Somewhere in the back of my mind, there's an uncomfortable feeling that recent events have killed off any lingering hope of a career in politics. Or, indeed, in any field in which the muck-raking tabloids are likely to take a pop at you by dredging up old skeletons. The kind of skeletons that come from closets you thought you'd dumped at the bottom of the local lake decades ago.
It's not that I've ever really had any illusions about that anyway - the Internet is a wonderful repository for all manner of things you wish you'd never said. It doesn't help that when drunk, I'm attracted to my keyboard like a moth to a flame, and with similarly catastrophic results. If I ever do start a career in politics, I've always reasoned that my first act would have to be firebombing the server which stores the Eurogamer forum.
I don't think that matters any more. With shocking clarity, I have come to realise that any moment of glory later in my life - election as an MP, publication of a bestseller, rescuing 17 cats from a single tree - is already doomed. Doomed, because some Google-savvy lackey of the Murdoch press will dredge up a log of the weekend I spent pretending to be a 16 year old girl on the Internet.
It started off perfectly innocently - honestly. I was sitting at home, unobtrusively going about the business of being a 26 year old man, and not a 16 year old girl in any way, when an email from Kristan arrived.
"It's a Korean dancing game, and apparently huge over there. Fancy looking into it?"
Strange words with which to seal a man's fate, but so be it. How was I to know that such a simple request would plunge me into a twilight world, an online labyrinth populated exclusively by excitable pubescent girls? Who could have looked forward and seen what was to come?
Oh, okay - just about anyone who considered the concept of a "Korean online dancing game" could probably have guessed where this was leading. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Audition, the game in question, is indeed huge over there. By "over there", we're not just talking about South Korea, either; we're talking about the entirety of East Asia and fairly large chunks of the rest of the world to boot. Originally launched in Korea in 2005, localised versions of Audition have been launched in China, Japan, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Indonesia. This year, it has expanded to cover Brazil, North America and Europe.
In each of those territories, Audition boasts millions of players. Millions upon millions. If you thought World of Warcraft was consuming the world's population at a worrying rate, consider this - in China alone, Audition has over 50 million registered users, and half a million players logged in concurrently. It's reportedly the number one search term on Chinese search engines. That's a whole lot of pubescent girls.
So what, exactly, is Audition? In simple terms, it's an online rhythm action game where you battle against other players. The client is a simple, low-fi affair which can be downloaded for free. It should run happily on the PC which gave up the ghost on new games four years ago and has sat in your little sister's room with MSN and MySpace open ever since. That's probably exactly what the developers had in mind.
The game is free to play, with no subscription fee involved. It's perfectly possible, in fact, to download the client and dance away to your heart's content without ever handing over a penny; the actual dancing aspect of the game, right from tutorials through to ranked group multiplayer dance-offs, is totally free of charge. Instead, Audition makes money from the second pillar of the game - the Fashion Store.
The fashion store is where you kit your huge-eyed avatar out with a huge variety of new clothes, accessories and looks - all of them so cute they threaten to give your retinas cancer if you look at them for too long. It's essentially virtual doll dress-up, but with vast possibilities in terms of clothing combinations - ranging from fashionable streetwear to school uniforms through to military garb (the "Ranger" gear essentially turns you into a cute version of Solid Snake) and other various game and movie archetypes.
Clothes and accessories are, to a large extent, Audition's payoff. You compete in dance battles to earn the in-game currency, Beats, and then spend them on new duds for your avatar. You can also, however, top up your Beats with cash - and some items, however, can only be acquired for real money.
Fashion store items aren't exactly expensive, but if the UK release of the game tracks the Korean game closely, with new fashion releases every week, it could still wind up being an expensive affair for obsessive players.
For children and casual players, though, it's a fairly cheap game to dip into - and as for the gameplay itself, it's relatively untaxing but still entertaining. For the most part it's a Simon Says affair, requiring that you tap the keys shown on screen in time with the beat of the music - exactly what you'd expect from rhythm action.
There's some additional depth here, certainly. The game gradually levels up in difficulty, creating longer and longer strings of keys to tap out in order to pull of increasingly tough moves, and there are various "finishing moves" which you can attempt if you hit enough perfectly timed keys.
There are also tons of different multiplayer modes, from freestyle battles to choreographed team efforts, right through to the vaguely disturbing "couple mode" which allows couples who are perfectly in sync to hug, kiss and eventually, marry. In the game. We'd make a joke here about a Hot Coffee stage to perfectly sync the consummation, but frankly even we're a bit creeped out by that idea.
By this stage, of course, you've probably decided that Audition isn't for you - but may well be for your daughter, younger sister, or an elderly relative who has gone through second childhood and is now at the difficult second puberty stage. On the other hand, if you're still reading, you're over 16 and you're thinking the whole affair sounds kind of fun... Well, you aren't wrong. But it's still not for you.
I discovered this very quickly when I created an honest identity. I had a male avatar (admittedly better dressed than I could ever hope for - Korean virtual fashion won't even allow a pillock like me to mess it up too badly), and I was up front with everyone about being a 26 year old man. My room - the lobby where you create challenges and wait for people to join - was about as popular a dance spot as a gay bar in Tehran.
Drastic action was needed. In desperation, I created a new profile. Female! Born in the nineties! (Yes, I nearly fell over when I realised that there are 16 year olds now who were born in the nineties.) Likes Justin Timberlake and ice cream, doesn't like school and homework! Communicates mostly through the means of smileys and the abbreviations "lol" and "omg"! An all-singing, all-dancing, teen movie cliche machine!
The twinkle-toed debutantes poured in. To my horror, most of the cliches were true; I ingratiated myself into this strange dancing society by means mostly of calling Justin Timberlake "hawt" and complaining about teachers who give "sooooooooo" much homework. We danced the afternoon away, my new bosom friends and I - although the fact that I was masquerading as a teenage girl didn't really ease the pain of being thoroughly whupped by a number of real teenage girls at higher levels in the challenges.
Yes, I know that this is all faintly creepy. In fact, I'm even aware that it's not so much "faintly" creepy as "really" creepy, but these are the sacrifices, dear reader, which we intrepid Eurogamer writers are willing to make to bring you the freshest gaming information. Even if it involves delving deep into the uncharted society of teenage girls, and desperately looking up dreadful boybands on Wikipedia to avoid being caught out.
And my conclusion, at the end of this intrepid adventure? (I did narrate some of it to myself in my best David Attenborough voice, which helped quite a lot.)
Audition isn't a game most EG readers are ever going to want to glance at - but you've probably worked that out for yourself by now. But for teenagers - be they girls, or boys who like playing with dolls a bit too much, but who are you to question eh - it's a startlingly addictive and well-composed slice of online entertainment.
Unlike MySpace or Bebo, or online curiosities such as Habbo Hotel, it's a genuine online game with a progression system and rewards for improving your skills - and it has the significant bonus of being free to download and play, and working even on creaky old PCs. There's definitely scope for becoming someone's favourite uncle / dad / brother / godfather / slightly odd-smelling local tramp by recommending this.
And as for me? I deleted the logs, scrubbed myself all over with wire wool, and played Bioshock for about eight hours. The mental scars remain, but the evidence is gone - so it'll be our secret, okay?
You can download the Dance Battle Audition client from goaudition.co.uk. Daily Mail rent-a-crowd with burning torches and pitchforks sold separately.