I’ve played a lot of Ultima Online. It’s an incredibly unique multiplayer game, to the point of excess and wastefulness in game design. There’s just TOO MUCH GAME, too many ways to divide your skills, too many things to buy that serve so little a purpose in the almost 20 years it’s been existing. That was a lot of what made it fun for me. This cluttered game where you can do things that openly had such narrow purpose.
You could herd things. Animals.
It did almost nothing. But you could have it.
I was outside a town called Moonglow likely harvesting reagents or wood. Moonglow has an enormous amount of wild animals roaming around, mostly harmless things like goats or cows you can kill or skin for meat and leather, but some other farm creatures like dogs, cats, or chickens. You can tame animals to be your pets and, with enough skill, command white wyrms or nightmare horses. This was my obsession when I first joined the game, because almost EVERY animal is tameable. In fact, to start using the skill, you level up on things like sparrows and sheep and pigs. You walk around and sweet talk birds, saying things like “come here!” and “I want to be your friend” and eventually the bird might think, hell yeah this is a good deal, and come with you. They take simple commands like following or fighting, which they get excited and do automatically, attacking any nearby monsters unless you keep them in check. You can also rename them (the name shows up above their heads onscreen) and if you don’t want them, you can release them back into the wild. They’re not HAPPY about this, but it can be done.
On this momentous day in Moonglow, I notice a throng of mongbats surrounding a tiny neutral name, “Samuel.”
A quick dissertation on mongbats: imagine a human-sized, brown, flying-monkey-esque monster, plentiful in all woodland areas. Now imagine it has the constitution of a puffy dandelion. A sharp breeze might set a mongbat bleeding and prone on the grass, a harm spell could injure it greatly. And the spell is called “harm” for a reason.
Yet that does not dissuade them from attacking every character on sight. One by one, mongbats stack their corpses before any mildly skilled human character, and seem not at all daunted. Perhaps this is their lucky day. They are the true heroes, the chosen one of mongbat-kind. They carry 30 gold, maybe to invest in a long future with a family and tuition to mongbat college for running yourself into any blade set before you.
Mongbats are like the level 0 critters of the world, and they are aggressive as all hell. The only thing that can’t kill them are the more docile farm animals like a rabbit, but even then it might be a close fight.
Mongbats are a nuisance, drunkenly shuffling their way toward me while I have a sharp axe in my hand and lumberjacking skill to match. I am deforesting, and they have something to say about that, like a single-minded barfly who needs to tell you that they used to be as attractive as you are. I don’t even have to stop my activity, they approach and trigger my autoattack which kills them on the spot. A short screech. And 30 gold if I decided to take the time to loot it.
At seeing the name “Samuel” flanked by mongbats on every side, it was something of a relief. Less mongbats to worry about attacking me. I couldn’t see the tiny body in between them, but it was clear this animal used to have an owner.
Pets who have been abandoned retain their names and certain characteristics, such as the auto-aggro of monsters. Horses in particular face this a lot as someone ditches their horse for a shiny new mount, and the horse goes on to terrorize the countryside perhaps meeting its end at the hand of a zombie or skeleton. Horses I can understand, but someone having tamed and specially named a tiny farm animal like this was amusing to me. It’s entirely useless. It was something I used to love doing.
Samuel had made himself quite popular with the local weak-monster population, and I mourned him. Three mongbats is enough to take out any farm animal that size, and I considered the situation a wash and went about my business.
Mid-chopping, I noticed something.
Samuel was winning.
One mongbat fell, revealing a small grey cat who was beset by two other mongbats and shedding their blood just as readily. The second mongbat fell much quicker, and by the time the third had screeched its last, I was riding up to Samuel and clicking my Animal Taming button as quickly as I could.
Here kitty kitty.
Whatever Samuel used to be, his past is behind him now. I strutted him around Moonglow proudly for a short while before paying good money to keep him cared for in my stable, where he remains to this day. I imagine by now he is the Stable Cat, making friends with whatever other animals come and go in there, as I rarely check on him. Not a bad life for a feral cat outside a wizard town.
I used to have a Livejournal, you know.
I had a Deadjournal too, because I was, you know, EDGY.
Things I’ve understood better in 13+ years:
The relative nature of opinions.
Creative fiction writing.
