Hazelsong: A LitRPG Novel

by

Ash Durra

Chapter 5: That's the Name of the Book!

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“This… This is amazing!” I said as I shot up out of my seat. Limping over to the TV, I took a closer look at the paused video, trying to find any kind of clue that what I was looking at was computer-generated. Even the most cutting-edge video games running on the beefiest computer VR rigs had some tells to them, kind of like a digital varnish. There was always something that let you know that what you were seeing wasn’t real, and when it came to anything other than sight, there was no programming or haptic devices that could render a truly accurate sense of touch. “People are going to lose their minds when you announce.”

“Ya, that's what the bosses are hoping for,” Brian said as he closed out of the video. “Sit back down, I need to go over a few things with you.”

I limped back over to my seat, feeling my leg reprimand me for getting overly excited. Brian slipped another tablet over to me, which was just a simple screen meant to mirror everything on his own tablet.

“We’ll get into some information about the game later,” Brian said as he flipped through the pages of the document on his tablet. “First, I need to talk to you about the full-immersion virtual reality system, or FIVR for short. We have two different FIVR systems, both designed for different clientele. The basic consumer model completed its final testing stages a couple of months ago and it's already in production. Ironwood is actually ready to announce the game and FIVR device to the public. The current timetable for them is to announce sometime on Friday next week. They plan to start a lottery for preorders, with some system in place to weed out most of the scalpers. I think launch day is the following Friday, so a little over two weeks from today.”

“Wait,” I said, a bit confused. “You said you were running some alpha and beta testing program with these FIVR systems.”

Brian nodded, “I’m testing the other model… sort of. It's a bit complicated. Both models are the same, at least when it comes to their internal hardware and firmware, but the second model is designed to work in tandem with other devices.

“Other devices? I thought you said that you didn’t need any kind of peripherals, somehow all you need is this headset.”

“That’s true, for full immersion, you only need the headset. The FIVR system doesn’t use goggles and headphone attachments like typical VR headsets. FIVR looks more like a skateboard helmet with a semi-transparent visor. The wearer uses the visor and voice commands to log into the system and select their game. The headset uses brain wave manipulation along with visual cues from the visor to put the wearer into a state of deep sleep. Without getting into the finer details on how everything works, the headset is essentially able to translate the code of the game into brain wave signals, which are displayed to the player while they are in a deep sleep state. Anything the player does is simultaneously translated back into game code by the headset and sent back to the game servers. All of this is happening while the headset maintains the dream state for the player.”

I looked at the diagram of the headset on my screen as Brian described it. His description of a skating helmet wasn’t far off. “So, if players are sleeping, don’t they forget a lot of what they did in the game after waking up?” I asked.

Brian chuckled, “No, it's a ‘dream-like state’, not an actual dream. The best way I can describe it is when you go into your dream state, the system kind of catches your consciousness and keeps you fully aware.”

“Could the game replace sleep?” I asked. “Like could someone log in and play 8 hours at night and log off feeling rested.”

“Unfortunately no,” Brian replied. “Not that they didn’t try to get the device to do exactly that. I don’t know how much time and money they put into the early development to get it to work that way, but it was a significant amount. I mean, if they could figure out how to allow people to play games and watch media in place of sleeping, they would probably become the richest company in the world overnight. As it is, since you are conscious the whole time, your mind doesn’t really register that you are sleeping. You’ll come out of an 8-hour game session feeling physically relaxed, but mentally you’ll feel like you’ve been awake for that whole 8 hours.”

While it was a bummer to learn that the device wouldn’t allow you to circumvent a normal sleep schedule, it was still exceptionally impressive. The realism shown in the videos was a testament to what this type of virtual reality system could offer. Still, rendering a person immobile obviously came with its own types of danger that you wouldn’t necessarily experience when using a normal VR system.

“What kind of safety issues have you guys run into during development?” I asked.

Brian nodded and he scrolled down on his document until I could see a safety systems section on my screen. “One of the first questions we get from people who we show the system to is if there is any danger to a person’s brain. Some people get worried that if something were to suddenly break a player's connection to the game or helmet, it could have adverse effects,” Brian said. “The only thing that would happen in such a circumstance is the person would leave the dream-like state unassisted, and their character would be frozen for 60 seconds before being automatically logged out. The only repercussion for this happening to a person is they may need some assistance waking up, otherwise they might slip into actual sleep for a few hours.”

