[This is the third in the short series of Demy. You can read the first here.]
“Again, I apologise for not informing you sooner Mr. McSonny, but I only just found out about this myself. Ye…I know, I really wish I could change it, but that’s how it is. My offer still stands though. I don’t believe it should impact on his tutoring and there is no doubt that he’ll get his full hour. Well, if you’re happy to go with that? Thank you. I’m more than happy to accept payment when I next come and see him, although I don’t know how many more sessions he needs. He seems to be doing well. What, in my humble opinion? I think his standard of work is fine, but he’s still in turmoil and I don’t blame him. Uh huh. Okay, well, thanks again.”
Obviously you know me now as a jokey person. That said I don’t tend to mince my words when it comes to the truth. Sure, I exaggerate. Who doesn’t? I don’t feel that entitles me to not telling the truth. I told Charlie’s father the truth. Worse, I think I just confirmed what he already knew. It begs the question then why they got me in the first place, but I suppose when you don’t know what to do, you do everything that you know you can, maybe if it doesn’t strictly speaking help. Anyhow, I digress.
The part that I so casually removed from that conversation was the part about me explaining how I wasn’t going to be able to go to Charlie’s house, at least not at a suitable time. Janbor had a dentist’s appointment and someone had to be in to open the door to the people who are coming to fix the gas. Yes, yes, I know what you’re going to say. The thing is, when the streets do eventually get turned upside down for whatever aggravating maintenance has to be done next, they’re going to notice some sort of magic intervention. So we wait, like normal people. It really blows. Of course the timing just has to match up at the most inconvenient time possible, so sit I will in my house made out of Ikea flat-packs. Fortunately, by law of ridiculousness, the thing that’s about to happen can happen because of said ridiculousness. I can hear you now rolling your eyes.
“It must be nice to have the upper hand on me, for a change? It’s not raining, or even windy, but the fact that you can keep me outside of your house like I have done to you is just super satisfying, isn’t it?” I don’t like how savvy Charlie can be. It’s disconcerting.
“I’m merely appreciating the pleasant breeze!” I made an obvious intake of air through my nostrils, let it hang there for a bit and then exhaled. Charlie made a small “ha”, so at least I knew he wasn’t completely abject to some silliness. “Besides, we’re waiting for someone else.” I raised my right hand to my forehead, saluting the sun as I looked up and down my street. It would’ve been my left, but it was propping me up against the door post. An important detail, I hope you’ll realise.
“Oh? Urrm, you do know that I’m supposed to be being tutored, right?” He looked genuinely surprised. Although in his defence I may have ‘forgotten’ the important detail to his father that there was going to be someone else coming. I know by now that you’re beginning to put pieces together. If not, go re-read the previous entries I’ve made and come back to here. Done? Okay, good. So. There’s that.
“Umm, you’re Demy, right?” Oh god she’s so boring. I was never this boring when I was a teenager. I wasn’t exactly exciting, but I wasn’t “ummm” and “errrr” and “yeaaaaaaaaaaaah” and everything else. Anyhow, just imagine that surprise when Charlie turns around while saying “Karen?!” Well there was some. Just so you know. They then exchanged surprised, but appreciative smiles before I took them into my humble abode. I’m only telling you this because it’s necessary. I wish I could skip it. I really do.
I herded them into my living room and sat them down on my smaller sofa. Made for two. Look, she might be the most boring thing I’ve come across in months, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to play ball. She wasn’t exactly rude and I’m not a rude person either, so I’m going to be nice. God she’s so dull.
“I expected your place to be a bit more…I dunno, whimsical?” Charlie scouted out the room. It was a living room, nothing particularly special about it.
“It’s a living room. It has space to live in and it’s a room. I would say the whimsical stuff is in the office. All those ring binders and post-it notes.” Their continued blank looks suggested to me they had yet to enjoy the fun of being organised via the medium of post-it.
“Are we going to actually learn or do anything then?” Karen took her bag from the side of the sofa onto her lap, opened it up and started flicking through paper.
“Well, maybe.” I sat down on my large recliner of fantastic (hey, some things can only be achieved with magic to be magical, but sometimes you can get the same affect with great craftsmanship) and began the quizzing.
