Over the next few days, Arkin got better and better at the game, but so did his opponent. He was never sure if there were one or two because the game always said there were two players online. Occasionally he nearly made contact with his prey, which is how the promotional material wanted him to imagine his fellow players. The game was designed to be predator against predator. Arkin thought he was a poor choice for this game because he was more prey material than anything else. But he persevered and eventually knew the environment and his opponent well enough to lure him/her/it (he wondered) into a box canyon. It was Arkin’s first good look at what he was chasing and it was beautiful. Or was beautiful until the other player logged off.
Arkin made a screen shot of the cornered creature to study and admire. He printed it out and taped it to the wall where he could see it from his bed.
The next few times he played there were more players involved, but not the one he’d become obsessed with. Late one evening, when he was about to quit the game and go to bed, he was tackled from behind by his idol. Points were calculated and the screen went black.
But he had an Instant Message from someone named Darset.
His job as a software tester provided for both, and made it possible for him to never have to leave his apartment. That was all right. Since the war, the global pollution levels made going out in protective gear essential.
He sat at his desk and put the CD in his computer. Usually his boss sent him a download link for such things, but he’d been told that this was a special project. Based on his previous stellar work, Arkin had received a small promotion, a raise in pay, and better products to review. This was the first assignment of the new era and the packaging was certainly deluxe. He hoped the game would live up to his expectations.
His boss’s email had also said the game was going out to several other reviewers at different companies and that there would eventually be contact with the others as the game progressed. This made Arkin a little wary of playing; he preferred to play the game, not other gamers. But if it was part of his new job, then he’d at least try. He hit the “play” button and was ushered into “Chiaroscuro”, where he was informed where were two players online. He wondered if this meant him and someone else, or him and two other players.
It was a very black and white environment he lumbered around in, trying to adjust to the non-human game form. Arkin began to feel bored, but then caught a flash of movement to his left. He lost it, got lost, thought he saw it again.
“Always to my left,” he thought, veering to his right and doubling back. He caught a glimpse of his quarry, but not a good one. It seemed to be a game creature similar to his, but somehow different. On the other hand, any other game creatures online at the moment would have a great view of him, standing on a windswept plateau, thinking things over. He scowled at his monitor and ended the game. It might be better to spend his evening reading the promotional BS that came with the CD.
By Ginger Mayerson
It was the package delivery guy at the door again.
“We’re seeing a lot of you this week, Mr. Arkin.” He always said that after he took off his envirosuit hood. He handed over the envirosealed grocery order and a small package. He held up the optical scanner up for ID verification and delivery confirmation.
“Yeah, I guess,” Arkin mumbled, leaning forward for the scan. The luminous green grid before his eye expanded, contracted, and then went dark.
“Ah, still you,” the delivery guy said with a smile. He said this every time and it suited Arkin fine; it meant he didn’t have to hold up his end of the conversation.
Arkin opened the package. It was the new game his employer wanted him to test and review. “Chiaroscuro” was emblazoned on the CD case. Arkin had to look it up to know it meant either the arrangement of light and dark parts in a work of art, such as a drawing or painting, whether in monochrome or in color, or the art or practice of so arranging the light and dark parts as to produce a harmonious effect.
He tossed it on his wreck of a computer desk, which was not at all arranged to produce a harmonious effect, and took the groceries into the kitchen. There was a can of tofu stew in the latest grocery delivery; it was something he was slightly less than indifferent to.
The groceries were a neat service: for a few weeks he’d entered what he wanted into their online request form and after that, the database had, based on his previous purchases, sent him a ration of whatever was consistent with those requests. Arkin didn’t use the word desires because, beyond food and shelter, he didn’t have any.