Nobody was surprised when young Chris Boyle began spending most of each day playing a new computer roleplaying game. Weak, awkward, and practically abandoned by latchkey parents, Chris had long sought immersion in such fantasy worlds. People did think it a little odd that, despite the time Chris seemed to invest in the game, none of the usual symptoms of intense game use (paleness, weight gain, pizzaface outbreaks) seemed to appear.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Rumors that Chris had beaten up perennial tormentor Daryl Dupine were confirmed by the appearance of the latter some days later with a shiner and assorted other bruises. At Track and Field Day (AKA Let The Gym Teachers Earn Their Keep For Once Day), Chris astonished with first-place finishes in track, shot-put, and weight lifting despite having no prior affinity for those events and no time in between playing games on a laptop to develop them. At the end of the school year, people had no more answers; even steroid use required a modicum of exercise to work, and school photos confirmed that Chris was significantly taller and more muscular than was explainable.

It wasn’t until just after school ended and Chris came into the town square riding a dragon, wielding a flaming sword and sporting engraved full plate armor that the situated became at least marginally clearer.

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I’d had my share of tough video game bosses before. Oozerip the Resurrected from Genesis Dragon, who could only be beaten using a sword that took nearly 100 hours to craft in-game. Cindersoul from Revelation Song, who could only be made vulnerable to damage by completing an epic series of 99 sidequests. Larakoxe from Velocity Skipper, who could only be damaged one out of every 100 rounds. I’d beaten them all.

Even Cycoss, the legendarily tough optional boss from Oblivion Power who had one billion hit points (in a game where the maximum damage was 9999) had fallen to me.

But the Shadow Lady, the hidden final boss of Past Beta VIII, was tougher than them all. Apparently invulnerable to all damage, her first attack struck for more hit points than the player could possibly accumulate.

In fact, as far as I could see, she had never been beaten without the aid of a cheat, which in my mind robbed the endeavor of all its noble qualities. I resolved to beat the Shadow Lady the old-fashioned way.

As I sit here on the rubble which used to be my parents’ house, I wish I hadn’t.

We called ourselves ‘Supprimerlesens,’ which was a bit of an in-joke. Pierre, the lead developer, liked to say that video games subsumed and deleted the senses, so we slapped together the French phrase ‘supprimer le sens’ with no spaces.

It was a very innovative game, and a special processor in the arcade board allowed it to do amazing things with vector graphics…scaling and motion unlike anything else at the time, and more vectors on the screen at once than even dedicated vector systems. We combined it with a series of sophisticated, high-resolution sprites that formed the title, backgrounds, and some gameplay elements. It was all very abstract and geometrical, which is why we called it ‘Pythagoras.’

Of course we were our own testers at first. Everything was going well, and we had a working mocked-up arcade cabinet with schematics for mass-production and several interested arcade companies. Then we brought in outside testers from a local university. One of them had a grand mal epileptic seizure after just a few moments of gameplay. All those flashing lights and spinning colors…

The testers who weren’t susceptible to seizures loved the game, so we modified it and removed the backgrounds. We thought that was enough, but within a month the testers began suffering from a variety of neurological side-effects. Amnesia, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors…even a suicide. That should have been the end of things, but the French DGSE signals intelligence unit learned of this and bought us out. We produced a limited run of 10-12 machines, which were each modified by the DGSE before being distributed to ‘test markets’ in the United States.

Washington State, Maine, Montana, the upper peninsula of Michigan…we were told that the DGSE was going to iron out the bugs while using the game cabinets as dead drops for field agents. We beleived them, or told ourselves that we did…we were young, and ambitious, remember. The first murder-suicides put an end to all that.

In the 15th year of King Andalus’ reign, the peace of the noble land of Aegard was shattered. The legions of the Dark King, which had long slumbered in the shadowy depths to which they had been banished in the Halcyon Age, burst forth with new strength, besieging Aegard and threatening to lay all they touched to base ash.

While the Aegardian army struggled to hold back the Duskward at the land’s edge, darkling ones of every shape and persuasion ever sought to infiltrate the kingdom, that they might wreak havoc in the homes and hearts of the people and take by guile what they could not by force.

It so happened that after many months of brutal raids, a force of darkling ones, gathered in the dark hollows beneath the earth, burst forth near Aegard Keep. Led by the Dark King’s lieutenant Malefor, the evil host was bent on razing the keep and seizing its regent lord, the Princess Dalia. With the seat of his power in ruins and his daughter prisoner, King Andalus, away at the front, would have no choice but to surrender his land to the Duskward.

Atop a hillock overlooking the smoldering remains of Aegard stood Knight-Lieutenant Ramoh, resplendent atop his armored steed. Clenched in one mailed fist were orders from the kingdom’s chancellor to raise the siege and slay Malefor at any cost.
Ramoth’s longtime friend, Knight-Protector Jaril, was beside him. “I count a dozen troops of darklings,” he muttered, “with more surely veiled by the smoke. Be you prepared, knight-lieutenant?”

In response, there was a flash of moonlight on steel as Ramoh grasped the hilt of his blade; Tilnam the Kingbreaker, won from a dragon’s horde many years past, once wielded by no less than King Ysgar himself. The legendary sword glowed with a glorious light as it was unsheathed.

