Life After Leroy
At midnight, Vyko tells his guild "afk coffee." However, upon backing away from his computer, Vyko's player does not head straight for his coffee machine. He spins in his chair and stretches his neck in preparation for a long raid. Before he returns to his keyboard, he will have toyed with the dimmer switch in the room and searched through playlists full of powerful, inspiring music in the hope of creating optimal play conditions. Only when precisely the correct amount of light counterbalances the glow of his flatscreen, glare-free monitor and exactly the desired volume of Wagner fills the room does Vyko's player type "kk im bakc."
As Vyko and Vyko's player both sit and wait for the stragglers to join what will turn out to be a 24-man raid, Vyko's player remembers his first raid. Things were fresher then. His computer was laggier, and he made some stupid mistakes, but there was a goofy exhilaration in the sight of so many player characters onscreen. The feeling of being a part of something greater than himself was more tangible than religion. He remembers the joy of charging into the fray with a war cry on his lips that was, at the time, beginning to become a cliché. "LEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY nJENNNNNNNNKINNNNNNNNNS!
Outside the gate, his guildies discuss over Teamspeak the tactics appropriate to defeat the first mobs in front them. Though he hasn't been logged on for more than 2 hours yet, Vyko's player's eyes hurt. It is not a sharp pain, like seeing an eclipse or looking up at an old basement ceiling to receive a faceful of dust and plaster. It is a slow burn from which Vyko's player cannot escape. He imagines his frontal lobe tugging at the backs of his eyeballs and screaming at them that it is sick of this damn game. As he reluctantly pulls the first mob and his character begins hacking away and drawing aggro, Vyko's player can no longer protect himself from the revelation that the game has become work.
Though it depresses him, this turn of events in Vyko's player's brain unlocks for him a new mode of existence which genuinely allows for optimum performance. He is not Vyko the Warrior. He is not Vyko's player. He can simply go through the motions, because he is only a set of commands and algorithms, with no role to play and no true identity to hide. For much of the duration of the four-hour raid, he brushes against nothingness. When Vyko needs to draw aggro, Vyko draws aggro. When Vyko needs to DPS, Vyko DPSses like a madman. Though one of his guildies /tells "grt jorb Vyko" to Vyko's player, there is no player to answer.
At some point after he sells off some of the raid's spoils at the auction house, he snaps out of it. He logs off, turns his monitor off, and decides to have some breakfast. He can see the sun come up. Knowing that so many people are beginning their days while his is only half over gives him a strange feeling of satisfaction.
At 7:30 AM, Ryan changes his clothes, turns the lights off in his house, and begins his commute to work. He does not find it odd that he is about to spend at least ten more hours awake. The game has destroyed his internal clock, snapped each of its cogs and gears in half, and bent its hands outward. When there is no work to impose rhythm on his life, he has about a two in three chance of being awake at any given time. He has no dark circles under his eyes right now, but he does have barely-perceptible circles of pale green.
A change of atmosphere is just what Ryan needs. The brisk chill of the air outside works its way into the insides of his eyes. The crowded bus, the scummy city streets, and the cold beige floor of his office building each provide a welcome relief from the rigors of the game. Ryan now cherishes things in the world that someone who doesn't habitually play an MMO would barely consider. The real world is all in stunning hi-res, even compared to his top-of-the-line graphics card. He can't see himself in the third-person, but turning his head to change his view is more efficient and somehow more intuitive than left-clicking and dragging the mouse. Everywhere there are novel stimuli. He can walk at whatever speed he desires, and he feels every footstep. He knows that a bug in the real world won't send him falling through the floor or stuck crouching on the ground. He also knows that everyone he sees is a real person, with whom he could conceivably have a meaningful conversation and who is, more or less, exactly what they look like. He continually whistles playfully.
Ryan is a paralegal for one of the biggest law firms in the city. This firm specializes in estate law, and today Ryan is evaluating the worth of an old woman's stock holdings as they were at the moment that she died of breast cancer. He knows that her former friends and loved ones are viciously fighting over her estate, and that each side of a pending case has spent more in legal fees than either side hopes to inherit. When Ryan is finished, the stocks total less than 10,000 dollars. On another day this might have depressed him. Today, the greatest burden on Ryan's mind is that he needs to be in front of a computer to do this work.
