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By S.C.Stone All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Scifi

The Game To Be Played

I never wanted to do it, but the government said that I would be promised a better life.

Better life, yeah right.

In this world? I don’t think so. Having a ''better life'' now is a pipe dream. It's impossible to even think about getting a good life today. So they give me this proposition; complete this virtual reality game and you, your wife and son will have a ''better life''.

But this isn't just your run-of-the-mill virtual reality game. Because any one who has played the game hasn't survived till the end. What makes them think I can do it? The fact that I was a soldier in Afghanistan? That was a different field. That was real. People getting shot, people dying in front of me, that was real.

Real enough to me when I saw my best friend get blown up by a bomb.

Real enough to me when I saw my most of my pals suffer defeat at the hands of rebels.

And THAT was definitely not a game to be played.

I had already experienced one nightmare; why would I want to experience another?

Am I desperate for a ''better life'', one where I can play the doting husband to my wife and loving father to myson?

Or am I doing it for me, because some part of me is curious; curious to explore what the game is like, curious to see what I would be doing, curious to see if I can reach the end. I want to know if I will get a silent thrill from this virtual battlefield as I did from the real battlefield. And that's why I find myself at the Game Emporium, staring at the newest virtual game on the market that is as mind-boggling as the Matrix.

Phantasmagoria – hailed as a revolutionary virtual reality game that utilises a highly creative person’s imagination. It imposes that person’s imagination within in a controlled area, which are set in levels within the game. Different countries sponsored their most highly creative minds and created a multi-platform game that had the end prize of gaining unlimited intellectuality, said to be possessed within the mind of a dying woman. Her name is Diana, and she is found in the highest echelon of the game. It is said she is the one who created the game in the first place, as her imagination is a 'plenitude of unparalleled pandemonium', according to one scientist. With the help of other bright minded individuals, which I believe are all girls, the game has levels made specific to each imaginative stage created by the girls. Multinational corporations all want to get their hands on Diana, as well as governments around the world, since whoever possesses the mind of the world’s most highly creative person holds the key to possibly solving the world’s problems.

If only.

The rule of the game is simple: survive to the end to receive the prize. Of course, you need to survive the obstacles that befall you at each level that you get to. But since it is no ordinary game (it is absolutely in the hands of the ‘free minds’ – what we call the girls who control the game’s layout), each level is so abstract and unconventional, you have to be- no, you NEED to be unpredictable. I can’t stress to you enough how many times people have gone into the game thinking they can complete it with in a set amount of time, or with their own method of a game plan. Unfortunately, each level is timed, so if you do not make it out within the allotted time you fail and you are out of the game. Each level has a 20 minute countdown to let the participant know how much time they have to complete it. If you die within the game, don’t worry, you don’t die outside of it; however, you are locked out of it and you have to forfeit. You can't re-enter the game at all after you die, so I guess it is pretty much game over.

I heard that one of the girls is called the Timekeeper, so she is the one who sets the time for each level. Each level also has a guide so that you don’t get lost when you have completed each task in the level you are in, and then they help you to find the means of travel that will help you get to the next level. I believe the level keepers are the architects of the levels, so the girls that the participants meet on each of them are the 'builders'. The level keepers are not allowed to kill the participants directly. If that happens, the parameters of the level keeper's imagination will be revoked and they will have to ‘resurrect’ the person and will be forced to give them a free pass to the next level.

Each level keeper is not allowed to create a level from a memory of a place, because it shows that the level keeper has an emotional attachment to that place. That questions the credibility of the level keeper and is a sign that that individual’s creativity is too low. However, the level keeper is allowed to use objects from memory that will serve as props for obstacles such as rocks or buildings. As I said earlier, level keepers aren’t allowed to physically or directly attack and kill the participants of the game, but if the participants come to be gravely injured or die due to their own mistake, they are out of the game.

There are around five levels to the game, or six if you count the highest level, the 'Diana Echelon'. The participant of the game can use their own imagination to thinks of ways to get through an obstacle in each level. There can be up to 10 participants per level in the game, and whoever comes up with the most creative way to overcome a challenge will be awarded the most points. Your points will be carried over to the next level each time you pass. The participants with the least amount of points will have to restart the level. The most points that can be awarded at one time are 1000 points; the least amount that can be awarded is 100. If more than one participant gains the least amount, all of those participants who got the low points will have to restart the level. If a participant has to restart, the level keeper of that level has the chance to change anything in that level, except for the layout, so the participant has to come up with a new way to overcome a new challenge. The level keepers themselves can also become the obstacle if they choose to, meaning that they can scupper the efforts of the participants of their level.

How the obstacle of each level is made is absolutely up to the discretion of each level keeper. Sometimes it's a physical obstacle, sometimes it can be a riddle, or a puzzle. It can be anything, so you really have to be open-minded about what could happen in the game. A participant would do his best to be in the level keeper's good books, and looking at how all of them are pubescent young girls, I think it would be best to just talk about old episodes of the Power Puff Girls.

Before the game can be entered, each participant must go to the Game Emporium so that they can go through simulation training. The simulation training prepares each participant for the experience of virtual reality and what life is like inside the game. There aren't any levels to the simulation game, but there are small challenges and obstacles that you have to undertake to get a taste of what you can expect to be tested on in the game. Of course it is no where near the level that the participant will experience in the real game, but they can get the gist of what to expect when it comes to the challenges. The simulation contains controlled versions of the imagination obstacles, so you can anticipate better what happens in each level. I already went through 16 phases of simulations; before you can enter Phantasmagoria you're expected to go through at least 8 phases, but the government wants me to be doubly prepared. I'm practically a veteran of the outside and the inside battlefield.

''Can't wait to try it out, huh?'' a nerdy-looking guy with glasses and a bad case of acne says to me as I am still looking at a model of the seat and device that houses the game. This guy seriously asked me that? I can't wait to get out of it.

''Yeah, I think it's gonna be a blast,'' I reply with a fake smile. It's going to be a blast indeed.

You can say that again.

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