“Ian, watch out,” warns his friend Paul Boatwright as he annihilates the blood-hungry stalker, saving his friend from being the main course of a zombie feast.
“Thanks,” Ian mumbles as the two friends continue to scout and kill the walking dead while playing “Resident Evil 5.”
Ian, 15, and Paul, 19, have been playing video games together for years, shooting enemies in “Halo,” racing each other on “Mario Kart” and channeling their inner rock star while playing “Rock Band,” but this is the first time they’ve actually played face to face.
The two met online through a Nintendo forum four years ago and decided to play games together via Xbox Live, an option through the game system that allows gamers to play with people anywhere in the world in real time.
For Ian, this means waking up at 4 a.m. in Brentwood in order to play with Paul, who lives at Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul, Korea, at 8 p.m.
While most of his peers at Heritage High School are still snuggled in a deep sleep, Ian is awake before the sun rises, cozied on a leather couch, chatting with Paul half a world away, using a headset that hooks up to the Xbox so that they can talk as if they were on the phone.
“I’ve always woke up early,” Ian said, “so this doesn’t even bother me. It’s nothing. I get up and we play until I have to get ready for school.”
Ian’s mom Kim said she doesn’t mind the arrangement as long as Ian is ready to go to class in the morning and keeps up with his studies, which hasn’t been a problem. She knew Ian and Paul had become good friends over the years, but she was surprised when Ian asked if Paul could come to visit during spring break.
“Ian came up to me one day and asked, ‘Mom, is it OK if Paul comes over?’ I didn’t even believe him.”
Paul, who resides with his parents at the U.S. military headquarters in Korea, won a ticket to the United States at a raffle during this year’s Super Bowl. While Paul has family in the States, he doesn’t have any cousins his age, so he thought of the idea to use the ticket to come visit Ian. Arrangements were made for Paul to come out for a week in March to spend time with the Halter family in California.
“Once I saw the travel itinerary and spoke with Paul’s dad, it wasn’t a problem,” said Kim. “I felt like I already knew Paul, since Ian has talked about him so much over the years.”
While Ian and Paul had become best friends over the years, they never thought they’d have the opportunity to meet. “We joked about it,” Ian said, “but it didn’t seem like a possibility. So when he told me about winning the raffle, it was cool that he said he’d come out here. It’s been fun. It was exciting to finally meet him.”
Paul lived in the States for a few years when he was younger, so he didn’t suffer from culture shock when he arrived – only a little jetlag after the 10-hour flight.
The Halters took Paul on a tour of Brentwood, including a trip to the Streets of Brentwood, where the boys quickly made their way to Game Stop, a haven for gamers.
“Back home, we don’t always get the games on the release date, so I have to wait for it,” Paul said. “Even if I order it online, I don’t have it by the time it comes out, so everyone has it before me. I get jealous waiting for it while everyone is playing.”
One game Paul didn’t have to wait for was “Resident Evil 5,” which Ian picked up before Paul arrived. The boys skillfully zapped the zombies in the game’s story mode in just two days, conquering the game within a week of its release.
While the two friends spent most of their time playing video games, the Halter family also took Paul sightseeing to Mt. Diablo and spent a day in San Francisco.
Kim said she made sure the boys took a break to chalk up three meals a day, but they seemed more than content to spend hours upstairs battling it out on Xbox, Game Cube or Playstation 2.
“I’m so glad that they had a chance to meet,” Kim said. “It’s amazing that they were able to become such good friends by playing Xbox while they’re in separate countries. They’ve been friends for so long, so it’s nice that this all worked out. They’re pretty lucky. They’ve been having a blast.”
She smiles as the sounds of cheers and laughter come from the game room upstairs. The zombies must be losing.