Brendan is playing Mortal Online for some reason.
“What do you know about work!?”
“Shhh, Rabbit. I will take care of you.”
“When you play the game of Mortal, you win... or you DIE.” – “And then you respawn.” – “Oh yes and then of course you respawn.”
Now, on This Mortal Toil...
I wake up in an alleyway and check my pockets. Or I would check my pockets if I had any pockets to check. Because even though I have finally crafted a pair of leggings – in the form of a long flowing robe – I decided against wearing them. Instead I have opted for the freshness of plain air. The gentle breeze against my legs. The inevitable blow of a bastard sword against my exposed knees. Sometimes videogames are better when you choose appearances over protection. After all, when the world we inhabit is trapped in a savage PVP-only dark age we have to, somehow, retain our sense of style.
It started like any other day in Mortal Online. I woke up in my alleyway and wondered what I was doing with my life. I was still fresh to Nave, so I went to see the utility man because I heard one could buy things there. As it happens, the whole economy is more-or-less run by players, something akin to EVE Online but probably not as outrageous. But the utility vendors at the start will always have the basics needed to get going. I decided that today I was going to buy a wood axe.
Woodcutting is a famously dull job, however. In fact, you can approach a tree, begin to chop and simply walk away from your computer for half an hour while your character slowly chips away at the oak’s infinite trunk. Come back and you’ll find a man standing with his pockets full of logs, idly wondering how an axe can wear away to the point of vanishing straight out of his hand.
To do this, of course, I needed to buy my axe first. Saying hello to the vendor, I selected a shiny axe and clicked ‘buy’.
Hmm. I hovered my mouse over the bags of silver and cuprum.
You do not have the skill required to use this item.
What. You need a skill to USE CASH? I stood in front of the vendor, dumbly looking at my hands full of silver, completely unable to process how money works. I guess this is why the Blainn race live alone in the mountains. I turned away to discover a pair of waifs bartering over a dishevelled mule and, looking at them, I felt a spike of envy and hatred. ‘Look at these scoundrels,’ I thought. ‘They must be so good at money. They must know how all the money works, down to every last penny. The bastards.’
But no, this was ludicrous. There must have been something wrong. I turned back to the utility man and tried again. As it turns out, you don’t need a skill to buy things. You have to do the ol’ drag and drop with just about everything in this game, navigating a series of cumbersome windows and pulling all your money into the ‘sell’ window and everything you want into the ‘buy’ window. At which point the NPC tradesman will point out ‘you will get X silver and X cuprum from this trade’ as if he is doing you a great favour by handing you your change.
After figuring this out I went on a shopping spree. One of the things I bought is an empty book, for writing down my thoughts. Sadly, I haven’t discovered how to erase mistakes, since neither the ‘backspace’ nor ‘del’ key appear to work on parchment. For a brief but terrifying moment I was confronted with how my journalism would look without MS Word watching my every keystroke like a pedantic, omnipresent God.
‘Never mind,’ I thought. ‘I have my axe and a bundle of other things. But I want to get to know Tindrem first.’ I’ve been told the city is needlessly massive, with lots of empty balconies and pointless alcoves. But there are also useful crafting stations to be found somewhere. So I took a walk around to get my bearings. I felt like an American tourist, stumbling around a quaint medieval city, clutching my ‘fanny pack’ to my pelvis for fear of charming European pickpockets. I got the snapshot button ready on my Fraps-branded DSLR, prepared to take photos of all the interesting things I found.
Like the gallows.
The Main Street.
The town elephant.
I also found the crafting stations, nestled in a nearby piazza. The tutors taught me about extracting ore on the hearth and recommended I make a weapon. But maces are too gauche, swords too predictable. What I wanted to make was a bow to match the arrows I just needlessly splurged on. All I need for this is some wood from the park. I headed out and discovered that there is something surprisingly therapeutic about watching a purple, hairy man chopping endlessly at a tree.
That’s when I hear a voice from behind me.
“Sounds like someone beating it.”
I swivel back to the real world. A woman taps at a tiny laptop behind me. It’s popular games journalist Leigh Alexander.
“Seriously,” she says.
“What is it?” he says, appearing behind me.
“What is SHE doing here?”
“Brendan, we’ve talked about this. Leigh is staying in Journohaus until she finds somewhere to stay in London.”
We call it Journohaus. This creaking, hollow home. How many more journalists can it take? Surely he knows the haus has its limits.
The lights in the bathroom have begun to unscrew themselves. The basil plant in the kitchen has grown around the Fairy Liquid bottle, gripping it tight to its stalk. All the while, popular Facebook refresher Leigh Alexander sits in the room and the sound of chopping wood falls out through the computer. My only escape from this dread reality.
“Sounds like someone just fruitlessly punching a steak,” she says, smiling sweetly at Quinns.
This is bad. He’s growing fond of her. Something must be done.
I turn back to the world of Mortal Online and trek purposefully up the hill, toward the rabbit sanctuary. I’ve tamed one before, I can do it again. I find one of them running off from the group and lull it into companionship. Yes, good rabbit. I navigate the creature control menu for a while, trying some of the commands.
“Rabbit, stay here.”
The rabbit looks at me dumbly.
“Rabbit, be aggressive!”
The rabbit stares ahead, unblinkingly.
The rabbit does not move.
“Good rabbit. I can see we shall go far, you and I.”
I head back into town. I have enough wood for a bow and a deadly companion besides. Nothing will stand in my way, not Springboks, nottrade windows, not Leigh Alexander, popular hyperlink bailiff.
Rabbit lost due to low loyalty.
