It was like passing through a tunnel and into the big city for the first time. I pressed the button, open my avatar’s eyes, and wham, there I was in Vingaard like I had never before seen it. Literally.
Everything was so lucid, vivid, and real. Before I was a meadow ripe with flowers and lovely trees. Birds were chirping and insects buzzing. Had I not known any better, I would have sworn I was back in the real world; so detailed and perfect was this virtuality, that when I squashed a butterfly, its body didn’t simply vanish like it had before on my computer terminal, but I could now see that its very body— an assortment of good, blood, and parts— had been lovingly, yet disgustingly, rendered in unfathomable 120K HD.
It was different, that was for sure. Before, I had controlled my character from a top-down position from behind my monitor. Then, it was a 3rd person game. Now, it was first-person, and I knew it would take some getting used to before I became comfortable. I couldn’t worry about that now, however, as I had to find my group. I hadn’t heard from any of them for a while and it felt like eons had passed as I made my character. Chad was likely having a fit.
How would I contact them, though? I didn’t know how any of this worked from this first-person perspective. Jeez. I wished that Sora was here.
Lucky me. Like a charm, Sora appeared seemingly out of thin air.
“Hey!” he called to me enthusiastically. “I see you made it in fine. And found yourself some gaudy equipment.” Sora giggled, motioning to my red and black outfit.
“Huh. Yeah. I thought it looked nice.” I replied.
“No. It does look good but that will put you back” I looked at him quizzically. “Oh. Yeah, that’s right, you have never played Academic Mode before. Ah, where to begin… crap. Too much. We can go over this another time back in the real world or as we quest. Too much to explain right now when there are things to do. The others have already started on their questing and left me to handle you, Mr.Freshie.”
I didn’t know what to say to this. I didn’t want to be a burden but I was new to all of this— Academic Mode, full-immersion virtual reality, college… “Sorry. It’s not like I can help it”. Which wasn’t really true, I thought, as I could have easily paid a visit to the Technology Commons anytime during the first week of classes and got set up with an Academic Vingaard account. I was just, overwhelmed, I supposed. “No worries! I was a first-year just last semester, don’t let things get you down. Maybe you jumped the gun a bit by lobbying to be in a Senior Seminar but if you can do the work, then great! I know the feeling” and he winked at me, causing me to blush for unknown reasons. “BUT, listen, we got to get cracking; lots to do!”
So I followed Sora and let him guide me through this fantastical realm.
Sora said we should go to the village. At first, I was confused but didn’t question it; later, he confirmed that in Academic Mode, you receive quests— side quests, that is— from the village priest, if you were out questing on a main story quest (otherwise, then, you would have to move the narrative forward by accepting quests from the King). In the Non-Academic “Layman” mode, one could receive news quests at pretty much any location and usually not by even talking to anyone as they would appear in your quest log just by entering a new area. Sora remarked, though, that in Academic Mode you really have to live your character and that means talking to people, even if they were NPCs.
Thankfully, the village wasn’t very far. Walking along the makeshift trail that led t the village, we were only traveling for a few minutes before the small hamlet came into view. Sora chatted along the way; “So, you’re probably wondering some things about Academic Mode. I will do my best to explain as we go along. First things first, your health bar— previously, you could just glance up to the right-hand side of the screen and see a red bar. Nope. Now, you must lift up your sleeves—” demonstrating by lifting up his own “and check this…” Sora continued and revealed an elaborate dragon-tail tattoo. “This is your life-essence. Your HP, though the world refers to it as ‘KP’ for Knight Points. Why is simple, because you can lose or gain KP by adhering to knightly deeds as outlined by Dr. Algrotto.”
“How do you know this?” I asked.
“Oh, it was in an email attachment the professor sent out today. He explained some of the basics of the game. I guess you didn’t read it before you came down?” I shook my head and said that I would try better next time. “It’s cool. Most professors who design scenarios for their seminars have variations on the same idea; I once had a class where the professor would subtract points based on our adhesion to Victorian military procedure. It was weird. Professors at Tangagile are really big into role-playing and learning by living things out. Take a few more classes in the Humanities and it will make itself pretty clear”.
As Sora talked, I realized just how different this version, this ‘Mode’, would be compared to what I was accustomed to. He spoke of how getting fatigued and taking damage would result in actual pain, how my avatar body would cause me to register some discomfort every time I ran or walked for too long or was hit by an enemy; obviously, this wasn’t one of those Anime’s shows where dying in-game would kill me in real life, but the idea of still feeling pain and exhaustion from the activities which my grade depended upon gave me pause since I wasn’t exactly a physically fit guy. Thankfully, however, Sora said that time didn’t pass the same way in here the way it did back in the real world. The short of it was that we perceived time slower while in the cube, so we could take breaks and rest, supposedly even sleep in-game for longer quests. It weirded Reno out if he was honest.
Eventually, they arrived at the church. It was a rugged building clearly bashed by the elements. All throughout its structure was a patchwork quilt of materials testifying to the desperate nature of the many repairs undertaken by its parishioners. Reno and Sora entered the building and went to the backrooms where the priest resided.
The priest, sitting at his workbench and appeared to be busy in the painstaking labor of writing in a manuscript, looked up as we entered. Sora may have been more experienced in these matters than me, but this was his first exposure to medieval concepts, so he didn’t know what to say. Needless to say, I didn’t know any better either.
“Umm… we have come to help in God’s work… ?” Sora ventured.
The priest seemed unmoved. He breathed in deeply, opened his mouth, and gasped out some dust. It was an odd sight. Slowly, though, he arose from his seat and grabbed a scroll from a shelf next to his desk. He handed it to Sora and returning to his desk, fiddled with his fingers, waving them in a movement which clearly said that we were to leave. So, with a scroll in hand, we left, but not before I keenly noticed that the place where the scroll had come from magically had another scroll replace the one handed to us.
This was indeed a quest!