Sunday, July 8, 2007

Time for Work

Dithers unplugged. Dithers looked like your average person. A bit of a bronze skin tone, light brown eyes, and sandy hair. He was thin and by our standards could be considered good looking, but it wouldn’t have meant much to him if you said so. In this form, Dithers was just another guy in his mind. It was in the game that he stood out. The game was good. He was sitting at the table of his one room apartment, a little two seater with a coat rack that lifted into the grey wall. Across from him was an oven-box that slid into a closet with the tap of a button. A television that was rarely used could slide into the floor. It was possible to make the entire room fill up with a button, or become totally empty with that same button. All the same, it was a small apartment. The trashcan slid out as Dithers dumped the half-eaten bowl of cereal before him as he prepared to go to work Dithers put on his coat and checked the messages on his X-Gear: no calls, no e-mails, and no news. He resisted the urge to plug in for just a moment, to say screw work that day. He put on his coat and headed out the door. Maybe he could get in a session on the train.

On the Train

The grass rustled in the breeze as I checked the latching on my armor again. It was an exquisite design, crafted by the finest programmers out of the Amartic Province. I spent over a month saving up enough money, scrounging through Goblin corpses and selling boar hides to pay for it. There was better armor, naturally, but only the GameMasters could have that. Someday, I’ll own a set of the VanGuard’s Purity Armament. But still, when people see me wearing this stuff, they know. The air was cold but sweet, the ever-present snow from the high mountains still blowing against my back as I headed out into the plains. “Today is a good day for killing,” I muttered. The tracks on the ground were fresh, just a few minutes ago at least two Chimera’s had passed. It would be a good hunt. Better if Kaylee were online. A growl in the distance told me I might have enough time to make a kill. Probably not though. I stood and stared up at the open sky, the blue snow covered mountains, and sighed. One of the best parts of the game wa- Attention Sir, we will be reaching your destination shortly. Please deactivate all simutronic devices before attempting to exit. This is for your own safety. Damn. One of the best parts of this game was just the scenery. Dithers unplugged.

Job in a Box

Work was a five story grey box about three blocks from the Lower East Processing Node. People liked to brag that their speed was superior by few seconds to the guys a couple of blocks down, but only an A.I. like Dithers’ boss even noticed. Dithers worked for an Information Sorting Firm (ISF), a place where millions of bits of data that needed to be certified by a human checker before it could go back onto the internet. The idea of being employed by a sentient A.I. to do something so menial had troubled Dithers at first, so he e-mailed his boss and asked why his job was even necessary. “Hey, Dithers. Yeah, I get this one a lot,” the A.I. had chimed in seconds later. Say what you want about working for a machine, the thing did always remember you. “Look, it would take about 15% of my overall processing power to deal with every anomalous image and file that doesn’t correspond to a precise definition of what that file should be. Processing power that could go to more important things like risk analysis and improvements to our business. So we just get a human to do it instead. Was there anything else?” Dithers said no and the A.I., which called itself Winterfresh, chimed out. Dithers rode the elevator up to his office and sat down in one of the endless rows of grey cubicles. He punched up his monitor and started the pre-lunch workload. This one was a barn. This was a chicken. That’s a cat with no tail. That’s a man with his head in his chest.

Supervisor Droid

After about an hour of sorting files, Dithers heard the familiar clank of his supervisor moving up the rows. “Please not me, please not me,” thought Dithers. Its leggings and bolts were clanking from lack of maintenance and the repeated beatings from workers. The logic was that there is almost no way to tell someone that they filed documents incorrectly without royally pissing them off. When Winterfresh had taken over operations, he ran some algorithms and determined it would improve productivity by almost 21% if employees were informed about their mistakes from someone they could then assault. So all the supervisor droids were fitted with cushioning armor and given obnoxious personalities to encourage the violence. The droid stopped outside Dithers’ cubicle. “Hey ass-clown. You fucked up 3% of your file recognitions yesterday,” it said in a mechanical whine. “I mean, it’s not like your job is hard. A fucking ATM could do your job. What the fuck?” Dithers wanted to argue with the machine but knew it was just goading him until he assaulted it. He gave it a half-hearted kick in the chest, which made the droid pause for a moment before it resumed speaking, “Listen, the Boss is getting concerned about employee errors in relation to these simutronic games. We’ve got a real issue with people playing while on the job and trying to multi-task. You know what I think? Leave the fucking multi-tasking to us machines.” At that, Dithers sighed, picked up his trashcan, and smashed it into the robot’s face until it finally shut up. “There! Much better. Now get your shit together,” the droid garbled as it clanked away.

