The kingdom saved her
Once upon a time, there was a first grade girl whose parents could go from outwardly calm to nuclear in fractions of seconds too small to count.
She lived in a state of nearly perpetual distress, never knowing when her parents might blow up at each other, or her. Never knowing when they might take out their anger on each other, or her. Never knowing when some small misstep on her part might yield terrifying consequences.
She found small salvation in the form of a device her father called a “computer.” On this computer, she could play the games SCUBA Venture and Facemaker by herself, or with only her younger sister nearby. Unlike people, the computer yielded predictable results, so that the little girl felt safe and comfortable when she sat at its keyboard and told the computer what to do by simple sequences of keystrokes.
Her very, very favorite thing to do at the computer was play a game called King’s Quest. The game was better than predictable. It was exciting. She could use her letters and words to explore a whole new world in which she was the potential hero, not a sad, scared little kid.
She’d type her commands and watch excitedly as her avatar did as commanded. And even when she was stumped, she was delighted, because in every moment there was the opportunity to find the answer … and save the day.
Her family moved before she started second grade.
She no longer had access to the computer, but found comforting escape and endless possibility in books all the same.
Her mom sent her to a “computer oriented” middle school. “It’s the wave of the future!” her mom told everyone who’d listen. “If my kids know computers, they’ll be able to do anything!”
She took Journalism in middle school because that meant she could spend more time at a computer. She liked writing, of course, but she really liked sitting at a computer and being connected to something less hurtful than her own daily life. At night, she dreamed of flying, but by day, the computer was her set of wings.
When her middle school best friend got a Nintendo, she spent every moment she could playing Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. She’d dream video game dreams and see Tetris blocks in every day objects. She came to describe the sore thumbs she experienced after hours of extended play “Nintendo thumb.”
She had no way to explain the comfort she felt while playing, but she was comforted in ways she couldn’t begin to articulate.
Her freshman year of high school, she took part in a college student’s study about teenagers using the relatively new “Internet.” She told herself she took part only to escape Social Studies, but the truth was she ached for computers–and the possibility for escape they represented–in ways she still couldn’t articulate.
She looked up lyrics for her favorite songs. She tried to find maps for old German roads, because she’d been told that was a possibility, though she considered it more of a possibility than an actuality at that point; none of her searching yielded useful results.
When the school’s IT administrator asked if she’d like to borrow a computer as part of a new district program, she fairly well leapt at the opportunity.
With that computer, she’d dial local bulletin boards and eventually (much to her mom’s ire) create her own. In the process, she’d learn that telling people only to call overnight didn’t mean they’d actually observe her request. She learned, too, that her mother would gripe about being called by computers and about her daughter’s 2 a.m. use of the phone line, but that she’d allow it all the same … because if her kids knew computers, they’d be able to do anything, including escape poverty and abuse.
In 1995, she created her own webpage, because she could.
The girl tried to return her computer, but was told the school district had no use for the beat-up old thing. She kept it, and used it to write her college papers.
She couldn’t take it with her when she began law school, so she bought a laptop, as required by her school. She made silly photo edits and wrote blogs before they were called “blogs,” but seldom played games.
When she moved overseas, she brought her laptop with her, having little idea that the first online friend she’d ever made would visit her in Japan, or that they’d fall in love, or that he’d entice her to buy a new computer so they could play World of Warcraft together when their bodies were apart.
There in rural Japan, she’d play her Tauren character and feel the same sense of relief and release she had playing King’s Quest two decades earlier.
In 2016, years after starting something she begrudgingly called a “blog,” she’d find herself reading two books.
One book, Alexander Hamilton, was just about the opposite of everything she felt while working with or thinking of computers.
The other book was one about which her husband had raved for at least two years. He’d bought both the audio book, to which he’d listened a half dozen times, and an electronic copy, which he’d also read multiple times.
She was bored reading Ready Player One, at first. The world-building was necessary but not necessarily engaging, to her.
But then she picked up the book again and found she’d left off right where the world-building ended.
She found herself in the story, and she was entranced.
As she raced through the story, she found herself living in several virtual realities at once.
Her physical self was curled up at one end of her worn, uncomfortable old couch. Her mental self was in at least two other places. Mentally, virtually, she was within the story the author told.
But she was, astonishingly given how long ago it all had transpired, also within another virtual reality: the one in which her six-year-old self played King’s Quest and hoped that she might be the one to save the day.
She felt echoes of her own life in the very different story, and understood that past computers and games that had seemed to be back story had continued to play very much in the foreground despite her failure to recognize them.
As her two young sons crawled all over her, she finished the story and felt satisfaction with something far deeper than the resolution of a single printed story.
Somewhere, in some dimension, she felt her six-year-old self very much alive.
That six-year-old hoped, and dreamed, and told the computer what she thought might save the kingdom.
She tried, without success, to save a kingdom … only to discover, three decades later, that while she’d never saved the kingdom, the kingdom had helped to save her.