[Click “Play” to begin.]
Tessa saw the familiar dialog appear on the screen and drew in a long breath. All it had taken before was that one click and her life had changed forever.
In her mind, she’d followed the glowing cursor across the border to another world. One where she’d been someone so much closer to the person she’d wanted to be than her fourteen year old self ever could have been.
For a while the journey had been intoxicating. She’d formed friendships within the game that were deeper and dearer to her than any she’d found elsewhere. Sure, none of their trials and achievements offered any real rewards, but the joy of playing together, of being a team, and being a part of each lives despite the vast distances that separated them was more than real enough.
Or at least Tessa had thought so.
Twenty six was a long way from fourteen though, and as she looked at the old, familiar login screen beckoning her once again, Tessa felt the weight of the six years she’d been away from Broken Horizons, the game that defined her teenage years, weighing down on her.
“This is a mistake,” she said, speaking to the empty walls around her.
There should have been posters there, but those were back in the old apartment. With Crystal. It still hurt to think of her name, but it was getting better each day. Tessa told herself that and most of the time she could even pretend she believed it.
Most of the time, but not quite at that moment.
She needed a distraction. She knew herself well enough to know that. Something to break the spiralling chain of thoughts that were leading her nowhere useful or good.
The good news was, she had one. Right in front of her. Only it held its own share of broken promises.
Sighing at her own foolishness, Tessa got up, leaving the login screen behind her.
There was laundry to do. She knew she should probably do that rather than let the computer suck her in. Dishes too. The sink wasn’t too full, but she hadn’t cleaned the bowl she’d used for breakfast. She could take care of those and claim to be a responsible adult and no one would think she couldn’t hold herself together.
Except no one would think that no matter what she did. There wasn’t anyone around to judge her anymore.
“This is ridiculous,” she said, as she poured herself a glass of water. She would have preferred tea, but tea required effort and after a thirteen hour work day, hacking away at code that no one really cared about and would probably be deleted when the next feature change came in, she didn’t have that sort of energy left at all.
No energy for personal maintenance chores, at least not on a weekday, and not for stuff that could be put off. Playing games was a whole different sort of thing though. Or at least it used to be.
She sighed again as she sat back down at the computer, and then scowled at herself. She knew she was hesitating, and she knew why, but she also knew that she’d already spent a decent chunk of her limited spending money picking up the 15th Anniversary expansion pack for Broken Horizons. The game wasn’t going to be anything like what it was when she’d left it six years ago. Everything and everyone would be different and new, and that was as much the problem as it was the promise of the new expansion.
Gazing at the screen, she warred over the idea of slipping back into the shoes of Glimmerglass, her beloved Elven healer. She thought back to earlier expansions and the wild joy of exploring the new sights and progressing to new heights of power. Going it alone would be rough, but it was possible some of the people she’d known might still be playing, or might be coming back for the new “World Shift” expansion like she was.
That was almost enough to convince her to shut the program down entirely.
They’d been her friends, and her confidants, and the ones who’d supported her. Right up until they weren’t.
Turning away would be the easiest thing in the world. Did she really even want to do this? She had to be at work in less than ten hours. An hour of play wouldn’t be satisfying and a responsible adult wouldn’t let herself have more than that or, and she could hear the words in her manager’s voice, “it would hurt her productivity”.
She clicked the “Play” button and felt both the thrill of rebellion and an echo of old loss ring through her heart as the first familiar notes of the intro to Broken Horizon’s anthem boomed through the headphone speakers.
[Select Character] or [Create New Character] the game prompted her.
Without thinking her hand swung the mouse over to the Select Character option, as she’d done thousands of times before. Glimmerglass awaited just a click away, but for all the wonderful memories attached to her, there were so many painful ones too.
The kind of drama that wrecks friendships and destroys guilds doesn’t usually come from nowhere. It grows from one problem layered on top of another. It lives in hurtful words and unkind choices and it dies in apathy and regrets.
Tessa needed more than that. She thought about where she was in life, and how well she’d be able to handle running into her old guildmates. Even if there was only silence between them, it would be like a knife twisting in her old memories of when she believed that what they had together mattered to them as much as it had to her.
It didn’t take much reflection to see that she couldn’t go back into the morass of memory and broken relationships Glimmerglass represented. She loved Glimmerglass but she couldn’t be her anymore.
[Create New Character]
It was the simplest of choices. The past was the problem so the solution was straight forward- leave it behind. The new expansion for the game meant a new start for the world with a fresh storyline, and new character options to pick from, so why not make it a clean start entirely?
Even if she’d been playing consistently, Tessa knew she probably would have created an alternate character for the “World Shift” expansion, the same as she had for the “Dark Tide” and “Scourge of Dragons” expansions that had launched while she played. New characters were great for exploring the new storylines that got introduced since the character quests and the expansion storyline tended to be woven together. Also, it wasn’t as though a new characters required deleting her existing ones. Glimmerglass would still be the next time she logged in and, if she was in more of a mood to risk running into people next time, then she could always switch back.
The first choice Tessa had to make was which of the five new races she wanted to try out. The theme of the “World Shift” expansion was “creatures from beyond time and space”, but somehow that had translated into “halloween town people” for the new player choices, with the options skewing towards being cute and marketable enough that Tessa wasn’t surprised “Chainsaw Teddybear” had made the list.
Apart from their appearance though, the different races did have a fair bit of mechanical complexity to them, which meant the choice between them was one that required careful consideration. Happily, Tessa was already well armed in that regards.
Though her interest in playing Broken Horizons had been crushed by the loss of her guild, Tessa’s interest in the game itself had remained strong enough that she stayed in the loop on the general developments that occurred around it. She had a sense of what each race brought to the game thanks to reading the forums and following wiki posts from the beta testers after “World Shift” hit the public test servers, so weeding out a few of them was easy enough.