Things I have surprisingly overlooked:
Such an ugly word though. I used online journals. But BLOGging sounded so… I don’t know. Blog. A Blog is a thing you attack for 2d4 damage, and if you crit-fail it swallows your weapon. It is the gelatinous cube of online terms.
Vlogging is only somewhat better, but apparently I became one of those much more readily.
Blog, it sounds like the feeling it elicits. BLAAAAHHHHHHHG.
I had always considered “social media” to be narcissism. (Remember when Facebook and Twitter were new, I do.) I didn’t recognize them for what they were, conduits for conversation.
At least I still consider Twitter to be as such, like a mad-scientist merging of chat rooms and message boards. No wonder I spend all my time on it, it’s the only thing that helps me scratch my now-evolved itch for internet interaction.
Interneteraction no forget I said that entirely.
I was the girl behind the monitor, and now I still am. Sometimes there’s a camera, on good days there is not, and I have merely blank text on a big empty box that begs to be filled with my thoughts, my ideas, my everything, my my mine mine mine mine….
Journals used to be the worst for this, don’t you remember?
“Oh my god I had the worst day!” my friend would message me.
“Read my journal,” they said, and I would not.
Seriously fuck off if you won’t tell me the story yourself. You want my sympathy, you brought it to me, you want me to be informed, but you are not a goddamned news post.
I recognized the narcissism as I engaged with it, writing my own journals for people who never commented nor cared. Oftentimes the posts were odd and entertaining, my way of polishing a writing style, or alleviating boredom. I became a writer because I was bored and words felt natural. Artists probably feel the same way, their boredom begat a talent. I wrote because I needed to escape and be in Hogwarts for an hour or so every day. Only the people I role played with were mostly… me.
Well, that’s just story writing isn’t it.
I kept physical journals too, but those weren’t public. I think I still have them, I was manic about them really. Lot of damaged-teenager-stuff in there, wondering where I fit, wondering whether I meant anything, wondering what my internet girlfriend smelled like or why she didn’t love me anymore.
Maybe it all was narcissism, but too much of that is still… true. I think I hate the parts of me that are still young.
But I hope, deeply, that I never invited a conversation and told someone to CHECK MY JOURNAL about it.
Facebook was like the epitome of that, to me. Nowadays it’s still true. It’s quite nice for a public presence or maybe making a big announcement, but not for telling a story to close friends.
If a good friend of mine found out something in my life from Facebook, I have failed at being a friend. Mind you, my family members follow my Facebook pages to see where I am in the world and what I’m doing… but the distance is mutual. I missed an entire gestation period of my new cousin, she just appeared in swaddling clothes at a holiday and I had to marvel at the fact that time flies, and I know nothing at all.
My focus, perhaps, isn’t keeping in touch. My friends often weary at that fact, but it also means I don’t talk publicly the way I could, or the way I admire in others. Deeply within me, I worry about the narcissism.
I was never a vlogger because I had nothing to say.
If I did, it really didn’t fucking matter in the scheme of things.
I was a better creator, perhaps. I could express the same things in an artistic form that was distant from myself. It was never about me. It was about the stage, the story, the impact, the audience. Never me.
I guess people LIKE me… the me there is, the messy one who still lets nobody in and needs to do her goddamn laundry.
(Laundry might well be my arch-nemesis)
It still doesn’t make any sense to me.
And expressing this is difficult because, fuck all, my work matters, not the person who makes it. That person is weird and flawed and drunk like a lot and exists to entertain and smile and be the best version of herself.
It’s not to say that flaws aren’t the best part of a person. I like chipped, worn things better than new things with no story.
But I never assumed my stories were ones I was comfortable to tell. Probably because… well…
I couldn’t message you and tell you about it personally.
That’s how my stories are best told. Circumstantially, perhaps… personally, of course… but I wish a hand was in mine as my eyes fill with tears and I tell you about broken lunch boxes and ripped up posters and long days by a swimming pool and my hair turning green from chlorine.
A “Like” button is not a clasped hand as someone tells you something sensitive.
I don’t use Facebook and I don’t take pictures. What is there to see? I am an outline, a sketch of a person whose shading comes from the words I write. And this is hard for me, because I’m writing to someone personal on the other end.
Whoever you are.
