The sun rises around 6 am and that's when it starts to come full force.
Something about the hazy pink morning light strikes the perfect chord of misery. The mouse in my hand is a palmful of guilt, guilt, guilt, and my fingers clatter on the keys like the legs of a spider.
It's Final Fantasy XI and I'm 15. I've turned off the volume and stuffed a towel along the bottom of my door so that my parents don't know I'm still awake. The door swings open and the silence of my father's eyes makes my chest implode. His shadow circumscribes me and the light from the hallway gives him a sort of halo. "What are you doing?" He asks because he wants me to say it. I remain silent, too ashamed to even form the words. My father sighs, deeply. My eyebrows furrow into my head. I want to melt into the floor. "Turn the game off." On the screen my warrior has lost agro and the monster has killed my party. Profanity tumbles through the chatbox. /quit. "We'll talk about this when you get home from school. The bus leaves in half an hour." He tries to shut the door behind him but it's caught on the towel so he just walks away.
It's World of Warcraft and I'm 18. My roommate rolls over in bed. Class in two hours. I have a headset on and my friends are laughing because we're winning in 3v3 arena. "This is my last one," I type. "Gotta get ready for Greek class." We lose and they want to keep going but I tell them to have a good night and I log out. I crack my neck and Brenton mutters something in his sleep. In the shower I bow my head and close my eyes and feel the hot water washing down my body; I try to imagine it as a sort of baptism, a sort of cleansing, and I can still feel the guilt in my chest because I won't be ready for the test at 8 am, because we lost that last game. My friends are online and sometimes the booming solitary feeling of gaming overwhelms me even when I can hear them talking in my ears. I can still hear them talking when I lie down for just a quick nap and I sleep straight through the test.
It's Digital: A Love Story and I'm 21. My girlfriend is sleeping on the bed behind me, illuminated in the blue glow of the screen. Soft chiptunes pop hiss and crackle in my ears, and that purple-pink haze washes through the window, onto the desk, onto my keyboard. The computer tells me, "I know what it's like to be lonely, believe me." The computer tells me, "I think I'm in love with you." I turn around. Ellie is so quiet when she sleeps, but as though she can feel my gaze, she rustles, she opens her eyes and she looks at me. "Come to bed," she says.
"In a minute, I'm almost done."
Republished with permission from Second Person Shooter.
Kent Sutherland is a writer and a gamer. He grew up in Hong Kong and now he lives in New Hampshire. He is a deep-sea diver, and a friend of turtles and fishes everywhere. You can find writing by him and his friend Laura Michet at www.secondpersonshooter.com, or you can find substantially less writing by him on twitter at @kentsutherland.