Alex Inoue

Dead End, Zo's Journey, and more stories


Posted by on November 15, 2020

Explaining to Your Daughter

The Regulations update was a little different this time. The previous patch brought us a new world to play in, like usual. But this time, the content was something else. I remember that I skimmed through the bullet points until I saw a word under “Systems.”

Why would they reimplement marriage? I thought. It was banned for a reason, right?

There was a memorable line at the end of the dense paragraph. It read, “Find your match today! Everyone will be assigned their perfect partner within the next year, but early participants will receive additional M-Credits for volunteering! All ages welcome! Find your perfect matching partner now and gain an entry into the M-Credit lotto!”

Or something like that.

That’s odd, I thought. Why would there be volunteers? It’s been years since we’ve had volunteering opportunities.

I looked around my unit for a clue. My bed was pressed into my largest wall, a corner of my green blanket sticking out like a dog’s tongue. My guitar—a rad purple and green lightning-bolt-looking machine of awesome that I wasted so many Credits renting without actually learning how to play—was equally as unhelpful.

I was thinking, Maybe I should finally volunteer for something?

I always wondered what it would be like to live with more Credits, even if it were just for a week. I never did know anyone who actually won the lotto, but I’ve heard that it was a pretty sweet deal despite how short it was.

Of course, I probably could have lived better if I didn’t waste my Credits on dumb things. While I was never hungry or thirsty, there were some days that I regretted choosing things over decadent food to rent. That’s the best part about the lotto, though. If it’s even real, that is—the food was supposed to be one-of-a-kind. I even heard there were steaks!

What if steak actually tastes terrible? (I still wonder this today)

I shook my head and scrunched my face in frustration. I didn’t have time to waste. I needed to make a choice now before I got distracted again. My characters won’t level themselves, you know. So, I set my handheld on my desk and pulled my chair close as I sat down. It was time to finally go to the Government site and apply to their new Program.

It’d been years since I last opened a link to the Government. I was still growing up when I last spent time there. I think my school made us review some of the news articles from the recent past. Obviously, I spent years on the Government site in elementary since we had to remember so many mandates and such. Just like you.

And I remember thinking, Wasn’t that where I learned marriage was banned? Or am I remembering wrong?

I decided it didn’t matter. It was time to do this marriage thing—whatever that was.

Now, when you play games, sometimes you can make characters. That’s what I thought I’d be doing. You know, look at lists of options, select some personal touches, and so on. I was like, you know, expecting a little bit of time doing this sign-up thing. But, nope, not at all.

Well, first, I guess I did spend a few hours trying to finish scrolling through the dense text and taking breaks to watch some funny videos every few minutes. Reading gets exhausting, honestly. I know game-terms, obviously. I mean, who doesn’t? And yeah, you gotta read through the Regulation notes that are marked as mandate. Duh. But there’s plenty of nice voices to choose from who can read that part aloud for you. I guess they were in a rush this time? Or maybe they didn’t think a lot of people would join? I wasn’t sure, but I got through the pages of text eventually.

But after the reading, like I said, I thought it was going to be like some of those games where you spend hours or even days deciding on things before you start anything. Instead, it sat there. There was a loading character dancing with a smile—you know the one—telling me in a soft voice that it was working and that I just should wait patiently. I think I watched a hundred videos while I waited. And there were probably two naps in there. Maybe three.

Anyway, that’s when she showed up.

Man, what’s all this information? A character sheet for an RPG? I said to myself.

Then, I realized it was like my own. It was another player’s bio sheet—the real-life kind.

I think I realized right then that I’d never seen anyone else’s sheet before, not to mention I hardly remembered what my own was like, so I spent a while trying to read it carefully. It also didn’t have a voice to read everything—well, there was a tool to forcefully read it, but it was always bad at reading, and it sounded like a robot (that goodness those aren’t around for real). Anyway, unlike with the other pages on the Government site, I found myself trying to read everything about this person.

She had dozens of handles, you know, like everyone. She had a lot of cool names like “Swordsmith,” “Goddess of Hammers,” and “Angelitiania.” I remember thinking to myself, man, my names are terrible. And they were, to be honest. Most of them hadn’t changed since I was a young teenager. It was embarrassing.

Her sheet also told me that she was about my height, maybe an inch shorter. In a lot of games, like I know you’ve seen, you can be any height you want. I thought for sure that if I saw someone, I’d be really short or really tall compared to them. But no, she was apparently hardly any different, if at all. She also had hazel eyes like me—I remember reading that and going, what are the chances? But, then, like I expected, she had darker, thicker hair that was down to her shoulders, and her skin was a little darker, though I think I’m just a pale person compared to normal people. I mean, back then, I think my hair was almost to my butt when I sat down, like how I always chose when I made characters in games, but I always figured people were usually sorta tan-colored because of all the skin color choices in games that weren’t like mine. Actually, I think she might also be a little light-colored—I never found out, obviously, since I haven’t had any chance to join any new volunteering positions where I might have seen someone else.

Right, I’m getting off-track. You know what she looks like.

So, there I was, reading seriously for the first time in ages, and then I got a friend invite. In fact, I got lots all over my screen. I kept getting notification after notification on all my apps. Every game, chat site, media platforms—everywhere. They were all the same thing!

What in the world?!

I freaked out a little, at least, so I didn’t really open them right away. But as I kept opening them, I realized that they were all from her. “Angelitiania.” That’s probably the name she used the most.

