Getting hooked on a game doesn’t get any better. Until you have to go back to work.
I rip my bra off the moment I get in the door, dragging on comfy clothes while tossing food in the microwave. I guzzle a bottle of water and stuff reheated chicken in my face. I already have snacks at my chair, energy balls and stuff. I have the entire weekend to play Weself and I just hope I don’t run out of toilet paper before I get to work Monday.
The first time I tried Weself was at a party. I had hopes for this party, my Twitter friend Mary invited me, since it was reasonably local. I was doing my normal park-in-the-corner deal, after meeting the cat. I chatted with a few people who came into my orbit. But mostly I just watched other people interact. They were all creatives, a room full of intelligent, curious people. Some intimidatingly colorful, some intimidatingly loud. I was entirely out of my league.
I noticed some people with the Weself headset. The delicate wires looked like a futuristic elven crown. Some of the players were circulating and chatting, some sitting, more focused internally. I was nervous of something that stole your attention like that, that kept you separate.
Finally my Mary showed up, her blue hair and band tshirt matching her profile pic. I waved at her from across the room. She came over with two Weself headsets and handed me one. “You said you hadn’t tried Weself, so I brought my spare headset. You can play on the party’s server. You’ll like it, I know you will.”
I took the headset and peered at it. “How does it work again?”
“Well there are different levels. You can participate passively, the system will just use your subconscious to guide the game. Those are the people still wandering around and chatting. Or you can play actively, you help decide what happens next but you have to pay attention, those are the people sitting.”
The crowd that was seated let out a collective gasp and a sigh, startling me. It was creepy seeing them all react at the same time, like a hive mind. And somehow almost worse, seeing everyone else just keep on talking, ignoring the ones in the game.
“I’m not sure. It seems like it’s a little too involved.” I wagged the headset towards the players.
Mary pushed the headset back to me. “C’mon, you’ll like it. Just try it. You don’t like it, you don’t play again.”
“Fine.” I took the headset and settled it on my head, leaning back against the wall. The menu flicked on in my field of vision. Mary leaned against the wall next to me, and I could see her avatar on my display, sharing my viewspace. I selected passive mode and clicked to not view the game, easing into it.
I spread my hands against the wall, bracing myself. A tsunami of perception flooded into me. I could feel something, shifting like the tide. Sensations of movement, of solidity brushed against me. I could feel something, almost like that hive mind, a weight, a sense of other. Like a murmuration of birds, shifting individually, but as a group, toward something. I knew that I was subconsciously contributing to the game at this level, but I didn’t know what that meant. Not really.
“Wow,” I said, studying the players with a new perspective.
“Just you wait. I’m going to turn the viewfield on.” She clicked to open the view and I gasped.
The other players bumped by me, a feeling of welcome as they spun past. I could feel them there. But I could now see what they saw. It was a whole world. A world of color and magic. Fantastic creatures and exotic people. Right now we followed along as a young warrior woman walked through a city. I could still hear people talking at the party, but I could also hear shopkeepers calling their wares, chickens clucking, the warrior’s soft shoes padding in the dirt road.
“Ready for the next step?” Mary took my hand.
I nodded, forgetting that she couldn’t see me. “Yes,” I breathed.
She selected the active mode and I was yanked out of reality and stuffed into the warrior’s self. I could feel the other people there, I could sense some of the story that had already happened, I could feel how much my own thoughts were influencing the reality.
I read once that the thing that engages you in a book is that you are co-creating that world with the writer. The game was like that. I was receiving input, but processing it in my individual way and then providing feedback to the game. The game was taking all of our reactions and ideas and using that to generate the actions. With a little randomness added to the algorithm so it wasn’t just a most-popular-opinions fest. The people on your server were reflected on your journey.
The thing that tugged me all the way into the game was the people there. I could feel all of them, their collective consciousness. And they could sense me, a sense of my greatest fears, my darkest secrets, my worst memories. And they were ok with it. Those people accepted me, greeted me with welcome, with understanding. I felt more in touch with those people than I had ever felt in real life.
We continued on our quest, and I was hooked.
By the end of the weekend my poor body is sore, even after spending some time on the yoga ball and treadmill. I’m nearly vibrating with happiness and satisfaction, after spending my time closer to anyone than I have ever been before. That fairy tale goal of a kindred spirit, those people are waiting for me in the game.
Unfortunately judgment and twisting boredom wait for me at work. And I ran out of toilet paper.
This is a 2-hour-session flash fiction, based on a prompt from Terrible Minds.
Line from “Drew Barrymore” by SZA: Why is it so hard to accept the party is over?