Ancient Warfare 6

David was banned from playing video games. He was usually allowed one hour per day, plus whatever he sneaked in here and there, but his mother had checked with his father and realized that he’d been playing them off against each other. “Can I play my hour now?” he’d say to his father while his mother was out shopping, and he’d say “Sure son;” then when his father was out drinking he’d say to his mother, “Can I play my hour now,” and she’d say, “Sure love;” and David ended up with two hours-plus of gameplay.

He mostly played Worldball 2016. His hand-picked team, King David’s Defence XI, would battle and often beat mightier nations such as Italy and Germany. King David’s Defence XI had a rock solid rear formation that few teams could penetrate, and their unorthodox attacks bamboozled opponents. They made it to the final but then lost to the faultless teamwork of Chairman Mao’s Select Party People. David took this loss badly and stopped playing Worldball. He bugged his parents for Ancient Warfare 6. “It’s really, really good,” he said to his father. “It has powerful weapons and amazing avatars. Dad, can I have it as an early birthday present?”

“Ok, but don’t tell your mum how much it cost. Tell her there was a half-price offer. Here’s sixty bucks.”

Ancient Warfare 6 was so much better than Ancient Warfare 5. Whereas before you had only personal weapons, now there were group weapons such as siege towers and battering rams. The Avatars were built upon your own photos, and so realistic that it felt like looking into a mirror sometimes. The Point of View (POV) was smooth and sharp but retained peripheral vision. It was a virtual/real-life experience.

His friend Amir would come around to play most days. King David’s Defenders conquered much of the Holy Land, but Amir’s Arab Armies made inroads too. Now that David was banned though, they just got bored together.

Amir said, “When can we fight again, my tribal foe?”

David said, “Next week, when my ban comes to an end.” Amir said that David’s mum was at the neighbours, so they could squeeze in a quick game right now, but David said, “She’s told me already that if there’s any mischief, the ban’s extended.”

Amir threw a mini-Mars bar at David, but he defended himself successfully. It didn’t really hit him, just disappeared somewhere.

“Do you think that warriors had real powers?” said Amir. “I mean in ancient times? Magical powers?”

“Like what?” said David, still searching for the mini-Mars bar. It must be somewhere. His mother would be angry if it melted and left a mark. Where had it fallen?

“Well there symbols in the game – the coins, swords, beer, and meat – are empowering. The warriors become stronger.” Amir looked up as if heavenwards. “But they also capture holy symbols like Om signs, Stars of David, Allah banners, and golden Crosses. They have mystical properties. They can do special things.”

“Well if they absorbed the symbols, then I guess they would have magical powers.” David felt a sudden rush of energy and said, “Hey want to play catch?”

Amir raised his eyebrows. “Is that allowed?”

“Sure it is,” said David. “It’s just a gentle children’s game, right?” Of course it wasn’t. Their version of catch involved pitching items as hard as possible at each other, and when the item was deflected or hurt them, saying, “Should have got it!” David said, “Ok, I’ll start,” and threw a ball hard at Amir, which hit him in the ribs somewhere. “Should have got it!” Amir responded by launching a dollar coin which also struck its target. “Should have got it!” David grabbed a hardback maths textbook and sent it spinning towards Amir’s stomach. “Should have got it!” Amir whirled a music CD into David’s shoulder. “Should have got it!” David flicked a datastick which hit his opponents head. “Should have got it!” The laughed and chased each other around and upset a side table, just as David’s mother returned.

“Right!” she said. “Your ban is extended by a week!”

“No mum! Please no! We weren’t playing video games. We were just playing catch.”

“Look at the mess you’ve made. What were you catching – cannonballs?” David looked down, ashamed. “Well go on then! Pick up that stuff and put it back on the table. If anything’s broken, you can expect another week’s ban.”

Two weeks later David and Amir next played Ancient Warfare 6. It was the most intense game they could remember. Amir collected ball symbols, before throwing cannonballs with incredible power that destroyed David’s walls. David hoarded coins, and had so much wealth that he built them up again, bigger and stronger. Amir gathered books, and invented new technologies and projectile methods to augment his attacks. David amassed discs, creating new sonic weapons using the vibrational potency of rhythmic sound. Amir’s assembly of data symbols changed the game entirely; they now fought in machine code rather than with graphics. Their virtual/reality threshold thinned, and their bodies and avatars were much the same now. Each item pitched at their bodies had been absorbed by, and now empowered, their virtual selves. Modern and Ancient worlds had merged for them. They heard drumbeats and shouting, and then a flaming boulder smashed through the roof of David’s parent’s house.

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