I've been away. In many ways, I'm that guy who had to pick up a boiling cauldron with his bare wrists to get out of the monastery. I've turned my back on the pure and entered a world of painful reality. I don't shave my head, it' s shaving itself as time progresses. But I am wandering a desert. Walking peacefully through a void in nature.

I've been in Counterstrike Source. I've seen Dust in all its glory, and I've seen the inhabitants of that barren place. Ghosts would be less chilling; I thrill at the thought of ghouls and effervescent spirits. What haunts me amidst the textured finery is more real. The world of CS-S is a beautiful place. I can account for sights that have left my chest empty of breath , my face flushed with achievement. Yes, I've become a Counterstrike Gamer. And yes, i've killed a fair few people along the way.

I've even joined a clan, which makes me a charlatan. I promised my wife that clan-life was behind me. To a great degree, it always will be; I'll never sit in the living room of the house, glued to the PC, whilst relatives visit, shouting "QUAD IN TEN!". I'll never again value 20 minutes of being utterly owned by a superior team over a film, or the pub. It was sometimes bad being in the eye of the clan-storm.

Counterstrike Source is now a fully fledged incarnation of the most famous online game in the Western Hemisphere. The only problem with CS-S is that nothing has changed. Improved physics, detailed textures, mapping. All these are nothing, if beside the falling bodies and elegant archways you have the CS-Teen(tm).

Perhaps Quake and Unreal survived the invasion of the "Teen" because both games were quickly eclipsed by CS. Perhaps the science-fiction/fantasy worlds were too far removed from reality for CS-Teen's to understand properly. Or maybe, the world of CS was from day 1 blighted by paranoia and created its own nemesis.

Idiots have occasionally wandered into Quake3, by accident. The main reason they become known to their fellow gamers is an accusation of cheating aimed at a better player. It's rare, and consequently more novel than irritating.

In CS-S, skill is rewarded with accusation. For a lot of the CS-Teen brigade, it's a reflex action, a throwback to the hax0r days of the original CS. Unfortunately, more and more cheaters are entering CS-S, bolstering the paranoia, and nurturing the witch-hunts. Unlike other games which have eliminated illegal access to servers, CS-S was cracked and then taken from behind.

CS-S allows hackers to play alongside paying players. In other online games, the cracked version runs alongside the "real" version and so the two groups don't mix. Normally I wouldn't bridle at the thought of the two groups mixing, but an unfortunate offshoot of this is the effective reduncancy of Valves Banning policy; Yeah, go ahead. Hunt down the haxorz. Problem is they will then login via an illegal copy of CS-S and do the same thing through a different key.

I've been to heaven and hell at the same time. CS-S is truly a wonder to behold. So much beauty, thronging with disease at this early stage in its life. I've played several clan matches, all of which have ended with question marks hanging over the heads of the losers (be that ourselves or the opposition).

I will continue to play CS-S whilst Quake 4 and other promising games stay in development. I have no love and no affiliation with the scene except my clan, who are cool. But CS-S has only taught me to be distrustful and to question every time I get shot. Which is no way to spend precious spare time.