art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico
The Most Complicated Avatar
by Mary E. Lowd
It feels strange to me, deep in my stomach, that I can't find my ten-year-old girl in real life--but that, maybe, I can find her here.
My hand shakes on the computer mouse as I log in to Second World, using one of the default avatars--a woman with straight blonde hair like a plastic shell and the expressionless face of a crash-test dummy. I try messaging my daughter through the in-game chat window right away, but my message bounces back. I check for her name, "fluttercat," on the online user list, but it's not where it should be between "flutter14" and "flutterkid." My throat constricts with a swallowed sob, but I refuse to believe this tenuous connection to my missing daughter won't pan out. Maybe she's set her status to "hidden."
I begin navigating my avatar through the in-game trams from one city to the next, bumping into walls and getting stuck in the occasional corner. Everywhere, I look for Daria's avatar. Yet, I have no real plans until I notice the scribbles of flowers taped to the corner of Daria's monitor and remember her latest Second World obsession. If she's here, I know where she is.
I wish I could teleport there, but I haven't unlocked that ability on this avatar. I don't have a personalized avatar, because I don't really play Second World. I know my way around, though, because I've watched over Daria's shoulder more than enough.
I take the trams to the right city and head out of town, through the virtual forest. The trees have leaves like fractals, and the sunlight streams down in shafts filled with swirling dust motes. If you watch long enough, you can see the swirling patterns repeat. I've watched my daughter come this way so many times, but I've never followed the path myself. I'm afraid I'll get lost among this forest of clones--each tree clearly sharing the same basic code.
Then I see the glade Daria loves open up before me. And there she is.