Story 1 image

The shadow of an alien creature flickers against a dirt wall. Deep in a mine that was
sealed off centuries ago, he waits in perfect silence. Before him is an ancient dragon—an
exceptionally diabolical creature. The dragon notices the intruder and gives a mighty roar that
causes the mineshaft to shudder violently. A moment later, its throat begins to glow red with
fire. The battle has finally begun. Two hours later...


Golden letters flash on the monitor. As the dragon lies motionless on the ground, the adventurers
raise their swords and staves high.

The fanfare is accompanied by a blizzard of dazzling particle effects. Inside a dimly-lit
room, the effects reflect off the glasses of a man facing his computer. He is deep into a raid
in an MMO. It is an incredibly popular title, with a player base nearing almost one million
members. The man and his fellow party members have vanquished the Ancient Dragon—which
the most recent patch dropped as the game's newest, most powerful enemy. The group chat
is flying with the exclamations of his online friends. Everyone is reveling in their victory.

nice work all
sry I died so many times
This was our first time seeing this, so it's okay!!!
we won so its fine LOL
it was pretty much just Levania taking the stage tho haha

The man's avatar is an alien creature named Levania. It is, of course, only his character's
name—not his own. The man types a message out to the party.

For me, this isn't a game.

They retort with their own good-natured jabs.

YUP there it is! He said it!

What the man—no, what Levania said—was just an act for his friends. The party has been
raiding together for some time, and they have an easy camaraderie among themselves. Theirs
is a relationship of inside jokes among informal friends. But everyone knows the man had been
the key figure in taking down the dragon. Without him, they likely would not have been victorious.

As the hands of the clock tick past one in the morning, his friends slowly begin returning
to the real world.

alright I'm out
i've gotta get up at 6 lol
I'm going to bed too!

The man types "See you tomorrow," and logs out. Regardless of how hard he works in the
game, reality always claws its way back. The man gleefully crawls into bed and removes his glasses.

The next morning... The man stands on the train, moving his tired, empty eyes across
the crowd packed in around him. I'm sleepy, he thinks. I'm tired. I want to go home. As these
thoughts cycle through his head, the train pulls up to the station near his office. The man
works as a mid-level engineer for a start-up IT venture called Dull, Inc.—the same job he's
held for the past four years. Each department holds a team huddle before starting the day.
The meetings are an excuse for bosses to talk, check in on progress, announce schedule
changes, and so forth. As the man's boss drones on and on, he tunes him out and thinks
back to the raid of the night before. He wonders what his actions in battle looked like to
his friends. Had he successfully played the part of Levania?

Whenever he plays him, his personality changes. Levania is a leader who takes initiative;
one who cracks wise with a keen sense of humor. Someone his companions can be honest with;
a person both trustworthy and charismatic. But this person—this role—only exists in the game.
In reality, the man is Levania's exact opposite. He is introverted, stoic, and lacks even one true
friend. He communicates only as much as necessary to get by in society, and has no desire to
take any of his relationships deeper. Additionally, he is plagued by a vague, smoldering
dissatisfaction of how unfair and irrational modern society is. The only thing that brings him joy
are games. Whether he is playing the work of another or crafting his own, it is the only time he
ever experiences happiness. His own game—which he's been working on in his spare time—
was reaching completion. It is an old-fashioned RPG where the player takes on the role of
hero to save a princess captured by the demon king. And of course, the hero's name is Levania.

Story 2 image

"Hey! You listening!?" The man suddenly snaps back to reality. The team huddle is
still going on. He sputters out a half-whispered apology for daydreaming, but it falls on deaf
ears. Instead, the boss takes the opportunity to berate him.

"You know, you could stand to be a lot more productive."
"Hell, we've got people with half your experience that are doing twice the work!"

The youngest member of the team graduated from college a mere two years ago, yet the
boss misses no chance to praise him for his work ethic.

"But sir," says the junior member suddenly, "he does a lot, too."
"I have a lot to learn, but he's always patient."
"And he's willing to help with whatever I need."

Rather than easing off at this, however, the man's boss doubles down.

"Do you see that!?" he roars.
"That kind of humble attitude is exactly what we need around here! Am I making myself clear!?"
The man glances at his coworker and sees his mouth twist into a sneer. Gotcha!, it seems to say.

Though the junior employee presents a humble, helpful front, he actually only takes
assignments that are sure to earn him praise—leaving the dirty, difficult work to the man.
He knows he's the boss's favorite, and uses this fact to his full advantage. And the boss thinks
he's found a new lackey, so he's willing to let his sneaky attitude slide. The man knows what
they both think of him: He is a target—a lump to be misused however they wish.