I’m never NOT me… but I’m theatrical about it. The world can see you better in stage makeup. I dress up when I’m ready. And I’m terrible at lying. You can be genuinely yourself, but not ALL of what you are.
Do you want to hear about my day?
Here’s my journal.
NEW Wordplay about… Exposition!
Learn valuable backstory, express moments of historical interest and have a great time writing your own plot! Come on down!
If you like this video, consider supporting Wordplay on Patreon. Learning is awesome, writing is pretty much the best, and combining the two is like yummy icing on tasty cake.
If you could hear the words of mine, you would love me then.
I can ensnare with hushed whispers and beguile with long tales. I am music, from my throat I bring beauty and wonder. I have stood before gods and proven them entertained.
You would be, if you could listen.
These noises around us yearn for my sound, they reach out and rustle for me to regale them with stories of their creation, of the blue sky and why it sits so jealously looking at you the same way I do. Even the sky loves you. But I am the only one who can tell it why.
I fear for you. Those who are good, and beautiful and wondrous are swept away at the fancies of others, our worlds taken from us so easily merely because we have talent. My skills were stolen and emptiness remains, I swallow the words given to me in sheer thirst of my own. I breathe them out with pain that they are not mine. I borrow from you and seek a poet, but your poetry is in your face.
Your art baked into you like clay, your eyes like enchanted glass that see all but itself. The world must be easy for you, for now. Even the river rushes to your very feet.
Oh speak to me in words that I may reflect, with my aching voice to coat them. Share your thoughts on the clouds this day, of the vastness of your heart and mind so I may speak of it for you. It is only fickle time until you are noticed and lost to me, until you are punished for your strengths that were never chosen, only given, only to be taken away once more.
You. Hear me. I am here.
I did not speak too much.
I did not misguide or betray, but I created wonder. I wove words, my skill lain plain at the foot of critics who thought me deceptive as to assuage their own insecurity. I was blamed for creating loveliness in a world where they could see none. And they stole my voice from me, to forever repeat. I may only make music from others’ notes. I may only spin the tales you tell me first.
And oh… the tales you must have.
What have you always wanted to hear?
Tell me and I will create rapture. I will match your dreams to the stars, I will please your mind just how you please my eyes. I am a mirror to you. Give yourself to me and fall in love with what I see.
What do you want?
A story written for my creative writing show Wordplay on the subjects of “fear of rejection,” “a conflict of spiritual and physical self,” and “pride that comes from failure.” Watch the episode for tips on exposition in writing!
When he slept, he dreamt of one hundred lions.
All different shapes and looks, some docile and scared, some with eyes of fiery opal. He always had his gun, and some were better prey than others.
He remembered the worried ones, he saw their whiskers wilt and vowed not to point his barrels that direction again. Sometimes he saw it every night, the same blood splatter and torn holes in a creature that whispered when it should have roared.
He thought about those the most. Him, always looking down the gun even when the memories didn’t have him holding it at all. In his dreams it was always him, the gun became a mile long and he would struggle against it and see the eyes look back again, or look away with hope. He only imagined they prayed. The paws curled in like that, it was just a reflex. It couldn’t have been pain. It couldn’t have been prayer.
He warmed himself with pelts of the fallen, many aggressive and threatening, their shed skin now a part of him. Lion hides were not particularly valuable where he traveled, not until he found a way to transport them back if that was even an option. So they made his bed for him and the dreams came with it.
The gun lay safely close by, in case of guilt or danger. His team slept, exhaling their thoughts to swim in the tent around him. His dreams smelled of grass and bodies and blood, the same as his life.
There was never a place for hesitation in this world of teeth and gunpowder. Rather be unsure and shoot thrice than fail to shoot once when it really meant something. One hundred lions, and it wasn’t that many truly, but it felt like it at times. He knew it was getting close.
How many times was he right?
That smell of iron and dirt, and every memory came back. The cloud of spent powder and adrenaline, and the eyes all looked the same for a moment. Different shapes, colors, souls. But they all looked at him from beneath the barrels.
It was just guilt and it was dreams, just a simple fear that was healthy to stretch, to keep grasp on humanity, the last thing separating us from the beasts that lay under our feet. The guilt is that we are not that different. The reality is that it’s us or them. Teeth or steel.