With a potential choice already in mind, she clicked on the Artifax race choice first, curious to see the options available for what was supposed to be the best casting race among the new selections. The Crystal Artifax subrace choice came with a number of special features Tessa would have murdered a million monsters to get on Glimmerglass back in the day. They had limitations as well, but it wasn’t the limits which made Tessa pause.
In general the art director for Broken Horizons did a good job with setting a distinctive style for the game while managing to evoke a good deal of reality in how the characters looked and moved. The digital art wasn’t photo-realistic in any sense, but it was easy to imagine it belonging to a real and consistent environment.
Sadly that art director had apparently been on vacation for the six months or so when the Crystal Artifax were being developed because they had wound up looking just as terrible as the beta-testers had complained they did.
Instead of polished work which would have been in line with the rest of Broken Horizon’s offerings, all Tessa found as options for the Crystal Constructs were off-putting, overly-sexualized proportions, jagged, overlapping bits of geometry in the models, and sample animations that utterly failed to convey any sort of weight or fluidity to the character’s movements.
With a groan, she clicked back to consider the other options. She knew there were a few other choices which would make decent healers, but before she left the Artifax race she noticed one of the other subraces.
The Clothworks were similar to the Crystal Constructs in that both followed the general Artifax motif of being people who were constructed from non-living matter. Where the Crystal Constructs were built from gemstones though, the Clothwork were living rag dolls.
They made terrible healers in general as their recovery powers were largely self focused, but the beta-testers had reported that they made surprisingly good, if unusual, tanks.
Tessa clicked to follow the Clothwork build path, mulling over the idea of focusing on a different role than healing for a change.
“It’s supposed to be a fresh start right?” she asked herself as she began playing around with the different appearance options available for a Clothwork girl.
Where the Crystal Construct art development had been relegated to the interns (or designed by the marketing department more likely), the Clothworks showed the characteristic style and craftsmanship of the Broken Horizon’s more talented art team members.
Tessa found a variety of pre-set appearances which ranged from near-human to full blown nightmare. She opted for something towards the human end of the scale but with decidedly inhuman elements, and tweaked each to bring out the qualities she was looking for.
When she was fourteen she’d wanted to be beautiful and amazing. Between the break-up with Crystal and the grind of her unrewarding job though, Tessa found the urge to go just a bit feral hard to resist.
Picking a class for her fledgling character was easier than picking her race had been. Clothworks had access to three of the professions that could make viable Tanks.
Guardians were the plain vanilla, plate armor wearing, sword and shield wielding, walls of muscle and steel that people first thought of when the question of who was going to stand in front of the boss monster and get punched in the face repeatedly came up. They had a few interesting tricks, but were also intentionally one of the simplest classes to play since they tended to attract a lot of new players. That said, they were also arguably the best of the Tanking classes as well, since their durability was simply unmatched by anyone else.
Tessa would have considered going with one except their principal advantage – the armor related skills they gained – didn’t mesh well with the Clothwork’s inherent abilities.
A better choice would have been the Shadow Caster, which focused on surviving the damage their enemies did by simply not being there when the blow landed. Shadow Caster’s had enjoyed an excellent (or overblown depending on who you asked) reputation when Tessa had been playing, but a series of “adjustments” from the developers had stripped away a lot of their more potent (or abusive) powers and left them in a questionable state for the launch of the “World Shift” expansion.
Also, one of Tessa’s worst experiences healing had been with an incredibly arrogant Shadow Caster and she still wanted nothing to do with him or his stupid class.
That left the Soul Knight class. Where Guardian’s resisted damage, and Shadow Caster’s avoided it, Soul Knight’s took the approach that if they were missing health then they would simply steal it right back.
In Glimmerglass’s heyday, accepting a Soul Knight into the party had been considered a serious gamble. Good ones could do amazing things, supposedly, but finding a good one was roughly as difficult as finding a unicorn. In the real world.
Tessa had enjoyed playing with even the bad ones though since a bad Soul Knight required her to be right at the top of her game when it came to healing their shattered carcasses up. Nothing let her show off her prowess like keeping someone alive who was ping ponging against death’s door during every encounter in dungeon.
With her race, her appearance, and her class decided, Tessa’s new character was almost complete, staring back at her from the monitor and missing only one thing.
“Ok, something cloth related that’s also protective,” she said. Coming up with names for new characters was something she dreaded. Not because she was bad at it though.
She typed the name in, delighted at the pun.
[Name already in use.]
Silk Knightgoon, she tried, the idea of being a bit “goon-ish” seeming appealing too.
[Name already in use.]
She sighed, unsurprised. Broken Horizons was an old game, which meant there’d been 15 years for people to come up with all the clever puns and cool, badass names for characters already.
Twenty minutes passed as she tried variations on her original idea as well as various branching ideas for other “Knight” related possibilities, all to no avail.
“Cloth and protective”, she said, rubbing her temples. Her hour of free time had already passed and the clock said it was time to get to bed. She knew she should close everything down and come back tomorrow. She make the choices she’d spent an hour agonizing over in just a few minutes and be able to get in the rest of the hour as regular play time.
She glanced over at the bed in the opposite corner of the small two room apartment.
All that lay on the other side of that bed was another work day where no one knew what they were doing or why they were being asked to do it.
Pillowcase, she tried as a wry smile played across her lips. It was cloth, and sort of protective. And it was silly. She felt ok with silly. Silly was what she wanted. Silly like she remembered. Staying up late like a fourteen year old silly.
[Name accepted! Begin Tutorial?]
Her doubts and responsibilities lost their hold on her. All it took was that one final click.
Click Play to Begin.
The one click she could never take back.