‘I committed the first murder of a human avatar in a virtual world.’ He blew foul-smelling cigar smoke from his nostrils.
‘No you fucking didn’t,’ I said.
‘Positive. People were dying online before you were…’ I checked the file. ‘Before you were pre-pubescent.’
He looked smug. ‘Well yeah, of course. People died from accidents or from battle. Falling from a great height. An orc blade or a starship or whatever. It was part of the game, and they always came back. But I…’
And here he leaned forward, flashing his front teeth.
‘I murdered a man. I murdered him so that he could never come back. Never restart the game. I took his clothes and his possessions, and I laid his defaced body out in the heart of the server for everyone to see. I took his account access key, and the credit cards he used to subscribe to the service. To cap it off, I pinned the blame on an unwitting innocent. He’s still banned for life, I hear.’
He took another puff on the Cuban. ‘That was my first taste of grief. You could say it all spiralled out of that. I began killing indiscriminately, terribly. I chose addicts – people whose online lives were more important to them than meatspace. First, I’d isolate my targets; shut them off from all contact with their loved ones. Once they were dead, I’d secretly attend their funerals. I’d trap every funeral-goer, every one of their friends who showed up to mourn, and I’d kill them all for good measure. As the years rolled on and the games became more complex, I turned to weapon-smuggling, identity theft, and the destabilisation of economies. I committed genocide across whole worlds, whole universes. They had to program new laws just to stop me.’
He smiled, nostalgia misting his eyes. ‘Those were simpler times. But progress kept on marching on, and pretty soon we had wearable processors in our clothing and HUDs in our eyeballs. Everyone was online and playing, all the time, everywhere. In some ways, it was the worst thing that could have happened to me. It made me want to hurt them even more. You remember NASA’s virtualisation of the Mars colony? I blew that up. The mass assassination of every member of the Online United Nations? Yeah, me again. Eventually, though, the heat from law enforcement got a little too much. I scaled back my operations – went underground. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, but I think it saved my life. Now I mostly just rob data vaults for the Russians. I still get to blow shit up, but it’s not like the good old days. Those days are gone. Still, I’ve got my reputation and my name, right?’
I looked up from my notepad. ‘What would you say to those who call you a monster?’
He leaned back in his chair, savouring the last of the cigar. ‘Who said that about me? Gimme some names, man. I’ll make them eat their fucking words.’