Confessions of a Virtual Warrior

by Anonymous

Screenshot of Asherons Call

There are two lives that I am living two that I live now every day. One is the life of an artist: quiet, obscure, philosophical. The other involves an internet world, one that takes its shape as a MMORPG, or massive multi-player online role-playing game.

The task before me seems truly daunting. I make a point of telling a tale that conveys how real this other life is and how that reality, like this one, is built upon human relationships. I bite the inside of my lower lip and my eyebrows press against the bridge of my nose. Forgive me for my hesitation, but I am not sure that a personal, confessional, account will work and yet I know no other way. In person,an intimate conversation might be compelling, but here on the printed page it can appear a little...exhibitionistic? Heh, such a word.

As in real life, my game life has no simple beginning point at which to begin. Every place I think of seems to have a prior event that put me where I ended up. So I must simply jump somewhere into the middle of this tale which I have yet to write. If only my skills were better.

You see? I still hesitate. The world that I enter through the computer at night is AC , or Asherons Call (1). Every night something happens. Last night was significant: Mik, my former patron, came back.

Kashri, his patron and mine, was in heaven. She gushed with happiness. It was embarrassing to listen to her but I couldnt squelch her or tell Mik somehow to get her to stop using the vassal channel(2). He knew that I was her vassal too, now, and could hear what she said to him. I wonder if this was what it was like before he quit in June, and I wonder if her other vassals found it as awkward then as I do now. The others are long gone so I cannot ask them. Ah yes, Mik is back.

Is she in love with him? Riugu thinks something is going on, although he put it into more specific terms (he said its like phone sex and I laughed). If only I hadnt felt the compulsion to ironically comment to him on the current state of happiness in our branch of the allegiance tree. Yet theres the possibility of some truth in his insight. I certainly have my own experience that resembles what I see in hers, and Riugu may have his.

Was it really just over a year ago? Time moves so quickly in the ether worlds. Events stack up, tumble over each other and race to multiply and divide. I was playing in another world then, my first. And yes, to get to one of the points of this writing, I did fall in love.

There it is. Okay, I was caught off guard and now I am wiser. It has not happened again nor will it. In the end, friendship is much more real. When it happened, I truly did not want to be in love even though I was amazed, enraptured, surprised, and yes, happy. How I laughed, laughs of delight. My heart pounded, my cheeks flushed. And I felt confused. I loved my husband in real life and I knew that this other love could not be, even as I was so enchanted and charmed by he who adored me in the game.

This first alternate life of mine began in 1999 right after the death of an important family member. I was shocked, depressed, unable to proceed effectively with my real life, caught up in memories and mourning. It gave me an escape filled with new learning and new experience.

January 19
Yesterday I tried Clan Lord(3). Marv has played for a couple months and he said Id like it. He showed me how he moves his character around and a little bit about how to fight. I dont know if I like it or not.

Funny how nervous I get when I go to join the game my stomach gets queasy. I appear in the middle of a strange town surrounded by people that I dont know and I cant read. My character is named Gorisha, a Zo healer. I feel funny being her, kind of unfriendly, uncoordinated, tall, and hulky like her icon.

Maybe I shouldnt have chosen Zo? Is it that I feel self-conscious, scared and dumb because I havent figured out how to play this game and I dont know these people? Or is it this icon, a cartoon-like representation of myself? And I am wondering what do they think of me? I dont know what they think or what they will say.

One guy finally said something to me like nice hair (as Gorisha I have a long blonde braid down my back) and all I could say was hrmph. It sounded like he was flirting. I didn t feel like flirting. He didnt say anything more to me. Hmm.

January 23
Okay, I started over with a new character still a healer but a short, cute, halfling named Silvertoes. Just thinking about her makes me smile! She is dark-skinned with black hair but will be dressed all in white once she gets to second circle. I feel far more comfortable playing her, and I am actually having fun.

I begin to feel that I can say hello to people and ask them if they want to be healed. Simple conversation, nothing complex. The action boxes are great.I finally figured them out a little box appears next to me that says: Silvertoes smiles or Silvertoes waves And those simple gestures make such a difference as far as friendliness goes, instead of walking silently everywhere.

January 30
This is so cool! Although I cant believe Im spending so much time online. Im making friends or at least beginning to. I have figured out how to survive, even if that means I dont go terribly far from town. A healer named Bothiz really impressed me. The trainers all tell him you are my best student. I wonder if I will ever achieve that skill.

February 2 In just a little over a week, I have already gotten stronger and improved my ability to heal. Im going into further areas. In some of these places the monsters spawn and attack quickly and it gets so intense that my heart pounds and my hands shake and I cant hit the right keys. I react so physically!

