Monday, April 03, 2006

Personal Narrative with revisions

Jason Clements

The door closes behind me as rush into the room. I could swear that the phone was ringing, but the room is dead silent, save for the rush of my feet over a carpet in dire need of vacuuming. I drop my backpack to the floor, the silence amplifying the loud thump of the bag full of books. Words fail as I regard the phone with disbelief, as if daring it to continue to be silent.
She hasn’t called again. I haven’t heard from her in a month. Really, what did I expect? Did I expect that the phone would be ringing and I’d hear her voice again, that she’d be on the other end, her voice pouring through the receiver like sweet, audio-wine? The red recharge light stutters, imbalances in current causing the tiny bulb to wink at me, mocking me.
With a resigned shuffle, I kick off my shoes. They land against the pile of books at the corner of my bed, knocking over old pages of notes from semesters past, unearthed for reasons unknown to any mortal man. With a grunt, I move a pile of library books from my bed, their covers wearing away under my hands in the form of a chalky dust coating my palms. I settle down into my desk, homework put aside for another . . . day perhaps? Hour, at least. I draw the computer close, the laptop’s plastic making a smooth hiss against the wood of the table. Behind the screen is a nest of wires and drives. Tiny neon lights blink at me in the gray gloom of the room. Under my hand, my mouse comes to life, a sullen red glow busting to life with a ruby flare, illuminating the mouse pad. I slide it across the black surface, smooth as silk, in motions now permanently etched into my muscles as the computer wakes up as well, the black screen bursting into the garish colors of my desktop. Acid greens and alien teals burn my eyes with their vicious brightness, as whites, oranges, and red tattoo my retinas, leaving aching after-patterns as I shift my gaze.

The computer pauses, considering the command I have given it, finally acceding to my demands, as the screen flickers again, a window unfolding itself before my eyes. I affirm to the filibustering machine what I want, and it goes black.
The gates are there, behind the log-in screen. Stone sentinels flank a stone post-and-lentil set-up, a swirl of fire between them, the text-boxes suspended equidistant between the statues. The company knows me by a name, a name attached to my credit card, attached to my address. I type in my password, a conglomerate of letters and numbers of no importance to any but me. The keyboard clicks as my fingers dance, the sound rattling through my brain as I relax, letting myself slide into the game.
Black and blue figures watch me. Locked in permanent illustration, they observe me at my keyboard as I stare blankly. Four pairs of yellow eyes pierce the navy illustration. The tall man, bearing a large book, the dead man, swords in hand, the dwarf, grizzled beard and musket standing at equal attention, and the comical gnome regard me for the briefest of moments as the game loads.

I spin quickly in my chair, the rough fabric scratching me through my shirt. Was that the phone? Was she finally calling? No. I turn back and settle in, sliding down in my chair, right hand resting lightly on the mouse, left hand hovering over my keyboard before resting, fingertips lightly touching on the familiar pattern of the WASD keys. The room lights up as the screen comes to life.

“World of Warcraft is an online role-playing experience set in the award-winning Warcraft universe. Players assume the roles of Warcraft heroes as they explore, adventure, and quest across a vast world. World of Warcraft is a "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" which allows thousands of players to interact within the same world. Whether adventuring together or fighting against each other in epic battles, players will form friendships, forge alliances, and compete with enemies for power and glory.”
—“An Introduction to World of Warcraft,” Blizzard, Inc.

White, burning light.
In the game, it is daytime. On my screen I see countless tiny figures moving around. Each less than a hand-span tall, they rush about, some too fast to be seen. I see them all move.
Each character is unique. There are four races in this city. The elves, the dwarves, the gnomes, and the humans. Tall and short, stout and thin, they fill the screen. Facial features and hair style and color are determined at character creation. Armor is collected through playing, clothing determined by luck and perseverance, ranging through entire spectrums of color; reds, greens, purples, blues. Weapons flash from character’s sides, or glint from their backs. Swords and spears, maces and staves, some glow and other merely gleam. Above each of them, the hundred that rush about, are the names, written in green. Character names form a glowing green swarm of gibberish, hovering over the masses like teeming flies.
Each of these characters, animated pixilation, digital manikins represents a human being. Each of these is another person, similarly seated at their computer, somewhere across the globe, anywhere and every, part of the parade of puppets.

“MMORPG is an acronym for "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game". In an MMORPG, thousands of players exist in the same game world at the same time.”
—Blizzard, Inc.

I have one too. Female. Gnome. Dressed in blue, eye-catching robes—the mark of her profession. Her name is a trick of Japanese—“Nani”—a word, that be taken to mean simultaneously a question and an answer. It stands; idle animations making the puppet’s head turn from side to side, in a simulation of realism. I type the “W” key and she darts forward. Programmed subroutines and lines of code cause the digital illustration of a cape to flap behind the puppet as the representation of arms move in the simulation of running. It is still again. I hold “W,” using “A” and “S” to steer, as the puppet’s line of movement veers left and right.
The perspective shifts. Behind my screen, I can see the world changing, perspective changing, angles shifting to allow for a new point of view. Nani is positioned with her back to me, and it is as if I float, hovering a constant few feet above and behind her as I control her actions. There is a sense of voyeurism with detachment. The puppet moves and I follow, controlling its actions, always watching. 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. Below the desk, I kick hard against the wood, there is a cracking noise as something breaks. Stupid! The wood is ragged and I feel it bite into my skin, leaving a trail of splinters buried inside me.

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.
Zoom in.
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 locale, 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. Someone’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. I stand up—I can feel the splinters digging deep; far too deep to ever be retrieved—and whirl around, shoving my chair back. It hits the floor—but by then I’m halfway to the door. I cut the lights and the florescent bulbs cease their yammering hum, struck dead in the darkness as I slam the door with all my strength, the hinges shrieking in protest.
Oddly enough, the ringing has stopped.

Behind me, in the empty room, a faint blue glow still issues from closed laptop. A small crackle announces a failed circuit, a broken line, and the light goes out.

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