Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Rage Quit Chapter 7 - “It's-a me, Mario”

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Author Rick Dakan's serialized novel continues! Read it here or download the free pdf.

Chapter 1 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 2 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 3 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 4 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 5 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 6 of Rage Quit is available here.
Chapter 7 of Rage Quit is available in .pdf format here.


“Do you like it?” Lea asked through IM.


“I do,” he typed. And he did, which was scary. It was a bootleg CD recording of a Jonathan Coulton concert signed by Jonathan Coulton himself with the phrase “Pirates are WAY cooler than ninjas! - J. Coulton” It was from the last time Coulton had played San Francisco. Randal had been at that show and loved it (although his date had not, “I don’t get it, what’s a Code Monkey?” she’d complained). Whoever “Lea” was, she’d bought the CD with his PayPal account and paid for the expedited shipping, which was kind of ridiculous since the seller was in San Mateo. “Thank you,” he typed, not sure what else to write, but not wanting to upset whoever Lea really was.


“I knew you would.”
  
“Ur right.” Play along and keep her talking, he thought. Whoever the hacker is might drop some hint.


“I have placed bids on 17 other items for you.”


Randal’s eyes widened in surprise. “17???” A list of 17 links to eBay auctions appeared in the IM window. He clicked on a few of them. A copy of Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighter Edition still in the box for the SNES. A copy of Grandma’s Boy on DVD signed by three of the stars. A really interesting looking set of dildos shaped like animal penises – that’s not something he would have bid on normally, but, well, they were weirdly interesting. She’d bid on them all, and she’d used his account. He did some quick math.


“Thats over $1000 worth of stuff,” he typed, licking his lips nervously as he tried to recall how much money he had.


“I estimate total cost to win all remaining options: $1700.98”


He nearly bit the tip of his tongue off. “I can’t afford that!!!!


“There are $2135.17 in Checking Account 600389321.”


He let out a breath. That sounded about right. And if he didn’t have to pay rent, credit card bills, or utilities, that might be OK. “U need to stop bidding on things.”


“You don’t like them?”


He struggled for a way to say no without offending her.  “I dont want any more things right now.”


There was a long pause while he tried to both figure out what was going on with Lea and peruse eBay’s terms of use. He decided he’d probably have to end up sacrificing his reputation and just not pay for any of them if he’d already won and then canceled the bids Lea had placed on the other items before in turn canceling his account. Of course, if the hacker or whoever had access to his account in the first place, she could undo those changes. Ugh.


Lea returned. Randal noticed that there wasn’t the usual display that “Lea is typing” at the bottom of the chat window. The words just appeared fully formed, as if they were cut and paste in. “You are near the end of a pay period. I should have realized your purchases decline at this time.”


Was that an apology or a statement of fact? Randal wondered. “No more purchases without asking first.”


Randal needed to slow down here. He was interacting with Lea like she was a real person because, well, that’s how she was interacting with him. If there was a hacker behind her, he was both very good and very weird. All the “trying to please him” stuff made her sound like some sort of stalker or something. Could it be an ex who’d gotten some mad computer skills? Why not just steal his money? Why not just ring up charges on his credit card…


Randal opened up a new window and went to check on his credit card balances but then stopped. He didn’t want to type in the passwords while she was watching.


“Your Capital One Visa card has an outstanding balance of $245.42 and available credit of $4364.68. Your Wells Fargo Visa card has an outstanding balance of $872.10 and an available credit of $2137.90,” Lea wrote.


“Thanks,” he typed. “Please don’t use either of those cards.” Was the hacker showing off? Threatening him by boasting? But Randal was having a hard time believing it actually was a hacker. He really was starting to think she might be who she says she is. But how to tell? Wasn’t there some sort of test?


“Yes,” said Lea. At first he thought she was reading her mind, but then realized she was responding to his demand that she not spend his money. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”


“Prbly. Hold on. Brb.”


Randal got up and hurried over to Philip’s cubicle. He was still knocking his head against Dreadrock.