The same thing happened when I played Diablo(4), but this feels more real, especially when other people are fighting alongside me. I feel bad when I fall, or the fighters I try to heal fall. Or I laugh out loud at peoples antics, their jokes and their word-play.

How can this be so real? Is this the way the imagination works or is it just because I know there are real, unpredictable,sympathetic, humorous people behind these other characters? Perhaps it is the element of surprise that makes it real. And these people each have real personalities and real lives that start to reveal themselves (or not) as we play.

Another healer, Wilkardus, who hangs out with Marvs character (I peeked over his shoulder but he gets uncomfortable if I stay for more than a peek especially since his character is female), helped me out a couple times. When I died in the undine hut last night he actually came to make sure I was all right. Wow,somebody cares! Somebody knows me.

February 20 Wilkardus found out that I speak French. He was very impressed and became quite talkative. He told me hes 21 and lives in Montreal, and that hes going to a university. Selina was there and grumbled. I thought, well maybe she doesnt want another woman around. So I said I had to go and left.

February 23 I find myself thinking about him a lot. He is so intriguing. Whenever I log on now he shares with me right away, and I with him. He is the only one who stops to talk instead of running around killing monsters all the time, or waiting until were all fallen to start a conversation.

He finds ways to speak in relative privacy. Although when people wander by (he knows many of them) he does introduce me. Its the way he says things, his way with words, that intrigues me. Last night he said, I know nothing of love. I asked him what he meant. He said he didnt know if he could fall in love, that he had never experienced being in love, except maybe for one girl and she had gone. He said that if she ever called again he would be there for her. He said he probably wouldnt be married for another 10 or 15 years. I didnt know what to say.

Well, we started to spend more time together. He wanted to know if I was really a girl. I said yes, but I dont know if he believed me because a little time later he said, you really are a girl! and I think I said something like, of course,silly! Imagine being a guy in search of a girl and wondering who is really behind the personality. Hmm.

Not much later he said, you are older than I am. I said yes.. He didnt ask for specifics. He asked me another time what color my eyes were. I said gray-blue. He gasped. He thought it was an unusual color.

Then we got involved in an escapade. I dont know what other word to use for it. We had a sizeable group in orga camp, and not very many orga were appearing to be killed. Some of the people there were Wils friends and he started referring to a couple of them as minions. Then he started yelling that he was King of Orga Camp" and insisted on sitting in the middle of the fire circle.

He went on and on, and it got a bit irritating, so I finally yelled that we should depose the king. I pulled him out of the center and took his spot and claimed myself Queen of Orga Camp. He ran off to the side with his minions to plot a counter-revolution, and I struggled to figure out what to do next, my heart pounding and laughter beginning to bubble up in my throat.

I decided quickly that I had to get him to accept a truce. He had to accept my position as Queen in return for my acceptance of his position as King. His friends apparently were bewildered trying to figure out what was really going on! (laugh) Once we agreed to our mutual high positions and the drama began to die down, I felt I had to go and he walked me to town.

Screenshot of Asheron s Call

Part of the way back he stopped, of course, to talk. He was high from of our spontaneous theater, and I admitted I was laughing and immensely amazed we had pulled off such a stunt and had so much fun. He made a few comments about his friends sending him messages asking if we were now married. Oh dear. This was too serious. I had to tell him what I
hadnt yet been able to tell. I told him to sit down. I coughed. I hemmed and hawed, and I paused. I said, I didnt want to tell you because you would no longer be a friend. He said, of course he would. I said, well, you asked if I was older. I am. I am 46.

He was silent. For some time. I dont remember what he said then. It didn t matter, I could tell he was thinking. He wasnt rude. He didnt panic or run away. And over the next few days I could tell we were still friends. And that amazed me.

We began emailing each other. The first week we must have emailed 4 or 5 times a day. It was exhilarating to engage in such wordplay in the midst of my otherwise quiet days, to tease him about silly things like whether he wore a tie to work or not. I found out he hated ties, that he wouldnt wear a green shirt, that he wanted to blend in, that he loved Quebec, and about some of thehistory and politics of French Canada.

In the game he kept drawing me away to a quiet spot. Wed talk and tease for an hour or more, and then wed hunt and go off and do things. He thrived on the attention. So did I.

And I knew I had to end it. I couldnt go on, I didnt want to be drawn deeper. It didnt seem right. He needed a girlfriend in real life, and I had my husband. It still causes me pain to think about the change in him. From constant attention to ...being ignored. The middle ground of friendship was too difficult for him, and perhaps for me too, although I held onto that hope for several weeks.