“Let them drink deeply of the Kingbreaker this eve,” Ramoh growled. He stirred his mount forward, and battle was joined. The close quarters and darkling polearms quicky rendered the mounts superfluous; Ramoh dismounted in a dizzying somersault, hewing the foul creatures’ heads from their necks as he did so. Jaril was beside him, cutting a parallel path through the Duskward. Within moments, the path to the gates was clear. Shouts and the musical ring of steel on steel issued from within the keep; time was of the essence.

Jaril strode up and pulled his helmet off. “I’ll brb,” he said wiping the sweat from his brow. “Gotta eat dinner.”

Ramoh nodded gravely. “Ttyl.”

Raymond looked up from his screen and rubbed his eyes. “That dick,” he muttered.

Jeremy knew that Aegard Keep was a dangerous place to pause. Even if he used the darkmeld ability on his Dragonforged Breastplate, chances were that if he moved away from the Raiders of Terra screen for just a second that he would return to his character’s cooling corpse.

Name: Variant
Sex: M
Age: 15
Weapon: Big-Ass Sword
Birthday: February 30
Catch Phrase: “…”
Favorite Dish: Sashimi
Favorite Literary Device: the metaphor

Our hero, the reluctant savior of the world. Hailing from the tiny peasant village of Dedmeet, Variant is a professional soldier that has returned home after five years of decorated service in the Imperial Army, where he rose to the rank of Colonel. Doesn’t like to share his feelings with others, and doesn’t like straightforward explanations. You must have him in your party at all times, since the other characters like to hang around in his coat pockets, leaping out only when they have something to say.

Name: Joy
Sex: F
Age: 15
Weapon: Handbag
Birthday: April 1
Catch Phrase: “Sooo cute!”
Favorite Semi-Obscure Adjective: Ferbile
Favorite Poker Hand: Two Pair

Our heroine, the bubbly yet mysterious wandering princess. Exiled from her home in Veakling Castle by the Imperial Army, she is traveling incognito throughout the world to gather support to take it back, and is also interesting in running up an enormous debt on the Royal Credit Card before it expires. Possesses a mysterious pendant of mystery that may hold the key to saving the world as we know it. Also taught advanced quantum physics as professor emeritus at Veakling University

Name: Hatchet
Weapon: Axe
Age: 18
Birthday: June 28
Catch Phrase: “Cut it off!”
Favorite Mystery Food Additive: Sodium penthalazorbate
Favorite Disease: Gout

The battle-scarred old veteran of ten years in the Imperial army and war buddy of Variant. Is rather hardheaded and occasionally slow, and his first instinct is to chop first and ask questions later. Once you get past his berserker rage and chop-lust, he’s really quite a sensitive, caring guy.

Name: Fitzbang
Weapon: His rod.
Age: 17
Birthday: April 31
Catch Phrase: “What’s in it for me?”
Favorite Cliche: Deus Ex Machina
Favorite Meat Consistency: Medium rare

The former Grand High Total Head Mage of the Imperial Magic Academy, kicked out in disgrace five years ago. Has become bitter and selfish in his old age, and now sells his powerful magic skills to the highest bidder. Hired by both the Empire and its enemies, he won’t hesitate to change sides if even the possibility of slightly more money is involved. Is an accomplished poet and novelist with a keen sense of dramatic irony as well as a nihilist and a vegan.

Name: Pootikins
Weapon: Atomic fluff balls
Age: 2
Birthday: Dec 31
Catch Phrase: “Pootikins!”
Favorite Salad Dressing: Ranch
Favorite Blender Setting: Puree

A secret character, only recruitable after completing a lengthy side quest after the fall of Whokarez but before the death of Xpendble. Place the chest on the pressure plate in the third level of the Clay Caves before opening it, and choose “yes” when the dialog box pops up. Pootikins isn’t very talkative–he (she?) can say only his (her?) own name, and Atomic Fluff Balls are hard to come by. Better skip this one.

Name: Kephija
Weapon: Long-ass Sword
Age: Unknown
Birthday: Unknown
Catch Phrase: “Unknown.”
Favorite Variable Mortgage Rate: Unknown
Favorite manner of faster than light travel: Unknown

The right-hand man of the Imperial Emperor of the Empire himself, and a total mystery. No one knows where he came from who he is, his shoe size, or anything else. Is an extremely capable soldier, able to defeat entire armies with a wink of his eye and a toss of the head. Joins you only briefly, just before the confrontation with the Omninoob.

“So what?” I said. “It’s just a game.”

“It is not ‘just a game'” Samson cried. “The Lawful Demon Tactics games aren’t just RPG’s, they’re the best stories ever told in any form!”

“Uh-huh, just like vegemite is the greatest spread of all time,” I scoffed. “You get too wrapped up in things, Sam.”

“It’s an acquired taste!” barked Samson. “And that’s beside the point. If you can’t grasp the subtle storytelling in a series about hereditary high school age demon summoners saving postapocalyptic Japan using blood rituals, nothing I can say will convince you.”

