I maintain a list of tentative article ideas in a notepad file on my desktop. When Tuesday evening rolls around, I am obligated -- apparently under penalty of death -- to choose a topic from this list and expound upon it for anywhere from ~1000 to ~2000 words. On this particular Tuesday evening of 07 June 2005, I am forced to admit that none of the topics in that file hold any immediate appeal for me. 101 Reasons to Boycott Electronic Arts. Blah. 101 Reasons Why Camping in an FPS is A-OK With Me. Rubbish. 101 Reasons to Stalk Fletcher. Senseless! Are you detecting a pattern, here? What I need is something new, something different... something not directly related to games (or to Fletcher). Writing about games is all fun and good, but surely there are other types of fun to be had! It's not for lack of games-related topics that I'm unable to set fingers to keyboard; there's plenty to write about, but I lack the motivation to write at all. Time for a change, of sorts.
Gamers With Jobs has a storied history of mysterious boxes lurking in darkened attics. I feel it's time I contributed to that legacy, in whatever meager way that I can.
However, unlike Sway, I have no sense for drama or anticipation (as you will certainly agree once you have finished reading the story that follows). So I'll just come right out and tell you that I was digging through some crap in my attic in order to find some junk worth pawning off in a yard sale when I happened upon... the box! A nondescript cardboard box with a bunch of my old schoolwork stuffed inside it, that is.
After finding the box I spent several hours paging through stories and assignments I had written for my seventh grade English class, and laughing uproariously the whole time. Sandwiched between gory sketches I had made of buildings exploding and human bodies being devastated by weaponry of all kinds were some of the most jubilantly violent stories I've ever read... or written, for that matter. Nor did I write about violence done to purely fictional characters; most of my stories involved the brutal slayings of my own teachers and classmates! Try to imagine just how quickly a twelve year-old student would be expelled from their school today for writing the things that came so naturally to me ten years ago.
Also, try to forgive me for selecting one of these stories and foisting it upon you, as follows:
"Trapped... At School!" (09 December 1994)
Phillip Scuderi: Lobo; Narrator Extraordinaire
Ms. Dufresne: Super Cool English Teacher
Mr. Boe: Evil Pre-Algebra Teacher
Ms. Stringer: Life Sciences Teacher
Mr. Colston: Gym Teacher
Mr. Schaff: Super Evil School Principal; The Archenemy Incarnate
I was walking out of my seventh-period class, smiling and happy, because today was Friday! The Red Hall was crowded, everybody eager to board the buses.
Someone unzipped my schoolbag, which was on my back, and all of my books fell on the floor. Cursing aloud, I bent down to pick them up. People began laughing, and someone else picked up my Pre-Algebra book and ran off.
After five more minutes, I finally gathered all of my stuff -- other than my Pre-Algebra book. Now the teachers were leaving, and that meant the buses would leave any minute. I raced down the hall, but I slipped and fell.
When I got up, something was different. I realized that the double-doors at the end of the hall had vanished, and the light from outside was no longer shining through them. The lights on the ceiling were still on, however. I walked to Ms. Dufresne's room, and there was a machine gun -- or what looked like one -- and a case of clips on the table. There was a large electric screen where the blackboard should have been, and strange machinery was everywhere.
I picked up the gun, slapped in a clip, and fired at the wall. A loud bang rang out, but surprisingly, there was no kick! I didn't know where I was, or what had happened, but this wasn't school, and probably not even on earth!
I walked back into the hallway and suddenly Mr. Boe popped out from his room. He was drooling, and his eyes were red. He whipped out a pistol and fired just above my head. I raised my gun, fired, and his head blew up and scattered everywhere. Bits of it flew all down the Red Hall.
After a while I began to get hungry. I went to the teachers' lounge and found that there was already fifty cents in both the Pepsi machine and the snack machine. I got some chips and Pepsi, finished those, and went to sleep in the lounge.
