“Brand New Colony”
BY LUKE WINKIE
I wish I could reach down and let the water drift through my open fingers, but I can only move in deliberate ways. Instead I sit on the moldy old sand, and watch the lighthouse fire spin around, and around, and around. The shores of Westfall. This endless, gorgeous strand. Dressed in blatant, digitized colors, the same five cloud shapes up above, I need my quiet space even in fantasy. This was ours; this is where we fell in love.
I bought this game because I was bored. I played it because I was lonely. I stuck around because of you. This felt like home, why shouldn’t it? I crawled through my computer. Teleport away from this irrelevant life, build a new legacy and a new name. I was Crogan, a mighty Dwarven warrior. You were Ily, a fierce Elven hunter. You said you were from Georgia, I lived in California. It was destiny.
We met under the cover of darkness, in Duskwood’s perpetual night. You were level 25; you killed ogres faster than I could. You saved me from a mage’s fireball that was too hot to handle. I remember you standing proud over its dead body, giggling at my hasty retreat. You helped me; your smiles tickled my ears. I smiled back. I don’t smile when I’m not with you.
This is a vibrant, unchanging land. The snow will never leave Winterspring, the Burning Steppes will never stop smoldering, TinkerTown will never stop belching up black smoke, and the skeletons will never leave Icecrown Citadel. Seasons don’t change; it only rains when it’s programmed to rain. I liked its continuity. My heroism was a constant, I could never be doubted. I lived life in an endless cycle of conquest and respite. And I would reap my rewards.
But you, you were different. You came out of left field. You were a living, breathing thing. And you were getting close to me. We conquered the ogres and spent the next month telling stories. You were with me every time I logged on, whispering more and more reasons to fall in love with you. We were hundreds of miles away, but I could never tell. Our virtual bodies would meld together. We’d seek out all the quiet places in this digital world, eager to forge real-life memories. Westfall’s modest little beach became our most frequented rendezvous.
I lied to you; I told you I had kissed a girl before. I told you I wasn’t a virgin. I said I was in college, I talked about all the parties and the friends and the casual addictions. I was afraid; you wouldn’t love me if you knew me. But I know better than that. You’ve got a career and a family, I call my mom once a week. You don’t eat mac & cheese for dinner. You’re young and stunning, and you say all the right words. I’m sorry; I was just scared of losing you.
Our characters were growing older. More seasoned, more resolute. We destroyed impossible monsters, overcame impossible odds, saving each other’s lives was our courtship. I finally I told you I loved you on that same moldy old beach. You smiled, you said you loved me too, and then things were quiet. I didn’t know what to say after. I couldn’t kiss you, so I said, *I kiss you*. My first kiss. I’d never been in love before. But you didn’t stop smiling. Technically that beach doesn’t exist, but I will never ever forget it.
I told my brother about you, he said I was crazy. He said that love isn’t meant to be fostered on World of Warcraft, and I need to stop fooling myself. I don’t care, I felt safe with you. Nothing can hamper our union when we’re strong enough to slay dragons. Sometimes we’d talk about seeing each other, meeting halfway at a designated landmark, and falling in love for real. I think we were both too nervous.
And then, sometime over summer, you decided to disappear. I’m not sure the specific date, but I do know that one day you stopped logging on. You deleted your character; Ily was wiped from the plane of existence. You were gone. Forever. I don’t know why, I hope it doesn’t have to do with me, but I know it does. There aren’t any implications or obituaries in the World of Warcraft. Ily did not have a funeral, because, outside of me, nobody knew who she was or why she left or what she liked or when she played. To the other 12 million people playing this game, she was just another Night Elf Hunter. Shame on them. I never saw her face or heard her voice, but she was still the most important person in the entire world.
I sit on the beach watching the waves lap in, the same five cloud shapes up above, drifting across digitized stars, the lighthouse fire spinning around and around and around. This game feels empty now, but I don’t feel empty here. Nobody goes to the beach in Westfall.
It still feels like destiny.