That night brought the long-awaited chance to play the beta test of the new Dragon Epoch game. I was so excited to finally have another immersive game to play after months of waiting and replaying the old stuff. In spite of the artwork, which included scantily clad models painted as lithe elvish women with large, gravity-defying breasts, the game looked promising. So I cracked my knuckles (figuratively) and set myself down in front of the keyboard, ready to pwn this game.
“Wow look at this artwork,” Heath said from his desk as he studied the virtual, fantastical scenery on his brand new high definition screen. (I struggled not to be jealous of him since he’d acquired it, but at least I’d gotten his hand-me-down out of the deal).
I turned back to my screen, awed by the artistic, colorful depictions of the fantasy landscape, even with all of the display options turned down so I could run the bare minimum graphics on my computer. Rugged, distant mountains, yellow meadows, gently trickling streams and forests. Even, as time progressed, the game depicted the progression of the seasons.
“Let’s get this party started!” I said once I was done with the character creation screen. I’d chosen an elven Spiritual Enchantress, with long flowing black hair and eyes a neon shade of green. Of course, the poor dear didn’t have a scrap of decent cloth to her name to dress herself in. Her ass cheeks were out in the wind, subject to full exposure to the elements. Gritting my teeth together, I determined to get her some junk armor as quickly as possible to cover the poor thing up.
“This old fart elfy dude wants me to pick flowers for him,” Heath grumbled. “Stupid ass quest.”
We found ourselves outside the city wall after having explored for a few minutes. The quests led us out into the fields outside the city. And indeed he’d found a quest from an aging elf man dressed in a strange military uniform accentuated by a kilt.
“Aww… how sweet!” I said. “He lost his one true love and he wants to remember her by taking flowers to a shrine in her name. I think that’s really romantic.”
“What do you know about romance?” Heath asked. “The girl who never dates. Who never even goes out. Forget ‘girl geek,’ you’re the girl hermit.”
I laughed. “Social lives are so overrated. Especially when you have a game like this to play when you stay home with your bestie.”
After the first hour of our newest addiction, I could tell it was only going to get better (our enjoyment) or worse (our addiction), depending how you looked at it. This game was like crack, or meth. And we had a blast running around Yondareth, the world of Dragon Epoch, our newest and most interesting method of escape.
I couldn’t wait to venture out and explore more of the world It turned out that I didn’t have to be so much of a hermit, because we met our first new friend that night—a human healer who went by the name of Persephone, as in the Goddess of the Underworld. That meeting was a simple matter of her putting up her LFG tag (which denoted her as looking for a group) and for the two of us to be badly in need of healing. Heath had created a barbarian mercenary, a huge warrior that towered over my demure, slight elf woman. Fragged was as big and brawny as Heath was in true life, with muscles upon his muscles. As far as I was concerned, he was a hit-point absorbing machine—or as I liked to refer to him, my meat shield. My adopted spiritual enchantress avatar was called Eloisa.
“Man, this is interesting, but I have some complaints and bitches already,” Heath said. “Lots of hot eye candy for the straight dudes to look at. But not much in the way of hot men for the gays.”
“Or the straight girls,” I added. “Don’t forget us!”
He laughed. “I’m not about to, but I think this game might have. Jeez, look at the double D’s on that Valkyrie Mama. Wow. Wouldn’t that hurt running around with all that décor on the front hood?”
I looked over his shoulder at the avatar of another unknown player while our new friend, Persephone cackled over the voice chat.
I smirked. “Ten to one says that’s a guy playing her. And he used the customization features to make her huger than Dolly Parton.”
“Huh…want to invite her to our group and find out?”
And bingo, I was right. It was a guy. A guy under the age of eighteen. I nearly fell on the floor when Persephone asked him how old he was. I mean, I seriously had to put my hand over my mic because I was laughing so hard I was crying. Even Heath couldn’t keep a straight face as he proceeded to befriend the almost-pubescent young man.
We grouped with him again a few times after that first night, too, always making remarks amongst ourselves about the mangos, gazabas, melons or whatever fruit we chose to compare them to that night. It’s a good thing the bra-makers of Yondareth were industrious enough to invent something for adequate support even in the days before underwire was a possibility.
