Joseph Stephens | Simon Walpole
The game began.
Stationed before Bart, at the foot of the couch, the TV sat perched on the entertainment console. The screen flickered, turning blue, as a logo scrolled across the screen, announcing the theme music and title of the game. Legionnaire: The King’s Ransom, it read.
Bart rolled his ankles and flexed his toes. It had been ages since he took an afternoon off work to stay at home and immersed himself into a video game — and not just any game at that — but this specific one.
He reminisced about how long it had been since he had seen the opening credits and intro movie. He had been thirteen. That was 20 years ago. He couldn’t believe it, he thought. It felt like a lifetime ago that he had been battling swordsmen and sorcerers. Though, ironically, he had spent a lifetime in the game. A life he would never forget.
He thumbed through the keypad, selecting the game start, and highlighting his saved file. “LeoNitrous,” the name hung above the game character, a war-hardened soldier, drenched in a scarred black knight’s armor, platinum plated shield slung to his back, with a silver broad sword as tall as a baby tree. LeoNitrous’s face was weathered and worn, with age-defining creases and wrinkles, giving way to silver white hair, betraying his age.
I didn’t realize I looked so old, Bart thought.
He had intended to play as LeoNitrous once more, having reached the highest skill level of 70 and mastering all of the quests the Legionnaire world had to offer. What else was there to do? Bart thought. Without a challenge, what point was there in wandering around a world you had already conquered, to acquire more riches and loot? It all seemed too boring as he thought of a different plan.
He scrolled over to “New Game” and pressed start. When asked for a character’s name, he thought legalistically and decided on “Bartholomew.” He smiled at the humor in it, using his real name, as the name rang true in the Legionnaire world.
When asked for the character’s gender, Bart immediately selected “Male.” He couldn’t ever imagine playing as a girl. The thought frightened him. What would that even feel like, being inside a woman’s body?
Then Bart anticipated the game’s initiation and prepared to launch himself into the world beyond, yet the game paused, presenting a new option.
He read the screen, which offered him the role of “Soldier, Wizard, or Thief.” That was not there before, Bart thought. He had no choice the first time around, only having the Soldier option available.
Bart had enjoyed the hands-on experience of the Soldier caste, immersing himself into the battles and being on the front line. He also liked winning the hand of the princess, marrying her, and eventually taking over the throne. He relished ruling the land and being the hero of the age. If he selected Soldier, he would relive all that again.
As much as he enjoyed the heroic stature of the Soldier, he wouldn’t mind having a go with a different class.
What would it be like to be a Wizard? It would probably be like Hogwarts, having to learn the spells, going to wizard school, then being able to fly and shoot lightning from a wand. Yet the Thief role sounded interesting as well. He thought of the Hobbit, sneaking around, providing support for the soldiers, and finding rare items and key pieces to save the world. It would be an epic beyond measure.
How did one decide?
He chose Wizard, having understood how powerful they were the first time around. He enjoyed spending time with the Wizard in his court, Maelfron, who he considered a close ally and friend — that is, whenever he was around. Maelfron had an awful habit of sneaking away for months on end, only to return more powerful than when he first left. Bart thought it would be interesting to see where the wizard went and what adventures awaited.
With the decision behind him, Bart pressed start, and anticipated the slipstream experience to come. The room around him turned black. The walls evaporated into the abyss, the couch disappeared from underneath him, and the only thing that remained was the television screen blinking in front of him, and then, even it began to swirl.
A rainbow of colors bent and twisted around the screen like a blender filled with Skittles. Bart looked down at his legs, which spun away from his body, stretching out and contorting like a cartoon. The remainder of his body followed getting sucked into the television’s void.
With only Bart’s head remaining in the real world, he looked forward to adventure that waited with giddy excitement. He knew, no matter how much time he spent in the game world, he would return home at the exact moment he left.
He looked forward to seeing old friends, making new enemies, and battling the quests assigned to him. He couldn’t wait to return to the world of Legionnaire. He wondered why he had ever stayed away for so long.
Then he remembered.
The game world of Legionnaire materialized before him, taking shape as his new reality. The decaying ruins of Stratta came into focus while the townsfolk ran in a haphazard state of panic from the dragons swarming overhead. A fireball erupted, torching the town square, sending stone flying like grenade fragments. Bart ducked for cover.
He then recalled why he never returned: death in Legionnaire meant dying in real life. Was that a gamble he was willing to make a second time; one he so easily disregarded as a teenager all those years ago? He knew he no longer had a choice as he would need to fight his way out. So he began, once again, the quest which haunted his dreams — the game of Legionnaire.