“Damn straight.”

“But Lawful Demon Tactics and Lawful Demon Tactics II: Diamond Chaos Unlimited are my favorite games of all time, okay?” said Samson, adding another suitcase to his pile. “That’s why the new one is such a big deal for me.”

“That doesn’t explain the whole go-to-Japan part of your plan,” I said. “If it’s not coming out in the States because the others didn’t sell enough copies–and who could imagine that?–just import it.”

“You don’t understand,” Samson whined. “They’re releasing it for Japanese smartphones. Smartphones! They won’t work with American wireless carriers! The only way to play the game is across the pond, with a six-month contract.”

“It was really ahead of its time,” said Dean. “Branching nonlinear storyline, conversation trees, and a fully-implemented stat/skill system. The graphics weren’t the best, and it was a hassle swapping out all those floppies, but Parallel Worlds: The Void was as good as video games got in 1984.”

“And the Cadillac Cimarron was as good as subcompact cars got in 1983, so what?”

“Well, there was this little thing called the video game crash. You wouldn’t have heard about it, seeing as you were a zygote at the time, but about half the industry went belly-up. Hardly anyone was in the mood for epics, even for home computers, so the game moved barely five thousand copies. It wasn’t until people started passing illegal copies around in the late 80’s that it became famous.”


“And it ended as a cliffhanger. You never find out the full story behind where you are or what’s going on. The company folded before they could finish the second installment. You could be sitting on the only copy in existence.”

“Okay, are you there? The door should say ‘to Ophidian’s Cloister.'”

Harv worked his controller. “Yeah. Who’s Ophidian?”

Jim’s sigh was audible even through the crackly cellphone connection. “Haven’t you been reading the books in-game? They fill you in on all the little bits of backstory!”

“Look, if I did that I’d be dropping 100 hours into this game instead of just 50,” said Jim. “I’m only playing it to match your awards and get my score in a reasonable place, and because it was Game of the Year in twenty different places.”

“And the fact that it’s been praised as having the deepest and most original story in years makes no nevermind to you, huh?” Jim said.

“Look, I called you to guide me through the Maze of Insanity, not to get a lecture,” Harv said. “I like games where the story is ‘kill the evil alien overlord and his 10,000 troops with big guns.'”

Another crackly sigh. “Okay, whatever. Once you’re in the cloister, go right, then up the stairs, and then right-left right. That will bring you to the Oubliette of Redemption.”

“And from there?”

“Pretty straightforward. Two circles of doors; just take the ones for the Solarium of the Holy Haunt and then the Spire of Honor and Truth and you should see the cutscene before the final boss.”

Harv shook his head. “Where do they come up with the names for these rooms?”

“Certainly not the team of award-winning fantasy and sci-fi authors that were mentioned in all the reviews you didn’t read as part of crafting the story you mostly skipped.”

A certain young man once bought a video game, despite its glowing reviews and rabid fans on the inter-web. Putting it in, he soon noticed a curious occurrence–the hour and minute hand on his wristwatch seemed to spin somewhat faster than before, and the cosmic ballet above his humble abode proceeded to dance doubletime as night followed day dar quicker than it ought. The young man was as a starving man at a banquet, ever craving more until the last drop was savored and done.

Upon finishing and feeling the solemn pride that comes with victory (as well as the bittersweet taste that comes with the end of many things), the young man went outside and spoke of his experience to friends.

“You have wasted your time!” said they. “While you lolled about in front of a screen, you could have been composing a sonnet, or painting a picture. We have been reading great works, and singing songs, and living, while you have been shackled to your set with the vacant stare of a simpleton?”

The young man thought on this. At length, he replied: “The worlds I have visited are no less unreal than any I could read or create myself. They are all equal in their untruth. And I am as inspired as I have ever been; a dozen new worlds may have their origins in that which I have seen, those for whom I have cared, though they be not real.”

Some were swayed by these words, others not. But the young man soon acted on them, and proved, at least to himself, that he had spoken truly.

“Sorry I’m late,” said Sean. “I had to stop by Fabrics Plus. Abby wants new curtains.”

Adam and Job snickered from behind the games counter, the half-processed inventory of Streets of Fury 3 all but forgotten.

“What’s so funny about that?” Sean asked. “Also, the first person who makes a lewd pun about drapes is fired. That’s my wife we’re talking about.”

No, no,” said Job. “It’s just…can you imagine what would happen if they ran Fabrics Plus like a GamerStore?”

“Oh, that’s right, I forgot that Yarn 2.0 drops today,” said Adam. “I’m glad; Yarn 1.0 was too easy to snarl.”

“I bet you had that plus last week’s Threadbane III on pre-order” Job retorted. “I sewed in the beta and got to keep a square yard as long as I didn’t show it before the release date.”

“Do you have any used paisley cloth? I want to trade in three square yards of berber for paisley,” Adam said in falsetto.

“I’m sorry, we only have enough paisley for our pre-order customers,” Job replied, putting on a stoner voice. “We’ll be getting another shipment in a week.”

“You two are idiots.” Sean sighed and walked toward the back of the store. “No wonder we’re behind in sales this month.”