Disclaimer: Wreck-It Ralph and related characters belong to Disney. Mentioned outside videogame properties belong to Nintendo, Capcom, Namco, Atari, etc. whomever owns what I mentioned. This story was written out of love, no profit is sought.
GAMEPLAY AND STORY SEGREGATION
Times of quiet like these were precious and few in Sergeant Calhoun's life. She gazed out at the night sky through the windows of Niceland's penthouse as she sat at the bar and sipped a martini. It wasn't normally her drink of choice, but Felix fixed the best martinis and had a surprising way with booze for being the sweet protagonist of a mostly-innocent old game. Then again, "inside the penthouse" was a part of the game that the children who visited the arcade never saw and none of the "realworlders" saw anything that went on after-hours, anyway.
It certainly was better than guzzling the swill at Tapper, which is what most of her men did after-hours. She'd been down there once, prompting her to say "Root beer my grandma's tailfeathers!" It was a sort of unspoken common knowledge among all the older characters around the arcade that Tapper only became "Root Beer Tapper" as a clever bit of censorship that allowed children to play it. The bartender stayed true to his roots as a bar-diversion by serving most customers what he called "the real stuff." In Calhoun's reckoning, however, the "real stuff" was the "cheap stuff." It was all pixels and code, anyway.
"It must be nice," the Sergeant said.
"What?" Felix said, setting down his shaker.
"Livin' here," she continued. "You got ol' Ham-Hands to deal with every day, but you're actually friends with your 'villain' and don't have to worry about him eating anyone."
"I'd hope not!" Felix yelped. He leaned on the bar casually. "But to tell you the truth, it was pretty lonely before… you started showing up."
The blush up in his cheeks and the goo-eyes. "Oh, Lord" Calhoun thought. She smiled in spite of herself. Her husband may have been a cheeseball, but he did know how to say just the right things sometimes.
She'd been spending most of her after-hours time in the Fix-It Felix Jr. cabinet of late. It wasn't just about marital bliss; it was about being invited to be in a quiet, truly nice place. Her game was a hellscape – a bleak post-apocalyptic wasteland world draped in gray and steel. Even the relatively safe barracks were drab. Sugar Rush was far too sweet for her tastes. Her man's game had just the right touch of age and color – more colorful than her world, but not as bright as some of the 1990's-era games.
"Where is the big gorilla tonight, anyway?"
"Oh," Felix said, "The Madame President had a huge race today, so he's in Sugar Rush to watch it. Vanelope said something about wanting to bake Ralph his own kart so he can do after-hours racing, too, but that it needs to be put to a vote."
"A vote? By whom?"
"The other racers. Each of them represents a section of the candy-people. She actually is trying out the democracy-thing. Well, sort of."
Calhoun laughed. "I think I liked her better when she was threatening to execute everyone. Kid's got spunk, I'll give her that."
"We ought to go to a few races sometime…together!"
"I'd rather not have my final Game Over be from diabetes."
The two of them moved to the couch and sat down together. It was moments like these that the lady warrior really noticed just how big she was compared to her husband. It hadn't been like that with Brad. He'd been a big bruiser just like everyone in her game was. Her soldiers were, clad in their armor, all about Ralph-sized. The happy couple didn't have long to cuddle on the couch. Morning would come soon, which meant that mid-morning would come soon and with it, the opening of Litwak's Family Fun Center.
A protective feeling welled up within her as she draped an arm around Felix's shoulder. She came here, but he didn't go to Hero's Duty, at least not anymore. He'd been there a few times. She'd taught him to use guns and how to take out Cy-Bugs. Felix had actually started to become a good shot and enjoyed his moments of badassery. He claimed that he needed to be ready should the Cy-Bugs ever escape the game again.
Calhoun wondered just why Hero's Duty had been designed with such a dangerous feature – the nature of the Bugs was not a "bug," it was a feature. Felix had assured her that poor Litwak did not know Hero's Duty had a computer virus inside it. He cautioned that they had to do all they can to make sure none of the realworlders ever knew because such a thing would lead to the game being unplugged.
