Projecting

The revelation was very sudden for Max. She had been in the zone, pounding on her keyboard for her Art History essay, when her stomach growled. The sensation had pulled her back into reality. She rubbed her eyes, sore from staring at Word for hours, and looked at the clock in the corner of the screen. The fact that it was now seven o’clock was what completely woke her up.

“Seven PM? Oh no, Warren must think I’m a jerk.” She climbed to her feet, already making a mental plan of attack. Get to Warren, hope he wasn’t mad. Get that drive with all the movies on them. Go to the cafeteria and get some dinner to go. Come back and finish my essay. Simple enough. She made her way down the hall to the stairs.

The plan was cut short as she approached Warren’s room. While she might have expected a glare or a sigh, she wasn’t expecting to hear angry shouting from his room. The door was cracked, so he leaned over and peeked in. Warren was standing in front of his desk, leaning over and looking at his computer. He had on a pair of headphones with a mic, the kind Max had seen professional gamers use. He also looked livid, brow furrowed and breathing heavy.

“No, no no no. You shut up. Shut up right now. They are my friend, and you think you can just threaten them? Like hell you can! You can’t come here to my school and try to hurt those I care about! You’re lucky I don’t kill you right now. This is my turf! You come here, you gotta go through me. If I see you on this campus one more time you’re gonna leave in a body bag, you hear me?” As he spoke Warren paced around the room, gesturing with balled up fists and pointing threateningly at his computer.

Max was frightened at the sight of her friend, normally on the calmer side, letting all this anger out. Was someone threatening people at the school? Was Warren actually threatening to kill someone? Max’s mouth felt dry. She hadn’t felt scared since the initial nervousness of coming to Blackwell, but this… This was surreal. It was like that wasn’t even the real Warren.

Once again in her own thoughts, it took a hand on her shoulder to bring her back to reality. Max looked around, confused at where she was and who was around her. It took a few seconds to register that Daniel DaCosta had put his hand on her shoulder. She apparently had made it outside as well, and was halfway to the cafeteria at that point.

“Max? Earth to Max?” Daniel said as he walked in front of Max, putting his other hand on her other shoulder, “Everything okay?” Max was trying to regain her focus, eyes darting around before they finally caught Daniel’s eyes. She took a deep breath, trying to calm down from her mind racing.

“Y-Yeah, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be fine?” She said with a forced smile. Daniel clearly wasn’t having any of it. He put his hands back in his jacket pockets, giving her a bit of room to breathe.

“Well, you were walking much faster than you normally do, and your head was down. Clearly you’ve got something on your mind.” He said. Max looked around her now, actually taking in the sight and looking for anyone who was eavesdropping on them. When she thought the coast was clear, she leaned in to Daniel.

“I was walking by Warren’s room when I heard him shouting… He was in a Skype call or something, threatening someone who was threatening some people at the school. I know it sounds crazy, but…” She ran her fingers through her hair, “I was scared. He was actually threatening to kill someone. What am I going to do Daniel? Confront him? Talk to David or-“

“Max, I can tell you right now that you are blowing everything out of proportion.” Daniel said, his hand half raised, almost like he was debating on keeping his space or putting his hand on her shoulder. Max looked up at him, the fear welling up but being kept down by her confusion.

“What, are you guys taking a theater class together and he was practicing lines on Skype?” Max asked. In that moment, rationalization kicked in. Maybe that was a thing and she was being paranoid. Daniel shook his head, though.

“No, it’s… Me and him and a few people online play roleplaying games on Google Hangouts.” He explained. Max just stared at him, not quite understanding. “You know, Max, the games with the sheets and the dice and stuff?”

“You mean like Dungeons and Dragons?” She asked, trying to grasp it. Daniel scrunched his face, hemming and hawing before nodding.

“Yeah, that’s what most people go to. Even though that comes with its share of inaccurate stereotypes.” He sighed and started to walk. “I was going to get some dinner really quick and get back to the game. Wanna walk and talk about Warren?”

“I mean, sure… Why was he yelling about someone coming on campus threating his friends?” Max asked as she walked with him.

“I missed the beginning of the argument to get dinner, but I’m pretty sure it’s a territory dispute with werewolves or something. I don’t know exactly.” He shrugged. Max opened her mouth, not sure how to respond at first.

“Well, I more meant why was he getting so riled up? He was actually out of his seat, screaming bloody murder.” Max said.

“Ah… Yeah, that’s a bit harder to explain.” Daniel winced and thought, “What do you think people enjoy about these sorts of games?”

