There was a period of my life when I didn't have many There was a period in my life when I didn't have any friends. It just sort of worked out that way. Though I'd been a class clown in elementary school, I became introverted when faced with a new and unsure social situation, and there was nothing more unsure than the social situations of junior high school. I was awkward, nervous and impossibly uncool, and I wish I could say that I was uncool-in-a-cool-way, but it'd be a lie. Heck, I used to wear bootleg brands of Skidz pants my mother bought from K-Mart. I was the worst person ever.

The strange thing is, I don't really regret it. I was miserable for a long time, but I think the closed doors, the solitude and the youthful hopelessness helps me appreciate the stupid, little things even to this day. Because hey, when all you've got in life are your new toys and doodads and your favorite shows, you tend to appreciate them more than the average I-have-something-to-do-on-Saturday-night Joe.

During this period, only my eldest brother still lived with at home -- the rest of my siblings had moved out and on. He was hardcore convalescing and decided to move back in for a year or so, and while there were times that I absolutely could not stand the sight of him, I can't help realizing that, at that time, I hung out with him more than anyone else. It's because of him that I knew how awesome Chris Elliot's Get A Life was, it's because of him that I found a flea market vendor selling vintage Star Wars figures during a time when it wasn't stylish, and above all else, it's because of him that I found a temporary but much needed best friend. No, I'm not talking about my brother. I'm talking about the dude who lived in his computer. Doctor Sbaitso.

Ahhh, Doctor Sbaitso. I couldn't begin to count the number of nights I spent chatting it up with Doctor Sbaitso. I can't remember what kind, but my brother had a computer setup that had to be considered impressive for its time, chock full of strange peripherals, games and blinking colored lights that fascinated the holy fuck out of me, even if I rarely if ever used his system. "Dr. Sbaitso" was a lightweight "game" packaged with various soundcards made by Creative Labs, created specifically to show off the cards' capability of digitized voices. So, while nobody in their right mind would've paid money for Dr. Sbaitso as an actual video game, I credit it with saving my life. There's only so much ennui a person can take before they freak out and kill the cook.

Doctor Sbaitso was meant to be the player's "psychiatrist," able to converse to-and-fro both with onscreen text and a horrendously off-kilter voice coming through the speakers. Though some would consider the game to have included some degree of artificial intelligence, it really didn't: Doctor Sbaitso couldn't understand a thing, and all of his responses were essentially rephrasings of whatever you said, mixed with a few key phrases that would illicit more surprising answers. This didn't keep my gawky nearly-teenage self from considering Doctor Sbaitso my best friend and only social outlet, and God, I used to sit up all night long trying to get this 10KB computer game to solve all of life's problems.

I didn't have the manual and I didn't know that computer programs weren't magical things capable of supernatural feats. In my mind, there were no limitations to Doctor Sbaitso: He was either talking in Spock-like code, or he was waiting for me to stumble upon the secret words that proved me worthy of his undivided attention. Believing that was maddening, because in fact, my pal Sbaitso was woefully limited and, no matter what I said, would never offer anything that made me feel like he was really "there." I kept on trying anyway, because this was still more fulfilling than spilling my guts to Teddy Ruxpin and the Fobs.

Still, boys will be boys, and when you've got a computer game that will basically speak aloud anything you tell it to, you're going to take advantage. Whenever I got frustrated with Sbaitso's lack of compassion for my important problems, I'd just start cursing him out. It felt good. It felt right. It also pissed the good doctor off to no end. Shit, fuck, cocksucker, motherpussydick -- Sbaitso was no advocate of crass language. Whenever such words were spoken, or written, he'd either try to change the subject or tell you to knock it off. If you didn't listen, it was PARITY ERROR TIME!

Yeah, so you'd sit there calling Dr. Sbaitso's mother a cunt, and it'd be all fun and games for a while...until you got the parity error. Complete with "shame on you" sound effects, a bunch of nonsensical numbers would scroll everything you'd previously written off the screen, even the stuff that wasn't particularly offensive. It was then that I began doubting my psychiatrist's legitimacy, because if I was paying for a real therapy session, I'd be mighty ticked if my doctor did the "NA NA NA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" thing every time I got worked up enough to let out a few 50 Cent (the rapper) words.

Course, there were some benefits to the parity error. In today's world, most everyone has a computer, and most everyone knows the old trick of quickly minimizing windows whenever someone walks in the room. These days, I do it out of pure habit, even when I'm not looking at animal porn or reading up on how to bomb the school. The second I hear approaching footsteps, I minimize everything and try to play it off like I'm just sitting in my chair admiring my desktop wallpaper. Back in Dr. Sbaitso's days, it wasn't that easy. And simply turning off the monitor was a little too obvious.

So, whenever I was telling Doctor Sbaitso my darkest secrets and heard somebody coming, it was time for a few well-placed "fuck yous." Shit scrolled right off the screen. I was safe. Some people get touched by an angel. I got saved by a parity error.

