I opened my eyes, and there was a Sprite-born fading into existence in front of me. She was a pretty standard model: bright blue hair in a pixie cut, oversized green eyes, ears that came to an elfin point and extended slightly outwards from her head, and a nicely curvy figure with breasts that were anatomically unlikely, given her height and weight. Equipment-wise, she was wearing a tunic that was all light tans and green accents, and a sort of skirt-thing that completely ruined the look because it was a deep maroon with wide hanging strips of fabric that had grommets or something made out of a dull metal stamped into them. So a starting character with one piece of new equipment, I supposed.
She was also, my rebellious brain informed me, my owner. Because I was a flicking cosmetic!
…But no, I wasn't going down that path right now. As much as losing myself to a panic attack sounded eminently sensible, I had things I needed to figure out.
Like what the hinterlands happened between me regaining consciousness and my little bout of entirely reasonable freak-out. I wracked my memory, but nothing came up. I was admittedly pretty out of it…yesterday? What day and time was it, anyway? None of the standard interface elements seemed to exist, which could be a change made when the experience became more immersive, or could be a side effect of my inhabitation of a non-player character. Worrisome. If I didn't have access to the standard interface, how was I going to allocate my stat points and choose skills? Oh scribble, if there weren't skills and stats, I was going to be even more righteously angry with that joke of a god who'd stuck me here than before. I mean, what's the point of living a game if it has all the uncertainties inherent in life?! Just resurrect me as a squirrel or something and be done with it, you snazz-hole!
Wait, "snazz-hole"? Seriously? What sort of snazz-wipe designed this flicking profanity filter, anyway?
No, focus! I had a very worrisome feeling that this was important. I could vaguely remember the log-out animation surrounding me back—when I was having a bit of a moment after hatching. I think the Sprite-born was still clutching me to her bountiful bosom while I was otherwise engaged, and after that I couldn't remember much of anything at all. I feel like I might have fallen to the ground once she became completely insubstantial, but did I take off running at that point? Or did I lose consciousness when she logged out and just had one of those horrible running-in-place dreams?
Scribble. I'm pretty sure I lost consciousness, because of course cosmetics wouldn't persist while their owners were logged out. Ugh. That meant that I was only going to be able to get anything done while she was logged in? How often and for how long did she play, anyway? This was such a scribble deal.
Well, nothing for it. I might be a cosmetic, but that sure didn't mean I had to spend my time adorning some Sprite-born.
I booked it for the distance just as I heard the Sprite-born say, "Is Ray late again? Ugh. Oh well, I need my dose of fluff, anyway!"
I say I booked it, but really I just sort of slowly waddled. This body was the pits; I seemed to be more or less completely round. Although my eyes had a very wide range of motion, I could barely move my head so I couldn't see anything of my feet except for small talons that poked out beyond my stomach whenever I tried to take a step. Needless to say, I didn't make it very far before the Sprite-born swooped in behind me and scooped me up into her arms. "Who's my little fluffy-kins? Oh you are just adorable!"
Fluffy-kins. Heh. Sounded like someone was tripping the profanity filter.
"You are such a sweetie!"
Or not. This was hinterlands, wasn't it? What great sin did I commit in my life to deserve this, anyway?
Also, come on! "Hinterlands"? How do the people living out in the boonies feel about this, anyway! Plus, what sort of snazz-hole would denigrate a swathe of geography like that? Maybe no one protested because no one actually used the diddly thing?
As I reluctantly bore continued cuddles and baby-talk from my owner, my attention was abruptly diverted by a ka-weenk! sound that the Sprite-born made no indication of hearing. I recognized that sound! That was the "new message" notification noise! FLICK YES, I HAD AN INTERFACE!
Now I just had to figure out how to open it. As I underwent relentless nuzzling and pets I whipped my eyes around looking for the telltale glowing dot that indicated new messages.
Nothing, of course. No way my new existence would be that convenient.
Ah, seems like my owner finally got sick of assaulting me and set me down. She was muttering something about this "Ray" character again. I started edging slowly backward, intent on making my escape, when she did something that stopped me in my tracks. With her right hand, she made a vertical swiping motion through the air, and an interface popped up near her fingertips! One that I could see! This was honestly pretty weird, since in the old game you couldn't see the interface elements for other characters, but maybe it had something to do with me being a cosmetic creature? In any case, do that again! I wasn't watching the motion closely enough the first time!
I couldn't quite see what the screen said from my vantage point; it was semi-transparent but all the text was backwards and at a weird angle. Oh well, I'd have other chances to observe something like that. For now I needed to get out of here before she started molesting me again. I turned and waddled away as fast as I could.
