I’ve had long conversations with friends about exactly what divides coming of age from literary fiction from romance. At the end of the day, I don’t think any of it matters, the important thing is that the right people find the stories they want to read. So I’ll just spell it out, this is about a high school aged boy who has family issues. There, can’t make it much clearer than that. You either want on that gravy train, or you can get off at biscuit junction.
“I just don’t think its healthy,” I said, “He spends all day locked in his room.”
My friend, Austin, had his eyebrow lifted so high I was afraid it would get stuck up there. I knew he did it too, most of us did to some degree, but this was different. He took a bite of his sandwich, chewed slowly.
“We’re leaving, like, next year,” I said, “My mom can’t even get him to come to the table.”
He swallowed, and sat up tall. He cleared his throat, looked me in the eyes, “Its just a video game, Jay.”
I let out a groan, that was exactly what I didn’t want to hear. “A few rounds of Halo, that’s just a video game. He’s in there playing that, Whatever-the-fuck realm all day. All day.”
He rolled his eyes at me, and something about that just made it worse. Austin didn’t have a brother, he didn’t understand. “You know we couldn’t find him yesterday? Mom thought he ran away, he wasn’t at school. Found out he was in his room the whole time, never left to catch the bus.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Mom took his internet away.”
Austin laughed, “That won’t work.”
I looked around at the other tables in the cafeteria, “The next morning, no one in the house had internet, and the cable was out. She let him have his internet back.”
I could tell Austin wanted to say more, but he held on. I put a hand out on the table, pleading, “What am I supposed to do? I feel like he’s on track to be some columbine shooter or some shit.”
“Brandon?” Austin’s face was incredulous, “Naw man. Have you ever even played the game?”
“I don’t need to play it,” I said, “He wouldn’t play with me anyway.”
“Try it,” He said, there was an odd dimple in his cheeks, a second smile that implied something more, “He isn’t the only one stuck in there, you gotta at least try it.”
It took a day of clicking through websites of scantily clad women with pointy ears and men smothered in fur covered iron, but I found the 14 day trial for Eralnor’s Realms. It took most of the night for it to install, then another chunk of time to patch.
At dinner that night, Brandon managed to make it to the table. He was round in the face, his eyes didn’t leave his plate, he never spoke above a whisper; he was my brother. Only two years younger, and it was hard to imagine us being much different.
To hear mom describe it, “You used to be like twins. Then something changed.”
She would usually follow that up by questioning if he was on drugs. It took a lot to convince her he wasn’t, that I knew for sure, that he was just quiet, yes I’m sure I’m sure. She would shrug her shoulders, sigh, and leave the room.
Tonight she didn’t even try. We sat around the table, ate store bought meatloaf and corn, then we broke up after washing our dishes.
“Brandon,” I said as he headed back down the hall to his room. For a moment, I wondered if he would turn around at all. “I’m doing a trial of Realms, what’s your name?”
He looked back at the floor, his shoulders bunched up, “Randar,” He said, “On Metalgate.”
I heard a chime over my music as I finished my homework. It was done patching. The game exploded into a symphonic splash screen, a distant realm covered in frozen mountain peaks, and the words ‘Eralnor’s Realm: The Lost Lords’ in rune-inscribed wood sculpture. It was like an orchestra personally directing me on a dangerous quest through the andes. I had to admit, it was a little exciting.
A quick scroll through servers like Red-Tongue, and Earthtune, to find Metalgate. A few minutes to build a character somewhere between a hulking mass of muscle, and a 12 year old girl. Then finally, a name: Malkagore.
It was something like my 23rd choice; after Mal was taken, like Malk, Malkagor, and Malkagora. Still, it wasn’t half bad, so I logged in.
It all started off white, the whole screen fading to one bright white screen with white noise filling my ears. The static became a bluster, a wind storm that would have shaken a house apart. The white speckled with blue, then a dark shadow in the center. Soon I could see my myself there, limping steps through waist high snow that kept coming. It was a blizzard, winds blistering past my little guy that took him off his feet. But without command, he kept moving.
Instead of the awesome iron gear my character was dressed in while I created it, he wore rags, soaked a dark brown.
Press W to walk forward, a voice rumbled. I nodded to no one, and put my fingers on the keyboard. I could guess the rest, I had played a shooter before, WASD was the standard. I moved forward, slowed by the deep snow and the sharp wind that threatened to throw me back with every strong gust.
A dark object was up ahead, and in my head I was prepared for anything. A game like this, maybe it was a slime, though it seemed a bit cold for that. Some sort of ice slime.
Instead I found a bit of wood, buried deep in the snow.
Click on objects to interact, the game requested. I obliged, hoping to make this learning phase as short and sweet as possible. My character cleared some snow, and found a sign pointing off to the left. Whatever the sign previously meant to say was worn away.
There was also another stick, long and knotted. I picked it up, and after a little confusion on exactly how to hold it, I gave it a few practice swings. I judged it worthy of killing slimes.
Continuing in the direction of the sign, I idly wondered what the game would teach me next; Accepting monotonous quests? Managing spreadsheets to maximize vendor item sales? Whatever it was, it needed to happen soon. Long white paths across white backgrounds was making algebra homework sound fun.
There was another rumble, but it wasn’t the gravely voice this time. It spread out, thinning into the sound of several growling beasts. A half dozen shadows appeared in the snow, the outlines of white fur, yellow teeth set in pink gums.
“Shit,” I said, “Wolves?”
That seemed a little much for level 1. I turned and saw more shadows behind me. The growling was growing louder, drowning out the storm.
All I had was freezing rags, and a plank of wood.
Defend yourself, rumbled the voice. Then the pack of wolves set in, jaws open.