I have no way of knowing for sure, but I strongly suspect that it is a rare thing to be able to purchase another person’s identity. I also strongly suspect that it is an even rarer thing to do so unintentionally.

Nearly a year ago I had decided to try out a fairly new obsession which seemed to be in vogue with a surprisingly broad segment of society. I say “obsession” due to the fact that this pasttime was rumored to have an uncanny ability to captivate the imagination of, and become totally engrossing to, its participants. Having been forewarned of the dangers, I suppose I would have been wise to avoid such an activity. However, as I tend to have an inflated estimation of my own will-power I gave little heed to such minacious rumors.

The pasttime to which I am referring is a game named “Realmquest”. Realmquest is a game that one plays on a computer. The players of this game are able to interact with each other due to the fact that Realmquest makes use of that pervasive phenomenon known as “The Internet” to connect its players.

Realmquest is based on the popular “sword & sorcery” fantasy genre. Its players battle horrible monsters and win fabulous treasures, all of which are, of course, in reality nothing more than bits and bytes stored on some disk-drive somewhere. However, when one actually plays the game, it is surprisingly easy to allow oneself to forget that all one is accomplishing is the frivolous and inconsequential shifting and storing of data on some game server. It is quite difficult to avoid becoming enthralled in the adventurous undertakings that are so divergent from the affairs of one’s normal life.

Thus it was that I found myself yet another victim of the infamous mezmerizing effects of Realmquest, allowing myself to spend much more time and money on the activity than I would have found acceptable for most other diversions.

In Realmquest, one has control of a “character” with which they can move about and act in the artificial fantasy world. This “character” becomes one’s identity within that realm. As you interact with others, they come to know you as your “character”. It is commonplace for the players of Realmquest to begin to identify themselves quite closely with their “character”.

One of the elements of the game that produces the bewitching influence of Realmquest is that one can become more “powerful” as one plays. This imaginary “power” is represented in the form of “levels” that one attains as one plays. The higher your level, the more powerful you are.

There are many sections of Realmquest that a player of insufficient power is unable to enter until they have acquired a certain “level”. As I became more and more absorbed and preoccupied with my new pursuit, I found myself becoming impatient. I desired to experience those sections of the game that were denied to players who had only attained the relatively low level that I currently held.

In time, I learned that it was indeed possible to immediately gain the pretend power that I had come to desire, if one was willing to spend enough money. Certain enterprising players of Realmquest were willing to sell you their “characters”, thus allowing you to purchase all of the phantasmal wealth and power that they had accumulated.

Ridiculously enough, in my preoccupied state, I made such a purchase. However, as I gained possession of this “character”, along with the “power” I desired I also acquires one other item. This incidental acquisition was the “identity” that the player had developed for their “character” during the long seasons over which they had manipulated the artifical eidolon.

During all the time that “character’s” original player had used it, they had interacted with many other players. In buying this “character” I had unwittingly also purchased a host of new virtual acquaintances, allies, and even enemies.

As I had not had the opportunity to actually interact with the person who had sold the “character”, I had no knowledge of their personality or past activities. The result of this ignorance was that I was rather shocked by the actions and dialogues that I suddenly found myself encountering. It quickly became apparent that this mysterious previous player had engaged in a style of play quite different from that which I tended to favor. He must have been something of a social butterfly, for his acquaintances were many and varied. He had also apparently failed to inform any of them that he intended to sell his character, for they all appeared to believe that I was their old associate.

I have never really suffered from the illusion that I possessed a strong moral character. I have always tended to be prone to engage in deception and dissimulation if it seemed that I could find some entertainment therein. So, where many other people would have diligently informed these new contacts of the character’s change in ownership, I instead allowed them to continue to hold their incorrect beliefs regarding my identity.

This disingenuous performance was also encouraged by one particular factor. I have generally had an tendency towards prurient and voyeuristic pursuits and it appeared that the former possessor of my new character shared that trait. For I was now regularly approached by female “characters” that seemed to believe that some sort of intimate relationship existed between themselves and me. I found that I was suddenly something of a virtual playboy with many amorous companions.

Therefore, I made a great effort at undertaking the pretense of being the previous owner of my character. I endeavored to tailor my responses through the use of various clues to his demeanor and typical comportment which were supplied by those who sought my fellowship. I also made great use of feigning forgetfulness or distraction. My success was mixed, especially in the beginning. However, in time, negative or confused reactions to my responses became rarer and rarer. It seemed that few people, if any, suspected that I was not their lost comrade.

My subterfuge, however, was met by its greatest challenge when I encountered a player that seemed to have a somewhat more intimate personal knowledge of the fellow I sought to impersonate than was the norm. In fact, it seemed that they had engaged in some mysterious activity which went beyond anything associated with the game. The encounter began with a typical greeting.

