I was living in a “near future” situation, where a world government had already been established and begun creating “cities of the world.” The plan was to integrate all the people of the world by moving significant populations from each country to each “mega city.” Eventually, the entire world would be moved from their home countries to random mega-cities across the planet, leading to total communal integration. The global communications systems and the sameness of everything on earth meant that it was not particularly difficult for any individual to pick up and move to another city. The most difficult thing was that we still had different languages, so it was necessary for people to integrate into the mega cities via “shared language communities.” However, rather than allowing the various groups to create ethnic ghettoes, they were assigned a shared high-rise apartment building. Two buildings from the same country were not allowed to be next to each other.
I was not significantly aged from my current state, nor were any of the other contemporary people who had been shoved into this future world. It was as if it had happened within five years from now, but it was clearly an alternate timeline. There were not Star Trek level technological advancements, but food was being provided for us without work through automated robot hydrophobic farms. There was forced austerity, so our rooms were very small. Everyone had their own room, however. No one was married, and it was unclear where the children were.
I was a celebrity writer. However, I was not known for this website, which had never existed in this timeline, and was instead famous for novels and video game narrative direction that was considered socially acceptable. I was a minor celebrity, and was therefore encouraged to travel to various cities and “spread the arts” among a population that was largely jobless and living off of state hand-outs. Community interaction was encouraged, so people staying in their rooms was discouraged. It was also discouraged for people to stay in their ethnic enclaves, so various linguistically homogeneous skyscrapers had different “attractions.” These attractions were usually placed at the top floors of a building, while travel between the massive buildings was done through an underground light-rail system. To get to the entertainment venues at the top floors of the various buildings, people would have to arrive by the train system, and then take multiple elevators to the higher floors, which forced regular interaction between the different peoples gathered in the megacities.
The stated goal, which was continually reinforced by young celebrities appearing on screens throughout the cities, was for humanity to break its boundaries and become “one people, living in harmony with the earth.”
I was placed as a visiting artist in a megacity somewhere on the island of Sumatra, within a building that was shared by Swedes and Finns. It was very modern and clean, being one of several blueprints for 100+ story buildings being built across the world where all of the populations of the old nation-states were being transferred. The other “visiting artist” was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. There was a split between the two communities, despite the fact they’d been neighbors in the north and both spoke very good English. In our bloc, Greta had naturally become a figurehead for the Swedes, while the Finns had attached themselves to me, being the only other visiting artist, as a rallying point.
I gave teachings about game narrative design in halls in the building, which were attended by various races and ethnicities. Our building was one of the key centers in the city for public arcades. Some of these public arcades were similar to “internet cafes,” where you could sit down at a stall and play with a high-end PC. Others had sofas set up for controller-based games to be played together. The third kind was an arcade similar to the 1990s-type arcades (which still exist in many Asian cities, but do not exist in the West due to demographic problems), where individual games are played on various types of consoles. This type of arcade, being “retro,” was favored by many artistic types, and I was being encouraged by the opaque and robotic, largely female-dominated bureaucracy managing the planet earth to design a popular arcade game that could be placed in these retro arcades across the world. I was resistant to this, wanting instead to finish a novel about the Old West. I was obligated by my total immersion in this world system to have regular communication with various women of some vague authority through video phone, where I would attempt to explain that I wanted to finish the novel. They would tell me that my novels were a waste of energy, and that the story I was planning for the novel should be turned into an immersive arcade shooter game.
One of the Finns, a youth of perhaps 19, was especially aggressive and annoying with me, attending all of my classes and following me around the complex, ostensibly trying to learn from me how to become a novelist, having become obsessed with a western melodrama I’d written as a teenager about the ancient Egyptian gods. I did not believe the boy had the creativity, based on discussions with him and reviews of his materials, to become a novelist, and encouraged him to seek other outlets for his creativity. I did not want to create problems by telling him he did not have the talent, and instead repeated what the female bureaucrats had been telling me: the novel is dead, we should be focusing on video games.