“…Well, if it’s like Warcraft, it’s probably about having an interesting environment to go on adventures in. Level up, punch stuff, strategize and all that stuff.” She guessed. Daniel shrugged at her guess

“Some people play it that way, but it really depends. Sometimes it’s cool to actually play a character. Like imagine being some cool cyberpunk hacker who can put their brain into a computer, or some 1920’s reporter who goes on treasure hunting adventures around the world. Heck, just imagine being a more fictionalized, more awesome version of yourself who can fight vampires.” He explained. Even as Max imagined herself in those roles, she didn’t understand why Warren was screaming.

“So its escapism? I thought that escapism was supposed to relax you, not turn you into a violent mess.” She scoffed.

“This is where the important part comes in…” As they entered the cafeteria, the rich school having multiple stations for various styles of food, he pointed to the Rachel Amber missing poster on the door before grabbing a to-go box, “As cynical as it is, we live in a messed up world. We’ve got people getting kidnapped, a missing person case, and on top of that all the stuff with Kate… Things aren’t exactly great.”

“Which is why you play games to escape, right?” Max interjected. Daniel shook his head.

“We don’t play games to escape to a world where everything is perfect. We play games to escape to a world where things are still wrong, but we can at least have an impact.” He said, motioning back towards the general direction of the dorms.

“Warren is projecting. He may normally be pretty chill, but… These things are happening in our backyard. I may not have been friends with Rachel Amber, but I remember her. We’re powerless to stop these things, but we can… Project this onto a game where we have power.” The pair stopped to put the greasy cafeteria pizza into their plastic box.

“Do you know what we did in our game two sessions ago, Max?” Daniel asked.

“Uh… I don’t really have context so no?” She said sheepishly.

“We shut down a human trafficking ring.”

“Oh, cool! Are you playing FBI Agents or something?” Max always had a small love for mysteries and undercover stories. A game of that would be interesting. Dark, but interesting.

“Nope. College students.” Daniel responded. Max stopped to glance at him.

“Why are college students stopping a human trafficking ring?”

“Well, you see, we’ve been looking for a magical tome to help investigate weird events at the school. Because of the way the world is, buying legitimate occult paraphernalia is almost like setting up a drug deal, so we had to go to this place in the middle of nowhere and ended up meeting our contact at a diner and she said the deal would be tomorrow so we went to the motel and then she text us saying she had been kidnapped and there was this entire thing and we held up a liquor store because the clerks were in on it and then Anya died but she’s okay now-“ Max cleared her throat, and Daniel stopped, realizing he was rambling.

“The short version is that we were the right people in the wrong place and it made all the difference.” Daniel explained. “We got lucky, and fate shined upon us that we could save the world. Or as it’s more commonly called, Narrative Convenience.” He laughed at his own joke, before sighing.

“The point is that it gives us the opportunity to feel like we can change things. It gives us choice, it gives us opportunity, it gives us power. That way we can go through the rest of our days a little less cynical. Especially the games like the university one. You don’t have to be Punchy McBroface to change the world. Let’s be real, Warren is on the scrawny side, and I’m not exactly muscular…” He pet his stomach.

“But even our characters don’t have to be strong. People like us can make a change with a bit of fate and a bit of power. And… It helps.” He smiled before turning to walk away with his food.

“I… Wow… I’m not sure I’d ever see it that way. At least as an outsider.” Max said, looking down at her tray. She looked up and saw that Daniel had started to move, and she sprinted to catch up to him.

“Honestly, I should probably be getting back to the room. I was just supposed to get some food, not have a chat, so they might be waiting for me.” Daniel said, starting a power walk with his food gripped in his hand.

“It’s cool.” Max kept pace with him, “I have to finish an essay anyways. It was nice talking with you, though.”

“You too, Max.” Daniel responded. They reached the Prescott Dorm and stepped inside, about to split up, when Daniel spoke again.

“Hey, you know, if you’re interested, I’m sure Warren and I can talk the others into letting you join the game. It might be fun.” Daniel offered.

“Thanks for the offer. I’ll have to think about it, but I’m not sure if its my thing.” Max said. Daniel moved his full hand in a half wave of dismissal.

“Hey, it’s cool. I know it’s not for everyone. No need to worry about it. Still, think about it and get back to us if you want to.” He said before turning and stepping into the boy’s hall. Max turned and walked upstairs.

                A way to make the world a better place. Powers, choices… It sounds more like pressure and anxiety. I don’t think I’d ever want to voluntarily deal with any of that. Sorry boys, I think I’ll pass.

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