Luckily for my fellow passengers the elevator was empty. I don’t care who you are, spending eight hours in a kitchen and you will smell like grease. It also let me pace back and forth to work off some of my nervous energy. Of course, when the doors opened into a fairly opulent reception area I immediately felt entirely out of place.
Plush blue carpet covered the floor, and the walls were a gentle sky theme with streaks of clouds. The receptionist had an enormous desk made of some dark wood, with dual monitors set up along with two trays for papers. As I awkwardly stepped out of the elevator, she turned and asked, “Welcome to the HR department, how can I help you?”
“Um, I’m supposed to be here for a 3:30 meeting? With Ms. Dawson?”
“Ah, you must be Martin then.” Pressing a button on her phone, I was dismissed for the moment. “Ms. Dawson, your 3:30 is here.”
“Thank you Pamela, please set him up in conference room A.”
Looking back at me, Pamela gave me a well-practiced but still natural looking smile. “They will be with you shortly, please follow me to the conference room.”
Following her, I tried to quell my rising panic. Conference room? Conference room?! Why do I need to meet with HR in a conference room? Oh god, I’m so fired.
A typical room greeted me as I silently passed Pamela. “Thanks” I muttered before sitting down on the side of a rectangular table with four seats on one side and one on each end. Great, now I get to twiddle my thumbs and panic about all the things I probably forgot I might have done. Luckily for me, Ms. Dawson entered less than a minute later. Followed by three men in expensive looking suits with briefcases. Oh crap, these have to be lawyers. How deep of trouble am I in?
“Thanks for coming up here and meeting with us Marty. I’m sure you are worried about these gentlemen with me, but please try and relax. They have some paperwork, depending on how far our talks end up going. In case you were wondering, they are part of our in house counsel, and first off they have an NDA for you to sign.”
“I’m sorry, NDA? What’s that?”
Suit number one spoke up, “Non-Disclosure Agreement.”
“It basically says you won’t tell anyone what is discussed in this meeting, and if you do it outlines what penalties you face.” Ms. Dawson clarified. “Now, I will say this. You are under no obligation to sign anything. Your job is safe, and you can walk out that door at any time. If you choose to stay, you will sign the agreement. If you do talk, and reveal company secrets, we will then go after you to the full extent of the law. In this case, it would be a small term in jail along with triple monetary damages based upon the leaked information. Are you willing to continue?”
My mind was racing. This entire thing was optional? And all I had to do was agree not to speak about it? “I suppose I could stay and listen.”
“Excellent!” She emphasized with a clap. Suit number two slid a packet of papers across the table to me.
“NDA forms. Two pages each, in triplicate. Please sign one for your records, one for our records in HR and one for the legal department.”
I tried to read through them, but the legalese was making my eyes crossed. It didn’t seem too bad, and I didn’t see any mention of souls so at least that was safe. “What’s this about treble damages to be determined by the company?”
“That just means that if you reveal something that costs the company money, you will pay back triple the value of the information. Please don’t do that, costs add up fast” Ms. Dawson clarified.
I signed all three copies, kept one for myself and sent the others back to Suit 2. Slumping back in my chair, I asked, “Well, this is your show. What did you need me for?”
Clearing her throat, Ms. Dawson started her presentation. “We have several offers on the table here, but first I want to make sure we have all the details of your current Oblivion Online account down. Your character is McFlyAway3, and is your third created character. A level 47 elf ranger, last played three months ago. Correct?”
“Yeah, sounds about right” I agreed. I wasn’t surprised they knew my character, they ran the game.
“Excellent. I also see that none of your characters ever rose above level 55, and you never joined a guild. Can you talk about why?”
“Sure. That level range is right about where grinding to get levels becomes a way of life, and I absolutely hate repeating the same things over and over. As to the guilds, I just don’t have the patience for it. Too many want to control every detail of your game, or make you pair up with immature idiots.”
“Thank you, that almost perfectly fits part of what we need you for. Would you be interested in a new way to play Oblivion Online? One where instead of grouping up in massive raid parties for the forces of light, you were instead playing as a character of the monster races? No party system, no raids. Solo adventuring at its finest?”
I leaned forward as she was describing it, and got a gleam in my eye. “That sounds fantastic. Will there be PVP?” At her slightly confused look I said, “Player verses Player.”
“Yes, but I’m not sure how it’s different. All I can say is that the developers have redone the vast majority of gameplay.”
Oh, I was getting more and more excited about this. No guilds forcing me to play how they want, no annoying idiots with an excess of space between their ears, and I get to play as the monsters in the dungeon? Yes, I was very interested. “Ms. Dawson, I would be thrilled to be chosen for this.”
