“Isn’t it crazy,” I said, hunkering over the low-quality plastic lunch table, “that no one ever considers an IRL meta?”
“What are you on about?” Isaac asked, squinting at me.
“Don’t encourage him.” Lilac said, reaching over to clamp my mouth shut.
“No, really, think about it.” I said, gently batting away Lilac’s hand. “Between Isaac and I, we’ve probably maxed out thirty characters across seven different MMO’s, plus dozens of other games we’ve gotten all the achievements for. We could write entire game guides on meta builds- but we’ve never looked at real life through that kind of lens.”
Isaac sighed. “And the answer to ‘why’ is simple. We weren’t born with equal starting stats to everyone else. We don’t get the same opportunities, and there is no such thing as an IRL grind for XP that applies across the board.”
“I feel like all of those roadblocks could be overcome.”
“For the sake of making this conversation end faster, tell us your theory. How would you do it?” Lilac promptly zoned out and started scrolling through Instagram after asking, but I knew that Isaac was listening, at least.
“Well- I only came up with this thought last night, but the first stat to max would be willpower. If you can dedicate yourself to hard work all the time, you’d be virtually unstoppable.”
“I don’t know if it’s that simple.” Isaac objected. “Willpower isn’t something that you just master. Especially for you and I, with our ADHD.”
“Right. We would probably have to be on meds to reach 100, if we even can…but it doesn’t stop there.”
“Go on.” Isaac prompted.
“Charisma. If you don’t think Willpower is a practicable skill, charisma definitely has to be.”
“Do you really think so? Look at Bradley.” Isaac gestured subtly with his chin at another table at the other end of the lunch hall. “He was born with genetics that predisposed him to wide shoulders, big muscles. He has a strong jawline. Those few centimeters of bone probably give him a permanent plus 4 to his charisma that you and I can’t just make up for.”
“Plastic surgery is a thing. I bet there’s a surgery to make your jawline better.”
“Sure, at the cost of millions of dollars that we’ll never have- because we don’t have willpower or charisma enough to get the kind of jobs that pay that kind of money.” Isaac stood up. “There’s a reason video games sell so well, Tyler. It’s because they offer escapism. Escapism from our bad genetics, escapism from the mediocre lives we’re going to be forced to live.” With that, he began to walk away.
“Is it over?” Lilac asked.
“Do you mean lunch, or our conversation?” I asked.
“You’re a bitch, Lil.” I replied, rolling my eyes. Lilac laughed.
The bell went off, signaling the end of lunch. I still hadn’t dug into mine- but it was a boring-ass ham sandwich that I didn’t really want to choke down anyway.
“Catch ya later, Tyler.” Lil said, all of her belongings already neatly packed away inside her backpack.
I felt a little discouraged that Lilac and Isaac weren’t willing to listen. I’d put hours of thought into my theory- that maybe, after all, there was a meta to real life.
How would I research my idea more? Biographies from successful people? Interviewing psychologists? Where would one even find a psychologist to interview? Would I have to pretend to be going in for therapy?
The main problem was that there was no way to have a control group. In science class, we were taught that to test a theory you had to have a control group- the people in the study who just lived life like normal, so you could contrast data.
Well- Isaac sounded like he was resigned to a life of eating whatever shit soup life fed him. Maybe he could be my ‘control’- for a study this informal, it was close enough.
I had a spare period next- so I decided to head to the library and see what I could dig up. Maybe there’d be a biography that would be of use or something.
As soon as I opened the door, a big grin broke out on my face. Kris was working today.
“How’re the books?” I asked as I came through the door. “All alphabetised?”
“If they were, I’d have gone home early.” Kris responded dryly. Kris was what would happen if you took half of a weeb and half of a functional adult and smashed them together. He also possessed the patience of a genuine Saint- which was why I loved giving him the gears. “What’s going on, bud?”
“I have something I want to research.”
“Really? You haven’t struck me as the academic type.”
“Maybe you can help. You play video games, right?”
“Sure.” He responded. “What, thinking of becoming a game dev? It’s not as great of an industry as it sounds.”
“No. I want to make a rough draft of ‘human meta’.”
“Like, a meta strategy for humans?” Kris thought about it for a moment. “Kind of a messy idea. Success means different things for different people. There is no ‘main quest’ in real life.”
“What could we use as the ‘main quest’, then?”
“Money is an option.” Kris ran his fingers through his patchy, dark beard. “Happiness, perhaps, but it is hard to quantify.”
I thought about it for a while.
“What if there was a meta to all life goals?”
Kris looked over to me, arching an eyebrow.
“Like, regardless of what your life goals are, this meta will get you there.”
“I have no idea what that would look like.” Kris admitted after a moment.
“Well, like I was saying earlier to Lil and Isaac- willpower would be the first stat to grind. If you can always be putting yourself to work, then you’re going to have a higher success rate than people who only work on their goal 20% of the time.”
