Em loved coming home from work. She valued her coworkers and employees at her production studio, but it was quite draining to be around such a high-energy crew all of the time. She climbed the flights of stairs up to her floor in the apartment building, nodding as she ran into her quiet reclusive neighbor. She thought that he did something with the local university, but they’d never exchanged words. Em let herself into her apartment, locked the door behind her, grabbed a package of chips from the pantry and changed into more comfortable clothes. Then she booted up her tablet-computer and logged into the chatroom for the game Mystical Lovers Quest for the Crown , known to the gaming community as MLQC.
It was hard to describe MLQC. It was a visual novel with quests in-between unlocking story points, but it was also so much more than that. There were events with side quests and collector’s items, unlocking clues to piece together mysteries that cropped up throughout the game, and even significant romance subplots between main characters. The game helped her escape the anxieties surrounding her struggling production company and the pressures placed on her by her strict corporate backer for a few hours. And the fandom…well, they were supportive and kind (mostly) and she had particularly made friends with a group of four others. They met in the chatrooms to talk as they worked their way through the game.
Their private chat lit up and three of the four other members were online.
Pearlywings: @the_producer what’s up? Ur late
The_producer: Sorry, I was working late…my boss is a real taskmaster…wouldn’t let me leave until my report was fully proofed even though it’s not due until Monday
TheRealLZ: Sounds like he prides himself on a job well done. Nothing wrong with that.
Pearlywings: as expected of someone whose favorite character is Li Zeyan
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Your boss seems like the type of person who can’t manage people without micromanaging. He should trust you enough to let you do your job.
TheRealLZ: Really @Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says? Work needs to be done well or else it reflects poorly on the company.
The_producer: guys, c’mon. Let’s just play. I need to work through the new chapters that were released.
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: What is our goal for the session? How many plot points?
TheRealLZ: I have a meeting in an hour. Shall we do two and discuss?
Pearlywings: a business mtg? At this hour? WTF man
The_producer: ugh. Turns out my boss needs to check over my report one more time in an hour so I don’t have much time either. Two will have to work for now.
TheRealLZ: See? Everyone should be productive when they can.
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Too much work is harmful for the brain. You need rest to be the most productive.
Pearlywings: we’re burning peak gaming time here. Let’s go. Talk to you guys in thirty…but stay tuned for live reactions
Em opened the app on her tablet. The soothing piano music that signified the opening was one of her favorite sounds. She opened up the new chapters and got through the challenge level to open a story node. The main character was investigating a case of superpowers gone wrong with the scientist character, Simon. A lot of the community didn’t like Simon, but Em thought he was an interesting character, if a bit sad. The node ended in an abandoned warehouse. She opened the next node after decimating the challenge between story points. Because Em tended to live paycheck to paycheck and owned her own business, she couldn’t spend a lot of money gaming, but she’d managed to grind and get one of the recent cards that had come with the chapter release.
She opened the next story.
The_producer: WHAT THE HELL WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL
TheRealLZ: I told you, Simon was up to no good. @Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says? How do you feel about this?
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: An interesting twist…I still like Simon. I find him relatable.
Pearlywings: relatable? I think you have some issues man.
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I think he is trying his best under the circumstances.
Pearlywings: he literally betrayed the main character and she tried to kill herself with a pen to make him stop
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: It was an intriguing turn of events that gives him a lot of depth. We should wait and see how it turns out in the end. I think he really cares for MC
The_producer: THE PEN THE PEN THE PEN WTF IM CRYING
TheRealLZ: I forgot you were also a Simon fan @The_producer. Maybe give your affection to someone more worthy next time. Like Li Zeyan. He is very responsible and loyal it seems.
The_producer: But I like them all T_T How can they do this to us
Pearlywings: I’m pretty shook man. That was brutal. Where was Bai Qi? Where were the police?
TheRealLZ: I am certain that the BS organization has the police under their thumb. The police are not hard to control with enough power and money, especially in fictional works
The_producer: sometimes I wonder if @TheRealLZ is a real person…maybe he’s a bot
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: I would prefer if he was a bot, I think, rather than a man with nothing to do than work.
The_producer: I need to sign off…I’m legit crying guys. I need to get me head on straight before the boss calls or else I’m going to spell “Financial” with three Ns and a K instead.
Simon_Is_As_Simon_Says: Good night
TheRealLZ: I also need to excuse myself so I can mentally prepare for my call with a difficult employee…good night.
Somehow Em managed to get through the report review with her boss Victor relatively unscathed. She did try to spell financial with an extra “N” though.
“Are you feeling well?” Victor asked at the end of the meeting in an uncharacteristically warm tone. He seemed pleased about something. He’d only yelled at her for five minutes when she’d made stupid mistakes rather than the usual ten.
Em took a deep breath. Her mind kept wandering to the story of MLQC. How could Simon do that? She kept replaying the scene of the pen in her mind.
“I’m fine,” she responded, “Just received some unfortunate news.”
She didn’t dare mention that the unfortunate news was about her favorite character betraying her in-game.
“I’m sorry to hear that. But your report is looking good. Keep up the good work.”
“Did you just praise me?”
“No,” Victor said, abruptly hanging up.
That night Em lay awake, thinking hard about the plot. She’d have to go look for some nice fluffy fanart to heal her soul tomorrow. She eventually fell asleep, not noticing the ping in the chatroom.
KiraKira: sorry guys I had a work event what did I miss
KiraKira: WHAT THE FU-