Orphic Phantasia

19: Distraction

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Joel grinned as he accepted the bottle. “No better way to unwind after a long day,” he said, slumping into the sofa with a bottle of his own. He swigged back half the contents in one gulp, but Dante could only manage a mouthful before feeling the need to retch—thankfully, Joel had already turned his attention to the television and its explosion of colour.

In contrast to the thought-provoking and mind-expanding puzzles he ran through his visor, Dante considered these ‘video games’ a relic of the Old World, flat-screen representations of childish fantasies starring characters who looked more like mashed up cardboard boxes than human beings. Byron and Denny had a small collection of them back at the apartment but, despite the poet’s goading, Dante had never felt the slightest inclination to try for a ‘high score’. There was little a person could learn from mashing buttons until the facsimile of an alien spacecraft exploded in a kaleidoscope of metallic gore, he reasoned. And, to top it off, such games were so primitive, so caught up in their own nostalgia, they couldn’t even engage with modern language. As words and runes blazed across Joel’s television screen, Dante tried to make sense of the gibberish before him.

“Neinya?” he asked. “Neinya drawgun? Neinya Dragon?”

“It’s ‘Ninja Dragon’, right?” said Joel. Old languages were weird.

As soon as the game began, all of Dante’s reservations with the medium were given form. The images might have been a child’s scrawling compared to the illusionary realities that genuine simulations offered, but the game’s soul-sucking power remained just as strong. Joel sat hunched over a handheld device, his pale fingers jabbing away at a multitude of buttons in a bid to translate his intentions into commands for the haphazard, cardboard-box avatar as it juddered around a muddy landscape clashing thread-like blades with wave after wave of abstract foes. Dante’s visor could produce better visualisations.

With a curse of defeat, Joel’s soul snapped back to reality. “Mate, that were proper unfair. You saw it right? That bastard cut through the wall!”

Dante nodded in agreement—he couldn’t really tell what had happened, other than ‘a terrible waste of time’—and sipped at his beer. After half a bottle, the illusionary battles almost made sense, and their influence on Joel’s own brand of guitar-swinging heroics was obvious. Were Master al-Hakim to witness such a travesty of swordplay, he would slice the television in two.

“I don’t think the human body has that much blood,” said Dante, as virtual-Joel cut down a particularly dim-witted opponent twice his size. Blood didn’t spray from severed limbs with the force of a burst pipe, either.

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Language evolves. Not so much in the Cities, but certainly outside them.