“Wonderful! Now, as a Beta tester you are entitled to some compensation for your time. We will be requiring you to send in bug reports if you encounter anything broken in the gameplay. You will have a dedicated Game Manager to send your reports to, and they will also be reviewing your game footage. If you do encounter a bug, send an immediate report. After that, try and reproduce the error and send a follow up report with any details you can find. If you would sign this set of papers, we will guarantee you employment for at least six months. You will be required to play for at least 8 hours a day, five days a week. You will be salaried, so there is no overtime but you will be making $65,000 per year. Any major bugs detected will get you a finder’s fee, depending on the size of the bug, amount of detail in your report, and how much gameplay would be impacted. How does this sound so far? Questions?”
My jaw had dropped. They were willing to pay me nearly double my current salary, to play a game? “Will I have a set schedule or do I have freedom to choose when to log in?”
“Freedom to log in. We will be monitoring your account to make sure you are actually doing the testing, but it generally starts off with time monitoring only. If we determine that you aren’t logging in enough, we will message you and start monitoring your gameplay.”
“Sounds fair. I’ve no objection to any of that, but I am a bit worried about the monitoring gameplay aspect. Earlier you mentioned that my game manager would review my game footage. What happens if the company decides to use some of my in game footage as promotional material for when the monster class goes live?”
“Of course there will be additional compensation, and if you end up with a lot of promotional material, you might be chosen to become one of our streamers. That will be a future conversation, if we ever get that far.”
“One last thing, can I meet with my game manager to go over the differences in gameplay? It would be very helpful to know what is a bug and what is a new feature before entering the game.”
“Easily done. How does Wednesday at 8 am sound? I know you were scheduled to work originally during that time, but we have talked with your manager. If you accept the position, your last day at your current position will be tomorrow.”
“Wow, you guys really work fast and think of all the possibilities, don’t you?”
Ms. Dawson got a sly look in her eye, and glanced at suit 2 for a second. Leaning in, she asked, “That is all for this project, but I think we can do more. Would you be up for an additional project, to run at the same time? It will require another NDA, this one much more limiting.”
Seeing both suits flinch, I couldn’t help but be intrigued. “Send me over the contract.”
Looking at the new pack of papers suit 2 slid over, I couldn’t help but whistle at the terms. Breaking this would result in no less than ten years in federal prison for industrial espionage, damages of at least three million dollars, and no chance of avoiding the monetary penalties through bankruptcy. This was some serious stuff. I quickly signed.
Ms. Dawson started off again, “Excellent. These questions will be personal, and for that I’m sorry. First, what is your family situation?”
“I’m an only child, single with no girlfriend. Talk to my parents a few times a week, but that’s about it.”
“Perfect. Pets? Dependents? Living in a house or in an apartment?”
Flinching at the detail a little, I decided to see where this was going. “No pets or dependents and I live alone in my apartment.”
Both suits leaned forward to give each other a nod across the table, and Ms. Dawson got an excited smile on her face. “Well, that meets all of our criteria. Last question, are you willing to cut most contact with the majority of the world and live inside a game?”
Live inside a game? What could they be getting at? “I suppose I would be able to, can you tell me a little more?”
“Of course. As you might or might not know, recently we have had a lot of success using our immersion technology to help in the medical field. While short term immersion is helpful, there are many conditions that would be helped with much longer times spent in virtual reality. To that end, we have developed a long term immersion tank and have been granted approval for human testing. What we need is a large, varied control group. Since you are already going to be playing the game for us, would you be up for entering the game for an initial time of six months?”
I couldn’t help it. My jaw dropped halfway through her explanation. Long term gaming pods? They want me to play a new version of the game for six months? Calm down, calm down. It sounds great, but there are real world issues I would have to take care of first. I can only imagine the horror my fridge would be if I left it alone for six months, let alone the rest of the apartment. I would be lucky if the police weren’t called for a possible dead body or something equally absurd. “Well, that is an incredible offer, but I do have a few concerns. The most pressing is what would happen with my apartment. I’m not incredibly attached to it, but I assume I won’t be able to live there while testing, and that seems like an awful waste of money.”
“Indeed. For safety concerns, and for the best data we need to be in almost complete control of the pod. So you would have a pod with a small privacy area in a restricted area of the building. We will have someone in every few days to clean this area for you, and you will be monitored 24/7 by medical personnel. I’m glad you mentioned that you aren’t too attached to your apartment, hopefully you will take our most popular offer. We will pay your landlord all the fees required to break your lease, as well as move your belongings to one of our secure storage facilities. We also have short term apartments for your use after your contract ends, until you can find your own place again.”
“Wow, yeah that really takes care of everything. So, while I’m in the game, how do I get news? Is there any way I could keep in email contact with my parents on occasion?”
