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LIFE || R. P. M. Clarke

by R. P. M. Clarke

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IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO SEE. The air was warm and dusty and smelled like an old games console. Electronic twangs fizzled through my head like forked lightning. Suddenly, the room was a blinding, all-white as if someone had hit the ‘ON’ button. There was no floor, no ceiling, no walls, just whiteness as far as the eye could see. I looked down. I had no arms. No legs. No body. I wasn’t concerned. I wasn’t supposed to have a body, I knew. Electrical squawks—akin to those that screeched through a landline during dial-up connections—echoed through the empty space. A thousand-inch screen materialised in front of me. It boasted a dark grey screen and clunky green letters that appeared one-by-one as if someone was typing them directly into the screen. It read:


Welcome to LIFE. Please read the following terms carefully. Are you ready?


[YES]            [NO]


The YES and NO were in front of me, close, as if I was wearing 3D glasses. I raised a hand to reach out, and a cartoon hand, pointing with its index finger, appeared. What is this place? I wondered. It feels like a dream…

I poked ‘Yes’. The message disappeared. The moment it was gone, another started emerging. 


While playing LIFE you will not know or remember the choices you make presently. It is not possible to leave LIFE temporarily; once you start you cannot quit unless your LIFE ends. You will not be able to access the menu voluntarily. However, it will appear once, annually, on the same date which your LIFE began. The Birthday-Menu will provide an opportunity to spend credits you’ve collected across the year. You can earn up to 5 credits per year, dependant on performance. Performance parameters are withheld. Any unspent credits will expire when 


you exit the menu. Do you accept the terms so far?


[YES]            [NO]


I poked [YES] again. An early-nineties animation of a pixelated firework blasted squares across the screen. When its final embers died, the screen continued typing.


Excellent! You will be given the option to build your LIFE on the next screen. Which mode of difficulty would you like your LIFE?


EASY MODE                    [150 credits]

NORMAL MODE                 [100 credits]

HARD MODE                     [50 credits]

CHALLENGE MODE: RAGS-2-RICHES     [0 credits]


I reached to select ‘NORMAL MODE’. The screen stuttered and restabilised. Then appeared a message.


You are about to craft your LIFE. First, would you like to view the pre-set configurations?


[YES]            [NO]


Pre-sets will at least help me decide on important areas to spend my credits, I thought. One by one, three tables appeared, filling my entire vision. They each had the same seven categories: Physical Beauty, Academic Intelligence, Emotional Intelligence, Ambition & Passion, Family Wealth & Social Status, Compassion and Aggression. Each category had a corresponding score, totalling 100. They read:


[LIFE PRE-SET OPTIONS: PAGE ONE]


PRE-SET OPTION [1]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

                Physical Beauty                45

                Academic Intelligence            5

Emotional Intelligence        10

Ambition & Passion            0

Family Wealth & Social Status    30

Compassion                    5

Aggression                    5

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 1]


PRE-SET OPTION [2]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

Physical Beauty                50

                Academic Intelligence            5

Emotional Intelligence        0

Ambition & Passion            0

Family Wealth & Social Status    45

Compassion                    0

Aggression                    0

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 2]


PRE-SET OPTION [3]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

Physical Beauty                10

                Academic Intelligence            60

Emotional Intelligence        10

Ambition & Passion            0

Family Wealth & Social Status    0

Compassion                    10

Aggression                    10

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 3]


or

  

[REJECT ALL & PROCEED]



After I finished reading the first page’s pre-set options, I pondered my possibilities: what gives someone a good start in LIFE? If I take pre-set one or two, I’ll be beautiful and rich, but I’ll have no intelligence or compassion. I’d surely be a stuck-up sociopath. If I select pre-set three, I’ll be clever and not a lot else, I’ll likely be lonely and excessively socially self-conscious. I can’t accept any of these. I reached for and poked the option to REJECT ALL. The first three pre-sets pixelated and dissolved, and three new potential choices appeared in their place. 