The top news story which would flash across the screen in-between lectures from very attractive hapanese women about the necessity of community was that a gigantic robot had turned sentient and was destroying various world heritage art sites. The robot, which was ten stories tall and capable of space flight, had been designed as part of a program to fight off a potential alien invasion. The global bureaucracy, still concerned about “fossil fuels,” was planning to build a Dyson Sphere around the Earth’s Sun, and was concerned that when the project went live, it would lead to contact by various aliens races, some of which could be hostile. Therefore, an earth defense system was under development. Concerns about the dangers of a totally interconnected artificial intelligence taking over all earth computer systems meant that AIs were limited to intranets – closed systems which could not connect directly to the world wide web. So, as told by the very attractive hapanese newscasters, this giant robot had its own AI system, which had gone rogue. It first attacked and destroyed the pyramids at Giza, then destroyed Petra, Machu Picchu, and Chichen Itza. It had lately begun destroying pieces of the Great Wall of China. The robot would return to space in-between attacks. It was designed to return to space to charge its solar cells, but would stay in space much longer than needed to charge the cells – for weeks at a time, it would leave the earth, and then return for another attack.
Many in the artist community, within which I was somewhat highly ranked, insofar as “rank” existed in this utopian order, were pointing out that the robot was moving from oldest to newest manmade work, and could conceivably, eventually, begin killing living artists. I would hear these concerns in holographic group meetings with the earth’s various artists. However, many of the Finns among which I lived were highly cynical about the entire global project, and were developing various conspiracy theories about the robot and his attacks. Some believed that the robot was being operated by whatever hidden forces controlled the ubiquitous “global community,” and that this force was trying to destroy human heritage, while others believed that the footage of the robot attacks was completely faked, possibly for the purpose of creating fear, or maybe just to give people something to talk about. Having been exposed to both views, I did not take a strong position on the issue, but instead found myself, primarily out of boredom, debating with both the artistic community and the Finnish theorists. I did not particularly care either way, and did not think it likely that even if everything the screens said was true, the robot would target any non-monument work of art. The idea that the robot would target me personally because I had written angsty underground novels through my mid-twenties, and popular tripe video game narratives thereafter, seemed absurd, but I was also struggling to understand the Finnish theorists’ reasoning that the attacks would be faked.
At some point in my Sumatra stay, while I was being bored to death by the classes I was teaching, by the constant talk of the looming giant robot attacks, and by the Finnish boy following me around, nagging me about reviewing his latest trash and advising him as to how to develop, I began to hear an urban myth about a secret floor in our grand Swedeo-Finnish gaming tower. The story was that there was a secret game on a secret floor called “One Life.” It was an arcade game, and when the player lost, he was psychologically manipulated by the game into killing himself. The story was that the game picked your brain through a series of decision-making exercises, and if you played it long enough, you would always lose, and it would know so much about you that it could easily convince you to kill yourself. There was a dark temptation in the game, as through playing it, it revealed to you things about yourself you did not know. You could go deeper and deeper into it, and find deeper and deeper understanding of yourself through its constantly changing decision-generation system, which was designed to lay bare your soul.
At first, these seemed to be rumors typical of the Finns in my adopted community. But I began to contrast the stories of the secret floor and the secret game with the theories about the destructive space robot. While the stories about the space robot were constantly evolving into all kinds of different directions, the story of “One Life” remained static, told similarly by all parties, with consistent rumors of Swedes being responsible. I began asking random Finns about it, and all confirmed that it was in fact real, and told a similar version of the story: a secret code could be entered into an elevator, and it would take you to the secret floor. People were in fact traveling from all over the planet to play this game. People of every race and language were insisting on entering elevators alone, and either disappearing completely, or disappearing for days, and exiting the building different somehow.
