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1 day before the start of the contest, Friday.

First thing this morning everyone is following the news about Unlimited Worlds, and all eyes before class are on screens. Watching the news in my standard school VR goggles I see that Imagine Online is opening with several other different immersive VR worlds to start. There is a science-fiction-based world called Imagine Beyond. There is a realistic western one which is 18+ because of adult content—I assume that means naked people. The main world I will be in is named Imagine Online which is an “updated, classic, open-world, RPG,” whatever that means. They have promised several more worlds to come over the next year, some of which sound much more interesting. There is a cozy mystery world where you can sit and drink tea by a fire and solve mysteries in a manor; that one will open in six months.

I load up more videos. I’ve been living in a cave and I need to know what I am getting myself into.

Most of the videos are by fans who are regurgitating what devs say, so I search for just interviews of the devs. In one I find, a dev says within the game world, there is world vs. w. The zones he talks about will be based on players real-world physical locations and populations. The dev say that battles will be for zone influence structures which have different bonuses for defenders and de-buffs for attackers within that zone. The dev continues that this was to address the lack of gods in the game, as well as a way to keep players fighting for resources. However, the influence markers have to be constructed and guarded at later stages. I think it is end-game content that players won’t see until they are high level. The initial contests help introduce a lot of this content to the new players.

This is interesting. The game design foments competition and battle. Its design is to have everyone fighting for influence and limited resources at each stage.

Another video makes it clear from the devs that players cannot pick a race besides human. In later stages of the game players can undergo transformation quests to alter their race. Players can even become members of beast tribes, gaining natural creature transformation abilities, or to be an elemental aspect like the ifrit for fire, sylphs for air, and so on. One female dev did a fifteen-minute talk titled, “No Elves, no Dwarves? No problem.” It focused on how the system is far more flexible than having simple racial segmentation that force classes to use only specific races. The developers don’t want to have pre-defined builds that characters follow online instructions for. So instead, there is internal programming to vary each character’s experience based on personality and play style so that there is no way to recreate any specific build.

Having a pretty Elf character had attracted me, and now I am not sure about this. I figure I need to learn a lot more about what is going on once I am in the game. There are a lot of acronyms being used and I am not doing too well with the terminology.

The big news from the gaming channels is about the competitions. The amount of in-game currency to win is monumental, and it is evn more so that the in-game currency can convert into real life currency. After rereading the rules, I see there will be choices to make about finishing the game and leaving and taking the money. The rules seem designed for a leader, though the stronger you get and the more followers you have, the more danger you are in.


The bell rings—class is starting.

***

School is dragging today; all I can think about is getting into the game. Lunch time arrives and I have to avoid the main areas, so I go the library and badge in. I wave to Mrs. Lennox the librarian, then I go to the SAINT learning pods. The pods are small rooms with headsets and equipment to monitor and limit the time of the use of the devices. I enter a room and see the information signs on the wall. I have read them before, and they reiterate these are used to gain a wealth of information fast. These headsets could, with some kind of computer trickery, force your brain to recognize and learn things far faster than in real life. It’s a simple biological hack, but it’s one that gave an incredible advantage to those who could harness it in the recent past. Now, everyone is using them—my first time was when I was six years old. Originally a government secret project, the technology filtered out to the masses and became available for regular use. Additionally, you need long multi-month pauses between sets in the SAINT to allow your brain to process everything.

At my school, all of us are on a tight SAINT schedule where we reinforce our subjects in between our quarterly in-depth SAINTS’s. One teacher said we have absorbed as much as college graduates would have in the old days. It doesn’t feel like we are all college graduates; all the kids still act immature compared to the adults at the school.

I swipe my badge; using one of my several flex SAINT sessions where I may pick my topics to learn. We have flex so we can learn things like music, art, sculpture, and so on. I have other ideas about what I want to learn right now. I pass the large poster detailing all the information about the Speed-Attenuation-Intracortical-Neuroplasticity-Training system, or SAINT. Ignoring the sign, I sit down in the chair—that looks like one at a dentist’s office—and pull the helmet on.

I’m in the entry foyer of the SAINT system.a thought-based system, entirely controlled by your mind. In this space for flex learning you have access to the vastness of human knowledge.

As promised, Dr. Friend had given me a special SAINT course which pops up. It is blocking me from selecting anything else, it’s the only course I can take, and I must take it to open back up my elective courses. The mandatory one Dr. Friend has set up for is “MMORPG history and cultural impact.” They do not list this course as a public option in the directory.

“Fine,” I mutter, then select the course and try to relax.