"Drat, I forgot we were going to meet at the fountain!" I heard her say behind me, and then the sound of her footsteps receding. Ha! She totally spaced out about me! I was fr—
Without a sound, my forward motion was abruptly halted. Wait, what? An invisible wall?! Arg, don't tell me that I'm tethered to this flicking Sprite-born?!
Sure enough, the invisible force shoved me backwards, ultimately rolling me onto my back where I lay and seethed silently at the sky as I was dragged over the ground by the immutable laws of game mechanics.
Cheep cheep cheep! Or maybe not so silently. It appeared my anger had exceeded my self-control and I was making an adorable little baby-chick sound. Just kill me already.
This was a pretty weird feeling, though. It wasn't precisely comfortable—I could feel every bump and rock I was being dragged over—but it also wasn't painful in the sort of skin-scraping-off way it should be if this were real life. I couldn't be certain, since I didn't have an interface, but unless the physical feedback in the game was muted to the point of being completely useless, I was pretty sure I wasn't suffering any damage from this. Well, aside from damage to my pride. That had taken a critical hit and the jury was out on whether it would ever recover. I couldn't even roll over; I was getting dragged along almost four times as fast I could waddle, and since my body was so diddly round I wasn't sure I could even get back on my feet. I rocked back and forth experimentally from side to side, but that was no good. Maybe if I rocked front to back since I was effectively being pushed by my feet?
Hup, two, three, and—
Well, I guess that worked, sort of. I successfully rolled myself onto my face and was now being dragged face-down through the dirt.
This game sucks.
"Oh no, I'm so sorry! Your legs are too short to keep up and you aren't old enough to fly yet, huh? Poor girl."
Great, my ditz of an owner finally noticed my situation. Also, I'm a guy.
"Hm, I might need my hands free…oh, I know!" The Sprite-born plucked me up off the ground, unceremoniously dusted me off—that's my face, you know!—and shoved me in between her breasts?!
What the hinterlands?! How does this even—you know it's oddly comfortable, especially compared to being dragged face-first along the ground. The lower half of my body was squished down into her cleavage, and the feeling of being tightly contained almost made me nostalgic for my time in the egg…as if! This was the worst! And why was I so diddly small? Now that I thought about it, this…whatever I was…should have been closer in size to a basketball, but I was more like a tennis or baseball.
I desperately squirmed and flapped my useless sausage-y wing-arm things. Oh, I'd just about made it—
"Whoops, stay there, fluff-kins! Don't want you falling out!" Aaaand she shoved me back down.
On the plus side, this finally gave me the chance to admire the world around me. And what a world it was.
The graphics for Born Again Online had always been good, even when it was a normal video game. For the second expansion the developers spent a ton of time and money on getting everything just right to play in VR, and although the VR mode was ultimately a wash-out thanks to the uncomfortable control scheme, the quality of the graphics—and particularly the quality of the movement animations for the characters—was amazing. Although lots of games went with a more cartoon-y look to try and avoid the uncanny valley, BAO somehow managed to get right up to the edge of uncanny territory without tipping over into creepy plastic characters and so forth. Maybe it was because despite the highly detailed environments and equipment, the characters themselves were always a little larger-than-life in a way that felt reminiscent of animation but not in a creepy way.
Whatever, I'm no art critic. The thing was, the game looked good. And whatever process they'd gone through to convert it to a full dive virtual reality…well, they'd achieved something remarkable.
Best I could tell, we were currently in the Sprite-born starting town or one of the neighboring low-level quest hubs. That meant giant trees with stairs curving up their trunks to fancy tree-houses overhead, lush undergrowth, and a bunch of what were basically elves running around. In other words, a quintessential fantasy setting brought to life. It was evidently fall in-game, too, so the trees were a riot of reds, oranges, and yellows. Absolutely gorgeous.
If only I were experiencing it as a humanoid player character. I guess I should be thankful that my vision included colors, at least.
At last we arrived at the fountain, which was evidently sculpted out of living tree roots? I didn't remember this particular location, but then again it had been ages since I last worked my way through the starting Sprite-born quests. The last few times I played as Sprite-born, I'd booked it out of their home territory after the first couple levels because the base skill Pelting Rain that was available in the nearby Nix-born starting area was so diddly useful for any build that needed to focus on solo clearing mobs of enemies at low levels.
In any case, the fountain was pretty awesome. Tree roots all around the base, twining into a column that was for some unknowable reason spurting water into the air. Unlike the video game, the water was behaving exactly like water, too: instead of falling in a perfect cylinder around the fountain, it was misting off sideways in the slight breeze that was blowing. I could have watched it all day, if only to forget about the ignominy of my current perch.
My Sprite-born steed was less impressed. "Huh, Ray's not here? What the heck?"
And then—ooh, money shot! I was in the perfect position to observe as she raised her right hand…and swiped it downward with a quick outward flick of her fingertips at the end to open her interface.