The Nix(6)

Written By: Nathan Hill

LETS GOOOOOOOO!!! Axman writes again. He has stopped humping the cave wall and is now leaping in place. Samuel thinks: ninth grade, tragically pimpled, hyperactivity disorder, will probably someday end up in my Intro to Lit class.

“What did you think about Hamlet?” Samuel had asked his class today, after Laura’s departure.

Groans. Scowls. Guy in the back held his hands aloft to show his two big meat-hook thumbs pointing down. “It was stupid,” he said.

“It didn’t make any sense,” said another.

“It was too long,” said another.

“Way too long.”

Samuel asked his students questions he hoped would spark any kind of conversation: Do you think the ghost is real or do you think Hamlet is hallucinating? Why do you think Gertrude remarried so quickly? Do you think Claudius is a villain or is Hamlet just bitter? And so on. Nothing. No reaction. They stared blankly into their laps, or at their computers. They always stare at their computers. Samuel has no power over the computers, cannot turn them off. Every classroom is equipped with computers at every single seat, something the school brags about in all the marketing materials sent to parents: Wired campus! Preparing students for the twenty-first century! But it seems to Samuel that all the school is preparing them for is to sit quietly and fake that they’re working. To feign the appearance of concentration when in fact they’re checking sports scores or e-mail or watching videos or spacing out. And come to think of it, maybe this is the most important lesson the school could teach them about the American workplace: how to sit calmly at your desk and surf the internet and not go insane.

“How many of you read the whole play?” Samuel said, and of the twenty-five people in the room, only four raised their hands. And they raised their hands slowly, shyly, embarrassed at having completed the assigned task. The rest seemed to reproach him—their looks of contempt, their bodies slumped to announce their huge boredom. It was like they blamed him for their apathy. If only he hadn’t assigned something so stupid, they wouldn’t have had to not do it.

“Pulling,” says Pwnage, who now sprints toward the dragon, giant ax in hand. The rest of the raid group follows, crying wildly in a proximate imitation of movies they’ve seen about medieval wars.

Pwnage, it should be noted, is an Elfscape genius. He is a video-game savant. Of the twenty elves here tonight, six are being controlled by him. He has a whole village of characters that he can choose from, mixing and matching them depending on the fight, a whole self-sustaining micro-economy between them, playing many of them simultaneously using an incredibly advanced technique called “multiboxing” that involves several networked computers linked to a central command brain that he controls using programmed maneuvers on his keyboard and fifteen-button gaming mouse. Pwnage knows everything there is to know about the game. He’s internalized the secrets of Elfscape like a tree that eventually becomes one with the fence it grows next to. He annihilates orcs, often delivering the killing blow to his signature phrase: I just pwned ur face n00b!!!

During phase one of the fight they mostly have to watch out for the dragon’s tail, which whips around and slams onto the rock floor. So everyone hacks away at the dragon and avoids its tail for the few minutes it takes to get the dragon down to sixty percent health, which is when the dragon takes to the air.

“Phase two,” says Pwnage in a calm voice made robot-sounding from being transmitted over the internet. “Fire incoming. Don’t stand in the bad.”

Fireballs begin pummeling the raid group, and while many players find it a challenge to avoid the fire while continuing their dragon-fighting responsibilities, Pwnage’s characters manage this effortlessly, all six of them, moving a couple of taps to their left or right so that the fire misses them by a few pixels.

Samuel is trying to dodge the fire, but mostly what he’s thinking about right now is the pop quiz he gave in class today. After Laura left, and after it became clear the class had not done the assigned reading, he got into a punishing mood. He told his students to write a 250-word explication of the first act of Hamlet. They groaned. He hadn’t planned on giving a pop quiz, but something about Laura’s attitude left him feeling passive-aggressive. This was an Introduction to Literature course, but she cared less about literature than she did about points. It wasn’t the topic of the course that mattered to her; what mattered was the currency. It reminded him of some Wall Street trader who might buy coffee futures one day and mortgage-backed securities the next. The thing that’s traded is less important than how it’s measured. Laura thought like this, thought only about the bottom line, her grade, the only thing that mattered.

Samuel used to mark up their papers—with a red pen even. He used to teach them the difference between “lay” and “lie,” or when to use “that” and when to use “which,” or how “affect” is different from “effect,” how “then” is different from “than.” All that stuff. But then one day he was filling up his car at the gas station just outside campus—it’s called the EZ-Kum-In-’n-Go—and he looked at that sign and thought, What is the point?

Really, honestly, why would they ever need to know Hamlet?

He gave a quiz and ended class thirty minutes early. He was tired. He was standing in front of that disinterested crowd and he began to feel like Hamlet in the first soliloquy: insubstantial. He wanted to disappear. He wanted his flesh to melt into a dew. This was happening a lot lately: He was feeling smaller than his body, as if his spirit had shrunk, always giving up his armrests on airplanes, always the one to move out of the way on sidewalks.

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