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Xbox 360 at 10: Gaming's golden age

How Microsoft's console defined Martin's mid-20s.

We called it method gaming, though really it was just a new way of arsing about. The success of Sony's PlayStation may have been built upon it piggy-backing on the counter-culture cool of the mid-90s, but I could only pretend to understand all those sly pharmaceutical references at the time: I figured the blood-stained t-shirts in that notorious WipEout advert were a result of those glassy-eyed models mindlessly picking their noses while sitting in front of a 19-inch CRT. At least, that was my reason for looking like that after a serious Jumping Flash session at the time.

When Microsoft's Xbox 360 launched in 2005, though, it coincided with that sublime twilight of adolescence, the listless period between leaving university and finding serious employment. Long lazy days shared in a Deptford flat, with countless hours to be filled between shifts as a projectionist at the local cinema.

Combine that with a ready supply of less than brutal hash from the local cab rank (if you lived near New Cross at the time you'll have known the one, just as you'll know the bemused look they gave you if you ever actually asked for a taxi, too); it's all perfectly fertile ground for submerging yourself in a game. We'd play games differently then. We'd take them very, very seriously. A Master League in Pro Evolution Soccer would spill out in fascinating ways as a group of us would fill in the gaps between matches for our beloved Deptford Wednesday, telling each other tales of how our amazing forward Shimizu had been scouted while doing keep-ups outside our local pool hall, or how we'd just spotted Joe Cole taking his puppies for a walk by the Albany.

Screw getting Red Dead Redemption on backwards compatibility - just reunite me with Liu Ping the merciless.

We only realised it had got slightly out of hand when one of us was on the phone to Adidas, enquiring how much it would be to make a replica kit for Deptford Wednesday (a striking red and white striped number matched with black shorts, and the inspiration for Atletico Madrid's strip after a series of friendlies in the late 60s, so the story goes) resplendent with our title sponsor Shital, the newsagents downstairs.

We'd apply ourselves equally to other games, too. When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's campaign had swept us up in its bombastic action, there was only one way to see it out; with the cigarette butt-burnt coffee table up-ended, cinders from the overflowing ash-tray daubed across our faces as make-shift camouflage as we barked each other over the campaign's finishing line.

Even work couldn't keep me away from a console that consumed an entire group of us. Thankfully, when you've got the keys to a cinema with a freshly installed digital projector, work enabled some truly spectacular nights with the Xbox 360: playing Xbox Live Arcade's Street Fighter 2 with the sprites of Ryu and Guile towering over us, or seeing Rockstar's Table Tennis - the company's greatest game last generation, Red Dead Redemption be damned - in all its sinewy, high-definition glory.

It was Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 that took the prize, though, despite it being one of those forgettable Ubisoft series entries that props up the dawning days of a new console generation. In the bland expanses of its war-torn Mexico there was ample space to dick around, to scream orders at each other and get washed away by its dumbed-down tactics and its hokey fiction. Even better to do all that after hours on a giant screen with a couple of friends by your side, the Clancy universe's hollow Hollywood action given body in true cinematic style.

Yeah, alright, Advanced Warfighter 2 isn't all that. It's still better than Future Soldier, mind.

Those firefights spilled out into the auditorium, and beyond - slightly light-headed at two in the morning, we threw down the controller when we heard the constant beeping of a car alarm, convinced the sub-bass boom of a street skirmish had triggered the few late-night stragglers in the car park beyond the fire exit doors. Stepping out blinking into the night, it was only after doing a complete circuit of the car park that we realised that the car alarms were way back beyond those thick doors, somewhere in a virtual Mexico City.

There was magic in those early days of the Xbox 360, and it wasn't all about the privilege of being able to watch it unfold 12 feet high. Or maybe it was about another kind of privilege: the copious free time we all had back then. Games fit into whatever gaps you have in your life in interesting ways, and the Xbox 360 happily expanded into the cavernous space I had for it back then. There's a famous saying that the golden age of science fiction is 12; I'm fairly sure that, for video games, the golden age is 25 - give or take a cinema screen and a bag of soapy weed.

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