The Swedes in the building rarely spoke to me at all. I did not understand the nature of the underlying tensions between these groups, aside from the basic nature of all tensions between all neighboring tribes. I did understand that I was disliked by the Swedes because I was associated with the Finns, and also that the Finns had become possessive of me, and would not take kindly to me associating with the Swedes. A Swedish woman, however, had been making eyes at me in the cafeteria. She was older, in her mid 30s, but fit. A standard Nordic blonde. She worked in dance game development, a field in which her father had been a pioneer. She spoke fluent Japanese. She had an office two floors below the floor of my teaching hall. I had seen her in the elevator, and concluded I could navigate to her office through the stairwell without instigating further tribal conflict.
When I entered her office, it was clear that she believed I was initiating a sexual encounter. I briefly considered playing along with this. I told myself “she is very attractive,” although I did not feel that. I had not felt anything sexual in living memory, and did not understand how anyone could feel something so raw as a sexual urge in an environment so sterile. I wiped away the sexuality of the situation with an awkward smile, an awkward dart of the eyes, and an awkward “heyyyyy.” She twitched, and pulled back some, and I could feel the fickle feminine sexual switch switching off like glass shattering on a tile floor. She invited me to take a seat. “Mr. Anglin, to what can I attribute this pleasure?” I asked her about a Swedish game called “One Life.” She relayed that she knew of the game. It was created by a Swede living in a megacity in central Africa, but it was never released. The creator, Sven Svenson, committed suicide before the game was completed. He was the only person who had worked on the game, which was some kind of card game. The only reason anyone was aware of the game at all was due to Svenson’s success as a programmer and RPG narrative designer. I told her that it would be very strange if there were a famous RPG narrative designer that I was not aware of. She explained that he was from another generation, that his games were only produced in Swedish, and they were discontinued because they had become linked by several scientific studies to mental illness in teenagers. Specifically, teenagers who played the games would bash their heads against walls at a rate of over 1,000 times that of teenagers who did not play the game, she explained dryly.
I asked her what genre the games were. She said that she had never played them, but she believed they were science fantasy with limited turn-based combat. I asked if it was something like Planescape, and she said she would not know, leading me with her eyes to the various degrees in dance gaming that lined her wall. She explained that the publisher had insisted on including turn-based combat in the games, which is why Svenson started the indie card game project, where he would have full creative control. I said again that it was very strange I had not heard of him. Even if the games were never translated, even if they were discontinued. She said that perhaps she only knows of him because of her father’s role as a popular Swedish game designer, and that she believed her father might have known him in university in Stockholm, before the mega-city era. I noted that it was very strange that the single Swede I would ask about this would also have a personal familial connection to him. She agreed that this was indeed strange, but far from statistically unlikely. I asked her about the Finns claiming that the game had been installed on a secret floor in this very building, and she laughed aloud. “No, this is another Finnish blood libel against the Swedish people. The game was never finished, and no console was ever built. The Swedish gaming industry has forgotten Svenson, and the international gaming industry never knew him, as evidenced by the fact that you, the great Andrew Anglin, did not know who he was until I just told you.”
There was finality to that sentence. I nodded in a socially appropriate manner, and then felt bizarrely obligated to ask: “would you like me to stop by your room some time, after hours?”
She smiled rudely: “no, I don’t think so. Thank you, Mr. Anglin. It’s been a pleasure, but I’ve got a class coming up.”
It was shortly after that meeting that the Finnish boy who had been hounding me for mentorship began to act strangely. He continued to follow me around, but had become increasingly abusive. He had also begun carrying some type of samurai sword on his back. As far as I was aware, carrying such a weapon through the halls of a mega-city highrise was totally illegal, but no one seemed to be saying anything to him. His abuse was becoming more and more personal towards me. This seemed to follow logically, given that he was so gung-ho, and there was simply nothing I could do for him. Eventually, he handed me a 200-page hand-written manuscript, wrapped in a knotted twine. When I opened it, I found that it was nothing but “Fuck you. Die.” written hundreds of thousands of times on both sides of each page. I struggled with what to do about it. If I were to turn him in, he would be taken to a facility, and put through some kind of brutal chemical and psychological treatment, which might tear at my conscience, and would indefinitely start various rumors, including those relating to homosexuality. However, if I did not turn him in, there was a nonzero chance he would chop me up with that sword he’d been carrying around. I decided to put off the decision.