Lunchtime arrives. The man sits in the corner break area munching on a vending-machine
pastry. A stout coworker approaches with a can of coffee in hand and gives it to the man.
"Rough morning, huh?" he says.

This stout man is an engineer who joined the company at the same time as him and now works
on his team. Though not close enough to call each other friends, the man does not find his
coworker's thoughtfulness unpleasant. But he also knows him to be the type who tries to please
everyone and avoid making waves.

"Anyway, hope it all works out."
The stout man stands there awkwardly for a moment before shuffling back to his desk.

The day comes to a close. As the man is packing up to leave, his boss approaches.
He wonders dispassionately if he is in for another scolding. It turns out he is; his boss
immediately tears into him for one thing or another. But no matter what he says, it will never
resonate with the man. This is just a job. It pays for food and a roof over my head. That's all.
The man repeats this to himself as he waits for his boss to tire himself out.

Eventually, he finds himself standing on the train home. It's full, but not uncomfortably
so, and he has room to scroll through his phone as he rides. As he peruses his usual gaming
news sites, an advertisement catches his eye. The game-development company that makes
his MMO is looking for an engineer. He typically scrolls through advertisements almost
unconsciously, but this one seizes his attention immediately and refuses to let go.

Later, the man sits down in front of his computer. Morning. He types a joking greeting
in the group chat, and several people immediately respond.

did you just wake up? lol its night already
yay Levania's here!!!

He vaguely wonders why he feels so at home with these online strangers who he has never met,
then sets the question aside. For the next few hours, the man and his friends run raids together.

But their attempts go miserably. The party is disjointed and out of sorts, and they end
up falling apart at the end. The man apologizes for his poor leadership, and suggests a new
strategy for their next encounter. His teammates are aware the loss is not the man's fault, so
they listen to his plan and offer up occasional suggestions or tweaks. It is a very constructive
discussion. Eventually, as always, he must return to reality. His friends log off one after the
other, their names disappearing from the screen. Then, one of them offers a parting remark.

I bet you're really helpful irl too, Levania

It's a compliment, the kind of casual thing people exchange a dozen times a day. But it
causes a terrible sense of guilt to rise up in the man. I'm fooling them. Lying to them. I'm nothing
like Levania in real life.
But if I could, I would love to be just like him...

Though his body cries out for sleep, the man logs out of the game and opens his internet
browser. He arrives at the game developer's website and navigates to the section on open
positions. He doesn't want his online friends to know what he's like in reality. He doesn't want
them to be disappointed. But if he ever wants to change that, he will need to make a greater
change to himself, stop drifting through life, and take some initiative. Levania would know what
to do and put a plan in motion right away. In fact... After a brief moment of hesitation, he attaches
his resume and sends it off.

Story 3 image

The man's smartphone lights up as he receives a notification. He has an email from the
game company congratulating him on passing their initial screening. Though the man hardly
ever shows emotion, he smiles as he reads the email again and again.

Several months later, the man finds himself entering the doors of the company in his
finest suit. He has spent the last few months burning the candle at both ends in order to complete
his game and use it as a sample of his work. They were clearly impressed, because they invited
him in for a face-to-face interview. Interviews have never been the man's forte, but he has a plan:
He will assume the role of Levania in his mind during the entire process. As they fire question
after question at him, he tries to react as if it was just another boss battle. It works better than
he could have imagined, and his answers are both positive and proactive. As the interview ends,
they compliment him again on his answers and his game, and he leaves the building floating on
air. He heads toward the train station. The sky above him is a cloudless, brilliant blue.
I think I aced that interview. I really do. If I get the job, I'll be reborn. I can be like Levania in my
real life.
Then maybe I can be my true self around my online friends... As the man sets off for home,
his face is alight with hope.

The next day... When the man arrives to work at Dull, Inc., he comes across the stout
coworker and junior teammate having a serious conversation. Though he doesn't wish to
eavesdrop, he finds he can't help himself. Their hushed voices still carry across the empty
office. It seems the junior employee has made a serious error in some of his work. Scared
of how their boss will react, he tried to bury it. But he now realizes he will not be able to keep
it hidden forever. Backed into a corner, he finally decided to seek out the other man for advice.
After hearing the story, the stout man leans back in his chair and knits his fingers together.

"You have to tell the boss," he says.
"Do it today."
"The longer you put it off, the worse it's going to be."

Clearly dejected, the young man wanders off in a daze.

