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 2 : Turn 0
Harey waited for something to happen. He turned to Ruthie, "I don't feel anyth..."
The world disappeared in a flash of black. His mind emptied as darkness enveloped him. Yet consciousness remained. For the first time in months, Harey felt no pain. He reveled in the sensation.
Soon it dawned on him that he felt nothing at all. No bed, no IV drip, no direction. He looked down, or where he thought down was supposed to be. He couldn’t see himself. He freaked out, crying out into the void for help. But no sound escaped his lips.
The emptiness persisted. Harey wondered if it were some kind of divine intervention. A punishment from God, a kind of purgatory. Before he finished the thought, large words appeared in the center of his view. They gleamed bold and bright:
WELCOME TO THE GAME : PLAYER 2242
The words faded, followed by the word 'LOADING' that flashed for a few seconds. This was followed by a command:
CHOOSE AN AVATAR
"What's an avatar?" Harey asked. Hearing his voice eased his nerves a tiny bit.
A gentle voice replied, "Your avatar is how you will appear in the game world."
"Um, can you just make it look like me?"
“Unable to determine your physical features via this VR transmitter. Please select from the preset library of historical figures and fictional characters."
Harey thought for a moment, "What about Harum Verran, the founder of our group?"
"No avatar with that name in the database."
Of course not, Harey thought. How could a computer game know of the man exiled from Cornwall in 1572 for teachings in conflict with the Church of England. "Can you make me a plain avatar with Verranite clothing?"
"Verranite clothing imagery found in internet database. Generating avatar now.”
In front of Harey's field of vision, an adult appeared. It had an ash gray complexion. Harey couldn’t tell if it was male or female. It wore a traditional Verranite wardrobe: Plain white button down shirt, black vest, and black slacks. The pants were held up with a hemp rope belt, whose free end contained three knots. Each knot represented the pillars of his faith. The avatar wore black shoes free of any brand markings, and a triangular straw hat whose points represented the holy trinity.
Before Harey could say anything, a large box appeared in his field of vision. It gave him two choices:
READY TO PLAY < ? > CHANGE AVATAR
"Ready to play," Harey said. The world went completely black again.
The perfect black lightened to gray. The first thing Harey sensed was the clean, crisp smell of air. Then a warm gentle breeze upon his skin. He stretched out his hands and felt the tops of swaying grass. The world gained contrast slowly.
When it did, Harey stood within an endless field of wheat. The field appeared odd to Harey. It took him a while to realize that every strand looked exactly the same. Every golden brown stalk swayed in rhythm with all the others.
Above, light purple clouds littered a light gray sky. Harey felt both awe and utter delight. Awe for the realism of the game, and the utter delight of standing outside for the first time in two weeks.
He plucked a strand of wheat, intending to test his sense of taste. But it vanished before reaching his mouth. This triggered a black bar to appear along the top of his field of vision. Regardless of where he looked, the bar remained fixed at the top. It reminded him of the bars around movies on old department store televisions.
In the upper left corner, a gold wheat symbol appeared. Next to it was the number one. More symbols appeared to the right of the gold circle, each followed by a number. A gray square: 0, a blue diamond: 10, a green hexagon: 1, and finally a red smiley face: 0. In the upper right corner was the text ‘PLAYER 2242 - TURN 1’.
"Hello? Anyone here?" Harey asked.
There was no reply. He tried again, yelling as loud as he could. Still no reply. He turned his attention back to the stalk he plucked. It was already growing back, right before his eyes. Harey swung his hand around a bunch of stalks. Grabbing as big a handful as possible, he tore them free. They snapped with almost no effort and vanished just like before. The number next to the gold wheat symbol jumped to 34. He repeated this a few more times, ending up with 104 wheat. The outline of the wheat icon started glowing.
"What does the glow mean?" Harey asked. Getting no reply, he grabbed two more handfuls. 149, still glowing. Harey reached up and tried touching the symbol. A large black square filled his vision. Just like the top bar, it stayed in his field of view. It asked how many times he wanted to trade 100 wheat for 1 gray square.
Harey pressed the glowing arrow to the right. He now had 49 wheat and 1 gray square. At the bottom, the window asked:
OK < ? > CANCEL
Since wheat seemed easy to get and grew back fast, he pressed OK.
There were no instructions or any explanation of what was going on. But Harey didn’t care. Patience came easily as he surrendered himself to the joys of being outside again. He ran up a nearby hill with ease. Didn’t even break a sweat. The whole time he cried tears of joy, despite knowing everything was fake.
Harey took a seat at the top of the hill. He thought of his childhood in the Verranite vegetable farms of northern Nova Scotia. He recalled his innocence. Then he felt guilt that this blasphemous experience was so much fun.
A thought came to Harey. Was running inside the game hurting him in real life? He had no idea, but for now he felt no pain. Besides, even if it killed him, a painless death running in an expanse of wheat seemed like a preferable way to go.
Check out Part 3 : Turn 13.
Follow Chris at chriskreuter.com, or on Twitter: @creativekreuter