I purchased my LoveMap. So sue me. I thought it would resemble the antiquated match.com, which makes me feel like an antique because that’s how I found my soul mate Gwen at age twenty. We had thirty years together before she died of ovarian cancer. Now that I’m sixty, I’m finally ready to find a new companion, someone to ride off with me into the sunset, our bikes whirring in joyous union.
You know those MapWriter dealies that advise you on your life steps? Yeah, I never bought one because I have all I want as senior librarian at the local library. But the LoveMap sounded all right. Surely, it would work in a similar way to the MapWriter, using its database of my information to link me up with a compatible lady.
As soon as I engaged my LoveMap, I knew something was off. The damn thing looked like a board game. But a sign flashed at me: “Enter Your Moniker.” With the type pad, I punched in Arthur Michael Knight. Yeah, that’s my name. My parents were really clever. Next, a spinning set of dice lit up. “Click to Roll,” it said. I clicked.
The game squares lit up one by one, until the movement stopped on one emblazoned The Ghetto. This message scrolled across the top of the game: “You are a knight of the first order. You must earn your way out of The Ghetto by seducing the seven first-order priestesses.” Priestesses? What?
The game image split in the middle and unfurled to reveal a ghetto scene, complete with a little man in a kind of red space suit, whose back wore my name. A set of arrows indicated I was to pick a direction and search the area. As I clicked my way up a garbage-strewn alley, ghoulish drunks hiding in the shadows reared up and grabbed at my virtual ankles. I sighed. I hadn’t played a role-playing game since 2007 and, even then, work and fatherly demands kept me from getting hooked on them.
At the top of the alley, a crowd of men appeared to be kicking at something or someone. My initial instinct was to turn around and find a safer route, but a small cry emitted from the game. I jumped. So far, the game had been silent. I stopped my space-suit man and hesitated. The cry mewled out again, a pathetic female sound–no yelling, no cries of pain, just a small, shamed noise.
With all the game bravado I could muster, I ran at the crowd, unsheathing a sword from somewhere inside my suit. I knocked the men aside and looked down at the pathetic creature that huddled in the dirt. Her clothing, what was left of it, bore her label: Peasant Dodo. I helped her up.
“WTF?” One of the men shoved me into Peasant Dodo. “Whaddya think you’re doing? She’s yours now, sucker. She’s the punishment dolts like you get.”
“You were hurting her,” I said out loud, and the words strangely echoed from my game counterpart.
“Huh. You must be new here, Arthur. I dub you Sir Biscuit, and you’re doomed. Good luck finding a priestess to get you out of this spell: I call on the spirit Hetch to bind your sword grip and lock your weapons in the lowest level of hell. This I proclaim with the power of darkness, Sir Biscuit.”
“My name is Arthur Michael Knight,” I said before the map face turned black and reverted to the auto game screen.
I grabbed the instructions from the LoveMap case and studied them for answers. LoveMap was a role playing game that involved seducing priestesses in order to earn higher levels of knighthood. Spells, incantations, and false moves could knock me to lower levels of knighthood, even down to peasanthood. The same was true for the female players. And the only way out, once in, was to find a mate and exit the game with her. In the various disclaimers at the end, I found a caution against using real names or other traceable information in the profile section. If attraction occurred between characters, names and phone numbers could be swapped privately. Great. Why had I not read the instructions?
When I logged on the next day, I wandered around the LoveMap world, observing the goings-on of others. The priestesses postured as sex kittens, not the type of woman I would enjoy as a late-in-life mate. Some females didn’t have the essential tiger-like spirit to act as priestesses, and raunchy knights gave them as punishments to errant lower level men. Dodo, it seemed, was the pass-around, worst punishment of all the females. Poor Dodo.
At ten, I gave it a rest and made a pot of coffee. Just as I was enjoying my first cup, the phone rang. I hit the speaker button.
“Thank you for saving me,” a breathy voice said. “You were the first who ever bothered.”
Her breathy voice heaved into sobs. “I used my real info, too. They’ve been tormenting me every day. I can’t get out. Sir Arthur, you have to rescue me. If you don’t, nobody will.”
Her words echoed and faded, as though our verbal communication was as virtual as the game, and then I heard a click. She was gone. I ate a sandwich for mental strength and reentered the game, this time in search of Dodo’s profile information.
Her name was Barb Ackerman. She was thirty-eight years old, never married, and taught French literature at the University of Washington, which was just under ninety miles from my small town. In the picture of her–an actual untampered photograph–her face was plain, but her smile pleasant.
What the hell, I thought. This game was not for me. I sent her a mate request and waited for her to answer. I could do worse than discuss French literature over coffee with a young lady who had a pleasant smile.
Almost instantly, she accepted my request. “Thank you for letting me out of this prison,” she messaged me.
“My pleasure,” I wrote. “Care for a country bike ride this Saturday?”
“I’ll bring the wine!!”
And I’ll bring a rare edition of Voltaire. A book. An actual book. I deleted my profile and stowed the LoveMap away. What a farce.