“Karen, has Janbor done a game with you yet?” I tried to sound enthusiastic, but her face was oozing mental tedium.
“No? “ High-pitch rise complete with squint. She had stopped fiddling with her bag now. All the while Charlie just sort of…looked.
“Mmmm. Well, that’s something we can do then.” I poured through my brain to think of which world I could drop them into, only to have Charlie interrupt me so.
“I actually had an idea.” Hmmmmm? “Why not a book?”
“Let me put it to you this way. Could I create the book, follow the lines and punctuation within, to allow you to experience it first hand? Yes. Yes I could, rather easily. Therein lays the problem. The ‘I’ part of that sentence. If I create for you an environment it is based on my idea, my interpretations, my conclusions. Let’s see, a book you’ve read… I guess, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” Nods all round. “Say I rigorously follow the plot, that I make it so you are incapable of movement, incapable of speaking, anything different from what your character is supposed to do and say. Fine, all well and good, BUT! My specific idea of what Wonka looks like, in the absolutely microscopic detail that your imagination burrows to, the whole thing is wrong because you thought it different. What if my interpretation of a gobstopper is wrong? The vividness of what happens to each child is explicit, but not enough or too much? The experience is wrong and it can have damaging ramifications on that person’s mental well-being.” I know. That part usually throws people. It gets worse when you realise how.
“So you survive this book. It’s not the book that was written though; it was my rendition, a re-make if you will. Except your mind perceived it as though it were real, like the previous trips you’ve been on. Except you know they’re false because I’m there to remind you. The intensity of the event is burned into your memory so harshly that you begin questioning your own interpretation of things. Is it red or is it actually blue? The chair was there, not there! I know I drank more than what is left in the glass. Reality is forever warped because your mind cannot accept that something is different to the way your mind accepts is truth.
“Naturally, this is an extreme. It has no impact if you haven’t and never will read the book, but the draw is there, you need to know how close it is and upon the first detail, the first flicker of imagination, you’re gone. It’s like seeing the film before reading the source material. You know what everything looks like because you’ve seen it. Except, in a cinema or at home, your eyes are fixated on a window that feeds you this information. You can separate it from reality. What your mind makes is your own reality. If I show you something you’ve already designed, your mind cannot handle the overlap between the two realities. In the end the only person who can see their own book is, unsurprisingly, themselves. “ Imagine me doing a lot of gesticulations throughout that.
“Oh.” From both of them. At the same time.
“That’s, uhmmmm…” I’ll permit that one, Karen. “…a convincing argument.” Ain’t it just.
“So, no books!” I clapped my hands and snapped them out of the trance I had worked them into.
“Man, I wish I hadn’t’ve asked.” Well, you have to learn something in one of these sessions, right Charlie? I noticed though that Karen had gone a little bit white. Actually, Charlie had too. Don’t worry, they all get this at some point. When the realisation dawns on them, be it if pointed out or discovered on their own, that they have lived through falsehoods. That they have experienced real time that wasn’t, but was. All very science-fictiony, I know. It takes a few minutes for the mind to adjust to this. If anything it actually helps. Jumping into and out of the events becomes less of a shock to the system and the mind can start putting a window around it all.
“The imagination is actually a delicate thing though. You don’t realise it. Why would you? How could something so powerful be so brittle? Well, look hard enough into anything and you’ll find that one kink. The imagination’s is truth. If, somehow, the truth fails the imagination takes over and it is very hard, if not impossible, to regain the truth.”
“Well, what about other things? Why is it okay if it’s a film you take us into that we’ve already seen?” Charlie checking in with a good question.
“It goes back to the window. You’ll watch the film, but you’ll know it isn’t real. You might be suckered in, that your suspension of disbelief has incredible strength, but you ultimately know it isn’t real. Could the events happen? Is this a re-imagining of what happened? It doesn’t matter. That entity, that thing, it’s a reality. You don’t need your imagination to fight the detail because if you want to, you can just watch it again and your brain will confirm what is real.”
“This is giving me a massive headache. I never cared much for psychology.” Some colour had returned to Karen’s face at this point.
“I…this is more philosophy, right Demy?” Charlie’s face had regained some redness too. So that’s good.
