I’m ashamed to admit this. I think the Three Stooges had more of an influence on my life than video games.
Tom almost burst with enthusiasm as he hopped onto the stage to debut his new video game.
“Hey everyone!”, he said. “allow me to show you the next big thing in gaming.”
He clicked a button, the lights turned low and screenshots of his game cycled through on a massive screen. As Tom scanned the crowd to gauge their initial impressions, he felt drops of sweat pour down his forehead. He wiped his brow before he continued .
“I’ve listened to your feedback on my previous games,” he said, “and this time I incorporated some of your thoughts into this one.” Tom saw a couple of eyes twinkle and huge smiles, with glowing white teeth, became visible.
“But this time I decided to make it a freemium game.”
Now the audiences transformed into a bunch of belligerent Hydes. They contorted their faces in a grotesque manner and their booing rendered Tom’s speech inaudible. Suddenly, red blobs flew through the darkness and splatted on the stage. They were tomatoes! Tom ducked and searched for cover to no avail. He tried to run off the stage. Instead, he slid on the red mash and landed face-first before fading to black.
When he awoke, all he saw was red. If Tom had been a character in his game, his vision would return and his wounds would heal after avoiding gunfire for several seconds. But Tom had not yet developed a way to heal human beings or give them clearer vision; that was beyond him as a game developer. He rubbed his aching head, which hurt as if he had been partying all night. Except he was alone. The audience was gone.
The janitor, wearing a dark blue uniform, was now the only other person in the auditorium. The janitor swept up all of the dirt, plastic cups and garbage into a massive landfill in the corner of the room.
Tom stumbled toward the edge of the stage and sat on it. His already oblong face seemed longer than normal. He sat there and licked some of the tomato juice from his mustache. “Mmmm. At least it’s tasy,” he thought, even though his eyes were downcast.
The janitor stopped sweeping for a moment and glanced at his only friend in the room. “Hey buddy,” said the janitor, “I think you got something on your face.”
As he sat there, a piece of tomato pulp slid down Tom’s cheek and splatted on the stage. He sighed with enough force to blow dead leaves off autumnal trees. The rest of the night was a blur for Tom.
Tom woke up possessed: he had been slaving for hours behind a hot pot on the stove without remembering how he got there. His girlfriend entered the room, grabbed a big wooden spoon and dunked it into the pot. She licked the spoon clean and nodded. She titled her head and looked upward before her eyes lit up and seemed to jump out of her head.
“Wow! That tastes better than my nonna’s sauce, just don’t tell her I said that haha. Most tomatoes are pretty bland this time of year. How’d you do it?”, she asked.
Tom winked at her.
“It’s a secret,” he said.
“Hey Max,” said his mother, Kathy, “whatcha playin’?”
Max had his back turned to his mom. On screen, his character was firing a rocket launcher while dangling from the bottom of a hovering helicopter. The rockets whizzed and screeched out of the launcher and turned enemy choppers into massive fireballs.
“Huh?” he asked.
A couple of seconds later, Max’s character was touching the ground and was driving a Mercedes-like car. Kathy, still behind Max, sighed.
“Ah I hate this mission. I can never get there in time to drop the people off before the timer runs out,” said Max still staring at the screen.
Max could feel a pair of eyes, with laser-like focus, burning a hole in his back. He shot his mother a quick glance and saw she had folded her arms and was glowering at him. He put down the controller.
Max said, “Alright, alright I’ll go do it now. Sheesh! I never get any me time.”
When Max left, Kathy reached for the controller with a shaky hand. She stopped herself. First she looked left, right, under the couch. “Is anyone here?” she asked herself. After one could see all doubt was removed, she plopped herself down on the couch and started playing.
The current objective was to drive two kids to basketball practice on time. “Haha hmmm”, she thought, “well why not?”
She took off in the car, but the car lurched forward when she tried to stop at a red light.
A torrential downpour fell down her forehead because she saw a cop car on the opposite side of the intersection. Nothing happened. The cop car drove past. Kathy went on her merry way in the game world.