“Hail Yozwick,” was the message that I received from this new found old associate. I was being hailed as “Yozwick” due to the fact that my acquired “character” possessed that peculiar appellation. How my mysterious predecessor had decided on the name “Yozwick” I had never managed to learn.

This fairly normal initial greeting was followed closely by an extremely atypical subsequent remark, “I can’t believe you’re on Realmquest again! I thought for sure you were dead!”

Dead? This was new. No one had ever implied that the fellow that had previously played my character may have perished. Had this character been for sale due to the fact that its previous owner had expired and his heirs had seen the character as an asset to be sold?

The character that was addressing me had the name of “Vermilliac”. As you are probably beginning to suspect, characters in Realmquest have a tendency to bear monikers that are quite different than those used in real life.

As I pondered what the best response might be to such an odd statement, Vermilliac continued, “Things went rather badly on my end. I don’t know if you saw any of the news stories. The news that I saw from your area made me think you must have died for sure. Of course, the fact that your phone had been disconnected made that seem even more likedly.”

Phone? They had actually talked on the phone. Fooling this fellow was probably going to be rather difficult. I felt a pang of desperation, I sorely desired that my ruse not be discovered. I had been playing many other Realmquest players for fools for quite some time. If my fraud was exposed, I would surely be ostracized. All of those friendly female characters would be gone for good.

Then it struck me that he had mentioned news stories. What had they been involved in that would have been newsworthy? Newsworthy and possibly fatal?

“Hey, are you there?” Vermilliac persisted.

I considered simply not responding, hoping that this person would assume I was AFK, (away from keyboard), but I knew that such a ploy would only buy me a little time. This guy apparently had things he wanted to discuss with the previous owner of Yozwick and I knew he would end up bothering me until he finally got an answer. I decided that it was best to just get it over with and respond to him.

“Hi,” I typed, “Things went badly here too. What exactly happened with you?” I hoped that I would be able to stay vague and fish for clues.

“I did the ritual to create my part of the Clavicle of Aglavec just like we agreed,” Vermilliac responded, “But we must have done something wrong. There was fire everywhere, my whole apartment building burned down. I almost died. I was in the hospital for four months. And that’s not even the worst of it!”

Aglavec? This guy had to be nuts. Aglavec was Realmquest’s fictional God of Fire. The creation of the Clavicle of Aglavec was one of the major quests in the game. How could doing a quest in the game cause his house to burn down? I wasn’t sure I understood what he was talking about. I decided it would be best to play along and try to get more of an idea what he meant.

“Not the worst of it?” I replied, “What do you mean? What’s worse?”

Vermilliac typed back, “Ever since I did the ritual I’ve had horrible nightmares when I try to sleep. I keep dreaming that Aglavec is coming and burning me alive. In the dream I want to die but I can’t, I just keep burning with my skin melting and dripping off my bones but I never die, I just keep burning.”

“Yeah, that’s bad,” I replied.

“It gets worse,” he continued, “When I’m awake I keep seeing mezzits out of the corner of my eyes. They’re always darting around setting little fires and stuff. I know they’re really here because stuff keeps bursting into flame for no reason. I have to live in a room with nothing flamable. I can’t go anywhere with too many flamable things.”

Mezzits were fictional monsters from Realmquest. In the game they were irritating little creatures that served Aglavec. If I was understanding this person correctly, he seemed to think that they were real.

“Do you mean you’re seeing them all the time in the game?” I asked. I hoped I was just misunderstanding Vermilliac’s player.

“No!” he responded, dashing my hopes, “In the real world of course! Why would I be seeing them in the stupid game when we summoned them in real life?”

Obviously I was dealing with a lunatic. I’ld heard rumors of people who had played Realmquest too long and started to lose it. Every once in a while you would read some story on the internet about someone who went nuts and thought that they were their player and that everything in Realmquest was real. I had always thought that those stories were hoaxes. Now I was beginning to believe them.

“I really need to talk to you,” Vermilliac went on, “What’s your new phone number? I really need your help.”

He needed help all right, I would definitely agree with that. However, it wasn’t my help he needed, it was help from a professional psychatrist, or perhaps a shock therapist. At any rate, I was definitely not going to give this nut-job my number. I decided to fake technical difficulties and pulled the plug on my computer.

I was less than overjoyed to find that my super powerful, high level, socially popular, extremely expensive character came with its very own schizoid. I wasn’t sure if someone like that was likely to be dangerous or not, but I decided not to take any chances. I resolved that I would simply not play Realmquest anymore. If I was going to be getting harassed by mental cases it was simply too dangerous. Besides, it was taking up too much of my time. I really needed to start bathing more often again.

