Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Login pt 2

[I wonder if this is still really a narrative essay.]

There are other players, but they may as well be ghosts for all that they affect my character. I guide her out of the gates of the city, and into the forest. The background noises change, almost too subtly to be noticed. The artificial sounds of people bustling and chattering are exchanged for the chirping of birds and the soft sigh of wind through branches. My screen displays the forest, spreading out over the simulation of distance. Through the trees I can make out the deep portions of the forest, where pixilated monsters lie in wait, programmed to be hungry for player-controlled characters.
This world is massive, built to scale around the player characters to recreate two massive continents, sectioned off by mountain ranges and natural barriers. There is enough space for the thousands of player characters to roam and never see one another. This is not the only one that exists. To allow for the millions of players that play the game, designers have copied the same world over and over, the same, self-contained world repeated a hundred times, each one cut off from the rest.
If one were of the right mind, one could see the screen as not an LCD display, but a window. Indeed, the sound, the responsiveness of one’s character, the depth of the world almost seems to invite the player in, creating an alternate reality, a tempting form of escapism. Check the phone again.

She hasn’t called—she probably won’t. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? You know someone for too long and they just stop calling. I slam myself back down in my chair, clicking furiously with my mouse, fingers pounding down so hard on the keyboard that I think that they’ll stick.

She walks forward. It has been a while, but she knows where to go. Nani propels her tiny body through the forest. A small stream flows through—ignore it. There were fish in there once, but no longer. Other players had over fished it, and now the river was just a clear, blue stream. Cross at the bridge—avoid the gnolls. Ravenous dog-men stalk the woods, ready to surround the unwary player, ready to leap from behind trees with yelps and barks, jaws slavering. She has been through this area enough to know where everything is, what paths are safe.
Travel on through, travel on through until you reach the edge of the forest. Travel on until the trees thin, travel on until the grass underfoot gives way to rough clay. Until the sounds of your feet padding softly over bright green becomes the sharp thud of boots slapping against hard ground, where the chirping of birds dies away and what is left is the howl of wind. When you see the river before you, cross it, swim through the murky waters, through the brown muck, until you emerge on the other side, dripping wet, in the Duskwood.

I can hear the owls hooting, and out of the corner of my eye, tiny lights blink in the low bushes. Tall trees loom over head, branches and leaves lost in shadow. This is a place of darkness, of living shadows and sudden deaths. Giant spiders lurk in these woods, I can see them, larger than any gnome—a green leg slipping out around a tree trunk, a swollen abdomen slick with poison glinting the nether light of Duskwood. Fortunately, they are too far away to notice me. Still, I can hear the chittering noise of their mandibles clacking together. I can see the green ichor that drips from their fangs, leaving stained trails on the blackened grass. One bite would mean instant death—a single scratch from those poisoned daggers would send a searing poison through me, killing me in a matter of seconds. I back up, not ready to deal with them, and a howl from behind me reminds me that spiders are not the only inhabitants of Duskwood.
Two hours later, I am still in the woods. More confident now that I’ve become more familiar with the dark local, I dart toward the graveyard. I no longer fear the spiders—I know that the fire I wield is enough to drive them away. The woods are silent, and there is the faintest whisper of something moving nearby. It has been bothering me for the past hour—the sound of something following me. Someone, or something has been stalking me,
There is a rush, a blur, and a snarl of fangs and claws, as I stagger back. A zombie! This shambling parody of a human being lunges toward me, slavering and moaning. Wet, gray flesh hangs from exposed bones, and a jaw far too wide to be natural is filled with needle-sharp teeth. It snaps at me, and my heart skips a beat. A twisted hand, foot-long black claws protruding from it, slashes at my midsection. With a cry I stumble further back. I have seen what this monstrosity would do me—it would kill me, and gorge itself on my still-warm body. Its voice is a confused babble of words that it once knew in life and it fills my ears. There is another sound, too, harsh and shrill, halfway between an extended beep and a ringing noise somewhere in the background. Ignore it—there’s a zombie trying to eat me—that’s a bit more of a priority.
Fire courses out from my fingertips, engulfing the monster in flame. Crackling red light licks up and down its rotting flesh, setting the monster ablaze. One fire spell had been enough to drive off the spiders, but this aberrant beast felt no pain. It continues to slash at me, and I cannot dodge it forever. My staff is drawn, and I deliver a resounding blow to the creature’s head. There is an almost humorous noise, like that of an empty coconut being struck, accompanied by that incessant ringing noise. What is that? I yell in frustration and fury as the claws strike home again, tearing through my robes, biting deep into my flesh. Somone’s talking—I hear a voice in the background—it’s distracting me from the task at hand. I grit my teeth and begin to cast another spell. Fire is not my only weapon—ice will freeze it in its tracks, and then I can—
With a gibbering cry, a hand with blackened claws drives into my face, and the screen goes dark.
I’m dead.

My heart is still beating, pounding furiously. With an outraged yell, I slam my computer shut.
Oddly enough, the ringing has stopped.

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