It had all started with a simple invite. ‘Hey you wanna come over and hang out, eat some pizza, maybe play some video games?’
Jim had said yes, and he’d been glad he went. The soggy flavorless pizza was out of a box, the people were boring with their unfunny jokes and long uninteresting stories. He refused to drink alcohol and had been the only one drinking water all night. Normally he’d have left right away, making some excuse about an early appointment or his wife needed something but he had been transfixed from the second he’d walked through the door.
The music filled the apartment, bad cover bands singing rock classics. Clacking sounds lurked barely beneath the tunes and voices could be heard grunting, shouting, and swearing. Jim could feel an energy in the air, and although he was confused by the odd harrnt sound that occasionally overrode the music. He drifted towards the music, drawn like a moth, and stood in the hallway looking into the living room as a cluster of people were watching something on the TV.
It was obviously a video game, music oriented, and the guy playing it had a tiny plastic guitar in his hand and was mashing buttons furiously to keep up with a wave of different colors on the screen. The rainbow that was before him hypnotized Jim, and he couldn’t help but stutter out, “W-w-what is this?”
“It’s Guitar Hero, dude, well, actually Guitar Hero 3. You haven’t heard of it?”
“Nope, I don’t play a lot of video games. But this, this I could get into, I love the music.”
“Well, you can have next ups then.”
“Thanks.” Jim sat down and watched the guy play; trying to catch on to how the game was played. It seemed easy enough; simply hit the button that matched the color on the game as it came to the line at the bottom of the on screen guitar. Finally, it was Jim’s turn. He took the guitar, and after a few simple instructions was playing. The game looked different from what he’d seen the other guy doing, “Hey, how come it’s different?”
“Well, I was playing on hard because I’ve been playing for a long time. We got you on easy, that way you don’t fail your first song.”
“Ah, gotcha.” Jim still missed a lot of the notes, but finished the song with a 72% and a 65-note streak. He was hooked, he’d asked if the game was on Xbox, and finding out that it was, he resolved to buy it and get good at it. That was the first day of his long downward spiral into his collapse.
He bought not only Guitar Hero 3, but also every other version he could find. He played nonstop from the moment he walked in his door until it was time for him to get some sleep. He started pushing it longer and longer, and soon he was barely getting a few hours of sleep each night. His work was suffering, but he didn’t care, he had a new goal in his life. He had read the articles, seen the clips on YouTube, and he wanted to be one of the people to get 100% on the Dragonforce song, Through the Fire and Flames, on expert.
His hands had cramped for a while at first, but he’d played through the pain and now they were gnarled into the shape of the guitar and all he could do was play the game.
After only a week of playing, he was already on the medium difficulty, and earning 99% or 100% on most songs. Jim played for hours on end, often going to bed with a pounding headache and a bad desire to still be playing. He had skipped work for a few days in a row and his phone had been going off almost non-stop. He was sure that his boss was trying to not fire him, but Jim didn’t care either way. This goal burned bright in his mind and he only cared about joining the other two immortals that had perfected the big daddy of all songs.
His wife had no understanding of his goal, she wanted him to stop being a little kid and go back to work while he still had the job. Jim tried to make her see, “Don’t you get it? If I can make it to the top of this mountain, I’ll live forever. Only two guys have done what I’m trying to do, two! I’m going to join them.”
“Well, you’re going to do it alone then, because if you think this game is more important than working and supporting this family then I’m leaving.”
“If you can’t see why this is so important to me, then go ahead and leave.” Jim had had enough of her sniping, and was itching to get back to the Slayer song that kicked his butt every time it hit the solo.
“OK, have it your way Jim, we’re leaving.” She gathered their daughter and headed for the door, “I’ll send my brother for my important things.”
Finally, she was gone and he settled back in front of the television with a Red Bull in his hand and started out with Guitar Hero 2, warming up on Freebird. He had moved up to the hard setting on the games, and he was having a bit of trouble with the extra stretch. He moved his hand down, placing his pinkie on the Orange button, forcing his index finger to do both Green and Red. He was getting it, but it was slow going.
Jim couldn’t believe how much time had gone by since he’d first picked up the guitar controller. He’d been playing the game for over 5 months now, had lost his job, his marriage, his house, and was now living in his parent’s basement again. He paid for the meager amount of food and drink he consumed by doing housework. His parents hated what he’d done to his life, but they refused to turn him away. Jim thought they secretly hoped he’d come to his senses eventually and go back to being normal, but they didn’t understand his desire either, no did.
He was playing on expert now, and had mastered all songs except for one. Through the Fire and Flames was his Everest, and he was determined to climb it and join the small group that had done it before him. He’d read online that several players were claiming they had done it, but none had offered proof and he was not about to have that stigma attached to him. He always played the song with a camera recording him in case he accomplished the feat. He would be the sixth person to get the Full Combo on the song, and go down in the books as one of the immortals.
His best attempt was a 99%, missing only a bare handful of notes, less than 10. He knew the peak of his mountain was close and he was pushing forward towards the top. He could see the patterns of the solos in his head when he slept, and he played the song always with his hands even when not holding the guitar.
Finally, his greatest attempt was upon him, even though he didn’t know it yet. The day had passed with a long nap and mowing the lawn, and his mom and dad had told him they were going out for the evening. He’d let them know where he’d be, as if they ever wondered anymore and he turned on the camera, and sat in his chair to make an attempt before taking a shower and doing the dishes. He slammed a Red Bull and started playing.
He’d gotten past the hammer-ons to start the song, and hadn’t heard any missed notes through both Post Insanity sections.
Sweat was starting to build on his forehead, but he knew he was mid way through the song, still no missed notes and he was on So Far Away II. He knew the solos were coming, but he’d never made it this far before.
Both Solo Fill sections were past now and he still hadn’t messed up, he could feel his pulse quicken and knew his heart was beating fast. He was trying hard to focus on the song while slowing down his breathing.
Herman’s Solo, down.
Sam’s Solo, down.
Herman’s Solo II, down.
Now he on the terrible What the..!? section, and he stayed focused, missing none of the notes there either.
His brain was starting to play tricks on him, telling him he’d already missed one, or had an over strum, but Jim knew it was only his human frailty trying to take over and stop him from doing what very few had done before him.
He’d gotten past Rampaging Dragons, and knew he was almost done; he was into Almost There and had only You Rock!!! to go.
He was in the process of hitting the final section of 4 notes, a boom of thunder hit outside, and the power went out in his house. The TV went black, and he could only stare for a second at the blank screen. It took a full minute for Jim to realize what had happened, that the power had gone out. His game had died only seconds before he’d joined the immortals.
All the frustration of his life, the job, the wife, the house, living in a basement, and now being a hair’s breadth away from accomplishing his goal, they all came to the forefront.
Jim let loose a wild screech, and started slamming the guitar onto the floor, sending shards of the plastic flying all different directions. In his rage, he turned to the TV and began smashing that too. After the guitar had been embedded in the screen, he picked up his chair and flung it as hard as he could at the wall, shattering the seat and backrest. He kicked his camera down and started stomping on it, all the while yelling obscenities at the top of his lungs and raging at the injustice of the storm.
He ran up the stairs and out of the house, screaming his hate at the sky, he dropped to his knees in the middle of the street, drenched from the rain, and put his face in his hands, sobbing. He never even heard the horn until he felt the impact of the semi obliterate his frail form.
Much later, his parents told people that Jim lived and died beheld to his passion for living out whatever dream he desired. His quest for immortality had ended in failure, as almost all such quests do.