After playing hours and hours and hours of a so-called “open world” game that simulated a wilderness realm in which I was an outlaw and member of a gang of men and women and children who lived together in a camp on a wooded plateau not far from a town called “Valentine”; and after I had learned to ride a horse and that I needed to maintain a good relationship with this horse by frequently patting it and saying, “yes that’s a good boy” and brushing his mane and feeding it “classic oatcakes”; and after riding my horse through the woods and smashing into trees and flying out of the saddle; and after feeding the horse something called “horse reviver” and myself a “miracle tonic” to restore our health; and after getting drunk at the local saloon and walking in on a harlot and cowboy having sex in one of the rooms; and after tracking deer through snowdrifts in an alpine forest and bringing one down with the bow I’d been carrying by sandwiching my torso between the handle and string; and after skinning the deer by unzipping its pelt from the marbled musculature of its body, as I would do every time I hunted and killed animals in this world, a collection that would include jackrabbits, elk, foxes, mule deer, black bear, and grizzly bear; and after visiting a camp where I lived with other outlaws, to eat stew or drink whiskey and watch the firelight cast its shadows upon the faces of my friends, who sang ditties like “ring dang do, now what is that, got a hole in the middle and it’s split in two”; and after fudging a bank robbery and failing to lasso the man guarding the caboose on a moving steam train; and after marveling at distant mountain vistas that called to mind the Rocky Mountains; and after rescuing a miscreant from prison by yanking a hole in the jail wall; and after various shootouts with lawmen and locals and bounty hunters; and after accidentally discharging my firearm in a city that resembled New Orleans and being set upon by constables who shot me dead; and after pouring moonshine on the leaves of a tobacco field and setting it ablaze with a kind of Molotov cocktail, and pausing to watch cinders ride air currents like demonic fireflies; and after robbing and deciding to choke rather than simply beat a few random folk in back alleys; and after lassoing and hog-tying a random stranger who, after I’d stowed him on the back of my horse, exclaimed, “Jiminy cocksuckers!”; and after hijacking and stealing stagecoaches and Conestoga wagons and delivering them to a barn where a balding man with long stringy side hair purchased my stolen goods, no matter how poor the condition; and after eating cans of baked beans and peaches and logs of salted beef and crackers and hunks of bread and cheese and cooking game with a knife held over a campfire; and after entering random houses and stealing pocket watches and rings and tonics of all varieties and shooting homeowners who gave me shit and then attempting to track down witnesses and murder them before they could tattle to local deputies; and after helping strangers unlock bear traps from their legs or suck snake venom from thighs; and after pausing to note rays of sunlight shooting like projector beams through evergreens; and after riding through fog and rain and snow; and after attacking a group of Klansmen holding some kind of initiation ritual deep in the woods and getting my ass handed to me; and after my world fading to black and the word “dead” appearing in a red saloon-style font, I decided that perhaps I ought to pause gameplay and get some fresh air, so I donned a bodysuit that, in real life, makes me look sort of like a Power Ranger, then climbed upon my bike and rode off the plateau where I lived, down into the valley, where I began to marvel, as I had upon encountering the resplendent facsimiles offered by the game I’d recently been playing, at the idiosyncrasies of the world through which I traveled: the fissures cracking across glittering asphalt; the way that dual cab trucks seemed to spawn, one after the other, as soon as I left the town’s limits; the dimpled surface of a stream; the waxy netting snugly fitted over hay bales; the sun streak on the wing of a crow; lichen-smudged fence posts; swirls of wood grain; the furrows of tire tread in a meadow; a branch in autumn’s webbed canopy undulating as a squirrel moved across it; a rotting IROC beneath the fallen boards of a disintegrating barn; the dusty pelt of an opossum, flattened on the road as thin as if it had been run over by a cartoon steamroller; the leaden water of a pond orbited by cattails; the tangle of a tree’s exposed roots, looking like tentacles clinging to the cleft of a mud bank, and giving the impression that this tree might at any moment get up and walk away; the rotting log cabin sadly branded with a private property slash no trespassing sign; and I couldn’t help but think to myself, every time, how convincing, how oh so very real.