I woke up and went into the hall. I decided to go to the front office to see what was there. Upon passing the student commons area Ms. Stringer popped out with a knife, but I fired my gun three times and her stomach emptied out onto the floor with a wet slop.
Mr. Colston popped out and I shot him, too. He had been guarding the front office. I walked through the door and Mr. Schaff walked out of his office. He looked at me and smiled an evil smile. He was going insane. I shot him in the face, and he dropped dead. Then another Mr. Schaff walked out of his office, and another, and another! Mr. Schaffs were everywhere, all going nuts and breaking stuff. They backed me into a corner and I held the trigger on my gun down and mowed down every one of them. The tile floor ran slippery with Schaff blood.
Suddenly I was in a strange room. I had been transported there. A large voice boomed out at me from some unseen speaker.
"Hello," it said.
"Who are you?" I asked. "What do you want?"
"I am an alien being, testing the reactions of a human in a strange situation. Good job."
Then I was back at school on Monday. Mr. Boe, Ms. Stringer, and Mr. Colston all had substitutes. Mr. Schaff called in sick, but on Tuesday they all felt better.
-finis- (Final Score: 98/100, A)
- The story begins with me being tormented and taunted by other students in one of my school's hallways. I don't have any particular memories of being abused or socially outcast in seventh grade, but maybe there are some terrible and traumatic events that have long been buried in my psyche and which precipitated the later violence in the story. After all, it's entirely possible that a young KrazyTaco attended the same school, and I've just erected a defensive mental barrier to block out the memories.
(Actually, there's no scientific evidence to suggest that we're even capable of unconsciously repressing bad memories; we sometimes simply ignore them or forget about them. I mention this fact at the expense of the joke, but in service to science, which I feel to be more important. Sorry, Taco; I just don't love you that much.)
- In retrospect, I am disappointed with the "It was all an illusion!" ending. I feel the story would have been stronger had it fully embraced the insane, ghastly world of the parallel-dimension school.
- The entire premise of waking up in an upside-down world of sterile hallways filled with normal-folk-turned-evil reminds me a bit of the beginning of Half-Life (released later, in 1998). It also bears some resemblance to Stephen King's book The Stand, in which Stuart Redmond is forced to traverse a darkened hospital under similar circumstances. I had first read that book a year earlier, at age 11.
- Pepsi is nasty. Eww.
- The line, "Who are you?" I asked. "What do you want?" will have peculiar resonance for fans of Babylon 5. I didn't begin watching that show in earnest until 2000.
- The violent content of this story was heavily influenced by video games. Inspired by them, one might even say. The attack pattern of the teachers and administrators bears a clear resemblance to the way enemies are staggered in a video game, with the boss fight saved for the end. The gun and its accompanying "case of clips" are like video game power-ups, and wandering through hallways in search of food, enemies, etc. reminds me of id Software's Wolfenstein 3D, which I owned and played on a regular basis at that age. The final encounter with the curious space alien seems vaguely to have been ripped from an old Fantastic Four comic book of mine. His system of illusions is little more than an elaborate video game.
Anyone who has read more than one of my previous articles will already know that I am habitually critical of the gaming industry. I've devoted most of my efforts to exposing what I perceive to be serious flaws endemic to the industry, and on the rare occasions when I've chosen to talk about games done right, I've always implied, at the very least, that the gaming industry isn't doing nearly enough things the right way. My frustrations sometimes bring me to the point that I toy with the idea of abandoning gaming as a hobby. Sad, but true.
"Trapped... At School!" and the many stories just like it that were stashed in the box in my attic have helped to restore a little of my faith in the gaming industry. For I now realize that it is games that give form and expression to my most vivid imaginations, and my reveries are in turn greatly shaped and informed by the games that I play. For this reason, I think I would cease to be quite so interesting a person (for whatever that's worth) if I were to give up gaming.
If any of you have had similar crises of faith in recent times, then hopefully this simple and silly story will serve to snap you out of your gloomy languor, like it did for me.