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8 Steps to Winning Your Partner Back (From the Server)

A.T. Greenblatt is a mechanical engineer by day and a writer by night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won't leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise XVI and her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Escape Pod and Buzzy Mag, as well as other online journals. This is her third story to appear in Daily Science Fiction.

First and most importantly, believe you're doing the right thing. Tell yourself this guide will work--tell yourself whatever you need to in order to step into your POD, close the door, hook up, and log into the game. After that, act normal. Wear your avatar like the mask it is.
Just like every other night.
In the server's lobby, keep cool and ping her. Invite her on a raid. Not just any raid, of course. Only the most difficult and exclusive two-player mission will do. Your partner is a platinum-level player, after all. Don't insult her abilities.
Instead, tell her this is the most important fight of your virtual career and yeah, you know things between you guys haven't been great lately, but you can't imagine teaming up with anyone else. So… want to kick some alien ass?
Of course she does. That's why she's playing this game. That's why she's still your partner (on the server at least), which kind of puts your life in perspective.
Just accept the damn mission.
The game drops you far from the Boss making you and your partner tromp through a virtual marshland to reach your goal. But the graphics are so real and responsive, your combat boots are actually sinking in the mud while the pesky low-level aliens spawning every hundred feet rustle in the reeds around you. You hear your partner laugh as she takes out those suckers with ease, feel the heat rising off her well-used gun, see her breath mist up as she cracks one of her classic dirty jokes. It's all so lifelike it could be real.
But it's not.
In reality, your partner's sitting in the POD next to you, in the small, shabby apartment you rent together.
In reality, she might as well be a million miles away.
The POD (Personal Optic-Simulation Device) is lightproof, soundproof and optimized for a totally immersive game experience.
But it's not smell proof.
Bake some brownies beforehand. Let them cool on the counter as you play. Let the game look like a bog, but smell like chocolate. Watch her avatar smile that smile that always makes your heart seize up for a second. Before you installed the PODs, your partner used to call movies and brownies, "the perfect date night." Bonus points if the flick had extraterrestrials in it.
But that was before you lost her to the server, of course.
If you want your partner back, it's important to remind her of life before the POD. True, regular life seems bland compared to the vibrant, sprawling landscapes of the game and endless excitement found within.
You get it, really; you love this game, too.
But your partner is not some in-game trophy and she's definitely not a princess in a tower. She's your friend and the love of your life who happens to adore reptiles and the Mets. And between work and the POD, you haven't seen her in weeks.
So, tell her about your day as you fight through the endlessly spawning aliens and up the steps to the final arena. Be sure to include details. (e.g., Wrote another "Steps-To-Winning" article today, which the Internet will probably completely ignore, but at least the bus was on time.) She will give you her trademark sidelong stare that says, "And this is important, why?" But stick with it. You remember who she was before she started wearing her badass avatar for ten plus hours a day.
To you, she was perfect.
Be sure to equip the best gun in the game before you face the Boss. You spent the last three months working your ass off on perfect kill counts to get this sweet piece of weaponry. Now you're going to use it on the biggest, hardest, most aggressive alien in the game.
The battle starts instantly, without the grace of a cut scene. The arena is empty one minute and then there's one giant, pissed off alien in front of you, spewing slime that feels disconcertingly real.
So there you are with your partner, shouting commands and warnings, dodging tentacles, and firing like a lunatic and oh god, do you feel alive. The adrenaline is pounding in your ears to the rhythm of your gunfire as you and your partner beat the monster down, down, down.
It's... surprisingly easy. You may have leveled up too much.
Congratulations. Now, you and your partner are one shot away from being the best players in the game.
Remember, you're doing this for her. Don't forget that. Don't forget that this isn't real and the last time you caught a glimpse of your partner outside the POD she was a wraith, a sickly shadow of who she once was. The thing is, you both love the game, it's a feat of engineering, but the POD designers didn't think to include safeguards, health monitors, or time limits. There's nothing to stop players from disappearing within.
Remember, this big ass gun--it won't actually kill when you turn it on yourself.
Tell her you love her before you pull the trigger.
Tell her you miss her.
Remind her it's just a game.
After you die, the POD will be unusually dark and cold. Unhook yourself and step out.
Stand outside your partner's POD. Put a hand on the door handle. Hesitate.
Here's the thing--this guide's a lie. There's no guarantee your partner will change or even forgive you for sabotaging the best raid in the game. You can't make her unhook or eat brownies or do anything she doesn't want to.
All you can do is open the door.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, October 19th, 2015

Author Comments

I love video games. After reading, they're my favorite form of entertainment. No other storytelling medium engages its audience so directly. Over the years, it's been fun and exciting to watch games grow into a more complex, lifelike art form.

At the same time, I wonder what will happen when we do create games that are completely immersive. These days, I only pick up my controller a few hours a week--I'm not a hardcore player by any stretch of the imagination. But I also know how one hour of playing can turn into four. So, what will designers do to make sure their players don't get lost in a game that feels real? Is it even their responsibility? Or is it the players'?

Honestly, I don't know. Probably a bit of both.

- A. T. Greenblatt
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