In the depths of a dark video game cafe, sharp sapphire light illuminated the recesses of towered hard disks and shelves of computer accessories, and the gamers Kim and Joel sat two chairs away from each other. But they were better known by their game names, pocketmaster1345 and xxxxxKIMPTxxxxx. They were in the midst of practicing for another competitive tournament at some point in the future. There were many other players in the room who did not have the sophisticated and cool atmosphere of true gaming veterans, and Kim and Joel looked down on them as casuals.
It was eight at night.
“Headshot!” Kim said into his microphone, and Joel heard him through his headset. Joel jumped around a building corner, dove to the ground, and noscoped three enemies in a row. Dead bodies piled on the ground. Joel got up and ran into cover, throwing two grenades incredibly far into some random location in enemy territory. He saw Kim out of the corner of his eye enter the building to the right of him, about to go in deep and cut around the enemy’s flank.
Kim and Joel communicated much better than most Insane Warbattles VI players, and used myriad strategies to help them in their pursuit of gaming infamy.
They had been in countless tournaments together, and though Joel entertained some thoughts of getting married and having a life outside of gaming, Kim lived for it and almost never did anything else.
But they were indisputably both extremely skilled.
Joel’s armament was usually a SCAR with extended barrel and green 2x magnification sight and a USP extended mag for backup. His comrade used a bolt-action sniper rifle and dual M9 pistols. But on occasion, as a joke, Joel would pull out his difficult-to-use middle finger cannon that he had got as a prize for prestiging eleven times. That was a long time ago.
Time had passed, but the players scarcely noticed. They were now the only people there except the absentminded store clerk, as it was three in the morning. Joel tried to recollect when they had first entered the cafe– it was perhaps a day or a day and a half ago? They played on.
“Stay behind that door, and I’ll cover the other exit,” said Kim, his voice sounding weaker than usual. They hadn’t been communicating as much lately.
An enemy went through the door and was in the process of spinning around and shooting at Joel when he took two slugs to the chest and collapsed.
They had won. Patriotic music played and the soldier with the most kills was displayed.
Now there was a loading time between battles, and they were going to be on the Soviet side. Joel took a swig of Mtn Dew, which used to be Mountain Dew, when they had first picked up their controllers.
Memories of some of their earlier tournaments suddenly flooded Joel’s mind, all the fun they’d had and how difficult it all was. How exciting it had been to prepare, and the thought that all of their enemies had spent just as much time getting ready as them!
Joel worried a little that Kim wasn’t eating much. He never ate a lot and often lost a lot of weight before a competition.
Joel’s character’s head exploded and he fell to the ground. He was getting way too distracted. The young man promised to himself to focus more from then on. Suddenly, Kim’s voice came on again.
“I’m getting tired, maybe we should close this up at the end of this battle.”
Kim was always subtle and a little bit submissive. He sounded exhausted.
“I don’t think so,” replied Joel, “I’m three quarters to level 176 and I should get there before the weekend. What do you think?”
“I’m not sure…”
“Come on,” replied Joel, brushing it off.
“Ok,” said his friend.
They continued on, playing on top of ships, on the roofs of tall buildings, and even in the inside of submarines where stray bullets caused flooding. Their battle orders and general chatter had slowed down and completely stopped a while ago. Joel was skilled enough that he could still play very well, however.
It was eight in the morning and a small but increasing amount of light poured in from the alien outside world. It took Joel’s attention away from what he was doing for a few moments. He actually enjoyed looking from a hole in the curtains at the orange sunlight. He detected a bad odor, surprisingly it was even worse than the typical stink of the place, and wondered where it had come from. After looking around the source was still not evident. But Kim seemed pretty still.
Joel was getting very close to level 176. His heart rate increased and every headshot and triple grenade kill moved the experience bar ever closer to that lofty goal.
Across the room, the store worker played around on his phone and ignored everyone as usual.
The gamer noticed that while he was starting to get tired, and no matter how much Mtn Dew he drank, there was not much he could do about it. His reactions were slowing down and his killstreak had went from 2.64 to the despicable ratio of 1.32! It was terrible.
But Kim, somehow, had not just stayed at the same level of mastery, but actually gotten slightly better and moved around with even more grace as he hopped fences and ran through dusty Middle Eastern towns. Joel was sure, one time, that one of the animations he went through did not even exist at all.
And all this without them even talking.
He didn’t mind, as his throat was sore anyways. At the end of the battle the experience bar was so close to its goal that Joel could not even believe he had not leveled-up yet.
The next round took place on a huge jumbo jet, and if enough windows were broken it would suck players out of the plane, so sometimes players used that effect as a strategy to win. Kim did three times better than Joel, but finally, after shooting some dude’s feet six times in a row, twenty five more experience points were added to the bar and the golden letters
CONGRATULATIONS: LEVEL 127 REACHED!
appeared. Joel gave out an audible shout. The store worker actually noticed him and stared condescendingly for a moment. It was ten in the morning now. The smell was getting horrible, and Joel thought it was about time to go home and take a shower, so he turned the game off and slowly re-acclimated to the real world. After pressing the computer power button and brushing the chip dust off his chair, the young man took a step towards his friend to remind him that they were finished. Not noticing it, he still had his wireless headset on.
Joel touched his friend on the shoulder. It was cold. He shook Kim, but the latter did not resist the movement at all. His face was much paler than usual and he smelled much worse than usual.
He was dead. And he had been dead for a long time.
And then Joel had the horrible thought– how was he still playing?
A low, creaky voice suddenly appeared on Joel’s headset. His heart nearly stopped.
“Hello,” it growled, “Shall we play another round?”