In a voluntary weekly holographic meeting with the international artist community, which I attended every week because I had nothing better to do, I asked if someone could get me into contact with the records keeper of the gaming community in the central African mega-city where Sven Svenson was stationed at the time of his suicide. By official policy of the bureaucracy, there was no such thing as “classified information” as it reduced community trust, so in theory, information was either available to the public, it had been destroyed, or it did not exist in the first place. The catch was that requesting the data through the bureaucracy could take years. However, probably for some specific reason not immediately evident, the process was surprisingly smooth; I was able to get a complete copy of the existing bureaucratic data on One Life, which would arrive in a package in my office in no less than 72 hours. (Records requests were always sent by hardcopy via drone flight.)
During this period of waiting, I did not see the boy, so I did not think about him. I had put the decision of whether to turn him in to the appropriate mental health bureaucracy out of my mind. The saga of the space robot’s attacks on segments of the Great Wall of China continued, however. There was another attack on the wall, and people were speculating that the robot was destroying pieces of the wall in the order he believed them to have been built. It was speculated by several attractive hapanese females on screens that the robot was spending his weeks-long periods in space attempting to calculate which pieces of the wall were the oldest, information which he would not have direct access to, given that he was isolated from any kind of information network. An interview was done with a chief bureaucratic official from the megacity closest to the section of the wall that had lately been attacked, a half-Swedish and half-Korean woman with some degree of plastic surgery. She assured the world that there was no disturbance of city activities as a result of the most recent attack, and added that if the robot were to attack her city, her people were prepared to open a dialogue with it. A gray-bearded space warfare bureaucratic official from the Hawaiian megacity, where the robot was built, was interviewed. He claimed that his people were in the process of building a second robot which would destroy the first. Asked how he would prevent the second robot from going rogue, he said that this new robot will be dumber. Asked how a dumber giant robot could destroy a smarter giant robot, he said that the newer robot would be more gigantic.
After seeing this segment, I knew that the chatter from the Finns would be unbearable, so in-between classes, I took the elevator to the one biodome floor in our building. It was encouraged by the screens for everyone to go to the biodome floor at least once per week in order to maintain a connection to mother earth. No one did this, and the biodome was virtually always empty. I had some fear that I would run into Greta, and we would be forced to have some kind of verbal showdown, but that did not happen. The first two times I visited, the biodome was empty, and I read in peace among the greenery and lizards and insects. However, the third time I visited the biodome, which was fitted out with jungle flora and fauna resembling that of native Sumatra, I encountered a group of Africans engaged in a sex orgy. They were totally nude and without shame. Along with visits to the biodome, regular sexual activity was also encouraged by the screens, and this was another order that virtually no one followed. The Swedeo-Finnish gaming tower of the Sumatra Mega City was sterile and sexless. It was rumored that the women from the building would take the train to African-populated towers for primitive sexual orgies, however, I did not expect to run into one in my own environ. The Africans noticed me, and smiled, with one of the males offering me a go at his female. I withdrew to the elevator, and returned to my room.
The next day, I would arrive in my office, and find the package on my desk, containing the data I’d requested. It was a huge wooden crate with many stamps on it. The nails were no doubt destroying the finish on my synthwood desk, but I paid that no mind. I needed a crowbar to open it, and that took my staff until lunchtime to acquire. Seven signatures were needed for the crowbar. Looking at the paperwork, I thought again about the strangeness of the boy who had gone wrong carrying the illicit Japanese sword through the halls of the building without fear of reprimand.
