Fiction Excerpt: “More of that brother MMO thing”

 They say you have to write every day. I had the urge, so I decided to blindly continue a piece I previewed here last year.

snowstorm

 

“I just don’t get what I’m doing wrong,” I growled.

 

Everything was white around me. The hills were dunes of snow, blowing away and reforming with the wind. The sky was a slight shade off, shifting as wave after wave of fresh powder hit the ground around me. I could pick out trees, but only because their trunks were a distinct earth tone against the rest of my surroundings.

 

“You’re waiting too long,” Gritty whispered to me, “I’ve never seen someone react as slow as you.”

 

I moved a little closer so I could see over the hill in front of me. I couldn’t tell if it could see me, but I didn’t want to risk being outsmarted a third time. It was a stupid animal, this wasn’t supposed to be difficult.

 

There it was, against the snow, something like a deer. I say like a deer, because it was relatively wooly, like a shaggy llama. Also, whoever thought of those horns needed a lesson or two in overdesigning. Each of its horns was like a tree on its own, arcing up, splitting off in branches that were also burdened with snow.

 

Gritty moved closer, and I wondered if he wasn’t going to just go after it himself. I still didn’t know why he was helping me. Lord knows I didn’t deserve it. I hefted up my spear as if ready to throw it, pointed at the woolbuck.

 

The wind picked up in a burst that nearly tossed the spear from my hand.

 

“Shit,” I whispered. The woolbuck turned this way and that, and for a moment I was afraid I spooked it.

 

“Yeah,” Gritty said, “That’s the last warning. It’ll get dark soon, which means we need to get back to the island.”

 

That was what he insisted on calling the starting area. Either that or some other demeaning combination of noob, land, ville, town, or shitter. I tried to ignore it. I was new, I deserved the insults, especially if I couldn’t down a simple animal in the woods.

 

Gritty told me that first night, “If you don’t kill, you don’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. Sounds obvious, then 50% of new players die once in shitter town and never play again.”

 

I saw the other players in the noob town. The game had a way of displaying hunger on a character. You could see their faces under their furred hoods, stretched then and turning blue. Some of them gestured wildly, trying to get the attention of any other character they could. They begged with what little breath they had, for food, money, trades. The other half were quiet, standing like statues that turned more stoney by the minute.

 

I refused to die. I told myself I would play the game, find my brother, for his sake. It wasn’t a matter of life or death, rather a case of ‘maybe I can figure out why my brother can be such an ass.’

 

It was important to me.

 

“If you’re going to throw it,” Gritty said, “Do it. I’m not going to get dead because you can’t click a button.”

 

“Shut up,” I said.

 

“I’ll give you a hint, if you see it lower its head, you already fucked it up.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“You can just save me a spear that way.”

 

I creeped up closer, and readied the spear again. I could see my character test the heft in his hand, and I knew it was primed. Another step up, and I was in range. I needed to close a little distance, and build up enough strength. One step, arm up. The woolbuck ducked down, but the spear was already in the air.

 

It turned toward me, eyes hidden by fluffy tufts of white fur. With one motion it twirled on the spot, dodging the spear, and then ran through into the hills.

 

“Wow,” Gritty exclaimed, “Just wow. It’s like you hate food. Are you vegan? You can tell me.”

 

I grumbled to myself. I didn’t need him to know how mad I was, how much I wished I even had a chance of taking a tick out of his life. How John made it through being this week was beyond me. Maybe my little brother was used to that, people seeing him as the little guy, but that wasn’t me.

 

“Are we going back?” I asked.

 

My character was standing tall now, no spears left to throw, and nothing left to attack.

 

“Better,” Gritty said. He pulled out a spear of his own, clearly of a better make than mine. While I had spears made of a long thick branch, and the sharpest rock I could find, Gritty’s looked like an actual weapon. The wood was straight, balanced. The spearhead was still self-carved, but it wasn’t the awkward rock slapped together with some rope like mine.

 

“Here,” He said as he threw the spear to me, “In case you need it.”

 

I caught it, and Gritty took the lead. The horizon was shining purple, we were running low on time.

 

“You really think someone would attack this close to the island?” I asked.

 

Gritty didn’t answer for a little. It either meant I was going to be ignored, or he just hadn’t noticed me. Either way, it didn’t make me feel safe.

 

“I would,” Gritty said, “Only thing keeping it safe is people like me.”

 

The idea made me tap my toes. Was that true? While in town, I saw the occasional message about players saved by town watch. I always thought those were non-player characters. Was Gritty part of the watch? Why bother? It couldn’t be lucrative, was it fun? This was a game after all, wasn’t fun the point?

 

On the other hand, I knew exactly why other players would attack new players, noobs. Knowing the kind of kids that kept playing these games, knowing John, that was no surprise at all.

 

“Stop,” Gritty said, “You hear that?”

 

I hadn’t heard anything but the howling wind, and  the artificial sound of crunching snow as we walked. I readied the spear.

 

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I Don’t Know if I Count Anymore…(Gamer Talk)

I’ve been playing video games since before I was steady on my feet. From playing Dr. Mario alongside my grandma, to using my early reading skills to play Nintendo era RPGs. When people talk about being an ‘OG’ gamer, I used to enthusiastically count myself among them. Video games have shaped my life, helped me see worlds I never would have experienced, and brought me together with some of my closest friends. So when the question comes up if I am ‘hardcore’ or if I am a ‘gamer’, I want to say yes.

Unfortunately, I’m getting old. I’ve always feared becoming a dinosaur, too old to realize why some obvious topic should be the way it is, but here I am. I never wanted to reach this point, but I feel ready to make the declaration and wear my scales proud.

Gaming has changed. Not just in the obvious ways. The systems are faster, stronger, bigger, beautiful machines that push out astounding graphics and action. I don’t care about that, I haven’t been left behind by what the systems are capable of doing. In comparison, my grandmama can walk into the room while Madden is on and she will think that an actual game of football is on. 

If anything I think the consoles still have some catching up to do, and their catch-up game is slowing down the PC market. 

No, I’m disturbed by the community. I grew up playing games, cooperative and competitive, and I can’t understand the vitriol. Maybe it is because when I was growing up, our communication was so stunted. Sure you could be a jerk in the chat of a round of Starcraft, but it took too much work. Why not just play the game, and if you were going to try to be a dick, do it in the closing moments before you win or lose. Sure you are still a terrible sport, but at least you didn’t drag down the whole game with it. 

I’m not saying that people weren’t rude in the past. I’m sure anyone could tell you stories of terrible neckbeard fueled ferocity from the arcade era to their first time in VOIP. Still, in my experience, we realized they were being jerks. Now we surround ourselves in an atmosphere of aggression, and I don’t feel like I can interact with video games without some part of the experience feeling negative. Negative responses to the company that made it, negative responses to the game itself, negative chat in the multi-player VOIP, negativity even in the chatrooms while it is being streamed. 

I understand that games are an avenue for removing stress and frustration, but does that require so much hate? I used to relax to calming games like kirby, or overcome difficult obstacles in adventure games. I enjoy working as a team to win multi-player games. I gain no joy from getting pissed off at a fellow player, a stranger, a teammate.

The world of gaming feels twisted now. The elements that should have vanished, like rampant misogyny and racism, haven’t. The medium has turned up the volume on the petulant child-like world that once felt like a misguided stereotype.

Whatever, I’m going to go back to playing Pikmin 3. I’ll get back to writing about something less negative next time, maybe holy wars.

Randar’s Realm Part One – A Coming of Age Story

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.

From Picture.net

From Picture.net

“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.”

“Really?”

“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.