Ryan has taken to bringing a lunch to work, turning off the light in his office, closing the door, and eating in solitude. Today, he has also brought a pair of earbuds, and as he eats he nostalgically watches the film that began the legend of Leroy Jenkins.
A group of players, all from the guild PALS FOR LIFE , has made its way through Blackrock Spire. They convene outside the door to a room brimming with dozens of foul dragonkin and their eggs. The room is a dead end, completely optional in the conquest of this instance. Over teamspeak, players debate the merits and dangers of entering the room. The characters stand in a circle, with the obvious leader of the group in the center. Another player sits outside the circle, facing the door.
The leader addresses his guildies, beginning with a labored sigh into the microphone. "Okay, guys. These eggs have given us a lot of trouble in the past. Uh, does anybody need… anything off this guy, or can we bypass him?"
" I think Leroy needs something from this guy."
"What? He needs those Devout Shoulders? Doesn't he… isn't he a paladin?"
"Yeah, but that'll help him heal better; he'll have more mana."
The leader audibly suppresses the urge to comment on the stupidity of Leroy's plan. "Christ. Okay, guys. So what we'll do… I'll run in first, gather up all the eggs so we can just kinda blast them all down with AOE. I will use Intimidating Shout to kinda scatter 'em, so we don't have to fight a whole bunch of 'em at once. When my shout's done, I'm gonna need Anthony to come in and drop his shout, too, so we can keep them scattered, not fight too many. When his is done, Bass, of course, you need to run in and do the same thing. We're gonna need divine intervention on our mages so they can AE so we can, of course, get 'em down fast 'cause we're bringing all these guys. I mean, we'll be in trouble if we don't take 'em down quick. I think it's a pretty good plan; we should be able to pull it off this time, uh... What do you think, Abdul? Can you give me a number crunch real quick?"
"Yeah, gimme a sec. I'm coming up with a 32.33 - repeating, of course - percentage of survival"
"Well, that's a lot better than we usually do…" The leader says with a defeated tone. "Ready, g-"
Leroy, the lone paladin who was sitting away from the circle gets up. "All right, chums!"
With a fury and a reckless abandon that will go down in history, Leroy makes himself known. "Let's do this! LEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY nJENNNNNNNNNNNNNNNKINNNNNNNNNNNNNNNS!"
It takes the other players a moment to register the sight that they have just witnessed. "Oh my God, he just ran in."
"Stick to the plan, Jones! Stick to the plan!"
Players begin to reluctantly follow Leroy into the perilous room. Without delay, a swarm of four-foot-tall dragons amasses around everyone. The plan evidently falls through as players run around the room in all directions, desperately using all their spells and abilities at once. "Oh, geez. Oh, fuck."
A player's computer begins to slow down in the cloud of moving objects. "I can't cast! I can't move! Am I lagging, guys? I can't move!"
"I can't AOE!"
"More are spawning!"
A player falls. "God damn it, Leroy!"
"Leroy, you moron."
Another player falls. "Rez us! Spiffy, rez us!"
"Why do you do this shit, Leroy?"
His pride utterly deflated, Leroy sobs. "It's not my fault."
The entire party has fallen. Over the corpses of their characters, they players still talk over teamspeak. "Leroy, you are just stupid as hell."
Leroy pouts. "At least I have chicken."
Lunch hour is over. It was still good for a laugh, but there are details in the movie that Ryan can no longer overlook. The adventures of Leroy and his friends were clearly staged. It was made to look as though someone was capturing live footage of the instance run, but an informed viewer could tell that the players weren't doing their best to save Leroy. Rather than fight, the point-of-view character runs around purposelessly.There's no reason for the players to all stand in a circle as they were before Leroy's charge to his death; teamspeak conversation isn't bound by the physical and social laws that govern real conversation. Also, why would they agree to go in, anyway? There's no good reason for a paladin to want cloth Devout Shoulders, a fact that someone would have surely told Leroy had he not known. How did that other player know that Leroy wanted the shoulders in the first place? Why did they save Leroy when he doomed himself? Questions such as these in Ryan's head make him ashamed to know that he once thought Leroy Jenkins to be the coolest player in the world.