Brian highlighted a section of the screen called Safety Alarms and Emergency Ejection before he continued. “The biggest safety threat to using the headset itself isn’t any physical or mental harm caused directly from the headset, it's from normal environmental hazards that the user will be unaware of when in the game. While in the dream state, the user has no perception of anything that is happening around them in the real world. If you were wearing a helmet and logged into the game, I could start a fire in here and you wouldn’t be able to tell. You wouldn’t be able to hear your alarms or smell the smoke, you would have trouble even feeling the heat unless the fire was close to you. So to help keep players safe, helmets are designed to connect with personal AI assistants like P.A.T. who already monitor for dangerous situations like fires, carbon monoxide, break-ins, ect. For those who still don’t use a personal AI assistant, the helmet comes with some basic environmental monitoring like temperature, smoke, and gas. Along with that, we have some health monitoring sensors in the helmet, so a person can be alerted if they are experiencing a health emergency. If at anytime your AI assistant or the FIVR helmets systems detect an issue, it will automatically boot you from the game, and start your wake-up procedures.”

The extent of the danger someone could potentially be in when using the headset without these safety features was startling to me. “Jesus, I hope no one had to figure any of this out the hard way.”

Brian shook his head. “No, the original designers knew this was going to be an issue during the initial design phases. These systems were in place since the first iteration of the FIVR helmet, and they have worked flawlessly during testing. Hell, I watched the helmet eject a tester 3 years ago. She thought she was just experiencing some stomach cramps, logged in for some testing, and was ejected an hour later. Turns out she had appendicitis.”

Brian suddenly closed out of the document and opened up another. I could see the new title at the top of my screen, which read FIVR Long Term Play Experience. There were pictures of what I could only assume were FIVR related devices, like a smaller headband device, a full-body suit, and some kind of capsule device. Each object came with simplified descriptions of its specific functions. The headband was in fact the actual FIVR device, which housed only the portion that sent and received brain waves, with all additional hardware being located in the capsule device. The suit was labeled as a Nutrition and Muscle Stimulation suit and the capsule was labeled as a Suspension Chamber. The descriptions for both items were vague, basically saying that they kept the player's body maintained while they were logged in.

“Now, I know you’ve been wondering what I’m actually trying to hire you to come test,” Brian said, drawing my attention back towards him. “Like I already mentioned, we have two models of FIVR devices. The consumer model is designed to be used at home, but due to some of the safety concerns I mentioned, the headset only allows players to remain logged in for 8 consecutive hours, requiring players to be logged off for one full hour before logging back in. This is to help keep people from being forcefully kicked out by the health monitoring system.”

That seemed like a reasonable requirement to me. I could easily see people becoming overly distracted while playing and staying logged in for so long they end up soiling themselves or becoming dehydrated.

“Now the issue with having a hard time limit on the helmet is obvious. The game will pause the helmet from ejecting a player during critical moments in their game due to going over on their time, but it will only hold off for 30 minutes at most. This can be, well, immersion breaking, to say the least. Our other FIVR system works with other specially designed peripherals to help create the Long Term Play, or LTP, system. Essentially, we have come up with a way for players to play for days at a time, without having to log out, all without any negative health repercussions.”

Pointing down at my screen, I said “And these systems are housed at an Ironwood facility I assume?”

“Yep. The equipment that makes long-term play safe is cumbersome and it requires systems to be monitored and cared for by trained professionals. We’ve only done the initial stage of alpha testing with all the combined elements of the system in their final iteration. You would be helping us continue to test these systems while also helping us find and work out any in-game bugs in the game prior to and immediately after launch. We really need to get more bodies into these machines to help us find if there are any mechanical or design flaws prior to finalizing full production.”

I was still confused, something didn’t quite make sense. I understood they needed to continue to test their systems prior to green lighting their production, but why does he need me to be the test subject?

“Brian, cut to the chase. Why do you need me? Again, I’m not saying I’m not grateful for the job offer, and I would certainly be excited to get an early look at this game. I just don’t understand where I come into play in all this.”

Brian smiled slightly. He looked a bit nervous, but he looked up into my eyes before he spoke. “It's your leg. Some of the guys who developed the support systems for long-term play think there could be some additional health benefits for different people.”

My body tensed up as Brian spoke. I tried to keep my voice steady as I asked, “How could any of this have to do with my leg?”

