The guild cares about pixels, first off. Pixels is a fun way to say loot. Loot is a fun way to say items. There’s a whole channel in the discord for pixels. When you get a good pixel, the guild will message you to say, good pixel. Unless you get too good a pixel, for too few points. This happened to me once. I got too good a pixel. The second thing the guild really, really cares about, is that no one gets too good a pixel, for too few points. My pixel was Soul Leech, the Dark Sword of Blood. I got it for four dragon kill points. Each dragon kill point represents an hour you spent at a raid. Getting a Soul Leech, the Dark Sword of Blood for four dragon kill points is, as they say, patently offensive. But there were only two shadowknights on the raid, myself included, and the other didn’t bid me up in the auction, just to be nice.
The third thing the guild really, really cares about is if anyone does anything nice for me, specifically.
The guild really, really cares about this because I’m a girl. For a while, I was the only girl. There was another one at the start, but the guild was quick to assure me that she didn’t count, being trans. The guild also told me they really, really didn’t care that she was trans. They were friends, and that meant they could tease her about being not a real girl. It’s a funny joke for them. Ha! Ha! Ha! She stopped logging on. Sometimes there were other girls but they left quickly, and sometimes on their way out they would message me, like, is this what it’s like all the time? And I’d say no, no, but we’d both know I’d mean yes, yes. I told my guild leader, who is actually quite decent, I said, no, it doesn’t bother me that much, if I didn’t feel like ignoring sexist remarks I wouldn’t log on. But I said that because there’s something that keeps me logging on. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment. Maybe it’s that I know how to navigate the elven city of Kelethin better than I know how to navigate Arkansas, where I live.
The fourth thing the guild really, really cares about is simps. A simp is someone who doesn’t bid up the girl shadowknight at the raid in the auction for Soul Leech, the Dark Sword of Blood. I used to think that a simp was a way of making fun of those awful, cloying men who really, really care about women and express that care by buying her things and powerleveling her ranger and typing whore whore whore whore over and over when she mentions her boyfriend. The guild taught me different. A simp is a way of making fun of a woman for being a manipulative, money-hungry, predatory creature by nature. As in: Saloria is the simp master. Saloria is close to my in-game name, but I changed it to protect the innocent. Not that the guild would call me innocent. They’d call me commander of an army of simps. Members of the guild really care that women take advantage of these simps. They think it’s really wrong and not at all decent. They think someone should do something about it. Those men are sick. But the women who entertain them are just as bad. When they say, the women who entertain them, they mean any woman who works in games. Early on I’d say things like, I’ve been a woman who works in games, you don’t know what these guys are like. They’ll find your home address, they’ll tell you all twenty ways they want to rape you. But the guild doesn’t really care about that. They only really, really care about making sure that no one takes advantage of a helpless man. They care about raid loot. They care about someone kill-stealing their rare monster. They care about raid attendance. When you tell them about a woman who has been stalked by a simp, they say, I don’t really care about that. I play this game to relax.
That’s the last thing the guild really, really cares about. Having an escape from their shitty lives. And who can blame them? I care about that, too.
It’s just that whenever they say something like that, whenever they talk about growing up like I did, twenty years of EverQuest, of pixels and midi soundtrack files, I think, but why do you have to be here? I guess they have to shelter in a fake world because if they venture out, a woman in a low cut shirt might force them to kneel at her heeled feet and give her presents. I don’t venture out because the man who lives above me wanted to hit me the other night, and I get tight in my chest when I hear the floorboards creak above. I drew the curtains shut and stopped showering, but I showed up to every raid. I could close my eyes and still hear sixty tinny voices through my speakers, and in between directing us to this dragon or that zombie, things like: Who will she get to pay her power bill this month? Which of her simps is gonna get her loot tonight? Sal, do you have daddy issues? Only when I scrolled out to look at myself, look at Saloria in her blood-dark armor, with all the best weapons and all the best jewelry, and pauldrons from the Plane of Sky, and a belt with 41% melee haste, that I think, they’re not punching down at me at all. How could they be? In this game, I’m fucking elite. A few of them, I think, really, really care that I’m good at tanking and pulling and snap-aggro and that I’m nice. They have to. Why else would I be here? The floorboards creak again and I try to absorb Saloria into my own skeleton; I try to be taller and tougher and scarier.
I know that it’s just me, hunched over in a thrifted kitchen chair that I dragged over to my small, thrifted desk, pounding on my worn-out keyboard in a kind of merciless, kafkaesque rhythm: life tap, melee attack, clinging darkness, life tap, life tap, disease cure, heat blood. But then my Soul Leech, the Dark Sword of Blood flashes across the screen and scatters bright, sickly green particle effects all over, and I feel powerful, like when I kill Cazic-Thule, the God of Fear, I am really driving the point of my blade into some dark and nameless ball of terror inside my own heart and twisting until it bleeds out and disappears. What would I do if I had a power outage right then? If I had to see my own face briefly reflected in a suddenly blackened monitor, surprise-bent eyebrows and lips, and pale, and greasy-haired, and weak, and angry about it? I’d probably stop logging on, like the other girls.