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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

My Avatar Has An Avatar

Robert Bagnall is an English writer and sometime management consultant and property developer. He is currently in the process of moving from a doubly landlocked county to the coast to renovate a rambling Victorian house. He has had short sci-fi and crime fiction irregularly published over the last twenty years, a list of which together with his science fiction musings can be found at meschera.blogspot.co.uk. Right now he is undergoing the joyless task of hawking his (brilliant) sci-fi novel 2084 around to anybody who'll give him the time of day....

***Editor's Warning: racist slang***
I have an avatar.
I am forty-three years old. I am balding and thickening around the middle. I have a mediocre job with a mediocre company which has outward ambitions to be in the top twenty in their sector in five years, but inwardly merely wish to be still in business. My ambitions mirror theirs.
So, naturally, my avatar is in her early twenties, stick thin with enormous breasts, spiky hair and an attitude to match.
She is called Sandro. I'm not sure why. I may have hit some wrong keys.
We explore Second Earth together. She has a knife but prefers to use her fists. Actually, she prefers to purse her eyelids into cat-like slits and get her way that way. She spends a lot of time in bars and fast cars. I must confess that I occasionally get her to do things that I wouldn't want to detail to my wife. Let's not go there.
Recently she's been hard to get hold of. Normally I would log in and she'd be there, waiting, as if time had stood still for her and we'd never been apart. With me she goes cage fighting and plays bass in a band, Grudge Match.
Now, when I do get hold of her it's as if she doesn't really want to know. There's a momentary pause, a rolling of the eyes--at least I think that's what's going on, my monitor's definition isn't really good enough to tell--before she complies.
I get Grudge Match a gig at a wedding; I'm their de facto manager. Sandro turns to me. "A wedding?"
This isn't how it works. She's my avatar. She does what I do. She says what I type.
"A wedding?"
"Yes," I hiss at the screen. "A wedding." I feel ridiculous. "It's not that type of wedding. You don't have to wear tuxes or anything."
"Grudge Match don't play no wedding. We're real, get real." She stabs a threatening finger at me and disappears from my screen. This has never happened before.
I look at the beer bottle perched by my keyboard. It's late and nobody else seems to have been disturbed. I go to bed somewhat shaken and it takes me some time to get to sleep.
The next time I log on to Second Earth she is in front on a monitor of her own, her back to me. I press the controls to move her, pick up her bass, take her to rehearsal. But she waves me away without even turning round.
"Busy," she calls.
"Grudge Match rehearsal," I hiss; my wife is in the kitchen one door away.
She answers with a single raised finger.
She swears at me loudly and repeats that she's busy and won't move.
I exit Second Earth. But SimCity appears lame in comparison and I spend the rest of the day moody.
The next morning Sandro is lying on our couch, large as life, channel-hopping. There's an odd shimmer to her, like she's constantly updating. I don't know what to say.
"You don't have many channels," she says in response to my open-mouthed rabbit-in-headlights stare of disbelief. "And you don't have much in the fridge. Any more."
Sandro has been quite hard to explain to my family. I've used the goddaughter ploy, but I think they've only half bought it. "How long are you staying?" I hiss at her. She just shrugs.
I'm not sure I like her.
She spends an inordinate amount of time horizontal on the couch. I regret making her so tall. I find empty chip packets stuffed down between the cushions. She's unlocked mirror mode in Mario Kart in less than two days; none of us have managed that. And if she's not in front of the television she's at our computer; the kids are falling behind in their homework.
And she has a slightly too sarcastic sense of humor.
"You look coordinated today, bro," she says.
I look down at my shirt, suit, tie combo. "You think?" I say.
"I meant your limbs."
She says 'nigga' a lot and a lot of stuff that makes little sense. I realize that this street-pidgin is a reflection of too much time on my part spent listening to Shaft in the family car (five star safety rating!), too much time watching Tarantino and blaxploitation movies. All this has given me strength of conviction but no depth of knowledge.
"Why don't you learn to talk properly," I say.
And she leans over to me, close to my ear, and says in a stage whisper, "It feels no different, you know? It's like being hypnotized."
"What are you talking about?" I say.
"Being an avatar. Being controlled. Directed. It comes with the illusion of free will. But, then, doesn't life?"
And the next day she is gone.
Warily I log into Second Earth. She's there in her apartment, back to me, at her keyboard.
"Sandro," I say. None of my controls move her. "Sandro," I call.
But a moment later I find myself standing. I glimpse the screen of her computer and see a paunchy balding figure rise from a chair at a computer screen and move into a different room. I too find myself moving, through kitchen, hall, and then out of my front door. I get in the car. I know I should tell my wife and family where I'm going but it's all happening too quickly. Plus, I don't actually know where I'm going.
I put the car in reverse and pull out, revving, hitting the brakes harder than I usually do. There's a squeal of rubber on blacktop as the car slams to a halt.
"Let's have some fun," I hear Sandro's disembodied voice say. And with that, I hit the gas.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 18th, 2014

Author Comments

Write what you know, they say. Well, I am forty-three years old, and I am thickening around the middle. I wrote this after deciding that I really ought to understand something about Second Life but, having dipped my toe in the water, come to the conclusion, like Tom Hanks in Big, that I just don't get it. I've watched my children graduate from Animal Crossing to Minecraft and just see a game without an aim. No, still not getting it. Happier with MarioKart. Or chess. This is either my nightmare of what Second Life could be (perhaps is?), or my vision of how it ought to be. I'll let you decide...

- Robert Bagnall
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