Bill was a bit nervous as he rang the bell. The door opened, and he tried to sound confident.
“Hi, I’m here for the gamer meet?”
“Aha! New blood! Sure, come on in. Always room for one more,” said Zack. He was tall and imposing, but he had a friendly demeanor.
Zack led Bill into the dimly lit room. Bill took in the impressive array of hardware and the dozen or so gamers who were already plugged in while Zack quickly ran through a well-rehearsed introduction.
“We’ve been accused here of reducing life to an afternoon of gaming,” said Zack, proudly. “And here is the beautiful hardware that makes it all possible!”
Zack motioned somewhat dramatically towards a rack of servers. Bill recognized them as top of the line, very expensive. He was duly impressed.
“Yep, we generally run at about a million times real time,” continued Zack. “That means you can play a whole avatar life in under an hour!”
Bill had never played a full game from start to finish. He only used his little console at home, which would take weeks to finish a single game. Lacking the patience for that, he preferred to play short segments of many games.
“Now, you need to know our house rules. Did you bring an avatar?”
“Yes, I have a few –”
“OK, you can use yours today, but eventually we’ll need to configure you a new one. So, the rules. There’s really just one biggie: Never reveal your presence. If you can manage that, we’ll all have a fine time together.”
There was an edge to Zack’s voice when he said those last words which betrayed a bitter history. Bill was a keen observer, and he asked tentatively, “Did something bad happen?”
“Yeah, well… A little while back we were in the middle of a fairly decent game when this idiot newbie decides he needs to show himself, starts talking directly to the avatars, like he’s some kind of voice in the sky or something. I think he did it just for the lulz. Anyway, he freaks the hell out of them. Avatars were never intended to process that sort of thing, you know. Long story short, he made a fair mess of the game. All the other gamers were fairly pissed off, so we kicked him out.”
“I’ll bet he didn’t take that well,” observed Bill philosophically.
“No, indeed he did not. In fact, he refused to deactivate his avatar. Even when we finally had it killed, he found a way to bring it back to life. Finally, we had no choice but to remove it from the game by force, just to try to salvage what we could of this world. We made it look to the other avatars like he just floated away into the sky. It was the best we could manage. Well, because of that little incident, this game is now totally screwed up. It’s a shame, really. People worked hard on making that world.”
Bill nodded his understanding.
“So that’s a big rule,” continued Zack. “Also, no magic tricks, nothing that would seem to violate the rules of the physics engine. That can break the avatars, too. We just don’t play that way here.”
“Got it. So I just direct my avatar by implanting thoughts and feelings. Am I allowed to send any direct messages?”
This was a gray area in the house rules. Zack equivocated, “Personally, I don’t mind. Some find it offensive. I think it’s OK as long as the messages come from world-appropriate sources. For example, you can inject a message though some sort of entertainment device in the sim, or through a song or a newspaper, or whatever. But then, there’s no guarantee that your avatar will pay attention to it. Obviously, that depends on its configuration. And if it does get your message, and it tries to talk to the other avatars about it… Well, that’s a risk you take. The point is, do what you want, but be subtle. Talking directly at them is cheating, and it freaks them out. No burning bush nonsense.”
“Never mind. I’m still angry at that idiot vandal. OK, so have a look around, and when you’re ready, let me know which world you’d like to play, and we’ll get you set up.”
Bill plugged himself in to a few consoles in observer mode. There were so many interesting and meticulously detailed worlds to choose from. Finally he settled on one that looked a bit different, and not too challenging.
“Ah! You found the screwed up world I told you about. That one is called Earth. Nothing makes any sense there, but you can play if you like,” said Zack.
“Sure, it looks like fun. Who designed these avatars? I’ve never seen any like those before.”
“Oh, you like them? I helped a bit. The stringy stuff on the head was my idea. It serves a social function,” bragged Zack.
“Nice. OK, hook me up. Let’s do it.”
Bill plugged himself into the console. Zack reached a slender orange tentacle to the “Start” button, and a human child was born.