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Brandon Blackburn

Farming and the Like

I was never really sure about the abortions. The problem is that they reduce your hit points by 25% for 2 weeks of game time — that's more than 16 hours in the real world — and add random temporary negative effects (maleffects) — like Fatigue, Migraine, and Ague — to your avatar's status. Abortions leave you vulnerable to, for instance, scrabbler attacks and bandit ambushes. So despite all the tax credits (the one upside to getting an abortion [besides not polluting the world with more people]), I frequently found myself in heated chat sessions with my supposed companion, Akilleez.

"Yeah," I would, for instance, say, "but you don't hang around and protect me when it's over. I can hardly defend myself afterward and what am I supposed to do? Spend the entire day sitting around a tavern until I heal up?"

"Why not?"

"For one thing, half the time I get Malaise and vomit and they throw me out in the back alley and there are always bandits back there. Spending a whole day getting my ass kicked is getting pretty old."

"Well, would it really be better if I were there? One of us has to take care of border defense and we can't both just duck out of sect meetings all the time. They'll excommunicate us."

For the uninitiated — ARE there any anymore? — I'm referring to The Lands of King Sigurd, known colloquially as LOKS (with a capital "S"; players are rendered LOK [singular] or LOKs with a lowercase "s" [plural]), the world's most popular massively multiplayer online game. For fellow LOKs, you know how it is: every Frozen Eve, King Sigurd releases hoards of tax collectors into the virtual world that are programmed as random encounters that each registered user will have to face if he or she wants to continue to play the game. The collectors seem to have infinite hit points, attack using one of a half dozen instant kill spells, can't be outrun even on a shimmermare, and appear to be animate shadows wearing human bones as armor.

Many portions of the LOKS tax code are pretty reasonable. Gold earned by cooking, transporting, guarding, mining, mercenary detail, blacksmithing, logging, fishing, bartending, farming, and the like is supposedly taxed around 5-10%. But most LOKs like me (Oh, I should introduce myself. My name is Rayven290. Hail fellow well met) earn their gold illegitimately by looting dungeons, searching for buried treasure, or as thieves or highwaymen. Income like this with untraceable sources is taxed 28%. The upshot is that most LOKs are stripped of nearly a third of their gold on a routine basis: once every year in game time, which is about every three weeks in real time.

As it turns out, the solution to this annoyance would be solved by me and my husband Akilleez — that's my LOKS husband, not my real world husband whose name is John, although truthfully I spend more time with Akilleez (I remember one time I easily recalled Akilleez' combat stats while I was straining to remember John's date of birth), but with John moving to the factory night shift, maybe that's not surprising; we (John and I) see each other when we can — anyway, our (Akilleez and my) tax troubles began to wane the year the LOKS developers added procreation to the gameplay. Avatars had always been able to have sex with one another, resulting in many of LOKS' cities being overrun with sex clubs (and other cities becoming notorious for rumored underground clubs that even the game's developers — avowed libertarians — would gladly erase from their virtual world if they could ever find them: clubs for cannibalistic sex, necrophilia, and the inevitable pedophile community), some avatars making fortunes as adult store merchants, and a whole population of real world buttoned-up business professionals making virtual gold by prostituting their avatars. As I was saying, sex had always been an ingrained aspect of King Sigurd's realm, but adding pregnancy to gameplay led to some complications.

It certainly led to some real world complications for me. When John found out about my serial virtual abortions — the aforementioned solution to my virtual tax troubles, but I'll get back to that — he broke three glasses in the kitchen sink. He asked, "How can you go through what we've been through and then spend your days pretending to kill your children? Is it masochism? Or is this some revenge fantasy or what?"

When I laid a hand on his shoulder, he jerked away from me. He'd never done that before. He stood hunched over the kitchen sink, looking out a window overlooking our driveway, every muscle tensed. An hour seemed to pass as he refused to turn around and talk to me. The house was cold and so silent I was irrationally afraid to move from where I was standing a few feet behind John, afraid the movement of my cotton clothing would make a deafening screech.

In The Lands of King Sigurd, pregnant female (or hermaphroditic, depending on race) avatars are unable to fight, run, pickpocket, hide, or engage in some of the more stamina-draining of LOKS' industries for 3-12 (depending on race) months of game time. At the end of which time a non-player character (NPC) is added to the game world. These virtual offspring are colloquially referred to as drones and they've mostly come to be practice targets for honing combat skills, but even when killed they just respawn elsewhere in the world and continue to aimlessly wander around, getting in the way of actual players. In fact, some so-called "droned" areas of the virtual world have become so choked with avatars' offspring that just exploring these areas is a challenge as players have to navigate masses of NPCs. LOKS' developers realized there was a problem when, in increasing numbers, players began avoiding major cities, opting for exile in the mountains, swamps, or sprawling northern plains.

With their customers being stripped of gold to support a fictitious monarch and being bombarded by hoards of soulless children on city streets, the developers turned Malthusian and introduced population control incentives, adding abortion clinics in back alleys throughout their online world's metropolises and encouraging players to exercise restraint by offering tax breaks — up to 500 gold pieces — for aborting gestating drones. Akilleez and I jumped at the opportunity.

This is how it would work. Akilleez and I would fuck (virtually). About 75% of the time, within a week in game time (8 hours or so in the real world), I would get a pop-up message letting me know that Pregnant had been added to my avatar's status effects. Then I would hightail it to the closest clinic and have the thing aborted. The procedure itself is free. While it was being done, I would message Akilleez, he would hightail it to the closed inn, and I'd meet him for our second rendezvous of the day. Most of the time, I could get two abortions per (real world) day and, with the tax incentives and a 75% impregnation success rate, I could average around 16,000 untouchable gold pieces each time the bone-armored tax collectors came around. Once every three weeks (real time), I'd show Akilleez my tax receipt and give him a third of my savings, pocketing around 10,000 gold for myself.

It took me a while to compile these averages and totals but once I had, I became less certain that what we were doing made sense. In three weeks, I could raid forty dungeons or track down a couple of serious buried caches. Even with losing a third of it to taxes, I'd still come out ahead. I told Akilleez all this and told him "You've gotta take a smaller cut or it doesn't make sense anymore."

"A smaller cut?" he messaged. "Are you serious???" He said, "As it is, you only give me like 5k and I'm deserting the sect right in the middle of quests. If anything, YOU should be getting less."

"Less than 10k to spend every day sitting around sharpening my weapons and raiding goblin caves because I have too many maleffects to go on real quests???" I said.

When John and I were trying to have a baby and we found out that I couldn't get pregnant, I spent what seemed like days sitting on our hardwood living room floor. I became familiar with each miniscule crack, gap, gouge, and stain on each floorboard. I longed to be drunk, but couldn't convince myself to walk to the freezer for vodka. My brain was droned. John scrubbed the bathroom and the kitchen floors, swept the office, bedroom, and foyers, dusted every surface, washed every dish, and, at some point, spirited our books of baby names into the trashcans outside. I wanted to hold him, but couldn't convince myself to walk.

"Fuck this," I finally said to Akilleez.

"Yeah well fuck you too."

"You selfish piece of shit," I said as he ran over the (online) horizon.

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time in Moloch's Mine. I chip away at the gray walls of the deeper, less-explored tunnels and occasionally uncover small veins of silver or starstone. A lot of the time, I won't even return to the surface after a day of mining, but will lie down in the dust of my digging and sleep in the lightless tunnels, hoping no lurkers will attack me after I extinguish my lantern. Other than that, I only stop digging to repair my cheap pickaxe. Sigurd's tax collectors find me even in these barren tunnels, but Akilleez and John can't touch me.

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