“Well, it's kind of twofold really,” Brian said. “The first part has to do with the muscle stimulation that NMS suit offers. The suit is designed to counter the inevitable muscle dystrophy that someone would experience by remaining sedentary during extended multi-day long play. The suit contains several electrode devices that stimulate muscle groups throughout the body to force the muscles to contract and relax while the player is in the dream state. The developers can program the suit to focus on particular muscle groups and they believe this could help improve muscle development and strengthen ligaments in injured and underdeveloped body parts.”

I shook my head before responding, “The issue with my leg isn’t related to it needing rehab and redeveloping old muscle mass. I had most of the ligaments in my knee replaced with pieces of my hamstring, and I have metal plates on my tibia and fibula. To top it all off, I have a healthy dose of chronic pain and nerve damage and I’m missing a portion of my quad. I’ve already done the rehab, I don’t see how this is going to help me at all.”

Brian raised his hands up to calm me. I was talking louder and louder until I was almost yelling. “Look I understand,” Brian said in a calm tone. “I know I don’t have all the details with how serious your injury was and what you did for rehab, but I more or less told them the same thing when I brought you up, and they said they would still be interested in seeing the long term outcome of your leg going through the anti muscle dystrophy sequence and a targeted rehab process they are designing. I mean, you can see what my body looks like after spending a couple of months in the suit for the alpha testing. I wouldn’t be shocked if you saw at least a marked improvement in the strength of your leg.”

I bit my tongue and crossed my arms. “Well, that's fine I guess. If it works out, it could honestly be a good thing for other people. Rehab was one of the most painful and depressing experiences of my life. It would have been nice to have been able to skip all that pain and uncertainty while I played around in some fantasy world.” I said. I had calmed down some, but I was still uneasy. “You said the issue was twofold though. What else do they want me for?”

“There… There’s a bit of a psychological aspect to all this.” Brian said slowly.

I clenched my teeth and I could feel my blood start to get hot. Shaking my head I got up out of my seat and grabbed my cane. I marched into the kitchen and opened my freezer. Sitting in the back was a freezer bag with several packs of cigarettes inside. I purchased a cartoon 4 years ago before the sale of cigarettes and chewing tobacco was made illegal. I pulled a cigarette out of the open pack before seeling it all back up and closing my freezer door. Brian stared at me as I walked back towards the table, crossing his arms as he shook his head.

“You would still have smokes. I can’t believe you ever picked that habit up.” Brian said with barely concealed disgust in his voice. His mother had died from lung cancer when he was 8. She hadn’t been particularly old when she died, but she had been a daily smoker for almost 20 years when she passed away.

“Ya, almost dying kind of makes you pick up bad habits, like smoking. What a shocker!” I said with anger in my voice before I lit my cigarette, taking a long drag from the old stale tobacco. “So, what were you saying about your company wanting to psychoanalyze me?”

Brian shook his head before saying, “They don’t want to psychoanalyze you dipshit. They don’t want to sit you down with a therapist and talk about how you are so obviously depressed…”

“And anxious,” I added dryly as I waved my cigarette in my hand.

“And anxious,” Brian added with a shake of his head. “Look, I haven’t spelled this out for you, but I’m sure you’ve gotten this much based on everything I’ve said. When logged in, you will feel pain if you get hurt in the game. It's not to the level of real pain, closer to 60% of our normal pain threshold, but if you get burned, you feel the pain of a burn. If you get stabbed, you feel yourself being stabbed. But while you are playing, there is one type of pain you won’t feel.”

I took another drag off the cigarette, the nicotine helping to cool my nerves. I looked back up at Brian and I met his gaze before responding, “I won’t feel my leg while I play.”
Brian nodded his head. “When in the dreamlike state, bodily sensation is muted by 90% when using the consumer FIVR model. We can’t increase it to 100% because of the reasons I’ve already explained, but also because we don’t want players running into issues where they end up pissing or shitting themselves because they were logged in and they couldn’t tell they had to go. But with the long-term play model, we can mute real body sensation to 100% since we have human monitors and systems in place that, to put it bluntly, keep you from pissing and shitting yourself. This helps increase the sense of realism for players as they can be 100% immersed where normal consumer players can’t. The company wants to gather data on the effect long-term play has on players who experience chronic pain, like you. The company would just require you to talk with a psychiatrist after you log out of any of your game sessions.”

I was conflicted. Since the accident and the years of surgery and rehab that followed, I was required to take therapy, since it was common for people in my shoes to go through significant mental trauma. It’s not that I believe talking to a psychiatrist or a therapist isn’t helpful, it's just that the experience I had was, to put it mildly, less than ideal.

