Dom hated stereotypes. They had a way of sounding right even when they were so wrong. Take him, for instance, an admitted computer geek. He didn’t weigh four hundred pounds, but he did live in his mom’s basement. He wasn’t a hacker, but he could have been; he had the skills. He wasn’t an anti-social loner, but he was shy and he was alone a lot.
The online world was as comfortable to him as the familiar sidewalk outside the house. More comfortable, actually, because there were people on the sidewalk. He wasn’t good with people. He got tongue-tied and didn’t know what to do with his hands.
Dom free-lanced for several large technology companies, mopping up other people’s messes. It was all done remotely, so he never had to visit his employers. He made some money, but not enough to get his own place. His mother said he had half a life, and if he didn’t get out of her basement he’d miss the other half.
But in his spare time, it was easier to play games. Dom got completely lost in them. There was one player in particular who always gave him a run for his money. He or she appeared as an avatar, a space-suited chimp called Kill Ratio. Dom encountered very few worthy opponents, and he was intrigued and curious about Kill Ratio’s identity. Whoever it was, the dude could play. They often kept going in endless mode* for hours after the game was officially over. When dawn sneaked through his basement window, Dom would raise his eyes from the glowing backlit keyboard and blink at the clock incredulously.
One day he received a message from Kill Ratio: “Hey, you interested in playing for spectators?”
Dom knew people paid to watch experts play the most difficult games online. It could be lucrative and he needed money. He didn’t quite know what the other half of his life was supposed to look like, but he was pretty sure it’d require cash.
“Maybe,” he responded cautiously.
“Let’s meet,” came the reply.
The chance to unravel the mystery of Kill Ratio was tempting – but a face-to-face? That was something else entirely. Dom thought it over for a full twenty-four hours before he messaged back, “OK.”
They set a time to meet at Starbucks. He was instructed to look for a tall blond girl dressed in black with numerous silver piercings. Dom almost backed out then and there. Kill Ratio was a girl? Girls were the hardest kind of people to talk to. And what would a glamorous Goth girl think of him in his wrinkled khakis and faded tee-shirt? But he wouldn’t go to any extra effort with his appearance, he decided stubbornly. It was a business meeting, after all, not a date.
He arrived early and sat at a table in the corner watching the door. The agreed-upon time came and went, but no Goth girl appeared. Increasingly nervous, Dom promised himself he’d only wait ten more minutes. He didn’t notice the quiet little brunette sitting in the opposite corner.
“Time’s up,” Dom muttered in relief, scooping up his coffee detritus. On his way to the door, a small voice stopped him. He looked down at a girl who didn’t even come to his shoulder.
“Are you, by any chance, Blackbelt?” she asked. When he nodded, she ducked her head and said, “Well, hi, I’m Kill Ratio.”
“You are?” Dom couldn’t keep the astonishment from his voice.
The girl blushed so deeply it looked painful. “I’m sorry I lied about how I look,” she said in a rush. “I didn’t think anyone would come just to meet me, and, well, I was so curious; I had to see who beats me every time. You’re really good. That’s all I wanted to say. Sorry I wasted your time.” She turned to go.
“Wait,” Dom said. “I don’t care if you’re not tall, or blond, or whatever. You can play the game. Do you want to…I mean…let’s talk.”
He leaned on the handles for balance as he pushed the wheelchair containing a tiny woman with silver hair. A couple of middle-aged children beamed as they walked with their parents through the crowd of well-wishers to the white-draped table at the front of the room. On it rested a cake in the shape of a gaming keyboard. The man helped the woman out of her chair and steadied her. He placed his hand over hers as she prepared to cut the cake.
“Wait, Mom and Dad, don’t cut it yet,” one the children said, aiming his camera. “Look here and smile. Tip the cake so we can see the inscription.”
Icing spelled out Happy 50th Anniversary in big letters. Beneath it, in smaller letters: Endless Mode.
*endless mode – A game mode in which players are challenged to last as long as possible against a continuing threat with limited resources or player-character lives, with their performance ranked on how long they survive before succumbing to the threat (such as the death of the player-character) or on score. This mode is typically offered in games that otherwise have normal endings that can be reached, providing an additional challenge to the players once the main game is completed. WikipediA