sounded like fun to go on a literally online date, where we'd play a game together, chat online, and see where that took us.

For the date, she decided the most fun would be for us to spend an evening being chased around Chernarus, a zombie filled Eastern European shithole, the setting of rather good indie computer game Day Z. Or, as she'd have it, Day-Zee. The basic concept of this game is you rock up in a zombie filled wasteland with nothing but the shirt on your back and a gun that's so worthless it might as well be a kazoo, and then just do whatever you want, until you get eaten by Zombies or murdered by another player who wants to steal your boots. It's terribly, terribly realistic - you can freeze to death if you don't find a coat, break your bones, all that sort of thing.

Or "whatever we wanted" would be to go on a date as survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse. Romantic, eh? So, we logged on at 8pm one Saturday evening, and started chatting while we tried to navigate our way to each other. I'll be totally honest, while I'd played DayZ before, she was much better than I was. By the time I actually got to the Orthodox Church we'd picked as a meeting point, I'd almost died about three times. I felt this was the online gaming date equivalent of turning up late with a huge egg stain on your tie. Still, we'd been chatting the whole time, and getting to know one another.

She was a single mum in Chicago, running a little cafe she'd bought with the cash she'd saved up in the military. We talked about a bunch of current affairs stuff - she was fascinated to meet a real-live journalist (Well, "meet", anyway). We talked about the USA, the Middle East, geopolitics and so on. She proclaimed it to be "pretty refreshing" to find someone she could talk to about politics without getting them getting bored.

We decided to push out into the world, try to find some decent guns and canned food. One of the nice things about DayZed (definitely, definitely Zed) is it's very persistent, so we knew we could log in at the same time and play together again. It *was* great fun, walking around an abandoned town at night, scavenging for firearms, trying to avoid zombies, all while getting to know one another. it did feel vaguely like we were the protagonists of a zombie movie - exactly the kind of fun fantasy experience gaming is meant to deliver.

We talked about her military career, her ex-husband, what it's like to be a woman in a male dominated environment. She told me a few chilling stories of the kind of sexist abuse she gets as a female gamer - the kind of thing you can find here at Fat, Ugly or Slutty, a website that exposes the sort of everyday abuse women get for beating people in computer games. Maybe it's not so surprising that the "date a gamer" websites are so dead.

Indeed, as we started to investigate an abandoned farm, we came across one of the internet's archetypal douchebags, the thirteen year old boy in a high place with a sniper rifle. Fortunately, he was a bloody terrible shot, but the problem with the loud noises of a rifle is it brought an army of zombies down on us. Taking shelter in a barn, we realised if we went out outside, sooner or later he'd get us. Equally, if we stayed on the ground, we'd get eaten. She was a much better shot than I was - so, proper gent that I am, I gave her the last of our bullets for our Lee-Enfield rifle, and decided that I'd run out across the open ground, luring all the zombies over to our teenage tormentor. Hopefully, he'd see me coming, pop his head out, and she could waste him.

"She said "Ok, decent plan, how will you deal with all the zombies then?" I said, "Well, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it". I knew I was going to die. She knew I was going to die. But we did it anyway. I ran out, and against my own expectations, managed to get into the building with the sniper - while still pursued by a flesh eating moshpit. I dashed up the stairs, and had the satisfaction of surprising our sniper chum by getting behind him with a double-barrelled farmer's shotgun. I, of course, missed completely, despite being at point blank range and he chased me up on to the roof, where my date wasted him with a single shot to the head. It was a genuinely brilliant moment - we hooted and whooped and laughed.

I picked up his massive tricked out sniper rifle from his cooling corpse, which turned out to have precisely zero bullets in it - which sort of explained why he hadn't killed me. Shit. This left me trapped in a building full of zombies, with no way out. Except jumping off the roof. Pumped up with thinking I was an action hero, I did exactly that, and broke both my legs. By this point, we were both crying with laughter at my spectacular ineptitude. She came over to me, and got the sniper rifle from me as I bled out, so at least I didn't die for nothing.

It was a great date - probably one of the best I've done, if I'm honest. The lady confirmed if it had been a real date, "I'd have kissed you at the end of the evening for sure. Even if you can't shoot for shit".

Anyway, only two left to do! Hoping to get the penultimate piece and the last ever date up next week...

A still from DayZ.

Willard Foxton is a card-carrying Tory, and in his spare time a freelance television producer, who makes current affairs films for the BBC and Channel 4. Find him on Twitter as @WillardFoxton.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

***

Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.