I've never been what you'd call a "gamer".
Sure, I own a console. It's outdated by now. I like to play the odd game. But that's about it.
I'm almost forty. Old enough now that when I was at the height of my "gaming" years, all that really entailed was getting together with friends to play Mario or Castlevania, or Excite Bike, or Punch-Out. Maybe Sonic if a friend had a Genesis, which no one does anymore.
Keeping up with the latest trends in gaming was never interesting to me. I have a lot of interests; reading, watching movies and television, listening to music. But gaming? It was never a hobby. More like a pastime.
Like most pastimes, I don't really understand when someone makes a lifestyle out of it. Today the gaming scene isn't aimed at the casual gamer. You get accused of being a "n00b" if you aren't up to date on everything. It's almost a religion.
So I leave it alone, and have been content to do so for several years now. For the most part, the gaming world has also left me in peace.
There was one time, however, when the gaming world decided not to leave me in peace. In fact, the whole experience was enough to turn me off gaming for life.
It happened at a pretty low time in my life. I had just had my ex-wife file for divorce from me, and I had moved back in with my parents while looking for a new place to live. I had recently gotten a new job after the one I had been at fired me for all the time I missed due to divorce proceedings.
My new job was as a systems analyst for a major company. I was one of many, a cog in the machinery, but I had been in a few jobs like this in the past and they all operated differently. Some of them you only had to care about while you were there, while others expected you to bring your work home with you, and I had not yet figured out which kind of job this was.
So when the call came, and I didn't immediately recognize the voice or the number, my first inclination was that it was probably someone at work. My mother answered it, and I heard from across the room a mail voice ask if Brandon was there. Mom handed me the phone.
"Hello," I answered.
"Hello, is this Brandon Coates?"
"Yes...who is this?"
"Um...I need to confirm some codes."
At this point, I still thought this was a work call. I didn't recognize the voice at all, but I didn't know everyone at the office yet. Maybe this guy needed me to confirm my employee ID or something. Or perhaps he needed to make sure I had all the access I needed for the systems I was going to be helping maintain.
"What sort of codes?" I asked.
"Look, the fucking codes you provided aren't working," said the voice. At this point I began to realize this wasn't a work call. I was momentarily stunned, unsure how to respond to this jackass who was already getting hostile with me. His next words removed any doubt that he'd gotten the wrong Brandon Coates. "For NBA Live. On xBox 360."
I'm only barely aware of the game system called xBox. I've never played a game on it nor did I ever plan to. Also, my job had nothing whatsoever to do with game systems.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm pretty sure you have the wrong number."
"Don't fucking lie to me!" The dude was really angry now. More angry than he should be over something as simple as dialing the wrong person in the phone book. "You're Brandon Coates! You said so! Now fix these goddam codes or fuck you, fuckin' BrainDaddy punk!"
"Okay," I said. "I'm hanging up now. Don't call me again." He was still yelling as I hung up.
I didn't give the matter a second thought. Likely the guy was just pissed and said some things in the heat of anger that he would regret when he calmed down later.
But a couple of days later, I got another call. This time my father answered it, and after a moment, handed the phone to me with a concerned expression on his face.
I took it and said hello again. The voice on the phone was not the same man who called before.
"Listen, fuck you, BrainDaddy. You're a fraud and a joke. If I see you again, you're fuckin' dead."
I couldn't help it. I got pissed. "Listen, fucknugget, you've got the wrong guy! I told your buddy a few days ago that I'm not the Brandon Coates you're looking for and this call is harassment!"
"Yeah? You like it? Wanna suck my dick?" I hung up. I almost couldn't muster the restraint to keep from hurling the phone across the room.
"Who are these people, Brandon?" my father asked. The look on his face made me realize that he was concerned, not for his son who was being harassed for the crime of sharing a name with another guy, but concerned about his son who might be involved in something dangerous. I hadn't said anything to them about the last call other than "wrong number" but a second call, from an obviously different person, cursing me out and threatening me? Dad was sitting close enough to me that I know he heard the other person's threat. His suspicions were raised.
My parents and I get along okay, but to say they haven't always been on board with things I pursue is an understatement. For one, they were against my marrying my ex-wife to begin with, and several times in my life I'd had money problems. I could tell by the way my father asked "Who are these people" that he fully expected me to answer, as if I knew. He likely thought they were money lenders or worse, wondered if I'd started selling drugs or something.
The truth, in this case, would truly set me free, at least as far as he was concerned. "They think I'm this other guy who has the same name," I said. "They keep calling me BrainDaddy. They think I'm involved with the xBox 360 or something. I have no idea what they want, but they won't believe they have the wrong guy."
"Well, these calls need to stop, son," said Dad, the tone in his voice exactly the same as the one he used to use when I was in school. "These bad grades need to stop, son." Just the same tone, like the calls were my fault.
I honestly didn't know what to do. Contrary to whatever my father's suspicions are, I have never been involved in any criminal activity, and I didn't know how to deal with harassing phone calls. Also, a naive part of me thought the calls would stop on their own. That sounded like the easiest way to deal with it.