During that first week, we grouped with Persephone every night, learning more about her in true life. We discovered that she was a college student from British Columbia, Canada and that her name in real life was Katya. It was really kind of amazing how quickly we clicked and became fast friends, even in the virtual world. I had only dabbled with Massive Multi-Player Online Roleplaying games before this. But now I was truly appreciating the appeal. Before, I’d quickly grown bored or just tired of “grief” players who got their enjoyment from making life miserable for all other players around them.
We followed quests which took us out to broader and more dangerous areas that led to still more quests to complete. In fact, the game seemed to be quest, quest, quest. And I loved every minute of it—even the tedious ones. Because the company was great! And there was an interesting story behind even the simplest of quests—like being asked to wander to the next field and pick a bouquet of daffodils for a doddering but kind old elf man.
Katya was quickly becoming our go-to girl and we sought her out every night that first week to work together on quests and level up. And it was on the last night of that first week, while still working on the beta test phase, that we made a new friend—mostly because we needed someone to do more damage so we could kill the monsters faster. We found a spearman named FallenOne to help us get the job done.
Unlike Heath, Katya, and me, FallenOne didn’t use the voice chat feature. He said it was because his equipment wasn’t working, but we wondered if he was just shy. The beauty of MMOs was that necessity made extroverts out of the most withdrawn introvert.
That first night together, though, we found him very helpful. He had a solid knowledge of the game, which was vital to those of us newbies (read: all three of us) who were still floundering around figuring out how things work.
“The quests are tiered,” he explained. “So finish the low level ones first and the higher level quests will open up. They interconnect. Like a web or network.”
We’d all only been playing this game for about eight days, so I was amazed. I was also surprised he was still the same level as us. “How do you know so much about this game?” Persephone asked during our first night together as a group.
I get around was his only answer. There *was a closed alpha test before this, you know.
There was a long pause amongst us.
“Ohhhkay. FallenOne, you are officially the mystery man,” Heath declared.
Just the way I like it, Fallen replied.
“So I guess this means we don’t get to know your a/s/l?”
a = old enough to know better, s = yes, as often as possible and l = here and there
“And Yondareth, of course,” I said cheekily. “Where boobs defy gravity and men are hearty, strong and appealing to all. All except those attracted to men, that is.” I said, laughing as Heath made a face.
Wait, what? asked Fallen.
“I just mean that I don’t think the game creators realize that women play this game, too.”
I’m sure they realize that. Why wouldn’t they? But of course they are going to market more to men. After all, statistics are statistics and most players of these types of games are male.
“Pfft. Yeah,” I said. “And it will stay that way unless they tone down the skimpy lingerie armor and the ginormous boobies.”
I got nothing against ginormous boobies.
“Then give us some nice bulging packages as a nice counterpoint,” Heath said.
But as a chick, don’t you want your character to be hot in the game?
“Chicks can kick ass, too. Not just be eye-candy”
I’m sure the game producers would appreciate that kind of feedback from the beta testers… “More eye-candy for the female characters.”
“Or even better—equal opportunity eye candy! I think I’ll submit that into the virtual suggestion box. Too bad it will be immediately round-filed and never get read.”
Hmm. The sarcasm is strong with this one.
“Oh, Fallen, you have no idea,” Heath said. “I live with Her Majesty, the reigning monarch of All Things Sarcastic.”
So I see. Such cynicism. I wonder if the game will be able to live up to your incredibly high standards, Eloisa.
“I find other outlets for when the sarcasm overfloweth,” I said.
“Indeed the pen is mightier than the sword. In this case, literally—the virtual pen will becomes mightier than the virtual sword of Yondareth.”
You’re a writer?
I waved Heath off but he spilled the beans far too soon. “Worse. She’s a blogger, my friend.”
I flipped Heath the bird across our shared table and he stuck his tongue out at me.
You blog? About what? Gaming? Studying? Knitting?