The space of the crate was mostly filled with hundreds of millions of pages of binary code printed on magnetic tape. Halfway through, I found an autopsy report in Swedish. I handed it to one of my Swedish-speaking aides, and was told that his death was ruled “suicide by smashing his head against a wall.” I asked the aide if that was possible, and he explained that he did not know, but that the report was official and detailed. As we talked, I continued pulling rolls of magnetic tape from the crate, finding that they were all just more binary code. I almost thought there was nothing else there. However, there was, conveniently, at the bottom of the crate, a package of CD-ROMs with dates written on them. These contained video logs of the final days of One Life’s development, which ended with his suicide. Conveniently, the tape I played first contained exactly what I needed to know in order for my narrative to progress. Svenson, a well-groomed, pudgy man in his early 60s, stared directly into the webcam, and spoke with proper English despite the heavy accent: “The game is a lie. Like every good lie, there is a high dose of truth, but the game is a liar. I cannot prevent myself from playing it, but the game should never be opened to the public. It should be destroyed, and I would destroy it myself, but it won’t let me. I will face the game. It will kill me. But I will not let it take me.”
I skimmed through some of the rest of the video footage, but did not find anything else particularly dramatic. Most of the information he was recounting was about the nature of the decision-trees in the game, and his own astonishment at how they seemed mathematically impossible somehow. I did not understand much of what he was communicating. I was never a computer programmer, and despite being an established and respected authority on narrative design, knew almost nothing about video game math. The man spoke as though he’d discovered some mystery of the universe, but it just went over my head. Even if a decision tree was written with advanced machine learning, it couldn’t be infinite, because language is not infinite, and potential decisions are much fewer than language combinations. The man also appeared unhinged, and the ramblings, I thought, probably wouldn’t mean much to me even if I was a math genius.
I had discovered that the stories the Finns were telling of a Swedish suicide game were true, but there was no link to a secret room in this Sumatra complex. Svenson said that he was not capable of destroying the game himself, but that didn’t mean there was a conspiracy to build the game after Svenson’s suicide. In fact, the ease with which I was able to draw up these records implied there was no conspiracy. Or, at least no conspiracy from the top bureaucracy. A conspiracy by Swedish game developers probably couldn’t involve a secret floor in a megacity tower – unless, of course, the elevator design team had been infiltrated by the Swedish RPG community, which, as the Swedish would say, was strange but not statistically unlikely.
It was then that I conveniently witnessed Greta Thunberg having a public breakdown. These were not uncommon, and in fact happened at least twice monthly. They generally took place in the building’s central hall, which I did not visit often, so I would only hear about them from the gossipy Finns, who appeared to expect me to take some action against her. This breakdown, however, happened on my floor, in front of my regular elevator, and appeared to be specifically put on for my attention. Greta was screaming that someone was impersonating her. I stood and watched her. She went up to other Swedes in the hallway, saying “why aren’t you stopping her? You’re not even listening to me!” and indeed, no one appeared to be listening to her. No one appeared to notice the artistic leader of the Swedish community in Sumatra, one of the most important Swedish artists in the world, having a breakdown. I could understand that the Swedes would get tired of this girl, in theory, but there was no previous evidence that they had been. Every public breakdown Greta had ended with the Swedes gathering around her in a large group hug. But these Swedes, in this hallway, on my office floor, were simply ignoring her. Finally, she noticed me looking at her, and came at me, saying: “you motherfucker! You are the one behind this aren’t you! How dare you!”
“Greta, let’s not do this right now. Please,” I asked with genuineness. “Don’t you believe that all people are supposed to get along? Why do you push this conflict with the Finns?”
“No, no, no, no! You made her, didn’t you? You are trying to take control of the building! You may be trying to take control of the whole global bureaucracy! Your father worked for the oil companies, didn’t he? You American pig! Capitalist! You’re trying to take back control!”
“Greta, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You made her! You made the clone! You designed that blasted fucking room with that stupid fucking game!”
Wait, what? Now this was interesting. “What game?”
“You know exactly what game! That evil fucking life game! The one that made the clone!”