Looking Around

Another hour passed after the beating and Dithers had begun to glance at his X-Gear. It served as an all in one unit, allowing cellular communication, e-mail, and most importantly of all, net access. He could log onto the game from anywhere using his X-Gear as a conduit. There were no plugs, no chords to worry with, the system was wireless and connected to a chip in Dithers brain. The whole thing was pretty common, like getting your ear pierced. Installation consisted of Dither sitting in a chair while a smelly 17 year old made the adjustments before there was a click and a prickling sensation in his head. Almost everyone else at Dithers’ job had the same simutronic hook-up, which meant that everyone Dithers knew played some sort of game. The fantasy one that Dithers currently spent most of his time was just one of many. There were religious games, re-enactments of famous events, and even literary themes. Almost every I-Tube show that came on had a downloadable recreation of the set, so fan boys could spend hours just playing worlds that had once only been fantasies. Dithers had little time for anything besides his own game though, one of the most popular fantasy games that had come out in the past decade.

Plugging in During Work

The game was called ‘World of Realcraft’ and Dithers had become obsessed within minutes of playing. He could go on for hours about the Shapeshifter Clan Wars, the epic feud between the Shadow and Fire Guilds, and the Dragons that were always running amuck. Dithers himself was one of the top Paladins in the game, highly regarded throughout the service. The only problem was that no one in his office played the same game as him, so no gave a shit. Chang-Su was the commander of his own starship in ‘StarFight’, leading a crew of twelve other people who spent three hours (it usually went up to five) cruising the galaxy and fighting pirates. The Dwight Brothers were both from a strict Baptist family, so they spent most of their time playing ‘GalileeWay’. Dale was an obsessive Civil War enthusiast, working with the countless others who re-enacted the Battle of Gettysburg over and over again. Lately, Dithers had overheard at the water tank that the South had been winning more often. A few people would act out Shakespeare plays or I-Tube shows with their friends, but some things are always timeless: those people were generally considered losers. But for Dithers, ‘Realcraft’ was all that really held his attention. He had practiced enough at work that he could play for 5 minutes, work for 1, and then switch back without making too many mistakes. But still, he tended to make a few.

A Quick One While He's Away

It was a supposed to have been a quick session. But the goblins had begged to differ. “Keep your shield up!” I screamed at the new player in front. Fighting wasn’t particularly realistic in the game, but one did have to multi-task just a little bit. Kaylee cast a healing spell at him and shot me a grin. “Stupid new people. How long till you need to time out?” she asked. “Crap, I’d almost forgotten,” I muttered before pausing myself out. The office was quiet except for the hum of monitors and the distant clanking of the supervisor droid. Dithers brought up the screen and raced through a load of images and data, assigning identities with a practiced eye. House. House. Car. Word file. Child’s diary. Two men fleeing. House. He knew that he’d just been reprimanded for doing this, but Dithers had already made a date to meet Kaylee out on the plains. She was waiting for him to come back, watching over his character while he caught up on work. He would do the same for her. “I’m back,” I shouted as my figure lurched to life, my ivory sword resuming the dull white glow that signified its use. “Oh good, you’re just in time. They’re using fire bombs,” Kaylee said dryly. An explosion blew the new guy to pieces, his ghost appearing over the remains. “Ugh, how long till you time out and check on the other world?” I asked.