His teeth were never as sharp, but he sharpened his senses against theirs.
Hides, pelts and stacks. Values, cash and quality. They organized accordingly, what was rarest or desired, what could they get for it, which ones they had to hide. Hide the hides, never destroy them. Desecration is a personal crime, wastefulness is a worse shame than paying a fine having killed in self defense. If they sell, better for it. Better to have killed for a reason than senseless slaying.
But he still worried at night, in ways he didn’t tell anyone, in ways he breathed out from his bunk covered in the valueless lions whose eyes once shone like gems, their souls all priceless in contrast to their pelts which meant nothing. He slept on them, and to him they meant warmth. They meant, perhaps, adventure. If he knew what adventure was anymore.
Sometimes in the dreams he saw their faces change to things he remembered better. Snarls, curled lips, fury in the place of fear. The bloodshot eyes reflecting the fire inside them, the veins working overtime and fit to burst with the force of a bullet.
That was hunting. That was the prowl, the predator, the perfection of a hunt. A creature of might and madness falling to the strength of one greater. That had no guilt. That was pride.
But deep in his mind as the count ticked one, one more, one again, all towards the number of one hundred, he began to see one pair of eyes more than the rest. They threatened to undo him. They growled that his quarry was not equal and not worthy.
He looked past the desperate eyes of a victim and into the eyes of a demon, through the whispered pleas and into a chant.
You are our prey now.
You are ours.
He woke in a cold sweat, with his gun lying as close as the memories.
Inspiration comes from interesting places… like oddly-named slot machines in Las Vegas.
If you liked this story, help me make more!
It seemed like days since the diner that morning, the food had gone sour in her stomach and it rumbled, confused whether it was angry or hungry again. She worried whether anyone would hear the noise and find her, but it was a baseless fear. Her tiny tummy rumbled against a wall of sound and bounced right off, nobody could be listening close enough to hear. They’d have to be her. She worried if her breath was audible over the gunshots.
“Crystal May,” he told her that morning, “We’ll be okay.” There was something lyrical in it, though the worn tone of his voice didn’t match the smiles of the diner songs. Music she had never heard before, that sounded like pancakes and black coffee, black as her dad’s round nose, black as his eyes as they looked out the window staring at nothing she could see. Staring at memories maybe. The pancakes were good, even though she was worried, and she swung her feet to the music. She noticed the songs sounded happy but didn’t always talk about happy things, either.
“She was afraid to come out of the locker…”
The car never worked. It was an old truck with blistering paint, it looked older than her parents. It had always stayed in the driveway like a fixture or decoration, she grew up seeing other houses that had the same thing, but theirs moved. She found their purpose was not to occupy space but to deliver people to other places. Maybe that would have been helpful in this moment, to get away, but she remembered she couldn’t drive. Her feet were too short to touch the pedals, there were times she had climbed in and pretended to crank levers and spin wheels and dials. Times when she picked the door lock to jump inside, playing pretend she was underwater or a pirate. The cannonfire in her imagination didn’t sound this loud. Songs played in her head to combat the combat.
“She was afraid that somebody would see….”
They’d walked home. She didn’t want that to be one of her clearest memories, but there it was. Itchy cut grass. Noon creeping in with a sneer. Locusts buzzing like the broken TV. They didn’t say much, it was hot, but it was clear. She walked alongside him and when she dawdled or tried to get a look at the toys in the yards they passed, he yelled at her, “Keep up.” Then she did. She had enough change in her pocket to take the bus, but dad’s eyes were everywhere else, and she let him look. That means she could look too.
But not all the time.
Her plastic sandals slapped at the soles of her feet.
One two three four, keep up with your daddy more.
It didn’t look like nighttime. There were lights everywhere, fake colored ones spinning all over the place. Shouts and lights in the sky. She slunk further back, her heel resting against the tire and feeling a little safer. Feeling something stable other than the ground. Bits of pavement left marks on her elbows and legs, but she only saw it when she she shifted and the lights flashed, and she avoided both. Nothing could hear her, the shoes on the sidewalk didn’t have ears.
