I walked down the cobblestone path of Charon, hoping to get out of the city so that I could just get away from the human-like NPCs.
It was easier out in Meltdown Jungle and The Weeping Plains, where I didn’t have to deal with these NPCs complaining about their feelings, their screaming. The NPCs out there were more recognizably inhuman — they were recognizably monstrous.
It made me think about the frontier. How we’d lost it so long before I was born. How it was impossible to be a cowboy, slinging your way through the plains, exploring new land and not being bound by so much civilization.
In a sense, that’s what video games offered: they gave you that sense of a frontier, where nobody knew who you were, where you could escape and do what people were meant to do. You could go out there and fight, survive, kill.
All these thoughts swirled through my head as I made my way toward the gatehouse. Walking down the cobblestone path, which merchants lined up on both my left and my right, I tried to avoid their gaze.
The ones who weren’t busy had a look of dead-eyed half-life, which bothered me. Standing in a corner, though, was a little boy. He was crying.
I walked up to him. Observed the fact that he wasn’t wearing armor — just a plain green tunic. Surely a PC would put on some sort of armor. And thinking about it, I’d never seen a PC cry.
Probably an NPC? Still, something about seeing him — a brown-haired youth, tears running down his face — made me feel compelled to stop. A part of me didn’t want to. A part of me thought, Fuck NPCs. They’re not worth the trouble, unless you’re trying to kill them. But still…
Something in me just wouldn’t let the little boy stay there crying like that.
“Hi,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
I stood there, feeling cold.
“I…” the little boy stammered. “I… I….”
“You can tell me.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s…” his voice was soft and unsure, such that I could barely make out the word.
“What?” I asked. “What is it?”
In so many ways, I hated talking to people. They would lie to you, manipulate you, use your for their own gain and drop you in a moment’s notice. But kids I was alright dealing with. They were people, and thus fundamentally flawed. But the lies were easy to see through, as were the manipulations.
As for using you for their own gain? Well, in a way, that’s what mentorship is all about. The older generation is supposed to give to the young. It’s supposed to make sure they’re safe. If the younger generation gives back? That’s great. But it’s not a requirement. Investing in the future is more important than investing in the past.
The moments were long before the little boy began to speak again. This seemed to be the start of a mission, but if it was, it was taking an oddly long time to get.
Seriously, what sort of game mechanic was this?
Finally, he said, “My Mom. She’s gone.”
“Where’d you lose her?” I asked. “Do you remember?”
“She… monsters… the dragons took her.”
“Dragons?” I didn’t like the sound of that. Fighting multiple dragons? Dealing with one dragon had been tough enough.
“The Blood Dragons,” the little boy said. “They took my Mom to The Sewers.”
“I’ve never been to The Sewers. Will you show me how to get there?”
“Yeah, I can… Please help me.”
“I will,” I said. More likely than not, the dragons were going to kill me. But I just couldn’t tell this kid no, not with his mom gone. “You just have to show me the way.”
Without another word, the kid ran off. I followed.
For a second, I got caught up in my head, in my own thoughts. It was weird to think that I was running here, along the buildings that were a weird mix of Greco-Roman and Medieval, with little bits of modernity thrown in.
Because really, I wasn’t running at all. My brain thought I was running. Everything in my body was telling me I was running.
But in truth? I was sitting alone in my room.
Watching this fake kid, I felt a pang of loneliness. What did it mean, that so much of my time was spent interacting with algorithms, instead of people?
The thought consumed me, until we reached an entryway to The Sewers. It was a metal grate. I looked and saw that under the metal grate, there lay a fast-moving stream of water.
“She’s down there,” the boy said. The grate had hinges, so that boy was able to pull on it and open up a whole I could enter through. He pointed for me to enter the dark Sewers, filled with fast-moving water and dragons.
“Fuck,” I said. Then, realizing I probably shouldn’t swear at a kid, I said, “Aw, shit.” That didn’t really help matters. So I said, “Hey, when I get your mom out of their, make sure not to mention that I said fuck and shit in front of you.”
“I promise,” the kid said. “Just get her out of there, please.”
I looked down at The Sewers. At the ladder that would take me into that dark hellhole. I took a deep breath.
I’m totally going to die, I thought, descending into The Sewers.