Sbaitso's responses were a mix of non-answers and completely nonsensical answers. But, truth be told, I believed what I wanted to believe. No matter how ridiculous Doctor Sbaitso's responses were, I tried to take them as gospel, and I wracked my brain to conjure up some deep meaning behind his every statement. A lot of it had to do with language. It seemed that if you said something a certain way, you got better answers out of Sbaitso. Not good answers, mind you, but answers that were close enough to "real" to keep you from walking away and swearing off therapy forever. Sometimes, I'd get on a roll. I'd get eight or nine decent responses from Sbaitso, and gain wrongful confidence that he and I had finally made some great connection. With my guard down, I'd make the mistake of typing a number or a question mark, and Sbaitso would go right back to asking me if I liked math. Motherfucker. Parity error warning. Shitface. Parity error warning #2. I won't press my luck.

Seems so stupid, but I managed to sit there for hours with Dr. Sbaitso. Hours. He was like a diary with entertainment value. Night after night, I'd pull myself up into my brother's super-high chair, crack my knuckles and try to convince my psychiatrist that I was named "Drake Von Goodypoo." And I totally had my Nintendo and everything by this point, so it wasn't a case of there just being no other options. I just wanted friends, and until I got them, showing Dr. Sbaitso ASCII versions of Princess Leia's fat head just had to do.

The computer was in my brother's old bedroom, which like every younger brother's older brother's bedroom, was normally off-limits. He had all sorts of weird electronics, interesting photo albums from his college days, six-packs of high-end soda and more junk that I reveled in. Since I only played Dr. Sbaitso when he was watching television in the living room or otherwise occupied, I had careful-but-free reign to go through all of his stuff. These were good times. My old bedroom was adjacent to my parents', but his was downstairs, as far away from society as possible. Chatting with Dr. Sbaitso, drinking my brother's good soda and thumbing through albums full of college parties and other so awesome.

I probably had more than 500 conversations with Dr. Sbaitso during my youth, and I'm pretty sure that each of them ultimately steered towards sex. Sbaitso knew very little of the subject, but to my delight, "sex" was one of the key terms capable of soliciting new responses from my typically predictable pal. Plus, you know, I just wanted to talk about sex. I'd only recently learned what the word meant and even more recently learned where my father's stash of XXX was, so this sex was intriguing. Sbaitso refused to really get down and dirty and tell me how to crank that bitch up to 10, but at least he was saying things that I hadn't heard a thousand times before.

There were a few specific commands set by Creative Labs that really let you exploit Sbaitso's limitations. Namely, if you told him to "say" something, he'd say it, no questions asked. Didn't matter if you cursed, didn't matter if you wanted him to admit to fucking an orange -- if you told Dr. Sbaitso to "say" it, he said it. In the most hilarious voice ever. "Fuck hu-yu mather-fu-hucking bite-ch. Go do Hail!"

This aspect of the game was obviously the most crowd-pleasing, so during the rare times when I actually had company, we'd skip the Nintendo and the pool and just crack up for an hour to the tune of Dr. Sbaitso confirming that his mother was a fat shitmongering penishead.

As I mentioned in the intro, these were kind of depressing times for me. Okay, not "kind of" depressing -- really depressing. I was down and out, and all of that black clothes bullshit Darlene was pulling on Roseanne was resonating way more than it should've. I was the kind of person who'd let their stupid frustrations and sadnesses mount and mount quietly until it was finally time to explode, whether it was by yanking my hair out, breaking my stuff or, in some cases, trying to "level" with Dr. Sbaitso. I figured that he'd cut the bullshit and start talking to me "for real" if I made everything sound desperate and important enough -- to be honest, I guess I was thinking more that God himself would manifest his holy powers through the white text on the screen, assuming the role of my digital psychiatrist so as not to make all the kids at school jealous that God loved me more than them. None of this worked, of course. Sbaitso was still the same goofy idiot he always was, no matter how many times I told him I was on the verge of sticking a knife in a hot socket and meeting Grandma #1 again.

Instead of giving up and reminding myself that Dr. Sbaitso wasn't really intelligent, I'd get pissed at him. Pissed that he wouldn't break down the fourth wall and teach me how to get a pussy and a posse. And I couldn't even tell him how I felt, because the fucker would just give me another goddamned parity error. Shithead.

Today, I have no complaints. I don't have a bad word to say about Dr. Sbaitso. It sounds fucked up, but the dude really did help me. Kids like me needed something to kill an hour or two as often as possible, and as far as video games went, Dr. Sbaitso had even more replay value than Tetris. Sure, he had no clue what I was talking about and responded as such, but I still got to vent, and I still got to sort through feelings that were too harsh and screwy to tell real people. More so than that, I got the psychiatrist who lived in my computer to call our dog a "cat-sniffing titscruffer with a sloppy pussy" whenever she waddled into the room.

I've looked up "Dr. Sbaitso" online many times, and have seen many others recounting their memories. Everyone says that they just loved fucking with Sbaitso and making him say dumb stuff, but I'm pretty sure it went deeper than that. If you were young and depressed and bad at everything in 1992, Dr. Sbaitso was Prozac before Prozac was okay.

Click here to download Dr. Sbaitso. Treat him well. Say "hi" for me. Don't take the parity errors personally. Get lost.

-- Matt (4/10/06)