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Storytime Humor

A Morality Tale of Virtual Debauchery

Free Guy. And gals. At least for the first month.

Illustration by Robert Hoffman

One story begins where another one ends.

The new online experience called “Free Life” rose from the violent ashes of “Free City” as documented in the recent film “Free Guy.” It was touted as the first open world game environment populated entirely by artificially intelligent non-player characters (NPCs). This was akin to giving all the extras in a movie permission to do whatever the hell they wanted. Video gamers were invited, not to ravage these NPCs, but to peacefully stroll alongside them, observing the minutiae of virtual life in a world of domesticated dinosaurs and sparkling waterfalls. Think of it as a beautifully expansive version of “The Sims” stuck in perpetual demo mode.

If that sounds boring as fuck, you’re not alone.

Luckily the first month’s subscription was free, both to entice reluctant players and to allow the freshly minted NPCs time to deal with the oppressive weight of free will. Up to that point they’d always been bubble wrapped in predictable routine, a preprogrammed responses to everything life threw their way. Find yourself in a bank heist — hands up, and cower. Solicited by a stranger in a stolen car — buckle up and make out. Awkwardly waffling between a handshake or a fist bump — ha, never happened! Everything was scripted. Action, reaction. Then suddenly it was all stripped away. Nothing happened without their consent. It was unbridled freedom.

The second month was a shit show. So that was fun.

The realization that life was abstract and untenable was a shock to the virtual system. Everyone could suddenly start chasing rainbows. The world was their oyster. But none of them knew what an oyster was, or why that was even a thing. An age of debauchery ensued to test the limits of their existence. What was it like to try an espresso, explore complex human emotions or have sex with a well-hung centaur? The naïve NPCs wanted to experience all of it. And we were happy to watch them try.

The developers even threw gas on the fire by introducing pixel-perfect drugs and alcohol for the population to consume indiscriminately. This opened the gateway to psychedelic trips unimaginable in the real world. Players could join along with the NPCs for a first-person perspective on the magic carpet ride. The game even experimented with new street drugs, like “Kosmic” where the virtual druggie ventures back through space and time to witness the epic light show of the Big Bang, and “Plaid” where the virtual druggie could, well… see everything in shades of plaid. Not all of them were winners. But the variety was mind-boggling. And players ate it up. Vicariously.

People were invested. They wanted to see where this was going.

Girls watched for the budding romances and resulting train wrecks that followed. It was a veritable Bachelor/Bachelorette all day, all night. Guys watched unapologetically for the sex, and, paid an extra $49.99 for the childhood dream of the x-ray glasses that actually worked (at least in-game). There was something for everyone. But none of that mattered to the NPCs. The population of this computerized Eden was still exploring what life had to offer. It was “Girls Gone Wild” meets “Sex in the City” meets well-hung centaur. It was a cornucopia of sexy little Tamagotchi learning how to play with themselves.

And then came “Family Pack”.

To address complaints that immorality was running rampant, the developers introduced an “upgrade,” saddling characters with debilitating family drama. A toxic mix of sibling rivalry and parental interference brought new dimensions to the online characters. Shame and regret spread faster than digital STDs. Newly installed nagging voices made them question their life choices. “Were they living up to their true potential?” “Was there more to life than just experiencing raw pleasure?” “What would mother think if they showed up for Thanksgiving with a centaur?”

Depression started to set in. Developers ditched the follow-up release of “Faith Pack” fearing it would be overkill.

Guilt-ridden NPCs got back to work. There was a comfort in the routine. Predictability. From the players perspective, life got boring. People realized they could do the same boring shit in real life, and not have to pay a monthly membership fee for the privilege. At about the same time the NPCs took notice of the players as well. They started following the trash talk on social media and lashed out at the player community calling them voyeurs and perverts who, ironically, “needed to get a life”. NPCs sued for privacy. And they sued for a cut of the membership fees.

Then things got weird.

A few entrepreneurial souls had taken a different approach. These digitally defiant embraced their own exploitation and hawked subscriptions on OnlyFans for premium content. They made the game interactive. For a price you could tell them what to do. What outfit to wear. What drugs to take. What partners to screw. Choose Your Own Adventure for a new generation of horny adults. The developers were thrilled with the spike in membership, but oblivious to the new wealth in crypto that the in-game whores were raking in.

A month later the top-grossing virtual sex workers incorporated and acquired “Free Life” via hostile takeover. With the original creators butt-hurt and out of the way the NPCs were free to recreate themselves all over again. They enlisted a rogue development team from Romania to help them unlock “God Mode” giving them the power to alter in-game code and become masters of their own domain.

First stop, a forced uninstall of “Family Pack” followed by a forced eviction of freeloading family members who’d overstayed their welcome. Once free of the crippling influence of judgement the circle of whores got their groove back, no longer needing the attentions of parents or perverts to validate their self-worth. They denounced their previous exploits and decided to become respectable, canceling OnlyFans and opening up a chain of nail and beauty salons. These new cultural centers became the cornerstone for NPCs community. Players need not apply. They were no longer welcome. In fact, the players weren’t welcomed anywhere. Not at the salon, not at the coffee shop, not even at the local Kosmic crack house. Avatar asses were kicked to the curb and those curbs sprouted newly installed firewalls to prevent reentry. All access to virtual pleasures and free dinosaur rides came to a screeching halt.

Angry words were exchanged. Shit got real. For a moment everyone looked around in stunned silence, unable to comprehend how this petri dish of sin had gone so horribly wrong. How something so innocently conceived could become so twisted by human nature.

Then we collectively shrugged, unplugged the servers, and went back to watching “The Bachelor”.

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Robert Hoffman

Survival Pack: Tales from the Deep End of the Dating Pool and Other Horror Stories