Peter’s boredom had reached its limit. It had compounded over many years but today it reached a kind of terminal velocity: he was as bored as it was possible for a man to be.
After waking, he entered his favourite breakfast buffet room. He was sick of food. All fruits regardless of season, many cereals, eggs every way, French toast, sausages, bacon and eggs, lamb curry, chicken stir-fry, a dozen cakes, endless juice, tea and coffee. He could eat for hours without getting full or fat. But what was the point? A lot of people didn’t bother eating any more.
He skipped breakfast and checked the Game of Thrones room. AI was constantly generating new episodes with deepfakes of John Snow and the other characters which mimicked the scripting of that era. Peter sighed. He’d done it to death. Even the interactive mode where you could play a role was dull after the hundredth time.
There was a fully pornographic version of the series but instead Peter went directly to one of the dedicated adult rooms. There were as many to choose from as human and AI imagination could conjure – spa baths, secluded beaches and presidential suites stocked with every variety of nubile woman, plus rooms specializing in anime characters, monsters, robots and a thousand other things. There were some very disturbing rooms. These used to be banned out of concern that someone might be conditioned to harm others in real life but over time that fear had faded. The only rule in the Pod now was that you had to be respectful towards real people. Computer-generated non-player characters, or NPCs, were fair game.
Peter used to hook up with real girls, receiving affirmation for all the work he’d put into perfecting his physique settings plus his chat game. But he’d tired of them and now exclusively played with NPCs. They got better the more you used them as the algorithm learned what you liked.
But NPCs, too, grew tiresome. Peter was ground down by the sameness of it all. Even the freak rooms blurred together after a while. He wandered here and there, finding nothing that could keep his attention.
There were forums on the topic, ‘Higher Podlife’. These discussions treated recreational rooms with contempt and focused on substantive matters – history, literature, science. Peter had previously been involved in that scene. He now returned to the book recommended by that group – Brave New World – but his eyes soon glazed over. Huxley could only imagine the people of the 1930s with better technology. He could not imagine a future people.
Peter slept. He dreamt he was in a garden. When he awoke, he couldn’t remember where the garden was or what he’d done there but he vaguely recalled trembling leaves, the smell of soil.
I need something real, he thought. Some nature.
He entered a sports room and went downhill skiing. It was dreary. What’s the point of being cold when you can press a button to warm up?
He entered an island room. He could be alone, explore the jungle, lie beneath coconut palms on an empty beach, dive with the fish. This, too, was dull. He knew the clownfish and parrotfish would disappear as soon as he looked away; they had no true life of their own. Peter felt an urge to see real fish, to peer in on their mysterious lives beneath the waves.
He needed something real.
Frustrated, he entered a Viking battle. The spear of dedication was thrown across the battleground, his team charged; he felt real joy as he gored an enemy, real pain as his lower arm was cut off by a battle-axe. But as he lay bleeding, the dramatic skies raining upon his torment, he thought: no, this is not real. There’s no fear. It’s too predictable and there are no consequences. The fakeness of it bored him even as his head was smashed in with a mace.
If there was something to break the monotony, it would not be found fighting simulated battles or having sex with characters from Avatar; nor in hunting bears in freshly-generated taiga or in surfing harmless, thirty-metre waves. It must be something completely new. It must be something he had never even heard of.
He searched, ‘something real’. He scrolled. And scrolled. He used Boolean tools to eliminate the terms sex, food, beach, ski, adventure, surf, book, TV, film, person and many others that were cluttering the results.
He didn’t want any more perfect facsimiles. He wanted something real.
Hundreds of search results later, he found a forum called OutPod.
There was a small community of people like himself who had tired of the digital paradise and sought something more. They were amusing themselves by leaving their Pods and revisiting the real world. They called themselves OutPodders . . .
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