“Well that’s strange,” she thought as she sped up the car a little bit.
Kathy wiped the sweat from her brow and checked her left and right blind spots before she continued driving. She slumped down a little in her seat, as if she felt a little small for what she planned to do next, and she accelerated faster than any sane person would in this world.
She smiled when she heard no sirens and saw no kids. Kathy thought she could do whatever she wanted to accomplish her mission. After a while, she did not even see other people or drivers in the world. In fact, after a couple of minutes, she came to an intersection that only had tumbling tumbleweeds.
But as she revved her engines and slammed on the gas, a pedestrian rounded the corner, and she “bumped” into him. A slight delay on screen ensued between the bump and the pedestrian falling over.
Kathy put her hand over mouth and muttered something inaudible.
And she spoke up, “Oh dear, oh I’m so, so sorry!”, she said. She had her character roll down the car window and searched for a button to say something. All she could find was a button that made the character taunt the pedestrian with rude thrusting gestures.
“Oh no! This is even worse,” she said.
The pedestrian didn’t turn around. He just wiped the dirt off his shoulder and kept walking. No one stopped Kathy or said anything to her.
She moved her hand away from her mouth, and her demeanor changed. She thought, “Oh, what the hell; I’ll just keep going. No one seems to care in this world anyway.”
She smirked and lifted one corner of her mouth much higher than the other. She revved up her engine and was counting to three.
Suddenly, the expression on her face changed. She hit pause and put down the controller. Kathy pushed her hand under chin and lurched forward on the couch until she looked Rodin’s “The Thinker.”
“Wait!”, she thought, “should I be going faster? Should I keep doing this? How should I treat others and what am I even doing here?”
She concluded it was a good game, picked up the controller and kept playing.
“Oh dear, little Ricky is going to be late for glass blowing practice!”, Lucy said.
She locked Ricky into his seat. She flicked “the button” next: the car transformed, with the obligatory sound effects from the Transformers 80’s TV show, into a mobile fortress, or depending on your perspective, it transformed into a train that runs through a mad, mad, mad world.
Lucy zoomed through the first intersection and stopped at a red light, just as a yellow butterfly fluttered in the wind and landed like a gentle leaf on her windshield. Meanwhile, a helicopter hovered overhead, sending trash flying in all directions on the street. Five cop cars ducked, dived and dodged their way through lanes, their tires red hot, in pursuit of a rogue red car. The rogue red car swerved all over the road and tried to spray clips at the coppers behind it. Instead, the bullets riddled nearby buildings. Lucy stared straight ahead; her eyes hypnotized by the red stoplight.
When the light turned green, Lucy accelerated so fast that pedestrians’ heads were spinning as they craned their necks toward her car. Lucy zipped through three more intersections before she arrived at the glass blowing building. As she ran inside with Ricky, a tank rolled by, crunching cars and flattening trees. It was a typical night in Capital City.
What happened, and when did you find out it wasn’t real?
Lights lit up Sam’s name with a rainbow of colors on the leaderboard. His pockets, adorned with hand-stitched dollars signs, were overflowing with gold coins. John and Mike, by contrast, were less talented gamers who could use some of Sam’s extra coins. The smell of Mike and John’s characters’ clothes sent digital rats scurrying, and the pixelated moths on the screen found their rags provided little to pillage. Mike and John extended their hands to beg for some spare gold coins, to help their characters reach a dignified level.
But Sam pushed past them; his haughty head held high, and his nose slightly upturned, though more than usual after his rhinoplasty. Sam figured there was no need to look out for the people below. Note: Sam had enough gold coins and experience to share but didn’t think about helping.
Sam’s focus had been on reaching the next level, on furthering “my” game, on increasing “my” experience and how he rose to the top by tightening his own bootstraps. But, as he sat on the edge of the leaderboard and towered over the world below, he begin to question himself and what he was doing. He started questioning after he looked to his right and looked to his left and saw no one. He sighed, clutching his heaving chest. “It’s not all a game that I need to win,” he thought, “there’s more to life than leaderboards and shiny coins.”