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 3 : Turn 13
"Come on 2242, trade the wheat. You don’t need all of it. And it’ll really help me out.” dRaGoN asked.
Harey looked down at the whining avatar, wondering how many gems dRaGoN wasted on the massive wings on its tiny red frame. Its posture seemed aggressive, but it was funnier than it was scary. Harey cupped his hands palm up at his waist, like he’d seen his father do when selling vegetables from the farm, “I'd like to, but I promised that wheat to Player 7413 last turn."
"W-T-F! That's such a stupid, sub-optimal move, dude. Even with your wheat, 7413 isn't going to last more than a turn or two.”
"How do you know that?”
“Come on, it’s so obvious.” dRaGoN snorted.
“It doesn’t matter. I'd like to help you. Really, I would. But a deal is a deal, and I won’t break it.”
"But can 7413 promise you protection? I've already got like, a dozen followers. And I'm arming them to the teeth!" dRaGoN's lips curled into a smile, revealing four rows of teeth that gleamed like the dozens of gems they must have cost.
"I don't need protecting. But how about this, in a few turns I’ll have more wheat to spare. I can hold on to it and we can make a trade then?”
"Come on 2242. I need a partner, someone who will give me wheat every turn. In return, you get to join the dRaGoN Guild. We'll protect you from the other players, and share our extra ore and gems."
Harey left a polite pause, already knowing his answer, “No thanks."
dRaGoN looked Harey up and down with disgust. Then it leapt in the air and yelled, “I’m so done with stupid n00bs!"
Harey shrugged and turned his attention back to his fields. On the neighboring hill, his single sheep grazed. It generated three wheat per second, and looked to have grown a bit since the previous turn. He’d inherited it three turns earlier, along with Player 581's single territory. Player 581 was eliminated because they couldn't pay the nine gem ante at the end of the ninth turn.
Harey kept learning the rules as he played. When a player was eliminated, they chose what other players got everything they owned. In 581's case, Harey got everything, along with a message thanking him for being the one neighbor who didn't attack him. 581 turned into a follower, represented by the red smiley face symbol. Followers performed automated actions, chosen by their owners.
Harey figured out how to customize the follower in a menu, similar to the one for making his avatar. Since Harey couldn't refuse the follower, he decided on one of the gem-free generic forms: A sheep. Sheep only grazed wheat, but Harey liked the idea of being a shepherd.
Harding sheep felt less prideful than turning the follower into a miner or sculptor. Those could get ore, and turn it into buildings and monuments he didn't need. And he certainly wasn’t going to arm them with swords or arrows.
Harey looked to the bar atop the persistent purple clouds, taking stock of his position:
WHEAT – 10,912
ORE – 1,312
GEMS – 39
FOLLOWERS – 1
TERRITORY – 2
Harey walked to his second territory. It consisted of a ring of mountains surrounding a small patch of forest. He mined some ore. It took longer to get, but it took only fifty of them to get a gem. Mining bored him quickly, so he walked into the forest. It was pleasant, full of birdsong and earthy scents. Even better were finding the gems that randomly appeared inside.
Harey had enough gems to pay ante for two turns, maybe three. He wondered how long the other players could hold out. And how many other players there were.
The turn began with a message. The first from the game since it began. It was a scoreboard, along with a note that similar updates would occur every twenty turns:
1. PLAYER XXX – 132,019
2. dRaGoN - 130,451
3. JimmyWu – 124,004
4. ThugLife69 – 107,745
5. Andromeda – 98,416
6. Anubis – 95,127
7. PLAYER 2242 – 91,134
8. Terrorstroika – 85,564
9. MissMatrix – 74,132
10. HerrKatzen - 74,084
The scores made little sense to Harey. Nothing identified how the scores were counted. Even if it did, Harey knew his math wasn't good enough to figure it out anyway. But seventh place was a complete surprise. He watched over a small flock of sheep, a few plots of land, and maintained a few friendships through trading wheat. None of that felt like winning. Not that anyone seemed to know the victory conditions.
Harey enjoyed himself. He quickly forgot the slow painful death of the real world. Time stretched out, each turn feeling like a relaxed half hour or more. Harey figured that if anything were wrong, a nurse would yank the chip of his head and kick Ruthie out of the hospital. Until then, he'd enjoy every second.
Another message arrived. It was from the sixth place player, Anubis:
Greetings Player 2242! Great job so far. I don't recognize your name from any of the past games, but there's always room for new talent!
I'm sure you recognize me from the leader boards of all the top games. It's really me! The very same Anubis - The Gaming God!
I'm inviting you to join our group of l33ts: The Locust Clan. We're attempting to set the record score by pwning everyone in our way. And if you help, I'll be sure to tell my millions of social media followers how awesome you are!
Following me will not only make you popular, but maybe you'll pick up a few secrets from The Gaming God!
Can’t wait for you the join the Locusts!
"Umm… No?" Harey said, deleting the message. There was only one true God, and Harey was certain He wouldn't waste His infinite wisdom 'pwning' people, whatever that meant.
Anubis' message reminded Harey why he avoided the game forums. When he discovered them on turn twenty-four, he found filth that reflected seemingly every terrible aspect of human civilization. The fleeting scraps of useful information or community building weren't worth suffering wave after wave of hate speech and pubescent bravado.
Check out Part 4...
Follow Chris at chriskreuter.com, or on Twitter: @creativekreuter