WHAT. My erstwhile friend was running away from me, trying to rejoin the shibboleth of rabbits on the hill. I howled out in agony and ran after the animal to tame him a second time. When we got back to town, he looked fearful, possibly because he was soon about to witness me slavering over the weapons bench, bloodlustily fashioning a shortbow. Then he ran away again, and again I tamed him.
When I was finished with my bow it didn’t seem very professional looking. So I bought a book on bowery from the NPC by the work stall just to see if it would be any help. I began flicking through the pages.
You have learned a new skill: Reading
That was easy. It transpires that reading a book in Mortal is another EVE-like adoption by the developers. A book icon appears in the bottom-right corner of the screen and is marked as ‘being read’, along with the time it should take you to finish the book. Your skills increase over this time according to the subject. So you are essentially walking around everywhere with a book in front of you, like one of those superhuman commuters who can walk along a crowded street with Lanark by Alasdair Gray pressed to their nose. For instance, it’ll take over a day of real-time to read through this volume on bowery. In the meantime, you can go about your day as usual, reading all the while. Reading while chopping a tree, reading during a stroll through the market, reading while stepping on your rabbit.
Oh my god I’ve stepped on my rabbit.
Reading increased to 9.
After the obligatory mourning period passed (globally recognised as approximately 2 cups of tea long) I decided that it would be a waste to leave his corpse. So I pulled his body over my sword and held it out over the workman’s hearth to obtain the much coveted ‘Disgusting Whole Grilled Rabbit’ which, upon eating, would bring my Taste Identification skill to a healthy 5.
‘Goodbye, sweet friend. You were loyal even in death,’ I said munchingly. ‘Apart from all those times you tried to run away due to low loyalty.’
Mournful and well-fed, I began walking through town, deeply depressed about my tasty loss, when a friendly librarian told me of his books. Maybe they would take my mind off my troubles? Only what did I see but a book on rabbits! Oh, cruel world, where reminders lurk on every street corner, in the toga of every soulless robot librarian!
But the book DOES look interesting, and it would make me a master tamer of rabbits. Slowly, a plan began to form in my head, like a dust cloud kicked up by an asylum of wild hares. All I need is 50 silver. Having spent all my money on stews, axes and utterly engrossing books on famous archers, I was going to have to find a new source of income. Something much faster and more lucrative than woodcutting.
In my feverish plotting, I suddenly find that I have wandered into the rough part of Tindrem. A blood-stained beggar asks for coin. A corpse lies cold and prostrate in the middle of the street. A head and torso form a bloody bundle on some cobblestones. I was overcome by such terror that I barely managed to get out my expensive DSLR Fraps-o-matic.
Ah, now that’s some of the finest poverty porn this side of the... whatever the biggest river in Nave is.
As I walked quickly on, I caught sight of a directional signpost reading ‘Graveyard’ and a distant memory came back to me. Of course! The gateman by the city park’s entrance said that there are undead in the graveyard and, what’s more, he would pay for every zombie head that I bring him!
It was now or never. I went into the gaveyard.
I came out of the graveyard. I went to the bank and put all my Good Stuff in a locker. I went back to the graveyard.
This time I came out triumphant. After nearly being dispatched by a General of the walking dead who loves spitting acid on people, and engaging in three of the most embarrassing and kerfuffly swordfights I have ever experienced in videogames, I left the cemetery with three shrivelled Walker heads. They fetch me a handsome handful of silver. Enough for the rabbit book. Finally, I will have the skill to manipulate a simple lagomorph into being my friend for longer than five minutes at a time. I head across the square.
A player with the title ‘Master Tamer’ called Rayzor approaches me. I steady my sword hand.
“Are you the one doing the RPS diaries?”
“Yes!” I type helplessly into the Help channel. “And I need help. Please be my friend!”
Master Tamer Rayzor is not listening to the help channel. All he sees is me jumping around like a lunatic.
“Uh, guess not. Well, have a good day regardless!”
He runs off, leaving me alone by the gallows. Oh, Rayzor, another lost companion. The only spark of human warmth in a sparse, barbarous land.
Oh hang on I can just add him to my friends list. That way we can message each other by using the ‘whisper’ command and whispering very quietly across vast distances. We get to talking, we pass the time with many tales and bawdy jokes. He tells me of Tindrem and its reputation as a hive of villainous parasites, picking on the new players. The weak, the untraveled, the donkeyless.
But most of all he tells me of the outside world. Of the towns and villages in exotic lands. Bakti, Meduli. They all sound full of wonder – one place more than the others – he tells me of it in hushed tones, entirely in lower case. A jungle to the south that hides a town of safety and prosperity, a haven for the righteous, an oasis for the just and the peaceable. Where all are free and happy... and nobody griefs.
How far from Tindrem’s rotten alleys! How unlike the crippled confines of Journohaus, with its cobwebs and its Leigh Alexanders! This is the place I must get to. Finally, I had a goal.
I thanked Rayzor for his advice and his companionship and parted ways to prepare for my journey. Who knows how long I would be gone? But first I had to stop off somewhere. There was a book I needed and a wondrous pet somewhere that I had yet to befriend...
Oh my god this armour merchant has a sale on footwear check out these sweet bargains.
And that is the story of how I forgot all about rabbits and came to own these stylish golden boots.
But now, of course, I wake up in my alley and realise that I must make the journey alone. I admit I am frightened. But excited also.
For the gates of the city lay wide open before me and my journey through Mortal Online is soon to begin in earnest, filled with peril – nothing out there will protect me. No guards, no city walls. Certainly not my swordsmanship. Yet I must go regardless, to seek this luscious, tropical Eden in the south.
Next week on This Mortal Toil...
“Oh for fuck sake it’s a desert.”