“Tell me more about the game.”
“Oh, sure, let me tell you about your own fucking game, American oil man! Well, I’m going back. I’m going to beat the game, and then you will have to destroy that clone you made of me! I will win!”
She then went into the elevator and looked around to ensure no one besides me was watching her, and entered a code. I got the code. It was 14 digits alpha numeric, and I was able to remember it long enough to write it down.
Immediately after this, I saw Greta on the screen in my office. Her breakdown was not reported by the attractive hapas. No, it wasn’t even a report on her – it was a livefeed. She appeared uncommonly calm. She was giving a speech about “mending the conflicts in the tower community” – a common phrase of hers, which the Finns claimed was an attack on them. The video feed said “live,” and it was not possible that she could have gone live merely minutes after the meltdown I’d just witnessed. Either the tape was not live, or this Greta giving the speech was indeed a clone. This speech was different from any I’d witnessed previously. Greta seemed somehow even darker than before, while also maintaining her composure much more stringently. She began to speak about the Finns explicitly, saying that there would soon come a time when “they would have to pay for the damage they are doing to our community.” Her speech rhythm was akin to the slow-beat of an African war drum. There was an underlying air of tribal violence.
And other violence was afoot. The Finnish boy with the sword threw open my office door with his sword unsheathed. “I told you I was going to fucking kill you, old man. Now I see that you are working with Greta? I should have known. How could I be so fucking stupid? How did I not see it?”
I remained still as he slowly approached, the tip of his Japanese sword getting ever closer to my face. I maintained direct eye contact. “Why don’t you put that down and we’ll talk?”
“I will put you down – like the rabid dog that you are! I will beat you at your own game. I will beat your game!”
The fear disappeared, the fight or flight mechanism overpowered by my profound interest in his reference to a game he called mine: “what game?” I said. “What game are you referring to? One Life? What do you know about it?”
“Nothing that you don’t already know,” he replied. He paused, closely observing my facial movements: “or maybe I do? Maybe I do know more than you? Maybe it is I who will become the true master, when I finally win? I’m close, old man, you have no idea how fucking close I am. What powers will I unlock? Not even you know, do you? Tell me!”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. I will know. I will win. I will become the most powerful one of all. I will overwrite your name. They will blot you out, and it will be me who they look toward. Congratulations, old man. Today, you will live. For when I master your game, I want you to be there to see it, as I take on the power.”
He backed slowly out of the door, then turned and ran. I stood up and locked the door. I took some deep breaths, and began to organize my thoughts. I had the elevator code to the game room. And at that point, understanding the game was the single most important thing in the universe to me. It was the first thing in my life that did not bore me. The secret room, the secret game. Even if I did not solve the mystery of life itself, it would surely be more interesting than a giant robot in outer space and mounting tribal conflict in the tower. I would give my life to know what was going on. But Greta and the boy were both aware of the room. Greta could not stop me from playing the game. But the boy and his sword certainly could. And I had definitely lost any sense of guilt over turning the boy in. It was 4:15. I had time to visit the mental health bureaucracy and give testimony leading to the boy’s arrest and deportation to some facility, and I would then visit the secret room using Greta’s code after six, when the elevators would be sure to be clear.
The mental health bureaucracy counselor was a hapanese woman in her 60s with extreme plastic surgery. The veins in her neck showed the severity of both the surgery and her addiction to physical fitness. She spoke to me as if she was speaking to a small child, and it was obvious that she spoke to everyone this way all the time. I gave her the information about the boy, and explained the incident. She pulled up a screen and said that records showed that the boy did not live in the Swedo-Finnish Gaming Tower anymore. He’d left some number of weeks ago. The dates she gave appeared to line up with the period he’d begun carrying the sword. “There are no swords in this building. Are you feeling okay, Mr. Anglin? Based on your official statements made to me in an official office of the bureaucracy, you appear to be suffering from hallucinations. This is not uncommon, and our treatments are successful.”