And for about a week, it was. And then, one Saturday when I had nothing else to do and both parents were gone, the phone rang.
I took one look at the caller ID and let it ring. The number and caller's name were blocked. It would most probably be someone calling for Mom or Dad. I had made it a point to not answer their phone if they weren't there. After all, I had a cell phone and most people who needed to contact me would use that.
My parents are very old-fashioned people. They don't have voice mail. In this case, it was probably a good thing they didn't, or it would have been them that heard the message. They still had an answering machine, as if it was still 1988, and, like all answering machines, it didn't give a shit about privacy.
Blasting through the house loud enough that two senior citizens could hear it no matter which room they were in, came the following message.
"BraaaaaaaainDaddyyyyyyy..." drawled a gravelly voice. The person on the other end sounded either like they had just woken up, or was drunk, or had a bad cold. "I saw you at GameCon....sooooo beautifuuuuul....it was like lightning through my penis, man...you're gonna take my dick up your ass so sooooooooon....."
There was more, but it was just muffled curse words. I let it finish, and then I immediately erased the message. I decided it was time to get serious. Clearly they weren't going to stop. I could hardly believe what was going on. These people, all of them sounding like young men in their early twenties tops, had taken what I was starting to realize was an online vendetta way over the line. Their actions were bordering on illegal, and I knew I had to do something before they decided to...who knows? Show up at my parents' doorway armed?
I fired up my laptop and googled "Brandon Coates" "Brain Daddy". Search results were plentiful. The first three hits were nothing close to what I was looking for, but the third had the headline "BrainDaddy Brandon Coates gives his opinion on Call of Duty: Black Ops..." There was more, but that was all I needed. Clearly this was the guy that the assholes calling me had thought they had reached.
I opened the link and read a little way. It turns out there was a guy in my city, a really young guy by comparison, who did indeed have my name, and who was apparently quite the gaming guru. I'd never heard of him, because I wasn't a gamer, but if I were, there's no way I wouldn't have known who BrainDaddy was. He had a following on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and several gaming websites, wherein he would offer advice, reviews, offer cheat codes, etc. Apparently he was one of the most sought-after game reviewers in my area. He had had made friends with some of the most influential names in the gaming scene. And from what I was starting to pick up on, he had also made several enemies.
Finding his email was no challenge. As luck would have it, he did have it listed on his Facebook page. It was probably a business address, maybe one that he didn't even personally check, but I didn't care. Even if one of his subordinates read it, they would at least take the message I was about to send seriously.
You don't know me but we have the same name, and apparently this is enough for several severely misguided people to confuse us.
Over the past few weeks I have received several harassing, threatening phone calls from people who believe I'm you. I neither know, no care what you did to piss them off so badly, but I urge you to take action to get this all to stop.
You appear to have resources to contact your followers, and if I were you, I would use those resources to inform them that they have been contacting a person with your name and behaving in an illegal manner. If these calls do not stop, my next step is legal action. I have a feeling you don't want that. I urge you to take this seriously. These calls stop, or you'll hear from my lawyer."
I know what you're probably thinking. Why blame him for this? Why threaten him with legal action? After all, it wasn't him that had made the calls. No, it wasn't, but I know a thing or two about online flame wars, and I know that generally when it's reached a level like this obviously had, both parties likely share blame. If legal action was being threatened, this other Brandon Coates would take me seriously.
It turns out, I really, really should not have done that.
The next call was not to my parents' house. It was to my cell phone.
I wasn't able to answer when the call came through. I was at work. In fact I didn't even see the call until my lunch break, when I checked my phone and saw a waiting voice mail.
My call history showed one missed call. Naturally, it was a blocked number. I had no way of reaching the person who had left me this message. Of course, I knew who it was.
My heart was hammering in my chest, more with anger than with fear, but I was a little afraid, too. Whoever these assholes were, they had gotten ahold of my unlisted cell phone number, which I had only recently acquired (after changing cities to move in with my parents) and which I had in no way shape or form put online, even in an email.
I went to my car and retrieved the message. I sat there, feeling hotter than I should considering it was snowing outside, and listened. The voice that spoke was deep, raspy, haggard, and barely qualified as human.
"Hello, Mr. Brandon Coates, a.k.a. BrainDaddy. Obviously you don't know what's good for you. You think you can fuck with us, but you're wrong. We know where you live. We've watched you sleep. We're watching you right now, as you sit in your car. You will never see us, but we always see you. You belong to us now, fuckball. Your worst nightmare has only just begun."
Cold sweat broke out all over me. I was shaking. Never in my life have I felt such fear. My head began to whip around, looking at everyone who was passing by where my vehicle sat, just on the side of the road, less than a block from my office. That guy in a grey suite, was he looking at me? No, he was looking behind my car at a female jogger. What about the seemingly benign homeless man just a few feet away? Or what about that guy about to cross the street...
My gaze went past the man waiting to cross. Behind him was a silent, still figure, staring straight at my car. No one else seemed to notice him, but I couldn't help it. He was short, almost dwarfish, and his proportions were strange. One arm was longer than the other and his head and neck sat at a strange place on his body, almost to his shoulder. He was wearing a Halloween werewolf mask.