Felix's time in Hero's Duty, however proved to be disastrous on more than one occasion. One time, when they were overwhelmed, he taken to smashing at partially-disabled Cy-Bugs with his golden hammer in a desperate attempt to put them down, having forgotten the hammer's main property for just a moment. He'd fixed every insect, bringing their enemies back into perfect working order. The last campaign he had there was by far the worst – he'd almost been killed. Private Markowski had panicked and shot for a Bug that was behind him, grazing his hair. Felix had almost had his head taken off. This had prompted the Sergeant to put her foot down and to kick her darling out of her game.
His Game Over would have been forever… just like Brad's. As hard-bitten as she was, she knew she couldn't handle that again. He was going to live a fun, safe life, fixing things, visiting the safe games, keeping his resident colossus in line and paling around with Q-Bert if it killed her. Her Felix didn't deserve to die like a solider. Soldiers died horrible deaths – even when they could respawn.
"Been wonderin' somethin'," she mumbled.
"Hmm?" a sleepy Felix said from her side.
"If we die in our own games, we respawn… I've seen many of my men cut down, even eaten by the Bugs, but we reset for the next game-session. Even the First Person Shooter comes back if the player puts in more quarters. Soldiers that die in the cutscenes, though… I ain't ever seen them respawn. It's like they die outside their game, it's like…"
"Brad died outside his game," Felix finished for her. He hopped down from the couch and stood before her, keeping a close hold on her hand. "He didn't respawn, even though he was within his world."
Felix watched his love. She was surprisingly calm. He knew that if one of her eyes twitched in a certain way, it meant that she was about to explode. This was something that his hammer could not fix, an integral part of her programming.
"It's my backstory," Calhoun sighed.
"It's not even part of the game…"
"Tammy," Felix said gently, "This… is what is called 'gameplay and story segregation.' I've been around for a long time… I've seen a lot of games arrive since I've been here. The stories have gotten bigger… more complex."
Calhoun closed her eyes and drooped her shoulders. "All I know is that I'm hog-tied and chicken-fried. My programming is supposed to be 'realistic' – like the stuff realworlder soldiers get. I still don't get it. No one had to hurt you to get people to want to play Fix-It Felix Jr."
"That is because our stories are different," Felix tried to explain. "I'm not a bad…booty…" he said with a blush, still unable to bring himself to proper cursing. Then again, his lady had an unusual method for spewing curses, too. "You see, back when my game was created, stories were simple. There's the building, there's Ralph wrecking everything, the residents giving me pies and me fixing things. That's it. When newer games with more defined graphics came around, the players wanted more complex stories, too. Hero's Duty has an amazing story!"
"It's mostly just shootin' and tootin'," the Sergeant complained.
"It's a science-fiction epic!" Felix disagreed. "Cybernetic experiments gone wrong, infected planets… stuff blowing up! I just fix apartments you… you're out there saving the universe and all humanity every day!"
Calhoun sighed. "It's not real. None of it is. Sometimes I'm jealous of all of you who live in the simple games."
"It's not always so simple," Felix said, taking his hat and wringing it in his hands. "Sometimes I get bricks dropped on me or Ralph pounds me with one of his giant fists and he doesn't mean to hurt me – but he's Ralph. Or take Mario… he gets the princess he likes kidnapped by that giant dragon Bowser all the time… they're actually on good terms after-hours and in their side-games, like Ralph and me. They even go go-karting together! But even there, it's not all rosy-posy… I think Princess Peach secretly likes Bowser more than Mario and is just stringing him along…"
Felix paced and re-hatted himself. "Then there's Frogger. He's got one of the simplest stories… The player has to get him across a busy highway and through a swamp to his home and the poor little guy gets squished all the time… and did you know he can drown? The programmers made it so a frog can drown in water…where frogs are supposed to be!"
"None of them are Hero's Duty, though."
Felix gave her uncharacteristically serious look. "No, they're not… but there's an old school game that's worse. I'm sure you haven't heard of it, but it was very popular when I was young."
"Hard to believe… So what was it?"
"Berzerk." Felix answered. "The player-character was a random human… He was rendered kina like the Pong paddles, actually. I never got his name. His story was that he was trapped in a prison on an alien planet run by robots and had to try to escape the prison by shooting robots and running through mazes. There was also an evil smiling creature that chased him if he didn't complete a maze on time."
"Sounds like climbin' the Cy-Bug tower."
