Today's poem is by Joseph Harrison

Virtual Death
A Korean man collapsed and died after playing a video game for 49 hours straight.
It was one of several similar deaths over the last few years.

Let's not pretend we don't know how he felt,
The compulsion of obsession, pushing beyond
The limits of the body, because the mind,
Synapses firing and firing, can't let go.
The body's nothing, weak, its miserable needs —
A shift in posture, sleep, a little food —
Are nothing compared to adrenal presences
Like fear and joy unleashing their jolts, and now
You're hooked on this one, figuring the terrain,
Marking the dangers, starting to read the game,
And, yes, invested in your character
Whose life or death is really on the line
And matters, more than you know or want to know.

(The game is Starcraft, battle simulation
With multiplayer mayhem on the edge
Of the galaxy, intuitive interface
With hard-core gamers hundreds of miles away
Camped in the cybercafes and jacked to the skies,
Living on instant noodles and cigarettes,
Napping on fold-out cots, then back to action
Wired up, dialed in, locked on, and wary of movement:
Protoss, Zergs, and Terrans are on the prowl
As cracks in the Alliance begin to spread,
Dark Templars start appearing — what's their motive? —
And all beware Kerrigan, Queen of Blades ... )

A life on-line — with whose life on the line?
Somewhere a clock ticks, pressure takes its toll,
The body paying with every vital amp
Firing away. Let's not pretend, late night,
Light-headed, eyes fixed on the morphing screen
So long past quitting time time seems to stop,
When space shrinks to an artificial window
Where every swerve brings peril, joy, and fear
And on you battle, missing the hidden turn
Out of the labyrinth, missing the word
Sharp as a Saxon sword to slay the beast
Still howling for sacrifice, let's not pretend
We don't know how he felt, unable to stop.

Not even when a worried emissary
From your frantic mother reaches the cybercafe
Pleading with you to come home, get some rest,
Some decent food: but now the game is peaking,
In a blaze of spectral fire you live or die
And terminate your epic compulsive quest,
You've played the game, it's played you, and you're done,
You stagger to the bathroom, collapse on the floor
("Heart failure from exhaustion"), and really die
Where space is virtual but time is time.

Copyright © 2008 Joseph Harrison All rights reserved
from Identity Theft
Waywiser Press
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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