Author's Note: This is one case where I've felt for a long time like I need to make things right.
Eight years ago, I submitted a story to The Escapist titled "For the Digital Green Fields of Aldamar," which was published in the second fiction edition on September 30, 2008. While the story was well received, and compared favourably to Orwell and Huxley in the comments section, the version that was published was, in a word, butchered.
Unfortunately, the editor who handled the story at the time (who will go nameless for reasons that will become clear in a moment) wasn't very good at dealing with fiction. As a result, huge chunks of the worldbuilding were cut out (including a scene involving a billboard that foreshadowed important plot developments), and, in what remains the only moment I am well and truly ashamed of in an 18-year writing career, I allowed myself to be talked into the removal of a particular word from the end of the second paragraph, effectively whitewashing a major character who was based in part on my best friend in high school, a fellow originally from Zimbabwe named Frankyn Dawson (and, Franklyn, if you're reading this, please get in touch - it's been years, and I'd love to hear from you). Even the title was changed to omit a key adjective when the story was published.
So, it is my great pleasure to present the full and uncut version of For the Digital Green Fields of Aldamar. And, if you happen to have any reservations about what video games can do to us the more we play them, I regret that this story will not make you feel better...
Deep down inside, Dave shuddered. Skazz was about to speak.
It wasn't that Skazz was a bad person. In fact, he was one of the best people Dave could imagine. The problem was that Skazz made any entrance into a conversation feel like an attempt to win an Academy Award. The fact that he hadn't figured out that dark blue hair looked ridiculous on a seventeen-year-old lanky black kid didn't help.
"The problem with games these days," Skazz began, striking a theatrical pose.
Dave smiled, and wondered just how many of his friends were in Aldamar right now, wishing he could join them. "What is the problem with games these days, Skazz?"
"The problem with games these days is that they're too social," Skazz said, and sat down.
"Too social?" Terry said, scratching his head and staring down at his cafeteria french fries.
"Yes," Skazz said, tenting his hands. "Far too social."
Dave smiled, and wished he was on the Aldamar server again. "Why's that a bad thing?"
For a moment, Skazz looked like he was going to explode - or at least like he wanted to look like he was about to explode. "When was the last time you were able to be alone in a game?" Skazz demanded. "When was the last time you were able to just go off and kill some monsters by yourself?"
"Besides, online does everything better than real life."
"Socializing is good for you," Terry said, eating a french fry. "The problem is that games are too educational. My father once told me that there was a time when you could tell somebody to fear your leet skillz and they wouldn't correct your spelling and grammar."
Dave shrugged. "It's all fun - what does it matter in the end?"
Skazz glared at him. "It isn't pure fun. It's watered down, forcing people to play together, while trying to teach you at the same time."
Terry grinned. "See! I told you they were too educational."
Dave shook his head. "It's not that simple. It never is. There's something for everybody to play. If you want adventure, you go to Aldamar. If you want some sort of perverted sex, you go to The Temple of Pagan Sacrifice. If you want to shoot people up, you go to The Wars. They're all different, and there's something for everyone."
Skazz leaned forward. "But what if you don't want to play?"
The bell for classes rang. Dave blinked.
"Hey, man, everybody wants to play," Terry said, standing up and emptying his tray into the nearest trash can. "Besides, online does everything better than real life."
"But what if you don't?" Skazz pressed.
Dave swallowed. "We should be getting to class. We're supposed to be talking about the online Hamlet today."
As he stood and pulled on his backpack, he could feel Skazz's gaze burning into the back of his skull.