Authors Note: Thank you guys so much for CPOTM!!!
The Fine Line
Hello. My name is David. I am a thirty year old male, and I work in a branch of the legal department. This particular branch is the one that deals with product recalls, media censorship and rating, all that stuff. It's 9:00 on a Saturday, browsing through a folder of case files that I can work on. Most of them seem tedious, and not worth the payout. Call me lazy, but if you had to write a full 2 page analysis of nuclear energy kits and asbestos coated spy gear just to prove that they aren't safe for children, you would get sick of it as well. I was just about to call it in for the day and test out something called "Lawn darts" when I hit the jackpot. The claim is that a game demo was raffled off as a part of a marketing ploy to generate hype for the game. There were numerous complaints regarding emotional trauma, depression, and mania. The developers want me to play through the game to see if it should be released to the public or not. This should have been an easy job. All I had to do was play the game, take a look at its features, write up a report, and get paid for it. Naturally, I accepted the job, and within a few weeks a copy of the game was handed to me in the mail. The first thing I did was take a look through the manual. The game was titled “Second Life”. It was a simulation game boasting of true to life graphics, sound, as well as self-learning AI. Thanks to the developer’s next-generation engine, the game was able to support and optimize these features, and boasted a near constant 150 frames per second with recommended specs. There was also a letter sent from the company that came with the game. They stated that if I ever felt discomfort in the game, I should feel free to take breaks. They also wanted me to keep a record of what happened in the game, and describe what I felt through the whole play through.
After installing the game on my computer, I started it up and was greeted by an extensive character creation screen. There were several tabs full of options for facial features alone. The tabs included some pretty neat features such as voice, race, and even age. It was mind blowing, and I must have spent about an hour trying it all. I decided to have a bit of fun by making my character look as weird as possible. I gave him white hair, green eyes, short legs, large torso, and a ton of body fat. The character, although bizarre, looked quite real. Not in the sense that I would see someone like this in the real world, but rather, it looked as if it was a real person. I started up the game, and tried out the controls. I could move, run, jump, climb, and crouch, attack, standard stuff, mostly. I started out in a park in the middle of a town square. I tried talking to someone, and they seemed a bit uncomfortable. I even saw a kid pointing at me, and a mother telling him off. After the person walked away, I started examining the town.
I have to say, with headphones on, and maximum graphics settings enabled, this game looked… real. And I was quite impressed with the AI, despite having seen only one conversation. I decided to try and attack someone. I walked up to a family, and was about to brawl… But I didn’t want to. I felt bad trying to attack a family that had kids in it. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, as games such as Grand Theft Auto, or Just Cause 2 made their AI either total jackasses, or lacking in any depth or emotion whatsoever, but this was different. I decided to avoid the family, and went up to a man walking alone. I punched the guy in the nose, and I saw blood coming out of it. The man looked baffled, and immediately began to punch me. It was just about then when I realized that I didn’t have a life meter, or any sort of HUD. I didn’t know how much damage I was getting, but I could tell my character was hurt. I tried punching, but the man was able to avoid it. By then, my character had doubled over in pain, and it seemed like the man stopped. By then, I started hearing sirens. I tried to move, but the man grabbed me, and didn’t let me go. By then, I noticed the pedestrians. Most were looking at me, but were quick to look away when I met their gaze. Some even jeered at me. I felt like I had really messed up. The police took me away in a police car, and took me to the police station. He said the bail was $1,000 dollars. I told him I didn’t have the money, and he put me in the cell. But then something odd happened. I was trying to figure out how to wait out the jail sentence, but nothing came up. I waited for a while, and then figured it out. The jail sentence was in real time. I didn’t have any saves on the character, and I figured I might as well just create a new one.
This time, I made the character look exactly like me, except I made him a lot stronger than I was. I decided that I would save when I finished, and would try to win a fight. I decided to pick a skinny man to fight, and I ended up kicking some ass. But I had to say, I felt a pang in my stomach as I did so. Seeing the man react to each and every blow was not only emotionally charged, but it felt like I was really making an impact on the world I was in. After I had beaten the guy to the ground, I ran away from the scene, some people tried to chase after me, but this would prove futile; the souped up body I gave my character really gave me an edge during combat, and I was able to outrun the crowds chasing me. After a while of walking around, I decided to try to get a gun. I went to a police station, and tried to steal one. It was about then that I realized that pressing the X button interacted with pretty much anything. I could talk to anyone, and when I tried to steal a gun from the police station, it worked. I hid it in my pocket, and felt extremely nervous walking out past the clerk. But now that I had my gun, I was going to have a bit of fun.
The moral obstacle that I had felt before had somewhat disappeared. I shot at a window, and it shattered. People started looking at me, and some backed away. I thought it was pretty cool that I was able to make an impact on the world like I did. It was invigorating. I then thought that if the game was supposed to be a simulator of real life, I had to eat. And so I went into an apartment building, went to the top floor, and broke the lock. I was able to shoot down the residents, and I felt more comfortable with it this time. I then noticed a computer, and went online. It was awesome to think that I was using a working, functioning computer inside of a computer game. How Meta. I thought to myself. I then had an idea. I got a match and some alcohol. Going down to the basement, I lit the alcohol up and I threw it at the machinery. As fast as I could, I entered the elevator and left the building. The spectacle that followed was shocking. The building started to fall. I ran away as fast as I could, but still couldn’t resist looking back at the destructive force that I invoked. The cause and effect that I had in the game was riveting.
After that, I had just begun trying to find out new ways to interact with the world. I could run cars into buildings, and see a realistic display of the crash. I could throw a molotov at a forest, and would see reports of a wildfire on the news later. I even noticed that the window I broke when I first fired the police gun was being fixed. I must have been distracted, because I got a call from my boss asking if the report on the game was done. I knew that if I sent a failed report in, they would take this masterpiece away from me. But if I had it approved, I might get fired. I told him that I needed a bit more time analyzing the features, as the game was quite massive. He said that he’d extend the time period to a week longer. And so I was going to make the best of it.
I started causing chaos in any way that I possibly could, and the game reacted as if it were real. If I drove a car into a pillar, the pillar would fall, and some of the building would crumble. If I shot a car’s tire, it would pop, and send the car spinning out of control. I spent the whole week doing experiments on the city to see how it would react. I boarded a plane, and was able to hijack it. I flew the plane around for a while before crashing into a building. I died, though. So I loaded my last save. As I was doing this, I noticed that it was the end of the week. I’d have to send in the report and the game tonight. I decided to play for one hour more, then send in the report. But as for now, all I wanted to do was play. The game immersed me with it’s graphics, sound and artificial intelligence. It felt like I was controlling an actual human being in a real world like a puppetmaster. I could make my character do things that I would never have the chance or courage to do in real life. I could rob a bank, steal a race car, blow up a building, all while knowing that if I failed, I could reload a save from before. And with the vast amount of things that I was able to do in the game, I hadn’t even scratched the surface.
A day later, the ingredients for the explosives I was going to make came in, and I went to work. The crafting system was quite complex, although I liked the animation the game made with your character’s hand when you crafted an item. After I finished making the explosives, I went out into the city, and found the tallest building I could find. I went up to the corners of the building and placed the explosives there. Running away from the building, I detonated them. I was knocked down to the ground, and felt a sharp pain in my back. What I then realized hit me like a bus:
I wasn’t playing a game anymore.