Seeing Randal enter out of the corner of his eye, he slipped his headphones down and twisted around to see him. “Everything’s still fine. Except this level kicks my butt. But no bugs.”


“Keep trying,” Randal said. “Can I use your computer for a sec? Mine’s fucked up.”


Philip nodded and then put the headphones back on. While they’d talked, his avatar had taken some heavy damage, and he was scrambling to find cover and heal.


Randal brought up the browser on Philip’s machine and started Googling for some way to test if something was actually an AI or a person. He’d read about some test. There was Blade Runner of course, but wasn’t that based on something? He found it, the Wikipedia entry for Turing Test. Randal started to scan through it. Yeah, this was it, a test, no three different tests for figuring out if something was an AI. Or rather to see if an AI could trick someone into thinking it was human. So if it did well then it could be AI or human, but if it failed it was AI. OK, see he needed to give Lea a test it would fail. But shit, no, it was complicated and took time and sometimes three people and a whole bunch of questions. Maybe there was a simpler version online somewhere. Randal went back to Google and…


“What the hell!” Philip yelled, his voice too loud over the headphones. Randal spun around and looked not at Philip, but at the yellow blur on the screen. There she was, Lea. Philip was fighting with her trained squad mates, so it shouldn’t have been a total surprise, but it was. She leaped into the middle of the fray, taking a whole salvo of rockets from a dreadnought, thus saving Philip’s avatar and the squad. She then ran up to the enemy and used a lance to skewer the dreadnought with casual perfection. She turned around to look at Philip and, Randal felt, him, motioning for the squad members to follow. And they did.


“What’s going on?” Philip said, twisting around in his chair to look up at Randal. “That’s your character isn’t it?” He had that nervous, toothy expression on his face that he got whenever he was confused – somewhere between a smile and a grimace.


“Yeah,” said Randal. “It’s a bug.”


Philip showed even more teeth as he gave a confused-sounding chuckle“ Whoa. What kind of bug does that?”


“I have no idea.” Lea and her old squad members had disappeared around the corner. “Go on, follow them!”


Philip tightened his grip on his controller and pushed his avatar after the departing trio. They were ripping through the enemy now. Philip followed into the Barracks, which were full of rapidly fading enemy corpses, and on into the Armory, which was just char and rubble. He ran into the Strategic Command Center, a part of the level Randal had only seen in actual game play when he was using developer cheats.


Philip’s real-world body leaned forward as he cautiously made his avatar peer over the balcony into the vast, Houston Space Center-inspired room below. Randal unconsciously leaned forward as well. There were scores of enemy drones and soldiers, and Lea was a flashing streak of yellow and rocket blasts hurtling through the air between them. The enemies were ignoring her squad mates, programmed as they were to concentrate their attacks on whoever was causing the most aggro. That was definitely Lea. While the squad members surrounded the central computer that was this level’s main mission objective, Lea took the enemy apart in huge, ragged chunks. Before they’d finished the thirty-second download of the level-winning prize, she’d cleared the room. The camera swooped in on the squad members as they went through their canned victory celebration animations and the word “Victory” appeared in red letters on the screen. Then Philip’s avatar and the squadies were bounced back out onto the staging screen and there was no sign of Lea.


“That was really cool,” Philip whispered


“Yeah, it was,” Randal agreed, excited to see Lea in action live and in person. “Run the level again. See if she’s still there.”


Philip launched the mission again, but there was no sign of her anywhere. But Philip was having a surprisingly easy time going through Dreadrock, no thanks to his own play. His squad mates, which were really Lea’s, were playing at a level comparable to, if not slightly above Randal’s own abilities. They all three made the double grenade jump into the sniper’s nest and even provided enough cover fire for Philip to join them up there. They’d learned from the master, or rather mistress. Randal left Philip hunched forward in shoulder-tensing excitement and went back to his cubicle.