Yeah, that’s where “Tina” comes from. But the Government told you to call her “Mom,” remember?

Anyway, we started talking after that. She said she saw my sheet—and I mean, yeah, duh. And I remember the first game we played was that big fantasy RPG that was popular back in the day. The one I made you try last year, remember? Yeah, I know, the one you kept dying to slimes on the beach. I didn’t say it was an easy game, remember? If it weren’t so unpopular and changed, I’d say you should give it another try. But, really, even when you saw it, it was already dead. Those kinds of games, they don’t archive them. You know how it is. You’re better off finding old memes and funny videos that haven’t changed than you are at finding a game you liked from years ago without any changes. Even single-player games keep changing!

Ok, ok, I’m off-track again. I know.

So, we were playing together, and she was like, super badass—um, I mean, she kicked butt. Sorry.

Yeah, I probably lost a few M-Credits there. It happens.

Right! So we were duoing dragons and stuff—we were both really into that game, so we were max level at the time with really good gear—and—

Oh? You didn’t like that game, that’s right. I guess you’re a little young to like those kinds of games. Or maybe it’s not your thing—totally cool.

Right, I got it. Well, I remember thinking at some point, When will we stop getting to know each other like we knew everyone else? I mean, we weren’t supposed to tell people that we were part of the Program, obviously—most Programs were like that, I heard. But still, we were getting anxious if anything else was going to happen.

Well, have you heard of romance games? You’re supposed to do nice things (sometimes not, though) to make certain characters like you. And there’s usually drama, you know, like rival love, and that stuff. I never really played those games much. But we were told to play those kinds of games for the Program. We even played some experimental games where you dated and got married in the game. Back then, of course, I was like, What? We didn’t really use those words much. I mean, even now, it’s still a bit awkward. Embarrassing. But yeah, we basically played these games, and in some ways, it’s like the classes you’re taking now, but for the volunteer program that, well, led to you.

What do you mean? They taught us using more and more advanced romance games until we learned how to “do sex.” Don’t worry, like the Government always says, you’re not supposed to do it under any normal circumstance. But we were allowed to since we were in the Program, and they also told us that we were doing well. 

Yeah, that’s also why she’s gone. They’re taking care of her again while she finishes making another child—your younger sibling! I think it took her about eight or nine months last time to finish making you, and even after that, she had to stay at the hospital for another year with you. They let me visit, of course.

I didn’t like the hospital. And I didn’t like leaving my home. But it was worth it.

Oh, my home? It’s not this home—I’m sure you know that. We had to move to a bigger home so we could live together—that’s what the Government told us to do, and so we just listened. Yeah, I don’t have that guitar. Yeah, and our bed doesn’t go into the wall the same way because we need room for all of us. Coming up from the floor -is- a bit silly, isn’t it? You’re light, so you can do that—I can’t, or I might break it or get in trouble.

What do you mean? It was while you were in school. I mean, yeah, we did it right on the bed, but you had everything on at the time. You know how it is with school. Yeah, there’s no way you could hear or see us, and you’re locked during class. I don’t know what would have happened if you had an emergency pee. But we would have at least had a warning, trust me—enough time to cover up.

Yeah, cover up. The Government says that even our children shouldn’t see us like that! What do you mean you never heard that in class? I’m sure you’ll hear it soon, you goofball. Or maybe you just forgot.

That’s a weird question. Well, I guess not—we can’t do that with other people. I mean, first, it’s against the rules. We got to be part of the Program to make you, so I wouldn’t risk losing that chance. Yeah, nobody wants to lose all their M-Credits, either. But, no, you can’t do it with other people, only your sanctioned partner. But, I guess we do sorta do it with different people. Just not really. Yeah, like a game. Yeah, we were given a special game where we can use our portable sets to see other characters instead of our normal bodies. We can even put in our headphones and hear each other with different voices. It’s just like when we play as different characters in games and such. Actually, that’s how we prefer to make kids, anyway.

No, you can’t do it, remember? I shouldn’t have told you about it—look at what you’re saying, now! Just wait until you’re older, probably. I don’t really know, to be honest, but I know for sure that only people picked can do it with their partners, okay? No, you can’t do it with either of us! Duh! I honestly don’t know how old you have to be. I don’t even know if it’s an age thing. But I was definitely done with school and done growing up, so probably then, I guess. Yeah, that means you have a while to go.

There’s no way you won’t like who you’re paired with. I mean, it worked so well for us, right? The Government picked us, so I’m sure they’ll know what to do with you. Yeah, exactly. Right, just change each other whenever you feel like something different, anyway. Just like what we do. Honestly, it’s a little fun, but it’s really messy and a bother, too, so it’s a mixed bag. Hopefully, they’ll make it easier for you once they let you join. Maybe they’ll let you have more partners—I dunno. But we can’t yet, so maybe not. You’ll just have to wait and see.

I really doubt they’ll put you with her or me. Something about that feels . . . I don’t know, it just feels like we shouldn’t—not just because the Government says so, either. But whatever, that’s not the point.

Fine, go pout. I’m going to go back to watching videos. You’re free to join me from your desk whenever you like—or pout some more, that’s fine, too. Just remember to sleep on time. Yeah, it’s not pleasant when they make you sit through class when you didn’t sleep, I know. Alright, I’ll see you when dinner comes in.

Oh, that’s right (I keep forgetting): I love you.