“Okay. I guess in videogames that’s already accounted for, since you’re the person playing, and time doesn’t usually flow unless you’re actively doing stuff.”
“Right. So how does one train willpower?” I asked.
“Um. Might want to look into neuroplasticity to start?” Kris suggested.
Kris and I spent the remainder of my spare period going back and forth on my idea, discussing and refining. Eventually, he left to use the washroom.
I continued my research, completely lost in thought- until Kris tapped me on the shoulder.
“Here. This’ll help if you want to keep exploring your ideas.” He said, handing me a book.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” He said as he trudged off again.
“…Alright.” I replied to the empty room. The book had no cover art, or even an author name on the spine. I opened it, and found the pages were empty. “Huh?”
I thought about it for a moment- Oh. Duh. It’s a journal. It’s so I can keep track of my train of thought. Probably good for an ADHD person like me.
I scrawled a quick note- ‘The Human Meta: What is Willpower?’
I snapped the book closed, and stood up.
Then I immediately got dizzy, and fell back down, feeling my head bounce against the hard wood floor.
There was a cold breeze against my face- the kind of breeze that came when winter was giving its last kick, before turning control over to a warm spring. The warmth of the sun quickly scared away the wind’s chill, and I breathed a deep, full breath.
“Good morning, Tyran.” The voice was rich and deep, with an accent I couldn’t place. “Is this a new kind of meditation?” There was a gentle rebuke in his voice.
My eyes shot open, only to be met with the full burning visage of the midday sun.
“Oh, damn! Ow.” I complained, covering my eyes with my hand.
“Let me help.” The rich voice replied, and a shadow fell over me.
More carefully, I cracked open a single eye. A man stood in front of me- his white beard was long and full, his face kind. He looked like Santa, if Santa was on steroids, and was seven feet tall.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Tyran. You are late to your service.” Something about the voice, the slightly tangy scent in the air- it tugged on my mind, opening me up to something alien, but somehow familiar, too-
A series of foreign memories flooded my mind, pouring in dozens of pieces of information all at once.
I was in a northern mountain retreat, learning from the Estuan Monks. My name was Tyran. My family sent me here, hoping I would become somebody.
“Forgive me, Morrquis. I am…out of sorts.”
“Was it a dream?” He asked, sinking into a restful squat beside my bed.
“You could say that. It was… an experience I cannot compare to anything I’ve felt in my life.” I said.
“Well, we will need to shake it off, so that you may start your day! Stand with me.” Morrquis helped me up from my cot on the floor. “First, deep and invigorating breaths!”
Morrquis breathed through his nose sharply, and out of his mouth. “Follow my pattern!”
Together, we took a dozen breaths- quickly in through the nose, and slowly out through the mouth. “This will balance your energy, and get you back to your center!”
“Thank you, Morrquis.” I felt more…balanced. I actually felt like I was focused on the living moment.
“Now, you’ve missed breakfast, so exercise will be a much bigger challenge today- but class will start soon! Go pay the price for your bad sleep habit, and I’ll be sure you get a good lunch.”
“Yessir!” I said, snapping into a silly mock salute. Morrquis chuckled as I sprinted off toward class.
As I ran, I noticed a green bar at the top left of my vision- it was a goddamn stamina bar! I knew something was weird!
I let my run come to a halt. This was an Isekai. I was living in a freakin’ Isekai!
I took a few more breaths, like Morrquis showed me. Okay. The book I was given must have had something to do with this.
I took stock of my surroundings for a moment. I was surrounded by beautiful sandy-colored stone pathways that had clearly been carved out of the mountains. The windows outside showed a sprawling, lush landscape. Far in the distance, I could make out what appeared to be a vineyard- were they growing grapes for wine?
My surroundings had a certain Mediterranean feel to them- or, perhaps that wasn’t quite right. Something akin to northern Italy? Not that I had ever been- it was only my best guess.
“Focus, Ty…” I told myself, and patted down my beige robes. There was a sling hung around my waste, and the book was within it.
The first page still had my writing within it- ‘The Human Meta: What is Willpower?’ It read. Below it was a series of tables and short blurbs- the first thing my eyes settled on was my stats.
Well- shit. That didn’t look good- but at the same time, I knew I still had human-standard strength. Approximately normal for my age. Perhaps it wasn’t that I was weak, it was that I- along with everyone else- had enormous potential for growth.
I wondered what it looked like- meeting someone who had 100 in each category.
I grit my teeth and turned my eyes to the billowy clouds and beautiful azure sky above- if I was given the opportunity to be in an RPG-esque Isekai, I was going to make the damn most of it! I was shooting for 100- and I was going to do it exactly how I said! First goal: Perfect Willpower!
With those thoughts, and the determination mingling with my inspiration, I hustled towards my first class, as quickly as my 02 Speed legs would carry me.