It was a clear, cold night in March. The stars were shining bright upon the little village in the middle of nowhere and nothing was disturbing the silence except for the sounds of cows chewing on grass.
I couldn’t sleep. The next day was going to be the big day. Finally, I was going to leave this tiny place behind me and discover the world. As it turned out, I was really going to discover a world, but not the one I expected. But I didn’t know that yet. Lying on my bed, I was staring at the Star Wars poster of Yoda telling me to “Do or do not. There is no try”. I had imagined how my first day at college was going to be over and over again. And as I lay there, my mind took me away from my room again.
I was standing in a bright atrium, surrounded by a few hundred of eager kids my age, full of joy and excitement to what these next few years would bring. Juniors and seniors were all around shouting for their groups to come together for the campus tour. Student organizations were handing out flyers and encouraging the new students to play an active part in university life. But me, I was standing in the middle of the atrium alone, with a slightly stupid smirk on my face, taking in all the impressions of this previously faraway place. The stone walls with statues of ancient Greek gods and Inscriptions of Latin proverbs I had no clue about. The sheepish grins of graduate students glancing at the excited crowd from the upper tiers above the atrium. The smell of free fresh coffee and expensive new books filled the air. It seemed I had finally arrived at the place of my dreams.
An instant later, a loud “moo” pulled me back to reality and out of my college movie-based visualization of my first day at university. Again, I was in my room and not in the halls of learning I yearned to be at. It was no use, I was too excited to fall asleep. So I started looking around the room I’d be leaving in a few hours. Next to my bed was the nightstand with my square glasses and an old-fashioned loud alarm clock I never used. The dog-eared last book in the series of a boy wizard was sitting there and brought a smile to my face as I sat up. I turned on the light and walked to my desk. The desk was empty except for the fancy pen I got for my graduation and my laptop, the gadget I had spent most of my life gazing into. I was sure I would also spend the next years doing exactly that. As it turned out, I was wrong again.
I typed in my password (a combination of the name of my crush and the football club I adored) and logged on. The background picture was a landscape similar to the standard background of Windows, but with the dragon in the background ready to set it ablaze. Dragons are awesome.
It was 2 a.m. The servers of my favorite online game were about to reset. I thought I would be able to get in a few quests before that happened. Maybe then I would be able to sleep. The game client opened immediately and asked for my password (a combination of the football club I loathed and the arch nemesis of aforementioned boy wizard). My passwords were things I loved or hated. I never forgot them that way.
I logged on and immediately was standing in the square of the busiest city in this online world. My character was wearing festive clothes as I had participated in a role-playing event during the evening. He was a slender human (the game also allowed other races) with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He looked similar to me, just… stronger and mightier. And without glasses. My character looked around the square: Only a few night owls were there. There was a spam bot trying to sell his illegally gathered iron and two characters known for being online only at night were duelling. None of them noticed me, so I decided against my plans of seeking an adventure and went to the in-game library instead.
The library contained a great number of books related to the game and its lore. There were tomes about the epic backstory of how the current queen conquered her throne, ballads about two minor characters falling in and out of love and adventure stories just using the world as their backbone and with seemingly little connection to the virtual world.
Seeing this books placed in a computer game were one of the reasons why I loved gaming so much. Gaming combines the imaginative world of literature with the visual sensation of movies. And even better, it allows the player to choose their own adventures. Immersion was important to me.
I guided my character through the halls of the library. I had never really visited the place before because I was too busy fighting monsters or crafting swords. But today, it felt different. Maybe it was because I was off to a place of learning in the real world I wanted to see the halls of knowledge in a virtual world. Most of the items on the bookshelves were thick leather-bound tomes. When placing the cursor over the back of them, one could identify the title and (fictional) author. I let my character browse through “The Tale of Thorben the Tiny”, a fairy tale about a giant smaller than the rest of his brethren and look at a few illustrations in “The Illusionist’s Guide”. Suddenly, I noticed a little, hidden staircase in the back of the room.
By now, it was 2:28 am. The reset was going to be in two minutes. Still, I wanted to know what was beyond the staircase. My character jumped down the staircase in a hurry to find a small chamber, about five meters long and wide. The only thing in the chamber was a scroll on the floor. The clock struck 2:30 as I clicked on the scroll. I was able to read one word on it before the screen went dark and the flash of my webcam activated with a shrill tone. Startled by the flash of light and the unexpected sound I closed my eyes. I didn’t exactly know what was going on and for a moment I was too scared to open my eyes. When I finally did, I remembered the words I had read.