Thursday, 17 November 2011

74) Bar Talk

    “Sometimes I feel like an Alien traveling backwards through time.” I said, staring down into my beer.
    “What’re you going on about?” Carl, my workmate slurred at me.
    It was a celebratory Friday night. We had just delivered the software on time and under budget at this small game software company in Berkeley. Carl and I were Quality Assurance, the last essential step before going gold. It’s not actually burned onto a gold disk anymore, but the name has stuck over the years.
    Carl belched and shoveled a few pretzels into his mouth. He chomped away at them for a minute then said, “Well, I feel like a sheep in a castle.”
    I laughed, “That makes even less sense, man.”
    “You started it.”
    I noticed our beers were running short. “Same?” Meaning did he want the same beer as the last three. He frowned and nodded in response. And there in the dim bar light he suddenly seemed very old. Not necessarily wise and aged like a wizard, but more like a tired old shop keeper or down on his luck blacksmith. The game we had delivered was a clone of another massively popular game, but this one had a more realistic feel with ghosts and several hundred professions a more than just the popular classes. I didn’t think it would do very well, but the pay checks were steady.
    I got up to the bar and was the only one there. I thought about my earlier statement. Maybe it had been about work, about seeing all those virtual lives generate and iterate and die off. The last thing I had tested was the non player character generation. I was a bit impressed with that part of the game, and I was sure there’d be few actual players that went that deep into it. Each NPC has a rich back story. They’re really just numbers in fields in spreadsheets, but the way it translates into the simulation of a life can get pretty spooky if you don’t think about it too hard.
    Lost in my reverie I must have missed the bartender come back because she was serving another patron. Dude wanted a half dozen tequila shots. I groaned. But then she expertly set them up in a tight row and filled them all at once, spilling only a little. 
    As I watched her work my brain listed out her history in neat little rows and columns. Born twenty-ish years ago, public high school diploma, ten serious boy friends in the past, nothing now, several tattoos and piercings, has two cats at home, lives with a roommate, wants to be a vet, watches twenty hours of television a week, estranged from her father, talks to her mom on the weekends, vacations in Taho and goes snow boarding, owns a late model Toyota, is saving up money to visit Paris.
    The man slapped down a fifty and she walked over to me.
    “What can I get you?”
    “Two Guinness please.” I said and held up two fingers in the peace sign just in case she didn’t hear me, it wasn’t that loud in the bar, but it came naturally. I think there’s a universal law somewhere that says your chances of getting how many of whatever you want increases dramatically when you use your fingers to count them out.
    She went to fill up our glasses from the tap. The guy next to me had lined up his six shots of tequila. As he licked a bit of salt off the rim I started to project a spreadsheet over his life. Thirty five years old, business degree, wife and kid back at home, sleeping with his secretary on the side, has worked for the same company for a decade, drives a two year old Mercedes. He downed the drinks mechanically. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe. Salt, tequila, lime, breathe.
    I wondered if he was in the game how he’d react to an amour clad adventurer or a scaly demon.
    I noticed myself staring at him and turned my eyes to the back of the bar and its dark rainbow of liquor bottles.

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