This story has been published in a free short story digest called Elsewhen Noir.
[Content Warning: Addiction, death]
There would be scrapes on her knees tonight from collapsing onto the concrete sidewalk. I’ll have to clean them up with hydrogen peroxide. She’ll fake like it hurts when the cloth touches her, even though the peroxide isn’t going to hurt any. I recently read in an article somewhere on the internet that it doesn’t even do anything except bubble up and provide a false sense of security. It doesn’t hurt you any but it also isn’t killing germs or preventing infection. Truth is, hydrogen peroxide actually kills the pallets that help your blood clot. It might actually be doing more damage than good. Jill was raised in a house-hold that swore by it. Her mom put it on every scrape, cut, and burn her and her brothers received while climbing trees or skateboarding. Back when skateparks where made of concrete and skateboards had wheels. I’m not even sure if we have any peroxide in the apartment. If so, she’s the one who bought it.
In about twenty minutes, after she stops crying, she’s going to complain that her makeup is running. She’s going to tell me how horrible her green eyes look surrounded by red veins and puffy eye lids. She’s going to almost start crying again as she tries to fix it on the tram, using the front facing camera on her phone to display a high resolution video of her face on the screen. She’ll express her frustration of trying to figure out what is actually her face and what is just an illusion from the cracks in her screen. What’s actually smeared makeup and what is being shown to her because the glass shattered when her fingers no longer had the strength to keep her phone five feet and two inches away from the sidewalk. When I continue to stare at the ground in silence she’s going to throw her phone into her purse, and sigh. Then she’s going to turn to me and tell me that she wishes I would make it more apparent that I’m with her. That I never show my affection and that she can’t tell if I even care about her. She’s going to tell me she never knows what I’m thinking because I never tell her. She’ll be doing exactly what she wants me to be doing. The thing I don’t do.
But those things are in the future and I don’t have to deal with them at this exact moment. What I do have to deal with is why she collapsed and grated her knees on the concrete, why tears are smearing her makeup, why her phone screen is now shattered. Her father had called her a minute ago to tell her they found her younger brother who had been missing for three weeks. He was dropped off in front of a hospital and left there. Most of the shit and piss in his pants was most likely from spending the last few days in a room with a virtual reality headset hooked up to his face. The rest of the shit was from evacuating his bowels when he died. The coroner wrote “DOA” on the report. Dead On Arrival. It didn’t even take an autopsy to know what killed him. He died from dehydration, malnutrition, and lack of sleep.
He’s not the first and won’t be the last to inadvertently kill themselves from virtual reality addiction. Thousands of young adults and even a few teens with inattentive parents have died over the last few months. All from dehydration and malnutrition. All from plugging in a virtual reality headset, hooking up a happiness simulation game, and running it over and over again. They forgot to eat or drink water. At some point they reach a level of addiction where they don’t even get up to use the bathroom.
This is a serious implication for me because I was the video game developer who invented the first happiness simulator.
In 2015, eleven years prior to now, the first successful virtual reality headset came out. Shortly after, the big brand game companies came out with their own VR headsets and by 2016 most American households had at least one. By the end of 2017, most people in any first world country had one. They completely changed the home entertainment industry. You could watch movies, play video games, and even browse the internet with a headset on. It’s like living in your own little virtual world. No one bought TVs, consoles, or even computers anymore. Just VR headsets. At the time, I was 24 and had just graduated with my masters degree in computer science. Since I was a kid, all I wanted to do was program video games. I started making little flash games with terrible stick figure art. I learned a few programming languages in high school and then went to college because everyone in my family said I needed a degree to get a job. It worked out for me, though.
My master’s thesis was for a game that would fight depression. I referred to it as a “Happiness Simulator”. Later on, it would be shortened to just “hapsim” as a slang term. After graduating, I applied for a grant to make it into a full video game. It was 2015 and the first VR headset, called The S!ght, was coming out in a few months. A lot of the code was already done for the prototype that was required for my thesis, so I just needed enough money to cover my bills and to hire an artist. I could handle all the rest of the programming myself. The grant was approved, I found an artist, and we finished it just in time to come out right along side of The S!ght. Since there were very few other games ready, it became an immediate hit. I sold the rights and code of mine to what was, at the time, the top selling game publisher for a very comfortable amount of money. I was able to retire at only twenty five years of age. It didn’t take long for other companies to start making their own games in the hapsim genre.
No one had any idea that they would become the world’s next deadly addiction. People wouldn’t use the phrase “designer drug” the same way again.
Few people had died from a gaming addiction before hapsims, and it always made the news because of the scarcity of the issue. It wasn’t even considered a problem back then. It’s become a massive issue now; so massive that hapsims have been made illegal. Anyone caught with one gets a short one to two year jail and rehab sentence and then an additional few years of probation, to make sure they don’t fall back into the addiction. Anyone caught selling them can be charged with attempted murder. Anyone caught making them can be tried like serial killers or terrorists. At this point, they might as well be. Anyone who’s making a hapsim could potentially kill hundreds of people with one single release.
Very few new ones are being made, considering the consequences of being caught. There are still a few twisted fucks out there making them. Underground devs in basements producing shitty low-poly hapsims that get sold for five grand to drug dealers who make duplicates of them and sell the copies for as much as a hundred bucks a pop. Or, if you’re not willing to shell up the hundred bucks or whatever for a new hapsim you can just go to a “sim-house” where they charge you per hour to use their VR headset, their electricity, and whatever hapsims they have on hand. This is generally more expensive but if you’re already homeless, you get shelter for a little while and a variety of hapsims to cycle through. Sometimes you can download them for free off of the darkweb, but some of those sites are honeypots set up by the FBI, so it’s hard to know who to trust. Not even torrent websites are willing to carry them.
Fast forward ten years and here I am with nothing to say to my girlfriend because her brother died from a video game I may have created. I don’t know what hapsim it was that he was playing when he died. In a few days we’ll find out that his bank account was emptied into untraceable digital currencies that he no doubt used to rent time at a sim-house that we’ll never find. He most likely passed out or died there and was taken by them to the hospital. This is a pretty common thing that drug houses have been doing since before I was even born. You would think we would have cameras set up in front of hospitals so we could grab the plates of these fuckers who just toss the body out onto the grass and take off. I guess the fear of that is that then people will stop dropping them off and we can’t save the few that do make it out alive.
As I stood there watching the blood drip down from Jill’s left knee, tears dripping from between the her fingers covering her face, uncaring people passed by us. Who’s going to stop for some strange woman crying on the sidewalk? It’s too awkward for most people to handle, but that’s fine. Talking to someone right now would be excruciating for me. I kneeled down to pick up her phone. As I slid it into my pocket, a crack in the screen caught on the fabric and tugged lightly in resistance. I helped her up and put my right arm around her waist, and left hand on her shoulder in support. We began walking to the tram station we were headed towards before she got the call that would likely be the beginning of the end of our relationship.
Written in 2015
[img source: “CAVE Crayoland” by User:Davepape – own work (self-photograph using timer). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.]