Grabbing a can from his fridge, he sat back down before his computer with a grin. Focusing on the screen, he noted that his team members had already started the matching. He’d only managed to readjust his position in his chair, before the window flickered to the loading screen. He leaned forward, grabbing the mouse and preparing himself for action.
Within seconds, he found his character in the middle of a forest, surrounded by nothing but a trees and the group that he’d recently come to recognize as his fellow team members. A bell rang, marking the start of the match. Without hesitation, he threw himself into the game, dashing toward the center of the map. He quickly lost himself in the approaching enemy team, and their efforts to eliminate him. He wasn’t the best player. The slightest disruption to concentration… the slightest slip… was enough for him to change from a minor contributor to a burden. It was enough to cost his team a victory. Given the game’s focus on player reputation, gained from matches, he couldn’t let himself drag down his team every time. He needed a winning record if he wanted to maintain his marketability in the future. Even with random matching, his chances of getting into a team were highly increased by a winning streak.
It’s been nearly two months since he started to increase his focus on matches like this. Random matching rarely placed himself with familiar names, and it gave him the perfect excuse to avoid those names he’d once spent most of his online life hanging out with. Grinding was a major part of this game, but was never his focus. The main reason that he played MMOs like these was to have a social life. Regardless of who he was in real life, he had to start afresh when he was just another player online.
No real names. No background. No random people approaching him with ulterior motives. It was the only place where he could really be himself. Or, really, pretend that there was no difference between himself and the average person. It was the only place where he could say that he was wearing a t-shirt, staring at a screen in his apartment, and actually have people believe him. Of course, despite the soda in his hand, there was nothing average about the room around him.
Outside of his room door, he would find at least a dozen bodyguards lining the hallway, each ready for whatever threat or intruder that foolishly thought that they could break in or meet him. He sighed. While he did enjoy the number of luxuries that he could afford compared to the average person, a person like him also had very little freedom. Thousands of eyes were constantly watching him. He’d even found his dietary habits on the internet, on an occasion that he didn’t have his guard up.
But everything was different online. Online, no one knew who he was. No one knew what he looked like. There wasn’t any reason that anyone should pay him any special attention, and that was the identity he wanted to retain there. A nobody. A person that simply joined online because it could make him friends.
Online, he was just any other awkward introvert. Quiet and silently maintaining his distance from others in the day, and opening his heart to those that were willing to listen at night. He was just another awkward person that couldn’t muster the courage to speak to others in person, but was able to reveal his true colors to random strangers online. He was just another poor college graduate that recently found himself entering society as a contributor and living alone. He was just another average and relatable person. It was only here that he could lower his guard and let go of some of that stiffness that the media had long come to associate with his character.
He stretched as the match ended, and he noticed an IM pop up on the bottom of his screen. A private chat. He didn’t look forward to that, but at least he had an excuse to push off whatever she wanted of him. Ever since her appearance, everything had changed. No longer did playing the game grant him the freedoms that it once did. No longer could he fully relax, especially after realizing those feelings that she harbored.
“I’m busy.” He entered in the chat, without reading whatever she had to say. “In the middle of a match. Talk to me later.”
It wasn’t the first time that she’d initiated a chat with him, since he’d stopped visiting their regular in-game gathering site. It also wasn’t the first time that he’d blown her off without granting any reason other than being in a match. If he were honest, the match had already ended and being the last person that was in the room, he turned off the auto-matching and simply occupied the space to retain the “In Match” in-game status.
It wasn’t that he disliked her. Quite the opposite actually, he was sure that she would be a great friend, and a great person to share his feelings and burdens with. However, that friendship and burden sharing had to retain its limits. They were friends. They would never be more than that, a fact that he knew deep in his heart. A fact that he had to let her understand. The long-term distance between the two of them should make that clear and wipe away some of whatever she had started to associate with him.
He had to eliminate everything outside of his acceptable boundaries, from stem to root. He couldn’t afford to leave it room for further growth. It would only be more painful then, worsening the as the roots grew deeper. To be fair, he wasn’t even sure how painful it would be already. It did hurt to push her away like this, but he also knew, it was the fastest way to achieve the effect he wanted. The group meet would happen in a month. If he couldn’t exterminate the wild sapling now, who knows what could happen when they actually see one another in person?
Given his identity and knowing his father, he knew it wasn’t a risk worth taking. Gardeners eliminated weeds that blemish the beauty and perfection of their garden. With such a public following and his father’s temper, he couldn’t be sure that the combined efforts of the populace, the media, and his father wouldn’t do the same. It was as much for his own sake as it was for hers. On one hand, he didn’t want anyone online knowing who he really was. On the other, it was his only way of protecting the sweet and pure innocence that he’d come to associate with her.
This story was inspired by a writing prompt from the “Microcosm” Publication.
Tell us a fictional story inspired by cat-fishing