George was in the bathroom coming out of a steamy shower. He wrapped his midsection around with a towel, as well as slinging one over his shoulder. He walked over to the sink and wiped the steam off.
George stared at his reflection.
Turning his head left and right, he studied his face and body, both of which seemed alien to him now. Just a little more than a week ago, he was a scrawny-looking guy with no muscles showing whatsoever. Then, after logging off Second World for the first time, he discovered that his body had become a version that reflected his in-game body, which was relatively athletic. Now, after training for a whole week, his physique was exemplary—neither too bulky nor too lean. It was beyond surreal, he thought. He didn’t know how to feel about it, either. He wasn’t particularly thrilled, nor was he too shocked.
George looked out the open bathroom door, eyeing the simple-looking pair of VR equipment on his nightstand.
It isn’t as simple as it looks.
George then heard a beeping notification that came from his computer. Curious, he dried himself, swiftly patting himself down the chest. He slid into a set of clothes he had just washed and dried three hours earlier. When he hopped onto the computer, he saw that he had received a new notification on the Second World forums, a page he had left open prior to taking his shower. Orchid, the forum user with whom he briefly messaged last week, had sent him a message. He opened it up and it contained the following:
|Hello. It’s me again. I hope I’m not bothering you in the middle of the night (it’s 11PM in Tokyo right now). I’m just letting you know that I bought another set of equipment for Second World a few hours ago. I tried it and guess what? It worked! I logged back into the game.
Unfortunately, I had to create a new character, and when I got back into the game world all the items I had from before were gone. Basically, I had to start over… Not that I had much to begin with. I did lose the magic crystal necklace one of the NPCs gave me, though. But I was lucky enough to get another one from another NPC this time around.
Sadly, I ended up dying again. I came across these stupid brown foxes in the middle of the road and they killed me. It’s the same exact way I died the first time. They’re really strong for how small they are. If you see them, run the other way.
Anyways, I think I’m done with this game. Thanks for checking up with me last week. I can tell you’re a nice guy. If you’re still alive in the game, try your best not to die. You’ll lose everything.
Anyways… Thanks. I hope you have fun.
Reading this message, George now gained some new insight into the game. But having read it, he became sympathetic, as he understood Orchid’s loss—although, it was probably appropriate to consider it a non-loss, as Orchid had literally only just begun. He thought for a minute and eventually sent a message back, simply saying:
|I can help you.|
It was almost midnight in Tokyo, so George didn’t expect an immediate response. But he sat there, staring at the screen, waiting for a response, hopeful that he would get a new message notification… And indeed, he did. And not even two minutes after.
The message said only the following:
|What do you mean?|
To which George replied:
|I can help you kill monsters.|
After he sent it, a minute hadn’t even gone by when Orchid replied back.
|OMG. How? Did you get your hands on some skill books? Where? And do you mean you can kill them by yourself? That’s awesome! And how many times have you leveled up?|
So many questions, and such complicated answers for all of them, so all George could respond with was:
|I’d love to answer all your questions, but they’re a little complicated to be answering via message. It’s better if we could speak in person. Could you meet me online?|
He tapped the key to send the message but remembered that Orchid had just died again. The thought had gone completely over his mind, as it was an inconsequential thought. He had experienced Second World, and it had become like breathing for him. In his subconscious mind—as the person he was now—he assumed anyone with money would automatically be willing to buy another set of equipment. But given his own financial situation, he wasn’t one to talk, either. He thought for a long moment how he would choose: keep the $2,000 or keep playing Second World. This hypothetical had two simple options, but they both had impactful decisions. It was a difficult hypothetical to answer, but George believed that if he had to, he’d ultimately spend the money. He stayed in his seat and wondered just how someone else—someone who possibly could have had just as little as him, or even less—would feel about this.
George sat there, blankly staring at the monitor, and thought about this ordeal. He waited a while for a response, and after ten minutes, he finally got one. It simply said:
|Is it fun?|
George was going to send back a ‘smart’ response, but he backtracked and deleted it immediately as he typed it. Being true to his heart, he could only send back the following response, as this response was the only thing he thought to be the true but simple answer to Orchid’s question:
A moment later, Orchid replied back.
|Would you play it over Dream World? Be honest with me.|
Dream World was in the past, a distant memory now. But he tried to remain as honest as he could, and so, he re-imagined himself back in Dream World and remembered all the good times he had. And indeed, he remembered the fun times it was, even with the tragedy he had experienced.
But as he thought about Second World, the corners of his lips naturally rose, turning into a smile. Although both were wonderful games—to the extent that he had known Second World—there was something captivating about Second World that he couldn’t put his finger on. There was something special about it, George thought. He didn’t know what it was or where it was, but it was there. It was something that could only be felt rather than known. But even not knowing what that special thing was, he still replied:
To which Orchid responded after a brief moment of hesitation:
|I’ll think about it.
I’ll message you tomorrow whether or not I’ll give the game another go.
And with that, he fell back into his chair. For one of the longest moments of his life, he looked at his phone, which was just an arm’s length away. After a reasonable time of contemplating, he grabbed it from its charging port and brought up Chase’s number from his contact list. He hovered his thumb over the number for another moment to think about whether it was the right thing to do to call Chase. Whether it was the right for him. Whether it was right for Chase. Or right for anyone. But there and then he decided that it was time to move on and let bygones be bygones. He pressed the call button and the phone began ringing.
“Hey, George!” answered Chase, after the phone had only rung 30 times. “How’s it going, bud?”
George didn’t say anything immediately. He tried to gauge what kind of atmosphere he wanted the conversation to have, so just plainly said, “Have you gotten your equipment yet?”
“For that new VRMMO? Yeah. I grabbed one while I was in Paris. I haven’t opened it, though. My family’s been on vacation for the last week, and we’re at the airport right now waiting for our flight to leave. I’ll be back home tomorrow… Why do you ask?”
George hesitated briefly, but eventually said, “Do you wanna play?”
“Are you serious? Are you really serious, George? Really really serious?”
George didn’t respond, as his silence indicated that ‘Yes. He was.’
“Ah, sweet! That’s awesome! Woo!” Chase shouted, excited.
“Well… I’ll let you get to whatever you’re doing. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” George said.
But before George hung up, Chase softened his tone dramatically, and sincerely, he said, “I’m sorry, George. For what happened to you… It’s all my fault.”
To an extent, Chase was right. George had advised Chase not to let ‘that player’ join the guild. But Chase didn’t listen, and using his power as vice-captain, he invited the guy in. From there, all that would eventually come to pass became history. And it was now a history that George intended to move on from. But it was also a history that he wanted to correct, as it pertained to something truly important to him… Something he only recently realized was precious to him: his grandmother.
“It’s fine, Chase,” Ryu said, softly. “It’s all in the past now.”
“Still… I should’ve apologized sooner. I’m sorry… Are you still mad at me?”
Tch. Idiot. How could I be mad at you? If I should be mad at anyone, it should be at myself. I was the idiot. Not you.
“Whatever I was I’m not now,” Ryu said. He half-smiled and sighed, now relieved that he could foreseeably move on with his life, hopefully with his good friend Chase by his side, too. “Call me when you get back,” he said, his face brighter.
“Yessiree!” said a gleeful Chase.
Happy that he had reconciled with Chase, but also deeply regretful, George walked over and dropped on his bed. He looked up to the ceiling with a somber expression. “I’m sorry, obaasan,” he softly said, tears beginning to stream down his face. He tried wiping them away, but they just kept coming. “I was a fool.”