Computer gaming fanatics come out of the basement to visit Tweak’T.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
In the arctic blue lighting of Tweak’T, a computer gaming center located on Foam Street in Monterey, Ben Middlebrook stares intently at a 24-inch computer screen. Middlebrook’s playing the military action game Call of Duty, and his computer character is walking through abandoned buildings holding a World War I era submachine gun. The atmospheric hard rock band Perfect Circle plays through the computer while he showers other soldiers with a hail of bullets.
After switching the music to a White Zombie CD, Middlebrook turns and talks to a friend. As he talks, he navigates his character through a doorway and up a flight of stairs without even looking at the screen. Then he begins what will be an impressive run ofgaming.
After he fires a round at another soldier in a courtyard below his character, a nearby voice call outs “Oh my God” as a message informing Middlebrook that he just killed Panther pops up on the screen. A few seconds later, as another character falls to the ground like a discarded piece of laundry, another voice rings out in Tweak’T.
“What is going on here?” it asks, as the screen tells Middlebrook that he just lay fellow gamer Leaps to rest.
After Middlebrook’s soldier tosses a grenade, the screen fills with a swirl of bright colors. Middlebrook informs me that his character is temporarily suffering from shellshock.
A moment later, as Middlebrook’s character leaves a building, he is surprised by a roving gunman.
“Awww, Panther took my head off,” Middlebrook says in a nonchalant manner. “Actually, he took my chest away.”
Middlebrook, who goes by the screen name of Izzy, is a 17-year-old independent study student. Today he’s joined by fellow gamers Kevin Smith (Panther), Sean Smith (who for some reason has the screen name Cute Asian Girl Over 18) and Conor Randall (Leaps). The group is playing Call of Duty as a land game, which means that all of their computers are connected and they play against each other.
The guys are definitely spending substantial hours in a computer-generated universe—Middlebrook estimates he comes to Tweak’T several days a week for four to eight hour stints. But Tweak’T co-owner Nelson Drueding, who owns the gaming center with his son David, believes that this sort of interaction between gamers is what makes his business so special.
“These are the computer nerds,” he says. “[Tweak’T] gets them out of their rooms into a more social environment.”
On this Monday evening, Drueding’s assertion is amply backed up by the interactions between the gamers and Tweak’T employee Brett Cline. Cline, who goes by the screen name of Wiggles (to mess with all the kids that adopt tough screen names), seems to act like an older brother to Tweak’T’s clientele. He brings in a pizza from Gianni’s and makes sure the younger guys watch their language.
There are also a handful of DLI students. One of the students calls himself “cslim,” refusing to give anything more than his screen name for security reasons. While blasting terrorists in a game called Counter-Strike, cslim tells me how good money can be made by gaming. He says he is a member of a gaming team called Echelons Above—which includes two other DLI players and a couple of gamers from San Jose—that recently competed for a $1,500 first place prize at the NJOY Tournament in San Jose. Though his team came in fourth—meaning they won no money—cslim says he has won gaming tournaments in Arizona.
Near cslim is a rare sight in this gaming center: a female. The female is Cat Nicholson, an independent studies student who is really pumped up about the game Counter-Strike.
“I love first-person shooters,” she says. “But I don’t think any have challenged me as much as Counter-Strike.”
A few seconds later, she lets me in on a little dream of hers. While cslim lays waste to more terrorist bad guys, Nicholson tells me that she hopes to be one of the best female Counter-Strike players in the world some day.
According to Drueding—who spent a lot of time and money on technology like 10,000 feet of networking cable and the largest computer monitors available on the market—Tweak’T is the perfect place for young people who are not into going out at night and drinking.
“There is nothing to do in Monterey if you are a kid when the sun goes down,” he says.
Now there is.
Tweak’T, located at 243A Foam St. in Monterey, is open 3pm to midnight on weekdays and noon to midnight on weekends. $5/hour members; $7/hour non-members. $40/annual membership fee. 647-8278.