The afternoon passes quickly. Ryan is still not tired as he wonders how to spend the rest of day. He wants to go for a walk, maybe go into a bookstore and read something without paying for it. He could also go home and get some laundry done. However, he is burdened by the knowledge that he really ought to get back to the game and grind a little. Even after a productive evening, he is on the verge of falling behind his friends and guildies. If too many players in his guild advance too far ahead of him in level while he's out exercising IRL or something, he won't be able to count on their support as much, either in instances or in PVP. Even if he catches up after a long absence and reaches the level cap, his friends will have better equipment. He doesn't want to let them down. He even knows some of them IRL.
He defers his decision until he's out of the building. The afternoon sun gets in his eyes, and he feels the scum of the city air on the raw, tender patches of flesh under his eyes. He grimly hustles to the bus stop. If he hurries, he can catch the early bus home. Then, if he gets something to eat and logs on as soon as he can, he should be able to level up again tonight. He thanks God it's Friday.
There is someone standing in the bus with folded arms and a colorful set of plate mail. The armor on his shoulders, however, is made of cloth. Ryan does not register this as odd until the figure refuses to get out of his way as he files into the back of the bus.
"I'll tell you what stop to get off at, you Suzie Creamcheese!"
As Ryan hustles off the bus to catch up to Leroy, he marvels at the majestic absurdity of Leroy charging in person. Ryan softly says to himself, "Run, little pally. Run."
Leroy slows to a walk, and Ryan catches up to him. The sun has mostly set. "So, where are we going, uh, Leroy?"
"We're gonna go see an old chum of mine. We're gonna go see the player who rolled me."
"Damn, this is really meta."
"Never mind, Leroy."
"Anyway, after they made that movie about me, he became like a celebrity; you know. He couldn't take it while he was playing me anymore. He just wanted to play. So he deleted me and rolled up a new toon. A warrior, I think. Pff. Gay. Warriors can't even bubble-hearth! What kind of tank can't bubble-hearth?"
"He deleted you, but you're still around? I mean, you're right here."
"Sucka can't kill me. His loss, man."
Ryan opens the door to the apartment. What he sees beside the computer in the bedroom is less than human. The only recognizable features are a mostly-intact mouse-arm and a pair of bloodshot, red-in-red eyes. In separating himself from Leroy Jenkins, this player must have lost something metaphysical, something integral to his own self IRL.
Leroy hands his greataxe over to Ryan. "Go ahead, chum."
Ryan looks over the creature's shoulder. It is playing damn well.
"So what are you waiting for, chum? Put him out of his misery!"
"Can't we help him or something?"
"Why don't you do it?"
"I'm not real, you silly goose."
Ryan has an idea. "You just don't have the guts." He hands the axe back to Leroy. "Come on, I dare you."
Leroy begins to pout. "Fine!" He brings his weapon straight down on the back of his oblivious creator's head. There is no blood, only a small trickle of grease.
Leroy opens the only door, which now leads to a terrible black void, howling and whistling with the promises of time and entropy to swallow all identities and render all the work and play of men inconsequential. The world outside the door brims with dozens of hateful, nameless intelligences that reach for Ryan and Leroy.
Leroy grins. "This is where I get off."
"He didn't need me, but I kinda needed him."
"Hey, I might be back someday, chief. Not like it's the first time I've died!" Leroy Jenkins raises his greataxe and screams more gloriously than Ryan has yet heard.
The door slams, and Ryan is alone. "Oh my God, he just ran in."
Late at night, Ryan finds himself at home. He decides that it's time for a fresh start. He rolls a new character on a different server. He may never see level 60, and he doesn't care. At midnight, Ryan Larimer Callahan, owner of the Blizzard account Secretbison, creator and sole player of Sergeant Vyko the Human Warrior and Elroy the Human Paladin, smirks. "Let's do this."