She was afraid of the sirens and screaming…
She knew there was a cold going around and people were upset about it, mama was sick and couldn’t get out of bed but she stayed quiet for once and for the past few days there wasn’t yelling or holes in the walls. Daddy told her not to see mama ‘cause she might get sick too. She saw her in there coughing, dad brought her ice cream. She took more vitamins. Daddy said they should get breakfast, it used to happen more often when mama’s face didn’t need so much makeup and they could afford the extra blueberries in the pancakes. But it happened today.
They finally got home and her knees were itchy, dad went in to check on mama and came back out. She knew he had told a lie, that they wouldn’t be okay. He walked like things weren’t okay at all. “Stay where you are,” he told her and checked the other sprawling rooms and closets, all closed off to keep the cool in. It was already so warm that day, she could see it on his forehead when he came back. His mouth was open and she could count his teeth. He stood in the kitchen, but he looked lost.
Something scraped at the door to the backyard, at the same time they heard yelling in the street. Maybe another mean dog got loose. She barely noticed the sirens in the neighborhood anymore.
One two three four, look and see what’s out the door…
It must have been hours, but she knew she didn’t trust anything. Maybe she could sneak away for a pillow and some cereal, but the darkness and the noise settled deeper and louder in tandem. The shiny shoes stepped in her father’s blood and left smudges on the driveway, other shoes ran by faster than she could see who they were. The world smelled different with his blood on it. She tried to listen for a telephone ring in the kitchen but the windows weren’t open, maybe nobody was calling anyway. The wind blew grass under the truck to itch at her ankles and neck. She shouldn’t be up this late, but daddy was dead and there were no rules for going to bed during sirens. It was all like fireworks out there.
It was a ratatatting clatter clacking sound of guns and loud attacking
That she heard for the first time, today….
In times of civil unrest, sometimes the art gets tinged with the paint of the world.
If you enjoyed reading this, please support my work and share it around!
Today I am tall and broad, a building that moves the sidewalk where it steps. Tarnished metals and great greys, sharp impersonal angles that speak for me. It says I am an obstacle, I am to be equally respected and forgotten. There are no smiles here today. The doors are closed.
I can be a photograph, a walking piece of nostalgia that traveled through time to take the last seat on the bus. Even purposeless feels important, red lips lining my words as I tell people to have a great day. They believe it, because I traveled through time to tell them. People believe red lipstick. They believe painted eyeliner when it wishes them good luck.
I can bury myself in words,let the book reflect my face where people look to the page creases to see my reaction. My eyes look past my glasses at talking bookmarks, environmental commas and paragraph pauses. If you needed something, ask the book. I’ve lost myself in it, you can read it across my face.
I look in the mirror at the face of the invisible man, the malleable topography of a person. The master of disguise. Thick paint to obscure the beating heart, because it is tender and whipped by the sun and strangers’ eyes. Every morning my face holds its breath as I place on the armor coat by coat, evening the smudges, painting a person I need to be.
My grandfather is a retired LAPD officer. His badge is heavy, I’ve held it in my child hands.
He lives in Downey CA, which if you don’t know, stopped being such a nice place as the 70’s era houses suggest. About 15 years ago, he heard someone stealing his car from the driveway.
It was an Oldsmobile Toronado, old thing, boat-like car that we laughed at. Ash trays in the arm rests, remember those? This car was all of it. It was a joyride waiting to happen.
My grandpa gets his gun and goes outside, to see the car backing up into the road. Unfortunately, the driver went the wrong way towards a cul-de-sac, and had to double back. My grandpa, pistol in hand, walks into the street and points the gun at the car as it comes back down the street.
The car was not going to stop. He jumped out of the way.
We asked him, “You caught someone stealing your car, why didn’t you shoot?”
He replied, “I didn’t keep my badge for 30 years by shooting people.”
Nika Harper is the Queen of Wands.
Nika is an excellent writer, and at GDC she gave a terrific Indie Soapbox speech about creativity - shortly after, I met her, and she drew the Queen of Wands. Note that Nika has a prominent tattoo of a wand…
The Queen of Wands is typically associated with qualities of exuberance, warmth, vibrancy, and determination - anyone who watches her Geek & Sundry YouTube videos knows that these are qualities Nika possess in spades (or perhaps I should say “in clubs”). And though my interaction with Nika was brief, the presence of a black cat at the bottom the Queen’s card - implying a fierce independent streak behind the warm exterior - seems appropriate as well.
The tarot has spoken.