The Nix(4)

Written By: Nathan Hill


And as if the story isn’t delicious enough already, two things happen near the end of the workday to vault it into the stratosphere, water-cooler-wise. First, it’s reported that Governor Packer is having emergency surgery on his eyeball. And second, a mug shot is unearthed that shows the woman was arrested in 1968—though never officially charged or convicted—for prostitution.

This is just too much. How can one headline possibly gather all these amazing details? RADICAL HIPPIE PROSTITUTE TEACHER BLINDS GOV. PACKER IN VICIOUS ATTACK!

The news plays over and over the part of the video where the governor is struck. They enlarge it so it’s all pixelated and grainy in a valiant effort to show everyone the exact moment that a sharp piece of gravel splashes into his right cornea. Pundits argue about the meaning of the attack and whether it represents a threat to democracy. Some call the woman a terrorist, others say it shows how far our political discourse has fallen, others say the governor pretty much asked for it by being such a reckless crusader for guns. Comparisons are made with the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers. The NRA releases a statement saying the attack never would have happened had Governor Packer been carrying his revolver. The people working at their desks behind the TV anchor, meanwhile, do not appear at this moment to be working any harder or less hard than they were earlier in the day.

It takes about forty-five minutes for a clever copywriter to come up with the phrase “Packer Attacker,” which is promptly adopted by all the networks and incorporated into the special logos they make for the coverage.

The woman herself is being kept in a downtown jail awaiting arraignment and is unavailable for comment. Without her explanation, the narrative of the day forms when opinion and assumption combine with a few facts to create an ur-story that hardens in people’s minds: The woman is a former hippie and current liberal radical who hates the governor so much that she waited in a premeditated way to viciously attack him.

Except there’s a glaring logical hole in this theory, which is that the governor’s jaunt through the park was an impromptu move that not even his security detail knew about. Thus the woman couldn’t have known he was coming and so couldn’t have been waiting in ambush. However, this inconsistency is lost in the more sensational news items and is never fully investigated.


PROFESSOR SAMUEL ANDERSON SITS in the darkness of his small university office, his face lit grayly by the glow of a computer screen. Blinds are drawn over the windows. A towel blocks the crack under the door. He has placed the trash bin out in the hall so the night janitor won’t interrupt. He wears headphones so nobody will hear what he’s doing.

He logs on. He reaches the game’s intro screen with its familiar image of orcs and elves torqued in battle. He hears the brass-heavy music, triumphant and bold and warlike. He types a password even more involved and intricate than the password to his bank account. And as he enters the World of Elfscape, he enters not as Samuel Anderson the assistant professor of English but rather as Dodger the Elven Thief, and the feeling he has is very much like the feeling of coming home. Coming home at the end of a long day to someone who’s glad you’re back, is the feeling that keeps him logging on and playing upward of forty hours a week in preparation for a raid like this, when he gathers with his anonymous online friends and together they go kill something big and deadly.

Tonight it’s a dragon.

They log on from basements, offices, dimly lit dens, cubicles and workstations, from public libraries, dorm rooms, spare bedrooms, from laptops on kitchen tables, from computers that whir hotly and click and crackle like somewhere inside their plastic towers a food item is frying. They put on their headsets and log on and materialize in the game world and they are together again, just as they have been every Wednesday and Friday and Saturday night for the past few years. Almost all of them live in Chicago or very close to Chicago. The game server on which they’re playing—one of thousands worldwide—is located in a former meatpacking warehouse on Chicago’s South Side, and for lag-and latency-related issues, Elfscape always places you in the server nearest your location. So they are all practically neighbors, though they have never met in real life.

“Yo, Dodger!” someone says as Samuel logs on.

Yo, he writes back. He never talks here. They think he doesn’t talk because he doesn’t have a microphone. The truth is he does have a microphone, but he’s worried that if he talks during these raids some wandering colleague out in the hall might hear him saying things about dragons. So the guild knows really nothing about him except that he never misses a raid and has the tendency to spell out words rather than use the accepted internet abbreviations. He will actually write “be right back” instead of the more common “brb.” He will write “away from keyboard” rather than “afk.” People are not sure why he insists on this reverse anachronism. They think the name Dodger has something to do with baseball, but in fact it is a Dickens reference. That nobody gets the reference makes Samuel feel smart and superior, which is something he needs to feel to offset the shame of spending so much time playing a game also played by twelve-year-olds.

Samuel tries to remind himself that millions of other people do this. On every continent. Twenty-four hours a day. At any given moment, the number of people playing World of Elfscape is a population about the size of Paris, he thinks, sometimes, when he feels that rip inside him because this is where his life has ended up.

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