“Of course. You can log out into a virtual apartment that will have full internet, cable, and newspapers should you want. We will be monitoring your emails, but other than that you will have free time.”
“All that does sound great, but I am a bit concerned about the lack of human interaction. From what I can tell, monster characters won’t be on friendly terms with almost anyone, and staying in a pod for 6 months without someone to talk to would be terrible.”
“Hmm, that does seem rather rough, thank you for pointing this out. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix it?”
“Internet calling should be easy enough to do, and if there is a virtual apartment, perhaps we could set up a virtual café? Even if it is just for the people in the program, we could get some face to face interaction.”
“I will see what we can do on that end. Now, since you are already going to be testing for us, how does this sound. Obviously we will be covering all medical costs, and having our doctors do several thorough examinations. In addition, we can add on an extra $35,000 per year for being part of the medical trials.”
“That’s great, almost too great. What happens if something goes wrong?” As I asked that, I swear I saw one of the suits eyes start twitching.
Suit two was the one to actually answer though, “In the unlikely event of bodily injury, we will cover the costs up to and including around the clock medical care. You would then be housed in one of our off site facilities. We will also be paying on a one million dollar life insurance policy for you, and the only thing you would need to do is set up the beneficiary.”
I would be an absolute fool to pass this up. They had every angle covered, so I signed all the paperwork and prepared for my new life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
That last week absolutely flew by. A quick goodbye to most of my coworkers, while a select few of them got a promise to keep in touch via email. A few hugs, a lot of handshakes and well wishes, and I was out the door. Most of my things were packed away and sent to the company storage. I kept out my computer and two weeks’ worth of casual clothes. I also was poked and prodded by several doctors, with a battery of tests to determine my overall fitness, reaction times, and endurance. By the time they had installed a quick IV button in my arm, I was more than happy to move along to meeting my game manager.
My game manager Emily was nice. Average height, shoulder length red hair and green eyes, she had an amazing ability to simplify almost anything. I got a slow tour through the facilities, and it blew my mind. Their server farm was larger than my apartment, hidden behind a clear plastic wall so that everything could be monitored. I got to see the arts department as they were creating fantastical creatures from mythologies around the world and engineers bringing them to life. Soon enough it was time for my personal pod.
“OK, your employee ID card is your lifeline, don’t lose it. It allows you to access whatever parts of the building you have access to. Simply swipe it in the elevator and press the button. All beta tester living areas are underground, and will be labeled with BB for Basement Beta testers. Your room is on floor BB 7.” Stopping at the proper floor, we got off the elevator and had to swipe our cards to get through another door. “This secondary door is in case someone manages to get into the elevator and piggyback someone else. We take security very seriously. All restricted floors have a small elevator lobby that is monitored by remote cameras. In addition, there is a button next to the card reader for you to push if you think someone isn’t authorized to be there.”
I loved the precautions they were taking, but still needed to ask, “If I were to push the button and it turned out the person was authorized, will security be upset?”
“No. They would much rather you call them and be certain rather than let someone in. Ah, here we are, welcome to your room.” Opening the door to B-8, I followed her inside and was rather amazed. A sleek silver pod took up the center of the area. The entire top was clear, and a reclining seat was inside. A computer desk took up one corner, with a wardrobe filling in the middle of the back wall. “Through the door to the right of the pod is the bathroom, but I’m sure you are more concerned with the pod, yes?”
“Very much so. It looks a lot more aesthetic than what is on the market so far.”
“Well, we have tried to make it a little more pleasing to the eye, but I assure you these are the least of the improvements. Come around here.” Walking around to the back, she popped open a hidden compartment. “This is where we keep the nutrient paste that will be your food during your immersion. It will last roughly a week per bag, but will still be checked daily. There is a sign off log and checklist that the nurses will have to go through.” Letting the door click shut, she went to the side of the pod. “This lid flips open, and the side door opens to assist getting people in and out. The gel padding in the chair will conform to you as you sit in there. It will also act as a massage to prevent blood clots from forming. Neutrally buoyant liquid will cover you from the neck down to keep you clean. It is also changed daily. Several leads will be attached to monitor your heartrate, temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen level. An IV will also be applied, that will keep you sedated. After you are sedated, a catheter and tube for solid waste will be inserted.”
“Will they also be removed before I am woken up?” I asked while mentally crossing my fingers.
“Yes, they definitely will be. We are striving to make this the most painless process possible since the majority of these immersions will be people who aren’t healthy to begin with.” The rest of the tour passed uneventfully as there was only a small bathroom left.
Bio: I'm a chemist that gave writing a try, and loved the results. Everything is mostly for fun right now, though I might try and get some things published eventually. Certain traits of my daughter have made it into bits of my stories, and she sometimes keeps me company when we both have trouble sleeping.