by Chris Kreuter
A young man is dying of cancer. He comes from a religious culture that rejects technology, but he chooses to help a good friend by testing her new virtual reality game. As he encounters a new reality, the game encounters a unique perspective.
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Part 4 : Turn 42
There was a long pause as Pixie mulled over Harey's reply. She asked, "What do you mean you don't care?"
Harey smiled towards the voluptuous purple faerie fluttering alongside him, keeping his eyes averted from Pixie’s indecent dress, "Why do I need to care?"
The Pixie whirled around to face him, "Why? Because 2242, it's the whole point of the game! dRaGoN’s score just shot up by a million. But second place only went up like a hundred thousand."
"Good for them. But it doesn't impact what I'm doing. I’m having fun, so why ake a big deal about it?"
"I don't it. The point of the game isn't to be a nice guy."
"I'm sure I'm not the only nice guy playing. I mean, you've been nice to me, right?"
"If it wasn't for your generous wheat trades, I might not be. But if you're so care free about what other players are doing, why make trades at all?"
Harey checked his status bar, "Says here I control half a million wheat. It's coming from nearly thirty followers grazing twenty-two territories. That’s way more resources than I need."
"Which is the attitude that makes you so easy to trade with. If I'm being honest, we're taking advantage of you."
"Perhaps. But it doesn't change the fact that I'm enjoying the game."
"I suppose that attitude's the reason so many eliminated followers chose to follow you. But that won’t last forever. So why don't you press your advantage?”
"I don’t choose who follows me. And I don’t ask them to. Why do you care so much about my advantage anyway? You’re near the top of the leaderboard, and you're getting what you need from me."
Pixie hummed for a moment, "Because your attitude… It bothers me. You’re so nice. So unassuming. There’s a rumor going around that you’re some kind of psychologist, figuring us all out before you take advantage of our weaknesses.“
“What’s a psychologist?”
“I’m serious. I don’t know what you mean.”
“Dude, wow. Really… It's a doctor that figures out mental problems. And I think you’re just hanging back acting dumb, building your master plan."
Harey huffed, "Nope, certainly not a doctor. I'm just a simple man. The game still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. But I hope I can continue to enjoy it for a long time.”
"Oh it’s going to end. It has to, although nobody seems to know how. But when it does, everyone else wants to be on top. Right now, that's dRaGoN."
There was a long silence as they continued walking. Then Harey said, "It's peaceful here. I still can’t believe technology can do all this. It’s so powerful. Powerful enough that it's helped me reconnect with the land, and the Lord."
"Didn't realize you were such a bible thumper."
"I suppose I am. But why does that matter?"
"Like I said, it’s all part of your act. Righteousness will only take you so far 2242. You ought to spend more time in the forums."
"No thanks. It’s impossible to follow what everyone’s talking about. I’d have better luck learning a thousand new languages."
"But that's where we're all discussing the point of the game.”
“You really don't care about winning, do you?”
Harey took a deep breath, "Maybe winning isn’t the point.”
"Huh? Harey, the game's only messaged for one thing: The latest score. So it's probably the whole point.” Pixie said.
Harey stopped walking as the stalks of wheat stopped at the edge of a dense dark forest. They’d arrived at the northern border he shared with Pixie. The border shimmered a vibrant, transparent purple. "Pixie, I know I'm not as smart as the other players. And everyone thinks I'm weird for how I'm treating this...”
“Game.” Pixie interrupted.
Harey shook his head and swept his hand across his expanse of wheat, "Experience. One I’m content to enjoy for as long as it lasts. Nothing more."
"Suit yourself. Who am I to argue with the guy trading me a ton of wheat for a few extra gems.”
Harey accepted the trade proposal from Pixie. 100,000 wheat turned into 105 gems, “Thanks for the company.”
Pixie’s expression narrowed, "2242, it really seems like you mean it. I want to hope you're sincere. But the game’s going to keep escalating. Pretty soon you'll be forced to drop this whole zen farmer act."
Harey smiled, turned, and headed back to his wheat.
Fifteen more gems. Without them, Harey's experience would come to an end. The illusion would fade away to the pain, the nausea, and the slow march towards death. Over the past eighty turns, the game helped Harey tune into his faith to a depth he never knew possible.
As he searched for gems, he thought about the three pillars. The most vital elements of Verranite culture, instilled since his youth:
Submission — To the authority of the church, the Holy Bible, and the Verranite community. And above all, to God’s will.
Detachment — A separation from society. Embracing a history and tradition as devoted followers of the Lord’s true word. A rejection of the technology that separates people from family and the faith community.
Simplicity — Living a humble life of thrift and modesty. Avoiding actions, property, or clothing that distinguishes oneself from the community.
Along with his sounder of gem-sniffing pigs, Harey foraged for gems within the larger of his two forest territories. He found two more inside a tangle, raising this meager total to seventy-six. Still not enough for the end of turn ante.
He thought about where the game might be headed. Wheat growth was limited. With eliminated players becoming followers, they required more wheat to feed on each turn. This increasing drain required expansion to maintain the balance. Over the past twenty turns, Harey’s reserves dwindled.
Ore wasn’t a problem for Harey. But the discovery that it never grew back ratcheted up tension amongst all the other players. With many mountains already depleted, those that remained became prime targets. Ore was crucial to keeping followers equipped with tools or weapons, and speeding up their actions. Some players were already resorting to tearing down statues and buildings to get the ore they needed. Preferably ones belonging to other players.
Rich players could afford spending gems to equip their armies with expensive technology advances. This allowed players like Anubis to raid large swaths of territory, adding them to their dominions. The Locust Clan already controlled the entire western half of the map.
To the southeast, dRaGoN’s Guild grew. They ruled the scoreboard by a vast margin, and spared no expense to flaunt it. At the center of dRaGoN’s territory was a massive castle. Nearly every player could see its ramparts from their territory. Inside the castle, dRaGoN’s six knights plotted vicious surprise raids. Their strategy hinged on ore, to ensure they always had the advantage of speed. These raids were carefully planned, to esure they always maintained a strong defensive positions.
Harey felt lost. Out of place and out of time. Much like he did at the start of his Wandering, as he stepped off the bus in the center of Halifax. The enormous scale of everything, the rapid pace, all the threats to body and faith. Now he found himself on the brink of losing the one thing that brought him closer to God than he’d ever been: Of all things, a video game.
Harey checked the game map. Only a few trading partners remained. Most fell victim to the Locust Clan or dRaGoN’s Guild. Antes kept increasing, and everyone sought gems, so nobody was likely to trade him any. Besides, they were critical for defensive technology. Unlike Harey, their pacifism was borne of circumstance. They would have all preferred being on the offensive.
Harey long since resolved to maintain his pacifism no matter what. If another player chose to conquer his territory by force, he’d accept his fate without reservation. It baffled him why they hadn’t. Perhaps it was his fourth-place score. Or they still feared that his Verranite persona was a façade that hid a deadly trap.
Excited snorting from a nearby thicket got Harey’s attention. He ran over and pried away the vines. Inside was an enclave, filled with over fifty gems that were spawning since the start of the game. Harey breathed a sigh of relief, knowing drastic decisions could wait one more turn.
Check out Part 5 next week...
Follow Chris at chriskreuter.com, or on Twitter: @creativekreuter