‘I’m Delgado, and I’m an a….’
Baring your soul in front of a suspect audience may sound so simple. Purging yourself of your inner demons isn’t as easy. As I weigh my next move in a rundown building around Sydney, I stare at their faces. We have one thing in common, that’s for sure: we’re all a…. Later tonight, I’ll come to know what brought them here, what’s behind their downfalls. Before we go there, it’s time to ruminate.
I used to be an above average student at The College, somewhere in southeast Asia. As a freshman there, I took eleven subjects, spending nearly thirty hours of class time each week. I didn’t have a day off; from Monday till Saturday, there was no reprieve. That millions of Filipino students were doing likewise was little consolation.
I was diligent too. In my first semester, I got stellar marks. I was good enough that my classmates would whack each other before exams, for the honour of being my seatmate (and copying my answers). Then near the end of my first year, I discovered this thing called Freestyle (FS). I was doing my usual work in an Internet café, when I spotted the unsuspecting program. This was before the age of cheap home Internet. Even at present, hordes of Filipinos are missing out on home data.
When I opened the icon, I was prompted to create a character. Freestyle was a street ball online game, where winning gives you points and points let you ‘level up’ as we said over there. Levelling up allows you to develop your skills, and be a better ball player.
Now the character has one of three basic positions: forward, centre and guard. Forwards, like those in real basketball matches, are adequate ball handlers and the most versatile dudes on the floor. They are taller than guards, standing over six feet, but shorter than slotmen. Meanwhile, centres are big, brawny but slow. However, they can throw their weight around, defend the basket and snag rebounds. Since they play closer to the hoop, they take higher percentage shots. Guards are the primary ball handlers with greater shooting range and faster feet.
Speaking of my character, I made him a forward. I had him at the set ceiling, although I later learned that you could customise your character’s height. I opted to name him LeighYap, a not so subtle pun at layup, the basketball term. Leigh was a guy (you could choose either male or female characters). Soon I would be playing my first game, which lasted all of 2.5 minutes. I wasn’t good at first, and had troubles with the (pretty straightforward) controls. In the middle of my controls misery, my opponent taunted, ‘Are you Visayan?’ When I replied no, he added, ‘then why’s your name spelled that way?’
The first few days were really tough, like being reborn in a whole new galaxy. Aside from the tricky controls and trash-talking opponents, I started from scratch. Like a newborn, I took my first steps and must earn virtual money before I could get decent clothes for my avatar. I was dressed like a pauper in my first dozen outings. Regardless, I paid twenty pesos (fifty pennies) an hour for computer use. I’d pay for two hours, but no amount of time could stop me thinking about the game. Before long, Freestyle was consuming me.
After class, heading to the Internet café for some b-ball action fast became a daily occurrence. Two hours became three, which ballooned to five. I was spending all my money on a made up universe, but I hadn’t hit rock bottom. Not yet.
My name is not Amos. Call me Delgado; first names are only redundant. I sit by a window in a Sydney library, looking forward to my next meeting with that cutie Ana, as well as the rest of the gang. I have compressed four addicts’ meetings into one account. I have laid out my story, in ample detail.
She was right: I have channelled my frustrations toward writing stories. To paraphrase a worn out quote, I have joined, I have seen but have not conquered. My work has been described as laden with foreign words, thus too exotic. Other times I’ve been sloppy, leaving typos in my haste. This is unlike something I’ve ever produced before, as here I compile my history battling the screen.
Whether or not that’s enough, is beyond my control. All I can do is write, pay the eight-Pound fee before the dreaded deadline, and hope for the best. I’ll do this while curbing the Freestyle monster inside me. After all, sharing your addiction to the world is never overrated.
*Taken from my latest short story