Later that afternoon... The stout employee is called into the boss's office. The man
can't hear things clearly, but it's obvious from the tone that their boss is chewing him out.
A few words drift through the closed door, enough for the man to realize his coworker is
being blamed for the junior employee's mistake. Why is he taking the blame? It wasn't even
his fault.
He glances around the room, and sees the junior employee and a couple of his
friends looking over at the boss's office and snickering behind their hands. I'm going to
kill this guy.
He feels himself suddenly overwhelmed by terribly dark emotions. The man
suddenly realizes what happened: The junior teammate had pinned the mistake on his coworker.
He did so knowing full well their boss would never question the word of his favorite employee.
Unable to stand it a second more, he pushes his chair back and begins walking toward
the boss's office. Grant me your courage, Levania. Just this once. As he nears the office,
the conversation grows increasingly clear.

"You two were over there whispering earlier!" says the boss.
"Don't deny it!"

The man knows exactly how this will play out. In the end, his poor coworker will take the
blame. The man readies himself and opens the door.

"I'm busy here!" cries the boss.
"Can't you see that!?"

The man pauses, takes a deep breath, and begins to tell his side of the story. After a few
moments, his boss interrupts.

"I see. You're in on this too."
"Enough. Back to your desks, both of you."
"I'll figure out what to do with you later."

When he hears this, the man feels his willpower drain out of him. Though he swore to be a
stronger person like Levania, he's still himself at the end of the day. He can't even help a single
coworker. I've had enough of this company. I've had enough of me. I wonder if this fight would
be too much even for Levania?
The man has no answer. But he knows one thing: Trying to fight
a boss like his is pointless.

Several weeks later... The man receives a letter. It is a formal offer of employment from
the game company.

Story 4 image

The man receives a formal offer of employment from the game company. The next day,
the man walks into his boss's office and hands him a letter. It is his two-week notice. But it is
also notice that he plans to take the rest of those two weeks off as vacation, and will only come
back for his final day of work. He will still leave the job with far more vacation than he can ever
use, but he doesn't care. He simply wants to get out. His boss receives the letter coolly,
showing no particular sorrow or surprise.

He then informs the team of his departure during the morning huddle. Soon, word
spreads to the rest of the office. After the meeting, the stout coworker approaches the man
and places a hand on his shoulder.
"Thanks for all your hard work—and for trying."

They both know what he is referring to: After the incident with the junior coworker, each of
the men received a reduction in salary. The fact he was punished for the fault of another upset
the man greatly. But there was nothing to be done. The stout coworker, never one to make
waves, simply accepted the pay cut without a word and continued on.

That night... For the first time ever, the man and his coworker head out for a night on the town.
Though his team held occasional drinking parties, he had never attended one. He never had
a reason to. But this time, his falsely accused coworker had invited him, and they both
understood it would be the first and last time such a thing ever happened.

At the bar... Alcohol works its dark magic and the man begins to open up. He talks about
his favorite games, his next job, and his hopes and dreams for the future. He speaks of his
desire to change himself. He has never laid himself bare like this; it is both liberating and
terrifying. His tipsy coworker listens for a long time before finally responding,
"I'll be so lonely with you gone."

Two weeks later... It's the man's last day at work. He leaves his house with a spring in
his step. The thought of never entering Dull, Inc. again makes the packed train feel like a vacation.
All he has to do today is finish some paperwork and sign a couple of documents. Once he turns in
his security badge, he will walk out the front door for the very last time. Before he reports to
security, he wanders the office looking for the stout coworker so he can say goodbye. But he
can't find him anywhere. He asks the junior teammate if he's seen him and the man responds,
"That guy? How should I know?"

Yet again, he feels his blood begin to run cold as rage overwhelms him. Perhaps his coworker
called in sick. Perhaps he had a planned day off. With no other choice, the man finishes his
paperwork and leaves.

He then makes his way to the station. He stands at the center of the platform, waiting
for his train to arrive. It's early, and the station is relatively empty. Tomorrow, he will begin a
new life at a new company. He will never have to set foot in this station again. It is another in
a series of goodbyes. A momentary feeling of loneliness quickly transforms into one of
excitement. Starting tomorrow, I'll be reborn in a new world—
one where no one knows me.
I'll be strong and reliable, just like Levania. The light of hope
shines brightly on the man's heart.

A voice echoes through the station announcing the arrival of the next train.


Suddenly, something collides with the man from behind. He stumbles forward and goes flying
onto the tracks. What happened? Where are my glasses? Oh god, I need to get back!
But the man finds himself frozen in confusion and fear. A lone figure looks down on him from
the platform. It is muttering something.

"With you gone..."
The man's head snaps up. Standing before him was the coworker the man had tried to protect.

"With you gone..."
"I'll be the one they bully!"
"I can't stand that!"
"I can't stand the thought of you being happier than me!"
"But with you gone—"

The shrill sound of a train whistle drowns out the rest of the thought. All sound stops. In a
silent vortex of darkness, a few thoughts swirl:
I don't want to die. I want to keep living.
Dreams... Hope...

I... I... I...