[LIFE PRE-SET OPTIONS: PAGE TWO]

PRE-SET OPTION [4]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

Physical Beauty                5

                Academic Intelligence            5

Emotional Intelligence        30

Ambition & Passion            10

Family Wealth & Social Status    0

Compassion                    50

Aggression                    0

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 4]


PRE-SET OPTION [5]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

Physical Beauty                0

                Academic Intelligence            70

Emotional Intelligence        20

Ambition & Passion            5

Family Wealth & Social Status    0

Compassion                    0

Aggression                    5

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 5]



PRE-SET OPTION [6]. All Stats: Min = 0, Max = 100

Physical Beauty                10

                Academic Intelligence            5

Emotional Intelligence        0

Ambition & Passion            15

Family Wealth & Social Status    0

Compassion                    0

Aggression                    70

[SELECT PRE-SET OPTION 6]

or

[REJECT ALL & PROCEED TO CUSTOM SELECTION]


I stared at these options for so long a timer appeared in the top-left corner of my vision. At that moment I saw it click down from 3 minutes remaining, to 2 minutes 59 seconds, 58 seconds, 57. I can’t be a pre-set option six, I decided the moment I read it; those people are following a sure-fire route to being a psychopath. Option four would likely make me a medic a reckless aid in war-torn countries. I need at least SOME academic knowledge; I can’t be acting impulsively on my emotions all the time. 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining. Option five is going to leave me socially bereft. Lots of knowledge, yes, but the challenges in all other areas suggest that I’m likely to be depressed by my understanding of serious issues and lack of power to help influence them. 1 minute, 32 seconds remaining. Once again, I rejected all pre-set options that were presented to me. The screen flickered as if its display cable was loose, then the categories reappeared with empty statistics. A message appeared slowly like condensation or osmosis.


Choose wisely. You have 100 credits. You cannot change your selections once you confirm them. If you are on a timer, your timer will not be replenished.



Physical Beauty                xx

                Academic Intelligence            xx

Emotional Intelligence        xx

Ambition & Passion            xx

Family Wealth & Social Status    xx

Compassion                    xx

Aggression                    xx



 

I happen to glance at the timer as it surpasses the 1 minute mark. 59 seconds remaining, 58, 57. I’m going to miss my chance, I thought. One minute is not long enough… If I divide my credits equally, I’ll have about fourteen points in each, which, considering it is equal, feels rather unbalanced. Is it better to be good at only one of these things? Or to have more consistent statistics and build on them as my LIFE progresses? Sure, life is simpler and easier with physical beauty and wealth, but with no types of intelligence, why bother? 39 seconds remaining. It doesn’t seem like a good idea to have a zero for any of these stats. Even aggression is needed sometimes, even if it’s just to assert yourself slightly in avoidance of being a doormat. 30 seconds. Surely, the timer is going quicker than usual seconds? HURRY, I told myself. Compassion seems important. They all seem important. Does a child really need physical beauty? 19. Perhaps that’s an area I could work on until adulthood. 14. Is ambition genuinely important if you’re wealthy and socially superior to most? 10 seconds. A computer fan started somewhere around me, showering me in dust. 


I made my selections. I hit confirm. The timer disappeared. It was replaced by two final messages.


Congratulations! When your LIFE is over, you will receive a scorecard to scrutinise and keep, but you will no longer remember your previous LIFE. This ensures fairness for all participants during subsequent attempts. Would you like to see the results of your previous attempts at LIFE?


[YES]            [NO]


If I see my previous failures, I won’t remember them anyway. It’ll probably make me more anxious for failure. For the first time, I reached up and selected ‘No’. The green letters flickered red at my touch and were replaced with a final message.


Would you like to begin?


[YES]            [NO]





R. P. M. CLARKE is a secondary school English teacher and author living in central London, specialising in the application and learning of language. A man who enjoys the simple pleasures of life, he uses relatable indulgences to craft comforting characters inhabiting vibrant settings, commonly offering unique twists on established trends. R. P. M. Clarke has published many short stories focused on the human condition with several scheduled for publication in 2022 and 2023.

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