“It’s really cool, however, there’s a glitch in one of the later garden scenes: the text for Damien wasn’t loading quite right.” Milo pushed a VR headset, wireless earphones and two handsets into Nathan’s arms. His cheeks were puffed from a bright smile. “Other than that, I loved it! The concept is so cool, even though you scared the crap out of me in the end.” Milo glared at him and Nathan barely tried to dodge the halfhearted punch. “You sly bastard.” Nathan ducked his head, biting his lip to swallow a smile. The twist at the end was his favourite part and the scene that inspired the entire game. At first glance, it looked like a typical dating simulator but once you press ‘play’, the roots of a psychological horror game begin to take hold. “Seriously though, it was good. I think this is your best game yet.”
Nathan couldn’t hold back the grin any longer. It pulled at his lips – almost painfully until he broke and flashed nearly white teeth back. He’d worked harder on this game than any other. It had been his life for the past two years; he spent countless nights hunched over his laptop screen, blue light staining the back of his retinas. He’d spent seven months alone on Damien, working out every detail from his storyline to the tiny creases in the folds of his eyelids. Damien wasn’t even one of the dating options. He acted more as the guide and narrator, providing the player with tips to progress easily through the game but he held a special place in Nathan’s heart. “Thanks.” Pink dusted his cheeks. “I’ll sort out the glitch.”
Milo laughed. “No problem, man!” He waved and bound out of the apartment, his large smile and dark hair disappearing behind elevator doors.
“Bye!” Nathan called, moving his hand in a feeble wave before closing the door. Milo was one of his greatest friends and always tested his games before their release. Nathan sighed, running a hand over his face and dumped the VR kit onto his grungy sofa. He stalked into his room and plucked the sticker-covered laptop from his bed, starting up the game immediately. Whenever Milo came back with an issue, Nathan liked to play through the game to experience it himself. He found it helped and sometimes even inspired new and better changes.
Setting the laptop down on the coffee table, Nathan pulled the VR headset over his eyes, pressing the side button to start it up. He ensured the earphones were secure and fiddled with the handsets as he waited for the loading screen to disappear. It was taking a long time. He filed that issue away in his brain for later.
After a minute, cheery pop music danced through the air. Nathan’s chest bubbled at the upbeat tune, humming along in his head as five guys posed dramatically on the menu screen. In the middle stood Damien, arms crossed and head tilted slightly back. His lips were upturned in a half-smirk and lilac eyes stared directly into the camera, straight at the player. The other four stood around him in more dynamic poses. They were the dating options and Nathan smiled as he remembered drawing each of them.
His eyes kept flickering back to Damien’s. He found it was easy to draw all the other characters but he had to keep adjusting Damien’s eyes. Now, after months of frustration, they were perfect.
He selected ‘New Game’ and started the slow journey of immersing himself in the world. Damien greeted him as his fellow workmate and one by one, he met the rest of the characters. He kept going, clicking buttons without reading the whole text and before long, the garden scene Milo was talking about began. The music changed from cutesy pop to a serene piano melody with soft accompanying beats. Butterflies fluttered past him and he reached out an arm. One landed on his finger, glittering as the sunlight made the pink wings glow.
Damien’s deep voice resounded behind him and he whirled around. The sun sat directly behind his head, giving his entire body a soft yellow halo.
Nathan worked though the scene slowly, eyes peeled for anything out of the ordinary. He waited for the text to glitch as Milo said but Damien kept talking and the sun kept shining. He moved on in the game, eyebrows knotting from behind the VR headset. He replayed the scene again and again in his head, trying to identify where the glitch was.
Did he miss it? Nathan shook his head. The scene played exactly like how it was supposed to.
“Frowning doesn’t look good on you.” Damien’s whisper hit Nathan’s ears like a swerving truck.
He froze, eyes blown wide, the handsets clattering to the floor. The pause screen stared back at him but only now did he notice the background music had ceased. Only silence rang in the air.
The screen flashed black and Nathan was submerged in darkness.
He moved his hands to rip the headset off but his fingers touched warm skin. He could feel the hardness of his cheekbones and the dip of where his eyes were. He could feel his nose and his eyebrows, hair and skin pressing against his fingers as they creased.
This isn’t possible.
He scrambled for his earphones, fingers coming upon only air. His heart gasped and he pressed his eyes shut.
Damien’s lilac eyes were the first things he saw when he opened them. His fingers and hair brushed through dry dirt as Damien towered over him, a wicked grin staining his lips. He twisted a metal shovel in his hands. Dread pooled in Nathan’s gut as he recognised the scene. This was the scene he’d spent the most amount of time on, determined to get it just right. It was secretly his favourite, even though he knew a murder scene shouldn’t be the one he related to the most. It was just that he loved Damien and this was where Damien took his revenge on every judgement slapped onto his name.
“Every other character gets multiple endings. No matter what they do, they end up happy. No matter what I do, this still happens,” Damien spat. “They call me a monster but that can’t be me.”
He raised his shovel high. Lilac eyes glared at Nathan, almost flashing a burning white. “Only monsters create murderers.”
The shovel came down hard.