Author : Jules Jensen

I stopped and sighed, and then crossed my arms. This wasn’t a normal game animation, but there was no one out this far, so I didn’t have to pretend. A field of short grass met up with a lake. It was peaceful.

And it was hot. I hated the heat, but so did other players. The game helmet would stimulate their brains and tell them this area was hot, and most people didn’t want to be uncomfortable.

Maybe if I stuck around I’d die from heat. I thought I remembered something about extreme weather exposure. But that might just be their way to tell people not to stand in the fire.

I sat on the bank of the river and watched my shadow on the surface. I smirked. That was my name: Shadow-Over-Water. What was I thinking when I made that name? I don’t remember. I do remember being a twenty-something man that was dissatisfied with the doldrums of daily life, so when the game came out I jumped right in.

And it was great. Until I died. I don’t know how, but I felt it. I was still wearing the game helmet when it happened, which somehow made me stay alive in the game. My body is somewhere out there in the real world, being eaten by worms.

Ever since then, I never died in-game. That made me worth a lot of points.

The sky let out a loud ding.

The patch was complete. Players would now have their points value floating above their heads.

I was terrified that dying in-game would mean my mind would be just as dead as my worm-eaten body. As much as I came to hate my existence in a world with no sleep, food, or reality, it was all I had.

A sensation on the back of my neck alerted me that someone was nearby.

Having no defensive bonuses and not being battle-ready meant that I died in a single hit. I didn’t even get to see the other player.

Pain raced through my body. Blinding white light surrounded me.

And then I was flat on my back. The air was suddenly cooler. I stared up at large blue-barked trees.

“New re-spawn location looks good, right?” A voice beside me made me startle. There was a girl right there, a warrior.

Her eyes focused mechanically on the air above my head, where my information would theoretically be displayed. I couldn’t see that kind of stuff, so I had no idea what it showed her. “At least you went and got it over with.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Your kill value resets every time you die. So if you don’t want to fight people, just don’t kill anyone, because a zero is worth nothing. That’s what I did.”

I wasn’t sure if I was happy that I wasn’t dead, or if I was disappointed that I was alive again. It occurred to me that I’d be doomed to wander the game forever.

But that also meant that since I didn’t need to fear death, I could actually do things. There were fun quests out there, apparently. I might even make friends.

The warrior got up. I scrambled to my feet.

“Can you help me get better gear?” I asked and forced myself to stand in the default pose, pretending that there was nothing special about me.

She didn’t reply for a moment. Then her character smiled again.


I knew suddenly that I didn’t have to be alone anymore, and that made it feel like this life was worth living.