Heath bust out laughing and before he could answer, I interjected. “Heath is not allowed to give further information about my blog on pain of death from me. And believe me, I can make it very painful.”
“She blogs about feminism and gaming. See? I’m not afraid of you!” Heath sent me a wink.
Link please. Must read.
“No snarky commenting allowed, btw. And you can’t blow my cover. I never reveal my character name or what server I’m on.”
Do you get harassed or something?
I shrugged. “Sometimes. Nothing serious though, fortunately.” I was lucky. Some women had been seriously harassed for speaking about in the man’s world of gaming. With threats of violence and cyber-attacks, too. It was awful. I’d been lucky due mostly to my smaller platform.
Heath started typing furiously on his keyboard and I assumed he was sending Fallen the link. Oh well, why be secretive about it? I put my thoughts up on that blog for all the world to read. Why not the poor shy guy we’d grouped up with for the night?
So how long have you 2 been dating? Fallen suddenly asked.
“Who two?” Heath answered. “Us two?” Heath looked up at me and I started snickering—hard.
“It’s not that funny,” Heath smirked. “Fallen we aren’t dating. We’re just mutually adopted siblings and now roommates. I like guys. She doesn’t like people at all.”
I bit my lip but nodded approvingly at his explanation. “Oooh. Maybe Fallen likes guys, too! Too bad you’re taken.”
Heath put a hand over his mic and said, “This guy is a middle aged mailman living in his mom’s basement, what do you want a bet?”
I shrugged. I kind of hoped not. FallenOne was intriguing, but his secrecy was pretty worrying. Odds were that Heath was closer to the truth than I wanted to admit.
“There’s four of us here in this group. We should recruit a fifth person and start a guild,” Kat said suddenly. “We can call ourselves The Misfits!”
Heath made a face. “Doesn’t sound very period-authentic.”
I can’t join a guild, sorry, replied FallenOne. In fact, I have to go. Exhausted beyond words right now. You have all held me hostage with the witty banter tonight. Almost forgot I have to be up reeeaaaally early.
I frowned at that, checking the clock. Shit, it was already midnight and the time had passed like it was standing still. Wow. I had an early morning class the next day, too. “Ugh, I need to go, too. Chemical Analysis lab in the morning.”
You’re a chemist?
“Premed,” I answered.
“Yeah, our Mia is a brainiac. She wiles away most of her spare time studying, even while I try to lure her away with the promise of gaming. She’s a regular party animal, all right.”
“We’ll see if it’s all for naught once I take the MCAT.”
“Medical College Admissions Test. The biggie to get into med school. Four more months.” I blew out a tight, nervous breath, feeling that same old wave of nerves hit me.
Well you all, it was nice meeting you. Maybe I’ll see you around again sometime.
“You should group with us again, Fallen,” Kat said. “We’re lots of fun and we could use more spearman DPS.”
Maybe! I’m kind of a free spirit, though. But I’ll definitely look you up. I’ve added you all to my friends list.
“Same,” Heath replied.
And then he was gone. “Well he’s a strange one,” Heath said as we logged off.
I shrugged. “He’s shy. Seems pretty nice, though.”
“We’ll never see him again. He’ll either move off to another beta test or roll up a new character when he gets bored with this one. One of the problems with MMORPGs is that you meet new peeps, make friends, hang out, have a lot of laughs and then the person disappears without a trace.”
I shrugged. “Well that would suck but I guess if that’s the way it goes…”
Heath held his arms above his head stretching. “I gotta get up in the morning and help Brian get ready to list some of his stuff on eBay.”
I raised my brows. “Ah, so he’s decluttering to prepare for the move?”
“Uh…” his eyes shifted. “Yeah.”
I shrugged. “I’ve got some free time tomorrow. And a few apartments to check out. I’ll report back.”
“Let me know if you want me to come along.”
I licked my lips, hesitating. “Sure thing. But I won’t want to tear you away from helping Brian tomorrow so definitely another time.”
On that awkward note, we hit the sack. And I couldn’t completely recall later but I could swear I had a dream about a middle aged, balding mailman who lived in a basement and played video games all day.
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