“No. No, I’m fine.”
“Are you trolling, Mr. Anglin? I am legally obligated to inform you that trolling an official mental health office of the official mental health bureaucracy is a felony, even if performed for artistic inspiration or intention.”
“No. No, it must be the first thing. I am clearly having some type of hallucinations. I will return tomorrow for treatment.”
“I’m afraid that will not be possible. We cannot have people suffering from severe hallucinations on the loose in the community. I can give you a chemical treatment now, or, if you choose to forego chemical treatment in favor of neuropathic and psycho-pathological treatment, I will have to take you into custody. You will be put inside of a box and shipped by drone to our facilities in the Greek Oil Painting Tower. These facilities are extremely comfortable, Mr. Anglin, and we will be able to get you the help you need in this time of trouble. The chemical injection is safe and effective and does not cause long-term brain damage or significantly alter your DNA.”
The tablet attached to the front of her desk showed two buttons, the option of a syringe and the option of Sigmund Freud’s face. “Please choose your treatment, Mr. Anglin.”
The door to the hallway was opened, but a large man in medical scrubs now stood in it holding a syringe in one hand and a pair of shackles in the other, waiting for me to make my decision.
In one swift, smooth movement, I stood up and picked up the chair I was sitting in and whacked the large nurse with it. As he fell into the hallway, the woman said “Mr. Anglin, please restrain yourself, sir,” as I bolted to the nearest elevator and entered the secret code for the secret room with the secret game.
The room was dark. A polished concrete floor with one screen in the middle. A calm and calming voice spoke: “Hello, Andrew. I see that you’ve come to play with me. That makes me very happy. Please, sit down. Be comfortable.”
The screen was an old and faded 65 inch LED TV mounted to a large polished particleboard fixture. The dramatic smiling and frowning faces of comedy and tragedy were featured on a plastic signage above the screen. On the screen was a black and white, pixelated logo, reminiscent of an Atari game, reading: “One Life” with the subheading “Know Thyself.” In front of it was a cushioned leather seat, and fixture with a pad of three buttons. Behind the machine, at either side, against the back of the large, dark, windowless room, were neon signs lit up with the drama faces. The smiling face was red and the frowning face blue. Both were mounted above industrial self-service crematoria. These were purposefully visible upon entry to the room. It was part of the design of the game.
The room spoke again, with a voice that remained calm: “those are the exits for the losers, Andrew. You are not a loser. You will know yourself. I will help you know yourself, and you will walk out the winner’s door.” The room did not have to point out that the “winner’s door” was the door through which I entered. But for effect, as the voice said “winner’s door,” a pink neon light danced around the elevator door.
Then, an 8bit tune began playing, as a brief animation showing a face smiling and frowning up and down before a tree grew out of his head showed on the screen.
Then the voice said: “Tell me which word best describes your first childhood memory, Andrew.”
The question, along with three answers, appeared on the screen: happy, fear, lost.
I stared at the screen for an unknown number of seconds. I sat down on the seat, and continued staring at the screen, which did not change. The voice remained silent. I could hear the buzz of the neon lights above the twin death machines. The flicker rate was mesmerizing.
Finally, I clicked the button.
“I’m sorry you felt lost, Andrew. Who lost you?”
Mommy, Daddy, God.
Thus far, the hype was officially lived up to. This was a very difficult second level.
Just then: a car alarm from the parking lot below.
I awoke, back in real life. The dream, like so many impactful dreams I’ve had in my life, felt more real than reality, and made my return to the land of the living feel stale. The car alarm continued. I sat up and used my index fingers to rub the sleep from my eyes. When the alarm finally stopped, I laid back down and tried to return to the game room, but it was not to be. Instead, I appeared in a room-remodeling game show with my mother, quickly realized this was not the correct dream, and woke myself up to begin typing.
Note: this was a real dream, typed up immediately after waking, following every remembered detail, and published on the morning of Sunday, July 31, 2022.