Jay Banksman sat back in exhaustion. He imagined this was how Roman Emperors felt after a good orgy. Or Wall Street execs after a solid merger. His thumbs blistered. His eyes ached. His right foot was asleep. His whole body tingled from pure and blissful pleasure.
He let the controller slip from his hands. What, he wondered, made Krave III: Shadows of Gorkon so damn great? Each little sprite was a tiny, pixeled piece of art. Every stroke, every color, so masterfully tailored to the limits of a SVGA screen. The game’s main theme song, a synth rock masterpiece, blasted during loading screen and never let up, clogging your brain for days. The rocket explosions were deep and satisfying, as were the four-frame animations of dying Gorkons, their chests rupturing in a bubble of blood. How your avatar slid back with each rifle burst in a cute nod to real-world physics. It was, Jay thought, mankind’s finest achievement. Next to it, the Mona Lisa was a disgusting cow.
“Yes,” Jay thought to himself, as the Krave III loading screen flash from blue to hot pink, “in some ways, I’m the luckiest kid in the world.”
Of course, in many other ways he was terribly unlucky. There were reasons why he was walled off in his room, playing games like Krave III, instead of chasing chicks, lifting weights or the myriad other activities he suspected his fellow classmates might be doing in this very moment. But he wasn’t going to diminish his glory dwelling on that now.
He tore his gaze away from his computer screen. His walls were peppered with a poster of Cindy Wilson, Back To The Future 2 and an old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles he’d meant to take down. Then there was the computer. It was a recent addition that coincided—unsurprisingly—with the release of Krave III. Weeks ago, Jay had convinced his parents to let him move it into his room. So far, the consensus was that it was too big to fit in his room (it was) and that Jay played Krave III too often (he did), and not nearly often time on his homework like he promised (he didn’t). It sat on his tiny desk, wires spilling over the sides, his shrine to the upcoming 21st century.
He surveyed his room with pride. It was his sanctuary, his protection against Dunam. Thinking about it now, his whole life was a series of sanctuaries: His room, the video store, Colin’s basement, and then at school, Tutorial. A series of ports from an unending storm of squalor and violence. It was too depressing to consider. Outside his bedroom window, the morning sun shone on his immaculate backyard and blue skies rang out like a bell. Jay squinted with suspicion. Nice try, Dunam. You’re not fooling anyone.
He picked up the rotary phone in his room. It was covered in Super Metroid promotional stickers from his Nintendo Power magazine. He spun the circular wand seven times, then tapped impatiently as he it rang.
Colin’s mom answered in her usual perfunctory voice, then hollered for her son. There was a clatter as the phone was placed on the desk, then Colin’s heavy footsteps, followed by an obscenely loud clatter as Colin fumbled with phone for what felt like a minute. Then, finally, Colin’s dull voice.
“Hullo?” His heavy breath sounded like tiny explosions.
“Fairy tales are still relevant.”
“What?” He could practically hear Colin blinking.
“What is Krave III?”
“Uh. A game?”
“A fairy tale! You got your call to adventure at the start screen with that text about suspicious activity in the jungles of Ecuador. Then you have your supernatural aid—plasma rifles and Gorkon Power Blades—you have your helper, which is you (or me, from your perspective).”
Jay paced back and forth as he laid out his theory. He was sublimely pleased with himself for discovering Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey all on his own in a shelf in the library. Colin waited patiently on the other line. He was used to Jay’s calls.
“Hmm. You should write a paper on this.”
Jay thrummed his upper lip. “I may, I just may. There’s even a princess to rescue.”
“Sure. Those babes on the cover with their arms around Ray and Chuck.”
“Oh. Are they in the game?”
“We won’t know until we beat it, will we? But that’s what makes a great fairytale. It keeps you—”
There was a knock on Jay’s bedroom door. Jay lowered his voice.
He carried the rotary phone over to the door and squeaked it open. His mom peered through, her bushy hair in curlers, her partially finished makeup in a straight line down her face, making her into a suburban version of Batman’s nemesis, Two-Face. Jay noticed her gaze wander over to the computer. He hoped he’d remembered to turn the monitor off. She then glanced at the phone, and her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“Who are you calling? Are you dressed?”
“I’m finishing my homework. I just had to call Colin, I had a question I forgot to—”
“I am leaving in two minutes, whether you’re ready or not. If you want a walk—”
“I’m ready, I’m ready.” Jay shut the door and whispered into the phone, “What was that last part I was saying?”
“Princess?” Colin offered.
“Yes! Talk more soon.”
Jay slammed down the receiver, struggled into yesterday’s pants, and threw books and a Trapper Keeper into his bookbag. What else? On a whim, he carefully collected the Krave III disks into their box and slid that into the front pocket of his book bag. He was ready.