“I prefer to think of it as psychological philosophy. It’s a field popular amongst us tutor types. Well, only us tutor types come to think of it.” It’s true. We tried to get it recognised as an official study, but academics are so damn fussy. ‘Do you have a textbook on it?’ ‘Yes, we’ve read all four papers on it, but there’s a reason each one has been declined in turn.’ ‘No, we won’t let you do a guest lecture on it.’ And so on and so forth.
“I was going to say, I’ve never heard of that before.” Oh Karen. Karen, Karen, Karen. I’m sure there are many things you haven’t heard of before. Like colourful metaphors!
“What actually is psychological philosophy then?” Charlie looked on confused, turned to Karen who had adopted a similar confusion, then both to me.
“It’s the field of studying the impacts on your head of learning about philosophy.” I felt like that was quite an obvious one, but evidently I’m seriously blowing minds here.
“Aha. Well, okay.” It’s with that response that I came to fully realise the power of Charlie’s nonchalant acceptance of things. Karen was still clearly struggling a little. Bless her little heart. And her little brain.
“Anyhow, let’s get on with things.” Present me is agreeing with past me now, so yes, let’s.
I whisked us away to a virtual white space. Now, before you picture just what’s in a white space (here’s a hint: whiteness) I want to inform you that for us that’s just the term we use. It’s actually not all white. Think more a pleasant field with vast, green rolling hills. A few trees dotted around. A stream. The chirp of birds. I know what you’re about to ask. It became evident, very quickly, that people were actually scared about being surrounded all in white. I don’t blame them. It’s just an endless…well, nothingness. I think what bothered people the most was that you could look down and you wouldn’t really be standing on white. Imagine transparent infinite whiteness because that’s exactly what it was. Anyhow, people got scared, some pants may have got wet due to unexpected means and we quickly realised all white is bad. So we changed it. The pleasant field is now our white space. That’s all in case you were wondering, naturally.
“I need guns. Lots of guns.” Charlie grunted in agreement with his own joke.
“I too like that film.” To which Karen shot him an acknowledging smile.
“Me also. I guess films and games have taught you youngsters a few things after all.” I don’t usually call on people’s age, believing that everyone has something useful to say. From a four year-old to an eighty year-old, it’s worth hearing.
“Aren’t you, like, ten years older than us?” Charlie asked in the direction of the tree, as he continued visually exploring the environment. Also, that’s why I don’t call on people’s age.
“Moving swiftly on! This is your loading screen, if you will. I’ve tied in a tutorial before we jump in. From this point onwards you won’t be able to do anything unless you actively think about doing that action. There’s two apples on that nearby tree. I want you to collect both of them.” Another instance where I get to really love my job. It can be very amusing at times. For a few seconds I took in the expected silence before hitting a button in my mind.
“CHEESE AND BOXES AND SLARGIFINARYTORLORFORMOR…”
“BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH…” Sufficed to say, it doesn’t really matter who said what, standing there as they did motionless apart from their gaping jaws.
“Speaking isn’t quite enough. Remember, this is a game. You need to tell your brain, the controller, that you are going to speak and then what, exactly, you’re going to say. This includes accent, speed, tone, et cetera et cetera. I’ve, err, relaxed that one a little bit though. Despite the utmost joy I know I would get from a dual-player game with this, I’ll keep it easier on you guys.”
“Ok. Ah, that’s better. So to walk I need to tell my brain to walk and then where to, or for how many steps in what direction, or what?” I should add that at this point I was walking round and round Charlie whilst he still hadn’t worked out how to move his body or even his head.
“Well, give it a go.”
“Body, I command you, walk where I’m facing!” Ugh. It had to be Karen who took the lead, eh?
“You don’t actually need to say it out loud, y’know.” I made sure to say this under my breath. Truth is I love hearing their attempts, but I do feel obliged to say it, even if they can’t actually hear me.
“Oh, oh no, I’m about to walk into this treeeeeeeee!” Said the girl who had no control over her body.
“Have you tried commanding yourself to maybe turn your head?” I was desperately trying not to guffaw. Charlie, having not moved his body, was able to turn his face and was obviously picking up his learning pace. Still, by this point, Karen had reached the target tree…and then overtook it.