“So, if I take this job, and that is an IF, I’d just have to keep track of any bugs I experience while in the game, then when I’m logged out, I’d have to meet with some doctors about my leg and a psych about my pain management? Outside of that, I just play?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” Brian said. “I’ll go into detail on the game and how we have the beta test set up if you agree to accept the job, but you’ll pretty much just be playing while others monitor the equipment you're using.” A big smile started to spread across Brians's face as he continued. “Since you’ll be testing a Long Term Play FIVR system, you and the other beta testers we are hiring will be put up in the new player housing that the company is developing. The company is pre-building these apartment and condo suites for long-term players all across the country for professional streamers and competitive players. You’ll be given a single bedroom unit, a bit smaller than your apartment here, but WAY nicer. No offense.”

“Offense taken, you ass.” I said back.

Brian took a moment to pull up a new document on his tablet before he continued. “This is the compensation offer from the company. The company will take over your rent and utility payments while you are employed with the company, even with you staying at the player housing complex. You’ll also get added to our private insurance, which is just additional private coverage for certain elective procedures not covered under the public plan. And finally, you will see your salary which I bolded on the document.”

I looked at the number. It was more money than I ever would have hoped to make in a year as a teacher, and it dwarfed what I had been making as a part-time tutor. That combined with my apartment stipend, was a very convincing amount.

“Oh,” Brian said while I looked over the offer. “I forgot to mention that I have been given the ok to increase your offer up to 10%.” A grin spread over his face. “As I said, they really want you for the job.”

I took a deep breath and let out a sigh. “Ok. I accept. When do I start?”

The happy confident look drained from Brian’s face and his eyes went wide. “Really, you’ll take the job?” He asked.

“Umm.. ya, you win I’ll take the job. Do you… need me to sign anything?” I asked, a bit wary of his sudden change in behavior.

Brian pulled up another agreement, this one accurately reflecting my compensation along with the specific job responsibilities. At the bottom, I signed my name, with the day's date. Brian stood up and pulled out his phone. He nervously pulled up a video call as he pulled his chair to sit right next to mine, holding up his phone so we were both in the frame.

“Alright, time to pay the piper,” Brian said.

“Dude, you're sweating. Like alot.” I said, a bit disgusted.

Brian laughed before saying, “I’ve waited 10 years for this moment.”

“What the hell are you…” I said before the call went through.

On the phone was my sister Lara. She had her straight brunette hair tied up in a ponytail and looked back at us in surprise. On the screen, I could just make out a few small scars on her face, from when her head bounced off the interior of the car during our accident.

“Hey, guys! What are you two up to?” She asked.

“Oh you know, just talking. I went ahead and offered Erik that job I was talking about.” Brian said.

“You did? And? What did you say Erik?” Lara asked hesitantly.

“Wait, he talked to you about this job? You talked to her about this before even talking to me?” I asked, slightly confused.

“Just tell her what you just told me,” Erik said, a tiny smile peeking out of the corner of his mouth.

“Umm, I said yes. I’m gonna be working at Ironwood, helping with some equipment testing.” I told Lara.

As I said it, a look that seemed both happy and annoyed sprung upon her face. “That's great news Erik, I’m so happy that you’ll be spending some time out of your apartment working. And Brian…” Lara said, letting out a long sigh. “I’ll be available next Saturday, if… you want to go out… for dinner… just the two of us.”

“I’m looking forward to it!” Brian said as he flashed his teeth with a huge grin. He then handed the phone over to me as he started running around my apartment, pumping his fists into the air.

“Oh no, he tricked both of us, didn’t he?” I asked Lara with a look of dismay on my face.

Lara slowly covered her face with a nearby pillow and she let out a deeply exasperated groan.

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A note from Ash Durra

Thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you have any feedback for me, please take the time to leave me a message. While I am not keeping a strict schedule with my writing, my goal is to release 1-2 chapters a week. Give the story a follow if you would like to be informed when a new chapter is published.


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Ash Durra

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Comments(5)
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MrGrimSmile ago

Fleshed out characters pursuing their own goals who aren't the main character. This is a nice thing to see early in a book. Be warned, good work like this raises the bar!

Book Addict ago

Edit suggestions:

you’ll pretty much just be playing while others monitor the equipment you're using.”

Anafan01 ago

Hahahaha, he literally did all that just to get a date. He really didn't give a shit about the game really 🤣

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