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Pixel Courage 18

So far as the world of Throne Quest was concerned, death was a Waiting Screen. Something felt off about that.

Still, with no other choice but to sit there and stare at the black words spread across a blank white screen, I read the message, “Omniscience taught me the patterns of this world. Once I mastered the patterns, I mastered the world.”

Bolded under the quote was the name of the man who’d supposedly said those words, “Panopticon.”

The lore was beginning to come together for me. There were several sages — the Thorn Sage, Stone Stage, and Rose Sage being among them — who had fought against a guy named Panopticon. This Panopticon had gained some sort of omniscience, which had forced The Sages to take them down, at great cost to this world.

But what was the point of it?

I thought back on Alex and I, coming out of our philosophy class during the second semester. To be entirely truthful, I’d only taken the class because Alex was taking it, and I wanted to be closer to Alex.

The teacher was an absolute windbag: old white guy with a goatee. Named Dr. Crais, or something. Dr. Crais never wore shoes while he taught the class, and instead of letting us have real debates, the vast majority of our sessions were spent listening to him pontificating on this, that, and the other thing.

He’d go on for an hour about a student in his previous class, who had apparently interrupted him. Crais really didn’t like getting interrupted, so he went on about how interruptions were the problem with the twenty-first century, and apparently Socrates was an asshole for asking so many questions.

Yeah, because Socrates was the asshole.

Still, Alex loved Crais, so I rarely spoke ill of the man.

One day, though, I didn’t have it in me to hide my disdain. Crais had spent the whole class period — an hour and a half, which was usually more than enough time for him to bore me to tears — dissing video games.

It came out of fucking nowhere. It’s not like anyone asked him his opinions on video games. It’s not like anyone actually cared what he thought about video games. We’d been assigned an excerpt from one of Michel Foucault’s books, and to be entirely honest, it didn’t make a lick of sense to me. So my hope had been that we’d talk about it, and he’d help us understand it.

I should’ve known better; we’d already had a month’s worth of rambles from him — or, as he liked to call his rambles, ‘important class time’.

Anyway, we’d been assigned this confusing Foucault reading, but instead of helping us understand it, he’d decided to drone on about a recent news story. Apparently, some kid had shot up his school. When people looked for someone to place the blame on, they blamed this game he’d been playing a lot, Bullet’s Reign: Dead Harmony.

Nevermind the fact that murder rates were lower than they had ever been. Nevermind that generations past had been so much more violent than we could ever be — nevermind the Inquisition, murderous Roman emperors, Nazis, gulags, and lynchings. Nevermind all the terrible things that’d been done before video games, and how little that sort’ve shit had been tolerated in this day and age.

No, none of that mattered, apparently games were the devil and they were responsible for everything bad that’d ever happened in this world.

Dr. Crais had taken the obvious argument: video games were bad because they were violent. They taught people violence and anger, made us violent and wretched and unlikely to see our fellow human beings as empathetic creatures.

Now this had gotten me pretty pissed off. I was never the biggest video game player, but I certainly liked to play these games when I could. Did AI make me uncomfortable? Sure. And it’s not like I was going to treat them like real living creatures — that was the sort of shit nutjobs and fetishists were into.

Still, video games were fun. And it was just too damn easy to blame them for the fact that a lot of people are just shitty.

People shot people because they were shitty. People hurt each other because they were shitty. And sometimes you could tell, but sometimes there was no way to separate the shitbags from everybody else: you just had to accept that the real world was filled with monsters.

That’s what I told the Professor. I raised my hand and we argued for thirty minutes — him pontificating, me actually trying to get real points across.

He said I should show respect for my elders, I said he should respect the future.

He told me video games had made me unable to deal with authority, I told him authority had made him unable to deal with the facts of this world.

Back and forth we lobbed ideas at each other, an intellectual tennis match that didn’t end until the class period was over.

I could tell Professor Crais wasn’t too happy with me at the end of the period. Sweaty and red-faced, he did congratulate me on being a challenging thinker. He said I should speak up more often in class. Still, there was something in the way he said it — a sort of condescending disdain.

I didn’t talk too much more during the rest of the semester; ended up getting a C in the class.

Still, I’ll never forget the conversation Alex and I had after class. After every class I walked back to her dorm while we talked. This time it was no different, except that usually the conversation was a lot of fun. She’d tell me her wild theories about whatever philosophy we’d been talking about.

This time, when she told me what she thought about class, she was also talking about me.

I’ll never forget that moment. We’d already hung out a lot. I’d walked her to and from class two times a week, and we’d hang out after class for hours. We’d gone to some parties, we’d spent so many lazy afternoons just laying in the grass and gazing at the sun.

She was wearing purple converse and a light blue shirt with white dragons on it. We were walking on the sidewalk, which connected the campuses to the Freshmen dorms. People were chilling all around us: eating, vaping, skateboarding.

But none of that mattered.

She didn’t look at me when she said, “I hate it when people get so emotional in arguments.”

I kept my eyes on the sidewalk. My face was red, because it was too hot out.

“Video games are great, but Professor Crais has a point. They teach us to be violent.”

It was the first time I’d ever strongly disagreed with Alex. Not only was there no correlation between video games and violence — there was a negative correlation! After the release of Grand Theft Auto, there were less carjackings in the US, not more. Correlation didn’t mean causation, but there was simply no reason to believe that video games caused violence.

“How do they teach us to be violent?” My voice sounded weak as I said it. No surprise — I hated my voice back then.

“By making us participate in violence,” Alex said. “Killing things for points is the basic goal of many games. Everything from Mario to Bullet’s Reign makes you kill.”

“We can… Don’t you think we can tell the difference between video games and reality?”

“Some can, some can’t,” Alex pushed her blond hair behind her ear. She still wasn’t looking at me. “It’s only going to get worse. You’ve seen the basic VR headsets people are putting out now, right? They’re only going to get more immersive. And people are going to have a harder time distinguishing between reality and video games.”

“Who even gets to decide what is and isn’t reality?” I asked.

“You’re making my point. Reality isn’t something you decide on. It is what it is.”

The sun was ridiculously hot. I wiped some sweat off my face.

“Yeah, uh, sorry.” There was a big knot in my stomach. Felt like it’d been tied so tight I wouldn’t be able to eat for a week.

We reached her door. I had a hard time swallowing. After managing to do so, I said, “It’s always good talking to you.”

“Yeah,” she said. She walked into her room and closed it.

I stood out there for a couple minutes, looking up at the sky, wondering why I had to go and be such an idiot.

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