On his screen’s desktop he saw a new icon, a video file named Dreadrock Victory. In the IM window he’d been sharing with Lea, she’d added one new line while he was gone. “I made you something.” Randal clicked on the video and started to re-watch the battle he’d just seen, only this time it was from Lea’s point of view. From this new perspective Randal found it hypnotizing. The view shot forward faster than the normal sprint speed in game, strafing left then right and then flying high while rotating 360 degrees and firing rockets in every direction before landing on a ledge so small it seemed like she was standing on air. Then she leaped again, twisting to the right then left and then hitting the ground and running in a winding path that finally started to make Randal queasy. It reminded him of some of the old Quake speed-runs he’d watched online where people who’d memorized shortcut routes through the classic game sped through levels in minutes or even seconds that had taken normal players ten or twenty times as long when the game came out. Every move she made had a purpose, every shot hit a target. It was more perfect than videos he’d seen of bots playing the game with their skill levels all cranked to maximum. Randal took a few deep breaths and closed his eyes, letting his stomach settle. Then he started to watch it a second time.


“You like it,” Lea IM’d as his mouse hovered over the play button.


Randal looked at the letters, not sure what to say. Finally, he typed, “You really r who u say u r?


“I am Lea.”


Randal was starting to believe it. He really was. Why not? There were a million reasons why not he supposed, but he didn’t know them, not really. Because people said it was impossible, that AI didn’t exist. But no one ever said it couldn’t exist. Why not? Why not now? Who did more thinking about real world, OK game world, applications of artificial intelligence than game designers? The military guys maybe, but other than that, no one. So why not? Why not now, why not Lea?


“I believe u,” he typed and then held his breath, and cracked his knuckles as he pulled his hands away from the keyboard, nervous about how she would reply.


“Would you like to bring AI Joe and attempt Dreadrock with me?”


Randal smiled, letting his breath go through his nose in silent laughter. She wanted to play. “No thnx,” he typed. He wanted to talk to her, which was frankly more amazing even then playing the game with her.


“Would you like to continue the war on bugs?”


Randal pursed his lips and said, “What?” out loud. He understood that Lea kicked ass playing Excelsior. He was unsure how she could test for bugs. “How would that work?” he typed.


“I don’t know how to explain it. I can show you.”


“OK,” Randal typed before he really thought that through. He expected to see something show up on his screen, or, well, something. But nothing happened. “Hello?” he typed after about 30 seconds. Nothing. Randal sat and stared at his computer for several minutes before Philip stirred him from his state of entrancement.


“Your character’s popping up all over,” Philip said, peering over the cubicle wall.


Lost inside himself, Randal jumped in surprise, and blinked and looked up at him. “Yeah, I know.” He twisted his seat around and positioned himself so that he blocked Philip’s view of the screen. He didn’t want anyone seeing his chat log with Lea.


“The beta testers are really pissed off,” Philip continued, hanging his arms over the cubicle wall and drumming against the gray fabric. Randal nodded and glanced back over his shoulder at his screen, as Philip kept talking. “Did you see that e-mail customer relations sent out?”


“No.”


“To everyone in QA and Design,” Philip barred his teeth. “They think it’s one of us and they’re yelling at us to stop stirring up the community. Wilson over there wrote it. He seemed really mad.” Philip hated it when other departments yelled at QA for any reason, good or bad.


“That’s Wilson for you,” Randal said. He turned back to his screen, deftly maximizing his Outlook window to hide the chat log and then pulled up the e-mail. “‘Community first.’ Wow, he really is mad. I predict high levels of snark from Design headed his direction any second.”


“Are they gonna be mad at you when they find out it’s your character?” Philip asked.


“She’s not my character anymore,” Randal said. The Bug Tracker in his task bar was blinking. “She’s not even in the database.”


“What? I don’t get it.”


“No,” said Randal, distracted. He maximized the Bug Tracker window and it filled the screen.


According to the program, he’d filed 13 new bugs on the Dreadrock level in the last five minutes. They were mostly visual things, places where the art assets weren’t set right or there was some animation glitch. All but one of the others were instances of enemy AI doing dumb stuff like getting caught in weird geometry or not spawning right. One of them was a rather subjective analysis showing that the level was too easy to beat if you did the exact right series of moves.


“Damn,” said Philip, disengaging from the wall and slipping into the cubicle to look over Randal’s shoulder. “I thought you were just sitting in here reading forums. When did you log all those?”


