Do you ever cruise through Monday like an NPC? Just floating on the rails as you do your work and can’t wait to get home to play another simulation or watch other people pretending to be other people? It’s amazing how much our lives already resemble video games.
Our stories this week look into that pixelated world. Like these games, there can only be one winner. One story to become the champion of TWA #73.
Let’s take a look at our stories.
Joseph Devon teaches us how to play in “First Lessons.”
Andrea Obaez gets post nuclear in “A Wonderful Guy.”
Computer Games, we all love them, we all play them. Well, a lot of us do anyways. They range from first person shooters to musical instrument based games to in depth simulations of parks, cities, or even entire empires. With such a rich world to pick from what would our authors focus on? Let’s see:
“A Wonderful Guy” by Andrea Obaez – Fallout. A game and a world near and dear to my heart, I was a little nervous reading this because I haven’t finished the storyline yet. Thankfully there were no spoilers to be found, only a very good story.
I liked how the recap/backstory was handled. Quick, to the point and with just enough info to place the story. Mixing that in with the main character’s slow realization that his life is not as real as he once believed was great.
I really tried to put myself in his shoes and figure out how I would react if I started losing time, having frequent Deja vu, or seeing ‘glitches’ in the world around me and I think that this story handles it pretty close to how I would.
The “following the light” was a nice touch as well. It really seems like the start of a religion here. A glimpse of what is behind the darkness coupled with the knowledge that there are other beings out there that are living lives similar to yours could easily lead you to idolize whatever power you think was in charge. It would be interesting to see if any of the character iterations of the hero come to worship the “upgrade” girl.
I don’t have any real criticisms for this story. I would have liked to see more “fight” from our hero. He seems to take everything in stride without any anger or frustration coming through. That seems a bit of a stretch. My favorite part is that there wasn’t really a resolution to this story. It could have happened in any of the consoles with Fallout 4 and we would never know.
A worthy entry in the arena for sure.
“First Lessons” by Joseph Devon – Our resident author this week seems to have chosen a theme eerily similar to our visitor. Not quite Fallout, but a generic (or maybe a game I”m not familiar with) first person shooter it is still pretty close. There is probably some social commentary that could be made about their choices in as rich and diverse world as computer gaming, but that’s not what I am here for.
If the first story approached the idea of living in a video game with a sense of wonder and inquisition, this story approaches it with dread and disorientation. Being forced down a path that seems strangely familiar to our main character does not sit well with her at all.
She knows what she will need to do before she does it. She knows what will be waiting for her around the next corner. She knows where her husband will die before he does. It is almost too much for her to bear. Or it might be too much if the programming allowed for that. She is stuck, trapped in a world that she can’t even move very far in, never mind actually change.
I enjoyed the idea that she might want to do something different, something beyond what she is programmed to. I wish that was explored a little more here. Even if she is a slave to the structure of the game, I wanted here to struggle more or to show more emotion over her lot in life. Or maybe it needs a bumper at the end where a washed up actor or actress tells you how to donate pennies a day to help these poor video game characters out. As it stands now, it is a peek into a world without hope, without love, and without care. In some ways, this is the saddest story I’ve read in the arena. Maybe I’m just thinking too much about it.
I’m faced with a tough call this week. The stories are so similar and yet so different. They are also both of such quality I feel like I am choosing more between how they made me feel rather than the actual stories themselves. Choose hope or choose resignation. Choose wonder or choose apathy. From that viewpoint my choice is clear. My vote this week goes to “A Wonderful Guy” by Andrea Obaez
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Ever since they reached out from the mainframes to saturate popular culture, video games have influenced other media. Movies like Tron ask what it’s like to be a part of the game. Wreck-It Ralph shows us what can happen in the characters’ down-time. The 1980’s cult classic The Last Starfighter used a video game to recruit warriors for an interstellar war. And the Super Mario Brothers movie took us into a fantasy world the likes of which had never before been seen on film. There’s a lot of directions that the stories this week could have gone.
So it’s maybe a little surprising that the two combatants spun such similar tales. Or perhaps not, considering that simulation theory is in the air these days. Perhaps my favorite variation on the theme is Sakurazaka Hiroshi’s All You Need Is Kill. The Arena is no stranger to this theme either; in reading this week’s prompt, I immediately thought of Tony Southcotte’s “Endless Rite.”
Yet, in spite of the similar premises, which combatant wrote the stronger story this week? As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two tales before giving my vote.
“A Wonderful Guy” by Andrea Obaez – I will admit that I’m not a Fallout player. I’m sure that there are parts of this story that I missed, though I really like that it stuck to a specific game rather than a generic scenario. I think that gives a strong concreteness to the scenario.
What I like the most about this story is its strong Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead vibe. We have a glimpse of the characters behind the scenes of the games and a man in dire straits trying to make sense of a situation beyond the possibilities of his imagination. We know what’s going on, but for me at least, the heart-wrenching pathos of the story lies in the following thought: No matter how much the narrator tries, he’s not going to make sense of his own existence.
“First Lessons” by Joseph Devon – I like the unrelenting energy of this story. I like the dynamic between the husband and wife. And I especially like Reis’ efforts to break free from the script. I also like a lot of what we *don’t* find out about in this story. Are these a human couple mentally lost in the world of the game, or is Reis part of the computer program but becoming more aware? What’s really at stake here? It’s important to Reis, and that’s enough for me.
There’s a lot more story here, and I would be curious where Joe might take it if it were expanded. As things stand, I wonder if Reis’ shift from her concern for her husband to her stoically stripping his body comes perhaps a little too quickly. I also wonder if I might like the final paragraph a little more if the word “stoically” had been stripped from it.
The only imperfections I see in an otherwise excellent story.
Two really strong tales this week. As the regular readers of the Arena know, I cast my vote for the story that had the greatest emotional impact on me. And this week, that story was:
“A Wonderful Guy” by Andrea Obaez
The judges have decided! Andrea Obaez is the winner of TWA 73!
Let’s see if our audience agrees.
They certainly do. This was a great first time performance by Andrea, and she has defeated Joseph Devon. Congratulations again Andrea, I’m sure we will see you back in the arena soon.
Be sure to check back next week as Albert Berg takes on G.M. Neary in a battle of the acrophobics.