"What happens when you get the First Person Shooter up to the tower and the player gets their medal, Tammy?"
"The game ends. Very few players ever get the medal."
"But it ends," Felix insisted. "Berzerk NEVER ended. The poor guy just had to go through maze after maze to no end."
"What was the point of the game, then?"
"To earn high scores. Many games back in the day were about scoring points. My father's game was one of the first to have an actual story with story-based rewards."
"The player gets you a medal… and gets to watch the big palooka get thrown off the roof."
Felix shrugged. "Some game rewards are comedy-based. I never thought about how Ralph felt about it, but he seems to actually like that part now."
"Better hope Litwak doesn't move the candy-boppers."
"The guy from Berzerk… I met him outside our games a few times… He said he prayed every day for his game to be unplugged."
"Sissy," Calhoun huffed.
Felix got back up on the couch with Calhoun.
She sighed again, gazing sidelong to the night outside the windows. "What really greases my gravy is that I don't know if any of it was real. My backstory… it's cutscene programming – an implanted memory. Was Brad even real? I shouldn't even be talking about this…"
"Don't worry about it," Felix assured. "I'm not the jealous type."
"Nothing fazes you, does it, Fix-It?"
"Of course he was real," Felix said suddenly. "He is in your memories, a part of you, and you're real… real to me. How real are any of us? I learned long ago that we characters are all the products of the imaginations of the realworlders. They don't think we're real… but we are…"
"I don't follow. You're soundin' crazier than a Cy-Bug on a sugar-high."
Felix jumped off the couch and took both her hands in his. "Don't you see, Tammy?" he asked, "It's all about the players. We touch something in them… our stories, our sense of fun. They come to us again and again. It's not just the kids. I've been here long enough to see some of those kids grow up and come back even when they're grown-ups."
"You'll learn. To them, we are fiction, but if we did not touch something real within their hearts, they wouldn't keep coming back to play with us."
Calhoun cocked an eyebrow. "You're saying that they're our friends?"
"Exactly! They love us, so we're in their hearts. Even if we aren't 'real,' that love is."
The Sergeant looked down painfully. "My…My love for Brad was real, even though he's just a part of my programming. So…"
"He was real, Tammy." Felix said seriously. "It doesn't matter if he only appears in cutscenes and character profiles. Your love for him was real."
Calhoun smiled one of her rare non-psychotic-looking smiles. She squeezed her love's hands. "Thank you, Fix-It. Thank you."
"It doesn't matter that I'm 8-bit and that you're high-definition, either, or that we live in a world of code and a sea of electricity… My love for you is real. And I want to see you smile like that more often."
"Maybe I'll start practicing."
Felix got one of his honeyglows.
"It's going to be opening-time soon," Calhoun observed. "I'd best skedaddle."
As the two took the elevator down, they could hear the sound of the tram. As they came to the platform, they saw Ralph riding in – barely fitting in – the last car, licking a lollipop that was as big as his head.
"Oh, hey guys!" he greeted. "You should have been there! The race was awesome! Vanelope burned up the track! And she did this thing to Muttonfudge with this giant blueberry pie…"
Ralph gave the Sergeant a long look. "I really didn't want to leave," he added. "It looks like you don't, either."
"Can it, Ham-Hands," Calhoun groused as Ralph exited the tram car and she sat down. "Duty calls."
"Duty calls," Felix said somewhat sadly.
As the tram left, she gave him a salute and a genuine smile.
Shadsie, March 2013.
This is my first fanfic for this fandom. I did not say so at the head-notes because I think that it's the kind of thing that should be saved for the end since "firsts" are usually awkward. Announcing your "first" is a potential turn-off to readers. Now that you've actually read the fic, I can safely tell you that it's a "first for fandom."
I am a veteran writer for many other fandoms – and mostly videogame fandoms for the last several years. My profile carries a very long list of Legend of Zelda stories as well as a few for slightly more obscure games such as Shadow of the Colossus. I went to see Wreck-It Ralph in the theater primarily for the videogame cameos. I left the theater knowing I "got" almost every reference! (And I miss Street Fighter II…) One of my guy's Chirstmas gifts to me this year was getting the requisite parts he needed to set up his old Atari 2600 for me. I am old enough to have memories of its games as a significant makeup of my childhood. I'm that much of a geek.