'Call of Duty: Black Ops' is nearly a full-time job for dedicated players

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 13, 2010

"On a daily basis?" asks Will Duren, a TSA security guard at Reagan National Airport. "I've been playing about five hours. Maybe six."

He pauses. He clears his throat.

"Honestly, yesterday I played from 2 p.m. until 11 at night."

He is talking about the seventh installment of video game series "Call of Duty," which was released Tuesday. Within 24 hours, more than 5.6 million copies of "COD: Black Ops" were sold, breaking the previous record set by another "COD" chapter.

You must understand: "Black Ops" features the voices of Sam Worthington, Ed Harris and Gary Oldman. You must understand: In this first-person shooter game, you are a special forces operative tasked with assassinating Fidel Castro during the Cold War. Before you judge Duren, it is essential that you realize that in addition to assassinating Castro, players also get to kill zombies. In one segment, you can be President Kennedy and you can kill zombies.

Duren, 23, feared that his girlfriend, amazing as she is, wouldn't understand. So told her he was sick, and not to come over. She came over with orange juice. Because he was sick. "And I have a dumb look on my face because now I have a big gallon of orange juice, and I'm not feeling sick at all."

All around the country this week, citizens have gone missing, spiderholing into dens, co-opting the good television, grinding the Cheez-Its into the sofa with their numb posteriors. For such activities was the term "man cave" invented, though women have been known to play, too. On the e-mail discussion group of a Montgomery County high school, parents fretted that children might be skipping classes to protect the free world from communism and reanimated corpses. As if adults were any less addicted.

"I've promised that it will all be over by Sunday," says Tim Schmidt, a Web designer in Baltimore who has been fighting zombies until 2 a.m. most nights this week. His wife is patient because she knows there is an end in sight. "When I finally went to bed on Tuesday night, I did ask her if she was still going to be here by the end of the week."

Schmidt has one more request: "My friends, when we play 'Black Ops' together?" Schmidt says hopefully. "Our clan tag is BACN. Like 'bacon.' If you could throw that in the article, that would be awesome."

Here you go, Bacon boys. A little shout-out, just for you.

"As soon as I saw the GameStop bag, I knew what was coming," says Emily Wang-Murphy, a stay-at-home mom in Washington who, like many others she knows, has become a Black Ops Widow this week. "The headset's going on," the husband's tuning out.

Throughout Wang's marriage, she has been through six "Calls of Duty," from the early days of courtship when her husband, a lobbyist, would drag her to midnight release parties, to recent years when playing had to be limited to after children's bedtimes. "As far as I can tell?" she says good-naturedly. "It's just World War II shooting."

She and her friends try to see the positive in the situation. "It means we have free babysitting for the week. It means moms' night out for cocktails." The spouses at home might be half catatonic and preoccupied with escaping a gulag, but at least "we have coverage. There's an adult in the house."

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