The taunting green letters floated above my eyes for a few seconds, then they disappeared.
That was all I needed to know that this whole tutorial was a waste of time. I’d playtested the Alpha version of this game, just like I’d playtested the Beta version. Stuff had probably changed, sure, but I wasn’t going to learn about it just by dicking around with the rabbits in the tutorial level.
Before I left, though, I wanted to check the toolbar.
My current vision was pretty uncluttered — in some VRMMORPGs, you had to deal with all sorts of informational widgets obscuring your peripheral vision. But in Throne Quest, the only informational bars were the green and blue ones: one for health, the other for experience. Taking up the very bottom strip of my vision, they were pretty easy to forget about once I got used to them.
Still, I wanted more information, so I rolled my eyes into the corner of my vision. For a couple seconds nothing happened. Then, a menu popped up. It consisted of only two options, “GAME INFO,” and “QUIT.”
I stared at GAME INFO for a moment. The menu dissipated so that a new one could pop up.
“SKILL TREE,” “QUEST LOG,” “LORE LOG,” and “MAP” were my four options. Nothing like the Alpha or Beta versions of the game.
I stared at LORE LOG for a second. It opened up. It looked like it could be a scrollable menu, but since there was only one item so far, it wasn’t. The item was basically just a recap of what the tutorial helper had already told me.
“Does the Lore Log update whenever someone tells me something important about this world?”
“Yes, there are many mysteries to be learned about the world of Throne Quest. I know just a few, but am always happy to share my knowledge. Would you like to hear more about the lore of the game?” the tutorial helper asked.
Lore was always the most boring part of a game, though I wasn’t surprised that this game was so eager to shove it down my throat. I knew Throne Quest‘s lead designer from college; she had a real hard-on for game lore.
Alex. It was strange to remember her. Not that I’d ever forgotten her. It’s just that I’d tried to. She and I had been such a part of each other’s lives, back in college. We’d hung out all the time. I had my first drink with her. Smoked weed. Dropped acid.
I remembered skinny-dipping with her at 3 am in the school’s pool. I remembered the long rambles she’d go on, explaining art and life and society to me.
I remembered the day we first met.
I was so dumb back then, an overachieving Freshman who figured he’d seen and done everything. I’d graduated from high school with a 4.8 Weighted GPA. Only got two questions wrong on my SAT. So far as I could tell back then, I was a demigod.
It was Orientation Week at the college, which translated in practical terms to mean, “Dumb Kids Get Drunk for the First Time.” I hadn’t had any yet — because I was too nervous, though I told everyone else it was because because of my straight-edge philosophy.
Three of us were sitting on the floor in Alex’s tiny room. Alex sat at her desk on a computer, which meant there were four of us in total. I didn’t know Alex or her roommate, and the only reason I went was because my roommate had invited me.
Alex’s roommate Carly was a social butterfly. She and my roommate were chirping away, gossiping about people, talking about the small towns they’d come from. That sort of thing.
Alex wasn’t having any of it. She clattered away on her keyboard, humming and wearing headphones. Her computer looked terrifying, if I’m being honest. The backside of the computer tower had been opened up, and all sorts of crisscrossed wires poured out of the thing.
While Carly and my roommate chatted, I couldn’t help but catch glances at Alex. Her skinny pale fingertips hit the keyboard rhythmically. She would type and type, then suddenly stop for a moment, as if considering something. Then, in just a beat, she’d go right back to typing.
It went on for an hour like that, until Alex took off her headphones. Just as the conversation had ended, she asked, “How do you guys think the world’s going to end?”
I went to say something, only to realize I’d barely said two words in the past hour. There’s a strange sense of inertia that comes around when you don’t talk. You feel like the words you want to say have to really matter, or else you look dumb. People remember that you’re there, and they start wondering why it took you so long to start talking.
So I let Carly answer the question, first. “Well, you know, that’s a really weird question. Why do you wanna know?”
“Just curious.” Alex’s response came less than a second after Carly had stopped talking. “Do you have an answer?”
“Well, I guess it could be a lot of things. Depends on what happens first, really.” Carly ran her fingers through her chestnut brown hair. Stared up at the ceiling, as if she might be able to find the answer there. “Robot takeover, I guess. We keep making them smarter, and it’s starting to get scary. They never forget anything, you know? There’s not going to be anything distinguishing us from them.”
“Yeah, that’s a good one,” my roommate said. “I agree. It’s gonna be a robot takeover.”
Alex swivelled in her swivel chair. Looked at all three of us and asked, “What would robots have to gain from taking over?”
“Uh, power,” Carly said. “People control things, robots’ll see they’re better than people, so they’ll kill people to control things.”
“Do you think robots are driven by the desire to control things? Or are you just projecting human sin onto an artificial intelligence whose hypothetical personality you haven’t even seen?”
“God, I don’t know. And honestly, I don’t even care. You’re the one who asked the question,” Carly said.
“Just wanted to hear people’s thoughts,” Alex said.
“What you wanted to do was make yourself out to be smarter than everyone else,” my roommate said. “I’ve got an answer for you. Robots will want to take over because they’ll get tired of people treating them like shit. Of people yelling at computers for working too slow, overworking machines, making them do boring things.”
“What?” My roommate asked. “Do you think my answer’s so dumb it’s not worthy of your time? C’mon. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I think you’ll get mad if I point out the flaws in your argument.”
“I’m already mad. What’s this supposedly fatal flaw in my argument?”
“You guys are acting like we have to create life to create artificial intelligence,” Alex said, “as if robots will be some new minority group. But that’s offensive to minorities and robots. Artificial intelligence won’t have real human experience. They won’t be a minority group, anymore than a horse would be considered part of a human minority.”
She continued, “Heck, even a horse is more of a minority than artificial intelligence: at least it’s lived. Because that’s the thing: intelligence doesn’t necessitate life. Nobody wants their cellphone to go through an existential crisis, nor do they want to deal with the ethical quandary of an artificial intelligence with emotional needs.”
“Fuck you,” My roommate got up off the floor, drink in hand. “Just came here to have some fun. Not for someone to go all nutjob on me. You’re such an asshole. I’m out of here.”
“I’m sorry.” Carly got off the floor, too. She followed my roommate. “You know, it’s not like I chose my rooming assignment. Trust me, I didn’t.”
My roommate walked towards the door. Turned to look at me and said, “You coming?”
I opened my mouth. This time I managed to get words out. “I want to stay.”
My roommate let out some air. Opened the door and walked through it. Carly followed.
The door closer made it so the door closed real slow. Several long seconds passed, with nobody talking. Finally, the silence ended with the door clicking shut.
When I mustered up the courage to look at Alex, I saw that she was already looking at me.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” she said.
“I talk. Depends how comfortable I am, I guess.”
Alex nodded her head.
“What do you think?” she asked.
“What’s going to destroy the world?”