The nameless tutor begins, I can feel the itch of the SAINT learning start. He is going through the course rapidly. I can almost keep up, but it’s an aftereffect of how the program works on your brain. Then my mind catches up and time expands. I am learning about multiplayer games, the role-playing ones called MMORPGs. It starts with multi-user dungeon, or MUD, and follows the thread through games like Scepter of Goth, Legends of Future past and the Kesmai games. They pay special attention to the progression of MUD through various incarnations to becoming DikuMUD. DikuMUD is the form of the text-based multiplayer game that became the core of how every future MMO game after is designed.

Once through the text games, the graphical games section begins. Graphical games covered are Habitat, Neverwinter Nights, the Shadow of Yserbius, Nexus, Meridian 59, the Realm Online, Mankind, Underlight, and even special sections for Ultima Online. Then the following section covers EverQuest, Asheron’s Call, Runescape, Eve Online, Lineage, and World of Warcraft, which brought MMOs into the world on a large scale.

Each section is taught with lore of the games and specifics on names of places and noteworthy events that happened in the game and patches. It even goes into details on the developer’s names. In the first section on text-based MMOs, every detail about MUD is taught. Even that they called its world ‘The Land’, and how MUD inspired everything that happened after it, in particular DikuMud. DikuMUD set up all the names and systems that every MMO still uses today.

The section on the modern MMOs is detailed in events, but also focused on how the games catered to player pressure to remove issues like permanent death. It also covers added conveniences like fast travel and instancing. It is implied you eliminate fun from a game when you remove consequences. The course praises Eve Online for keeping a level of consequences in the game to make losing a battle actually painful.

The final section is on the immersive games­­–the ones where everyone kept getting stuck inside the games that used full-body pods­–and the reasons people got stuck. The developers were so intent on proving they had real artificial intelligence they faked it. In fact, they faked it so well nobody could tell it was not real. Sometimes the developers themselves would pretend to be an AI and worked with select players to make compelling stories for the players to spread in online forums. After the government stepped in and regulated full-immersion technologies things got a lot better for the players, but the damage had been done. This led to the current generation of games and the SAINT program.

The SAINT program is a way to offer real change in the way virtual reality works in general, not just games. For instance, people can take an entire college year in a week and finish a four-year degree in three months with mandatory breaks. This is a drastic improvement for advanced education.

The training wraps up with a final line “Wutani corporation is making great strides in public trust with the SAINT program.”

Clearly, I’m getting into marketing flim-flam in this training.

The course finishes stating that it does not require a follow-up. I am back at the foyer and viewing the familiar interface and a section catches my eye. I have never considered before today but I have not done any historical SAINT learning. Drilling down into the menu, I look for thieves and their methods, finding several SAINT tutors on the topic, each with a different specialty, I mark them all and click on “create composite tutor.”

I have only four more flex SAINTS I can do in the next three months, so I need to make this count.

I know we want to do rogue-type things, but these games also require fighting and killing. The jewelry and famous painting thieves that make up my first composite tutor won’t know a lot about that–their specialties are in not being seen. I look into stealth fighters, which has assassins, poisoners, and many ninjas come up. Martial arts tutors are used to learn how to fight and are required before joining a gym or a dojo. I go through the tutors and filter out the ones which are head-on fighters then I focus on the stealth aspects. I select about thirty different ones and I again click “create composite tutor.”

One more thing which could be useful I didn’t realize until the gaming intro tutor showed me: clans and clan tactics are a big deal in these games. We will be stealth characters, so I can’t just go with famous country founders or leaders. I filter down to famous street gangsters in the US and the Bratva in Russia, and I throw in a couple Yakuza as well. Then, selecting all the fictional gangsters I can find, I make another composite tutor.

I click on ‘save’ for each of the composites so I can follow-up with them in regular VR. Follow-up is normally an important part of learning with SAINT. And, I could dig a little further and create reading lists based on each one at a later date.

After clicking the learn button, I have three teachers, working in tandem, teaching me about stealth and about fighting. They drill me in killing and poisoning, about guns and cars. I learn about dispatching enemies with ice picks, throwing-stars, and garrotes—about twenty minutes pass.

My brain feels hot, like I just ran five miles and my body is still recovering. But there is no time, I need to do the follow-up learning with each while I have time.

First, the composite thief.

I enter the SAINT and stand with Vinnie; I know his name because I feel like I can remember listening to him lecture for hours, though it has been only a short time outside. My brain believes that and knows it is not true, but if I can remember the knowledge and still use it, does it matter?