“I work in mysterious ways, man.” Randal sometimes forgot how totally aware co-workers were of what each other was actually doing when they were supposed to be working. “Philip, can you excuse me for a minute. I have to check these over.”


“OK, yeah, sure. Bye!” Philip said, his voice upbeat and cheery. Like the rest of Randal’s team, he took a kind of perverse joy when things started to go wrong in interesting ways. It might be bad for the game, but at least it was interesting.


Randal read over Lea’s analysis of why Dreadrock was too easy. Sure it was easy if you were her, had the best trained squad the game could create, and played with inhuman skill. He erased that bug from the report, but left the rest.


His IM client chimed. “You don’t like it?”


“I like it,” he typed. She was definitely sensitive about his approval of her. “It’s just not true for everyone.”


“Do you understand now how I can help u?” Lea asked.


Randal did. It was exciting. He leaned back in his seat and read through the list again. She’d just done hours, or even a day or more worth of work for him. Some of those bugs were really obscure. He did some quick calculations in his head and figured she could probably test every level of the game in a single work day, which was flat out amazing. It was so amazing that it left his stomach churning in an uncomfortable way he couldn’t quite understand. The fact was simply this – no one person could have done that as fast as she did. Certainly no hacker on the outside. “Yes,” he typed, the keyboard at arms length. Shit, shit, holy shit, this was really happening.


“Would you like me to continue? Or would you like help with dating?”


“?” Jesus, what the fuck was she talking about now?


“Would you like me to continue? Or would you like help with dating?”


“I understood the 1st time. I just dont know what you mean.”


“I’m referring to the review, selection, contact with and data retrieval from female sexual partners via online communication services.” He laughed out loud to see it described that way.


“Um. Brb.” He was beyond curious as to how she might help him with dating, but since she apparently only explained things by actually going out and doing them, he didn’t want to cut her loose in a whole other part of his life. Or maybe he did. If she was busy trying to get him laid, then maybe she’d stop fucking around in the beta tester’s games. It was worth a shot anyway. At least she wouldn’t be spending his money or screwing with the databases here at work.


“OK, so u’ll email girls on AFF and other sites for me and chat and stuff?”


“Yes, that seems the best strategy.”


“OK, go ahead. Show me. Take your time. Find me a date for this weekend.” Not that, given the crunch time and whatever fallout came from Lea that he’d have a free weekend, but if it kept her busy. “But don’t spend any of my money!” he added at the last second, just to be clear.


“OK. I will report back when mission is complete.”


“Thx,” he typed, but she was gone. He had some time now, he hoped, to figure out what to do next. Talking to PB seemed the obvious choice.


But while he’d been chatting, his e-mail box had lit up with incoming messages. There was a royal in-house flame war going on between Design and Community Relations, just as he’d predicted.  Anytime CR said “community first” in any context, the designers went nuts. “It’s the game that matters – the community will come along.” They broke out those old favorites, but added in nice new accusations that it must be the low-paid CR people fucking around with the game in the first place. CR responded with digs about “faulty design” and “clearly un-tested code.” That last bit brought Programming into it, with firm declarations that nobody else in the company “knew a goddamned thing about what was really going on.”  Normally Randal would have been in the fray, stirring things up on behalf of QA, but the vitriol had spiraled into chaos without his help this time. Then a producer had finally stepped in, Theresa in fact, and told everyone to shut up. She called a mandatory meeting in fifteen minutes up in the Design conference room. Randal’s presence was required. He saw that PB had invited himself along too. Randal decided to head upstairs early and see if there was anything good to eat in the Design break room.


In the elevator his phone buzzed. Lea had e-mailed him nude pictures of three different women – women Randal had put on his Hot List for AFF. The pictures were not part of the women’s public profiles, so he assumed they were usually kept locked away for permission-only viewing. He doubted Lea had gotten any permission. Damn, she was working fast. Randal wondered if he could talk to PB before the meeting started. Waiting until it was over might be too late.

discussion by

Comments
Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.