He had wanted to see a picture. I told him that a silly photo of me was on the web and to go take a look. That night he barely could speak. He logged on, said hello. I asked if he was ok. He said he was. He said he liked my art pieces. I said thank you. Then no more words. He had to go.

That night I couldnt sleep. I didnt want to lose a friend, someone I cared about so much. I got up early in the morning and scanned a good photo. Put it on my web site. Emailed him. Told him to go see it. He wouldnt.

Over the next weeks, I saw him less. Some of his words really cut. He must have smarted badly and feared that others might come to know the truth about how old I was. You see, he believed me once he saw the photo.

Funny how the important element was the difference between these two representations, the one in the game as young, small and cute...and the cropped photo he saw as, well...maybe I looked like his mother? I believe that the difference caused him to suspect everything, that thereafter nothing about me was what he thought it was. It all had changed.

There are many more parts of the overall tale about the complexity of the relationships in that small community, and I havent told them all. For example, Wil had a crush on Zasinal, my husbands female character, before he met me as Silvertoes. We never told anyone, especially Wil, of our real life relationship. It finally led to a heated argument between us, and Marv lost. He stopped playing. I did develop other friends in the game. Many people had grown to respect me as a fast healer and I often went to the more advanced areas to keep the strong, even some of the best-known fighters alive. It was, in a way, a small town where almost everyone knew, or knew of, everyone else. I had started other characters and made two other networks of friends, and so I started to spend more time playing as Wadjet or Lisli. I met a good friend who lived in Belgium. She eventually told me her own shocking tale of falling in love, and how it affected her husband and daughter, and herself. It was far more intense and dramatic than my own small tale. Then another guy started to get very attached to Lisli. I didnt
want to go through that again.

So when Marv switch to AC and showed me the beautiful 3d world he had moved into, I wanted to try it, too. I felt comfortable right away with my character. The chat interface was totally different and a bit difficult to use. With that said, everything else about it I loved. The light! The light, the sound of a slight wind, the sense of space... daylight, nighttime, sunset, dawn, rain, overcast skies... stars at night... it was all beautiful.

Within a week I had found a patron, received some decent armor and learned to help others fight, survive, and earn experience, and how to hunt solo. Then I met Mik who told me to re-roll my character with better starting attributes so that I could truly become a great archer, and I swore allegiance to him. You see? The story just happens, like life. It begins before you are aware anything has happened.

Eventually I went back and said goodbye to everyone in Clan Lord, telling them I had found another game that I enjoyed, and gave away all the things I had accumulated. Many friends were sad to see me go. Wil was extremely reserved. So, in a way that was an ending. It was an ending because I decided to act it out as an ending.

What is life? Is it theater? Is it dramatic, charged with emotion and effort and big events? Is it small things, daily relationships, gestures, words and patterns of behavior? Is one life more real than another? Are these distant, ether-bound, human contacts any more or less important than the ones in real life?

Weeks have gone by.Five, maybe six? The other night Mik and I finally talked. Then we talked to Riugu. I broke my allegiance to Kashri. Mik did, too. Mik swore allegiance to me, I am now the patron of my former patron; he is my vassal. He is very proud of me, of who I have become, with this character he designed for me so many months ago. I am very honored he would accept me as his patron.

Kashri doesnt understand why we left her. Mik finally expressed his anger towards her to me. It was very quick.He got over it immediately. She just hasnt been there for him, or for me. Its as if shes blissfully unaware of what weve been struggling with. One hour a week, maybe two is all she plays these days. Not enough. I had emailed her several times with no response. So I emailed farewell. Then she finally emailed back.

She wrote that she would always be there for us. Sigh, thats just what she hasnt been.

I admire her still, even if she doesnt understand. Im not sure even I understand the in-game/real life dynamics, although I have thought about it a great deal. I tried to talk in-game when she logged on briefly. She seemed not mad but sorrowful, and had very little, and maybe too much to say. My eyes got blurry. I held the tears in check. She is strong. She is young. She will find her way in the world, whether or not she shares my ether world. Her life did touch mine impossible, abstract, but true touch all the same. I will miss her."

Silvertoes on the move.

1 Asherons Call is owned and copy-righted by Microsoft Corporation.
2 Each game design has a communication interface that allows players to talk. Often you can direct your chat to a certain person or to a group. In AC, a patron can speak to all vassals simultaneously.
3 Clan Lord is owned and copyrighted by Delta Tao Software.
4 When Marv and I played Diablo together that first time on a network that he set up temporarily. I was so absorbed I couldnt stop playing. We ended up eating pizza all weekend. I got the shakes and hit the wrong keys then, too.

Anonymous is an artist and writer e-living in Silicon Valley.

CyberIsms: Voice, Identity & Communication in the Virtual Realm