Vinnie is an IA, an intelligent agent. His job here is to reinforce the learning we went through in our previous group tutoring. I cannot talk to him like I would with a person–we communicate through the learning, him to me. Everything I pick up is a learning; there is no wasted time in these instances.

With Vinnie, the skills taught are not mentally demanding like the lectures. His is a physical tutoring, so he keeps creating live scenarios repeatedly. We cover keeping things between us and a target, line of sight, and pickpocketing. He covers lockpicking again, breathing exercises for jumping and landing, and how to walk, run, and even fall. I can feel the itch in my brain learning each.

For a final, we combine all the skills in a street scene where my goal is to pick the pocket of a mark and retrieve a keycard. The mark is in a crowded party, which has guards at the door. Scouting it out, I pick the lock of a side gate and I slip in. I pretend to be a server with a tray, and I empty his pocket as I brush by. I exit the way I came and easily pass my course.

As simple as that course is, I know that there are many others I can take, each with an associated lecture. This course was the beginner course, level 9. The level 1 class would require that I break into a fortified military compound and make off with state secrets. To complete it I would be bypassing computer security, physical security, and many deterrents.

Wow, I should have tried these composites before.

I enter the SAINT again, this time with Mushio my ninja teacher, I bow and sit awaiting instruction. He stands up, and our surroundings shift. We are now outside and there is an obstacle course; on one side there is a bright lamp shining over it. The light shines through the course onto a white wall. I know that I have to get from one side to the other without casting a shadow on that wall.

***

Twenty-five failures later, I am so close to the other side. I slink past one of the blocks, bending my body at wrong angles. I nearly dip a toe into the light, casting a shadow and suffering another failure, but I make it. I cannot express emotion in these sessions, or I would be jumping up and down.

My obstacle course done, I am positive that each failure was a learning being created in my head. I could feel the itch going wild the whole time. I wish I knew how it worked, but that is one topic that is hidden well. At least all the military and government agency usage of this system left us with these fighting and strategy courses.

My next goal is to enter an Edo-era wooden fort and kill the commander. I survey the fort and notice that I can put the guards to sleep and slink in, or I could go over the wall. The main goal of this exercise is that I cannot set off an alarm, so I want to avoid the guards. Additionally, it should appear the commander died in his sleep.

Slipping over the wall as a guard passes, I land with a balanced roll and blend in with the side of a wagon that is sitting next to a path. I see the commander walking with a lieutenant. I dive across the path and drift among the squat buildings until I am near what must be the commanders tent. It is the largest building and also the center-most one. There are guards at the door, and the commander is making his way over to it, inspecting a paper and talking with his troops.

Avoiding the front door, I slide through a window, catching a falling rack of weapons that would have alerted everyone. I see a pitcher of water, so I drop in poison packet and hear the commander at the door talking to the guards. I slip back out the window and am back over the wall and wait to see the status of my mission.

I pass with honors, that means the commander drank the poison and I am not being hunted. I leave, completing my reinforcement learning with Mushito.

I return to the selection scene. I think about the further trainings for this tutor and see that there are a whopping fourteen more courses I need to take to master it.

That will take me years with my current SAINT schedule.

Moving on, I join Ben ‘Rigs’ Gallo, my street-level tutor. His instruction is much shallower that the other two, covering urban tactics. I am aware there are only three total courses with Rigs. This is the first one, so it should not prove too difficult.

He wastes no time, and the itch is heating the back of my skull. I practice skills of driving, shooting and crowd management. Rigs goes over safecracking, and our surroundings morph into a nightclub. My goal is to use my surroundings, my disguise, and my skills to crack the safe inside, and then when leaving to avoid the police. It’s simple.

I feel the wad of cash in my coat pocket. Being a good student of Rigs, I walk around the back of the nightclub and bribe the policeman there to take the night off. He leaves, then I enter through the back and kill a generic guard. I break into the office safe and get the goods. Slipping into the club, I grab a drink before leaving out the front for extra credit, passing this module.

The following modules in this series would be much harder. They require learning to see micro facial features, allowing me to spot lies and would require that I shake down people in a kind of protection racket. It also would teach me about power displays, which sounds interesting.

I hope nobody looks at the official record of this, as I’ve just demolished any career I could want in politics or as a CEO.

In a moment of clarity, I send this SAINT session to my personal account so I can access it in regular VR if I need more info or advice from these tutors.

I pull the helmet off and leave the library, ready to start.

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About the author

joeldg

  • Portland, OR

Bio: Joel lives on the side of an extinct volcano with his family, and a cat with markings of a ghost, named after a Roman general. He writes ongoing LitRPG, as well as short-form GameLit and SciFi. He has played nearly every single MMO/MMORPG.

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