“What! Wait! No, stop! Body, stop!” And it did. About twenty seconds later she had got into a position to reach up and pick an apple. Now was Charlie’s turn. I looked towards him and saw his body lower itself to the ground before it sprang well clear of the ground and in a single leap land on top of the tree, reached down into the branches and grabbed the apple. He looked incredibly smug, but I think he earned it. Charlie sent a smile towards Karen, who in turn struggled creating one. Not because she couldn’t work out how, but because I think (hope?) she was jealous of his genius.
“Well done, Charlie. Both of you, really.” Ehhh, I’ll give it to her I suppose. “Remember though, different game worlds, even levels or areas within them, may have different rule sets. In the loading screen pretty much anything is possible.” Last kid I had summoned a jet-pack. It was pretty cool. “And like any good game the difficulty increases as you progress, but only in a manner at which befits what you’ve learnt before. There shouldn’t be anything completely obscure for you to do. The end point will always be obvious, but maybe not the way to get there. At the same time, do think outside of the box. Any questions?”
“What will we be doing?” Karen was examining the apple, as if it was this magical thing. Nope, just an apple.
“Whatever’s ahead of you.” Ambiguity ho!
“Really? That’s all you’re giving us?” Charlie had taken to floating above the tree now, for no real reason I’m sure.
“Well, yes, pretty much. Oh, fine. There’s a variety of things. From a variety of genres. Look, to tell you anything more would be to spoil it and I’m not in the habit of ruining spoilers. Especially when they’re so fun!” For me! Honestly, unless someone really gets into some of the other ‘lessons’, this is usually the most interesting for me. Besides, I know what’s coming up after this one. Some fun is definitely needed before that. “Ok, so are you both ready to go?” They nodded in unison. “Well okay then. Here we go. Press A to start.” A large blue circle with an A appeared in front of both of them. At the same time they reached out and pressed it.
The duo was now in a large grey box room which was divided into its two halves by a glass wall between them. The wall was thick enough that they wouldn’t be able to break it with what they had, which was themselves, but thin enough that they could hear each other and communicate a plan to proceed. They took in their blank locale. This, of course, only took a few seconds as the only details were at the end of the halls. There was one plinth in each hall, both propping up a large, red button. Above each plinth was a light currently off. I’d have thought it was startlingly obvious what was necessary and as it turned out so did they. Karen, trailed shortly by Charlie, walked up to the button, pushed it and lit up their respective light in turn. A moment after Charlie had pressed his they were transported back to their starting position in the same room.
They looked at each other wondering whether or not they had succeeded. “What if we try hitting them at the same time?” Charlie yelled. Karen nodded in agreement. They once more walked up to their plinths but, before pressing, called out if they were ready. On the count of 3 (that is, they pressed it when they said 3, not after. That would be 4) they pushed the buttons at the same time and were, once again, greeted by the lights coming alive. And, once again, were teleported back to their starting positions in the same room. Onlooker’s fill-in here; this is two completed tasks. The first was simply them hitting the buttons, the second hitting them together. The first is a sort of trick, I suppose, to make you think that you hadn’t actually completed it so that on the second task you’d try something different. The third, well, that’d prove to be a little trickier. By now they had worked out simple objective tracking and having to work together, but what if you play with that notion a little bit?
“Errrm, I’m not moving. I’m trying to move, but I can’t. Wait, why am I looking at the wall?” Karen stood still, apart from her head which had unhelpfully turned left to face the wall while her mundane jaw flapped open. While saying this, Charlie was looking around taking in the room.
“Okay, that’s weird. I just tried looking towards you, but instead I’m looking all over the place.” Do you see now how I get massive amounts of fun out of this lesson? So utterly wonderful. “Actually, I think I’ve worked this out.”
“So have I!” And of course it was that simple. Mind-boggling and perhaps a little terrifying, but when you know you’re in good hands, challenging and fun! “Ok, I’m going to look ahead. Is that working for you?” Ah, the suspense is killing me!
“Yup, I’m staring at the plinth. I’ve tried the same, how’s it going?”
“It’s going great! Okay, I’m going to walk over there at a gentle pace, on 3?”
“On 3.” And then they both walked there with a steely determination. “Hit the button on 3?”