In shock, I straightened in my seat and blinked my eyes a few times. When I looked again, he was gone.
My phone rang just then. It sounded to my stressed ears like an air raid siren.
"We've let you see us, BrainDaddy. I hope you understand we mean business now."
I swallowed. Clearly this person would not be threatened by legal action. "What do you want?" I croaked.
"We want you," said the voice. "To die."
There was silence on the other end for a while. I thought the person had hung up. And then:
"But first we will kill your parents. First your mom, and then your dad, so he can watch her die. Then we're gonna kill your cheating whore of a wife. Then we're gonna kill your brother. When everyone you care about is gone, we're gonna kill you."
"Why?" I heard myself ask, as if from far away. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because you don't know who to fuck with and who not to fuck with, BrainDaddy. You don't know the kind of deep well of shit you've disturbed. Apparently nobody told you the kinds of things we can do. Or maybe you don't believe we can do them. I hope you believe now, BrainDaddy."
I swallowed again. I was totally dry, so it felt like my throat was rubbing against sand paper. "I thought...this was just about...cheat codes or something."
"It always starts small," said the voice. It kept getting deeper and more evil-sounding. If Satan ever spoke to me, I imagine this is what his voice would sound like. "High-minded shits like you think you can scam and scam and never get caught. We're here to show you just how wrong you are. You have no idea how badly you've fucked up."
The line went dead.
I spent the rest of that week in a cloud of fear and misery. I could hardly eat. I could barely breathe. I didn't dare call the police or try to warn my loved ones of what was happening to me. I knew they were watching. I knew that one false move from me would only hasten the punishment they felt I was due.
I spent most of my time at home staring at my laptop screen, wondering what I could possibly do to end this hell I had found myself in through no fault of my own.
And then, in the corner of my screen, a chat window opened.
I hadn't used MSN chat for over a year. Most of the people I used to keep in contact with were no longer a part of my life. I had forgotten that the program was in my startup list and constantly running in the background.
At the sight of it, I felt the panic rise. My vision blurred and for an instant, I was certain it was these people again; these faceless people who were always watching.
But the screen name was "BrainDaddy". Here's a copy and paste of our chat (it was still logged in under my now-ancient screen name "DrinkPBR":
[[BrainDaddy]]: I'm sosorry, dude
[[DrinkPBR]]: WHAT THE FUCK, MAN??!!
[[BrainDaddy]]: I can't stop what's happingin
[[BrainDaddy]]: Real sorry
[[DrinkPBR]]: What's happening!? I can't breathe, I'm afraid to go outside!
[[BrainDaddy]]: It's complcated, man. I can't really explain. I never ment it to hurt people.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Dude, I warned you that if you didn't make this stop I'd get the police invovled!
[[DrinkPBR]]: Who are these people??
[[BrainDaddy]]: Nothin the police can doo
[[DrinkPBR]]: What the hell is that supposed to mean?
[[BrainDaddy]]: Lisen, I dont have much time to explian. They where after em but I pankiced and told them I wasnt me. I saw your name come up on facebook and I said it was me
[[DrinkPBR]]: Okay, first, your ass is so sued. Second, your smug fucking face is plastered all over these gaming sites. How did you manage to tell them I'm you?
[[BrainDaddy]]: They dont see like we do. Not really. Can't expaln much beter. There not like us. They love to play games but they hate it it when you ofend them. Told them once to go fuck themselfs. Now they want me dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: No, they want ME dead, asshole! And they're watching me right now, so don't tell me they don't see!
[[BrainDaddy]]: They hear you and they smell you but they dont see. Lik I said its complicated. That's why I'm messenging you. If you don't talk, they don't knwo.
[[DrinkPBR]]: Just tell me who they are. I don't want to spend the rest of my life afraid!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Thats not how this works. You dont get to escape. They say there coming for you, then your dead.
[[DrinkPBR]]: You escaped them by telling them I was you!
[[BrainDaddy]]: Got lucky. There was another Brandon Coates in my city. But were the only 2.
Except he was quite wrong about that. He was the only Brandon Coates in the city. I was, in fact, born Warren Brandon Coates, Jr. I went by Brandon, because my father went by Warren.
I quickly logged off the chat room and went to work. I went to my Facebook page and changed my name to Warren Coates, Jr. I did the same to my Twitter name, my LinkedIn resume, my email address. I changed the voicemail message on my phone to "You've reached Warren...", etc. I pulled out my driver's license and smiled, seeing that my name read "Coates, Warren Brandon Jr.".
And I waited. It wasn't until the next day that I heard from them again. I let the phone ring. Eventually it went to voicemail.
I waited for over an hour before I had the courage to retrieve the message. It was the same voice, but the tone of his message was light and friendly. "Oh, sorry. I must have the wrong person."
I never heard from them again. After a few years, I was able to relax, finally, convinced that I was safe.
Yesterday I googled "Brandon Coates" "BrainDaddy" again.
The first hit was his obituary. That suited me just fine. Fuck him, anyway.