A few days ago, early evening.
I type the character name, the password, hit the enter button. My computer screen flips through fantasy-themed images as an empty flat rectangle fills in and then turns into a green button displaying the words “play now”.
I click it.
I’m an ogre monk…in the forest, apparently. I’m standing next to a healing fountain that’s sprouting pastel light.
I run a few paces to the end of a path and the next realm loads.
As I walk forward, the edge of town appears and the avatars of other players slowly process into the game; buildings form and solidify as this different area fills in around me. I turn my character and look at the shopping district circling the main square. People are buying items and feeding horses and chatting in the plaza.
I drift by the shops and into an alley where the guild housing is arranged. Fancy houses are on the other side of town, across a river, on a hill. We’re in the cheap row that new guilds start in while slowly putting together funds (for either a move into one of the large houses or into a rustic house-boat that is smaller than the others but that unlocks the team fishing ability only available to the boat guilds).
I click the sixth door down the alley and load into the entrance room of my guild’s two story house; it’s an area where members can exchange gear in the shared bank or just park their characters while socializing; most people hang out in the large common room where there are decorative pool tables and couches that your avatar can actually sit on.
I walk into this area and stand in front of the tall, eternally lit fireplace. The flames are a low-glowing purple and blue. I open my inventory and sort through it, decide to go ahead and start cleaning it out; I’ve been procrastinating, putting off the chore for days.
I begin throwing anything worthless into the fire (the spare potions that are too weak for my experience level, the poisoned bird talons, the soured apples and so on).
A knight enters the room, walks over and begins doing the same thing, all of her expired food and used scrolls getting thrown into the flames.
I recognize her from around the house, but I don’t know her that well; her level is too high for me to be able to join her group quests. She’s nice- a dental assistant from Wyoming, seems to spend most of her nights playing online games while watching anime in the background. She lives alone and said one time she likes dealing with teeth more than the people they’re attached to.
The knight pauses her sorting and freezes in place for a moment; the little box that displays guild chat pops up on my computer screen.
The knight types, “I killed the scorned bandit a million times today and the loot was all trash, can you believe it?”
The box is on the lower left hand corner of my screen; I type back, “I believe it, those rangers that go around together, they went out half the day yesterday and came back with nothing. I think they were trying to get the new gem thing, whatever it is.”
“Monocle,” the knight corrects, “diamond monocle. Slightly boosts intellect.”
“Anyway,” I type.
She continues sorting her backpack’s inventory. One after another, she throws a dozen severed heads into the fire. “Henchmen,” she explains.
Our characters stand there for awhile, as if feeling the shared warmth of the pixelated fire that guild members use to burn trash and clear up precious inventory space. (The fire is a more aesthetically convenient way to manage trash compared to just throwing it out, which leaves visible clutter on the ground; many players don’t care, but this isn’t that kind of guild. The 40-person crew of mostly inexperienced players, all trying to make a go of it as an in-game fund and resource cooperative, voted almost unanimously to keep shared spaces tidy and organized.)
I stare at my computer screen, watching fake fire, hanging out. My character is wearing work clothes spell-enhanced for farm productivity. When last on, I had been out chopping logs in order to level up my strength numbers.
The knight’s name flashes in the chat box, which then begins filling up with sentences: “I’m kind of half sorting loot and half listening for the doorbell, I ordered these gourmet sandwiches and I’m waiting for the delivery guy. I think it’s actually a bed and breakfast kind of place and the guy who runs it just starting delivering meals around town as a way to scrounge up extra cash but he’s late is all that matters, I need sandwiches now. It’s like I’m double annoyed, I’m pissed that inventory upgrades cost 500 armored bear pelts are you serious and I’m pissed that my sandwiches are basically almost five minutes late. Wait I hear a car, mentally erase everything I just said.”
The knight goes still, idling. My character goes immobile as well.
I think for a moment, then type, “I know you’re getting the food, but when you’re back: I was thinking that for situations where people want the fastest possible delivery there should be like a t-shirt cannon deal but for tacos and gourmet sandwiches and so on, where food could be- safely, of course- shot at you from the street. It’s a terrible idea, but it’s a funny image to think about in my head.”
A few minutes later, she replies, “Ha, delivery trucks could have little food catapults installed on the roof.”
I type a laugh.
Everything is still for a bit. A witch enters the common room, stands next to us by the fire, offloads a long stream of scrolls and eyeballs. “Swamp zealots,” the witch explains.
The knight begins a new line of text. “Damn I don’t know what to do. I was saving this to wear as a joke, but I’m desperate to make space.”
The knight pauses, then drops a sparkly fairy dress with wings into the fire.
I hit the spacebar a few times and my character hops. I use a few half empty potions, just to get them out of the way, causing my health and defense stats to spike without any further benefit. I spin in place, killing time.
The witch types, “cya” and runs out of the room. It’s just the two of us again and then the knight says “Hey, take care, okay?” and logs out, vanishing in front of me.
I click the cog icon that brings up the exit option. I click it and the game flickers, drops away. The dark screen below reflects the room around me, square in the plastic frame like a giant pixel
I sigh and shuffle my feet on the carpet. The couch that I am on is an inactive spacebar, my head is the escape button.