Unfortunately, the lure of that addictive pasttime proved irresistable. Within two days I was back at my computer, blasting electronically generated, pixellated evil. I managed to get in a couple of hours of play before I heard from Vermilliac again.

“Glad to see you got back on,” his message read, “I guess you got disconnected before you could respond to what I said before. I really need your phone number, I need to talk to you. I think the only way I can get rid of these mezzits and the nightmares is if we finish the ritual. You still have your half of the Clavicle right?”

I decided to try brushing him off. “No, my half disappeared,” I replied, “I don’t really remember anything about what happened. I was told there was a fire here too and I went to the hospital for a while, also. I don’t want to do anything with this stuff anymore. Please leave me alone.”

“Leave you alone?” he typed back, “I can’t just leave you alone. You’ve got to help me. I need your half of the Clavicle. I’m living in hell and you’re the only one who can get me out. Don’t tell me to leave you alone!! I need you to help me!! If you don’t help me I swear I am going to come kill you!”

Obviously my plan to brush the looney off was not working out well. I sensed that I may have upset him. As it appeared that he simply wanted a “Clavicle” I hoped that perhaps I might be able to fabricate one, send it to him, and be rid of him.

“Like I said before,” I responded, “I don’t really remember anything. What does the clavicle look like?”

“Its just like the Clavicles we made in the game,” Vermilliac replied, “Don’t you remember anything at all? Remember how we found out how the stuff in the game is real?”

I had seen a Clavicle of Aglavec in the game. It was basically a half-disc of bronze with a bunch of runes carved into it. I doubted it would be easy for me to make one, but I figured that perhaps I could try to find some jeweler who would do it cheap.

“Oh yeah, now I sort of remember,” I lied, hoping that he would calm down if I humored him. “But I’m not sure if the Clavicle of Aglavec is here anywhere. Let me look for it and get back to you.”

“Ok, please hurry,” Vermilliac replied, “My half of the disk always feels really hot now, even if I put it in ice water. It always smells like smoke too. Try sniffing around for a smoky smell.”

“Ok, I’ll start sniffing,” I responded, “Talk to you later.”

I turned off the game.

It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to get more information regarding the history of my purchased character. I had bought Yozwick online and I knew that I had kept a copy of the electronic receipt somewhere on my hard drive. A brief search of my directories soon produced the document in question. I was happy to find that the receipt contained a contact number for the seller.

I dialed the number and got an answer after only one ring. “Hello, George Benson here,” the answering party stated.

“Um, hi,” I responded hesistantly, “I, um, bought a Realmquest character from you a while back. I was wondering if I could ask you a couple questions about it.”

“Oh yeah,” George Benson responded, “Sure, you can ask, but I don’t know if I can answer any of them. That character belonged to my brother before he died. I don’t play that game so I don’t really know anything about it. We almost deleted that character before a friend told us that it might be worth something.”

“I’m sorry to hear that your brother died,” I said, “If you don’t mind my asking, how did it happen?”

“He died in a fire,” Mr. Benson answered, “It was a really weird thing. There was no sign of how it started. The fire marshall said the fire seemed to have originated from a point directly in front of Todd, but there were no traces of anything flamable in that area. It was so hot that the marshall said there must have been accelerants involved but the lab tests all came back negative. It was really strange.”

A fire, just like the crazy guy had said. I began to wonder if he was as crazy as he seemed.

“You didn’t find any bronze disks with your brother’s stuff did you?” I inquired.

“Yeah! We did,” answered Benson, “In fact, it was about the only thing of his that survived the fire. Its a weird thing, it still seems hot every time I touch it and it smells like smoke. Creepy. Is it part of that game? I didn’t realize that. Give me your address and I’ll send it to you.”

What luck! I wouldn’t have to try to make one myself, this guy was going to just send me one! I quickly told him where to ship the disk. Then I asked, “What about postage? Do you need me to send you a check for it?”

“No, no, don’t worry about that,” responded Benson, “I’ll take care of it. Quite frankly, it will be worth it to be rid of this creepy thing. I think it is giving us bad luck. We keep having trouble with fires breaking out here. I would have thrown the thing away a long time ago but my mother doesn’t want to get rid of anything of Todds. Since you need this thing for your game, it gives me a great excuse to see it gone. I’m really glad you called actually.”

I thanked George and hung up. I was beginning to have second thoughts about feeling lucky to be getting the disk. However, I figured I would get it and immediately just ship it off to the Vermilliac nut. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be around long enough to spark any fires here.

I managed to stay off of Realmquest for several days in a row. When the package finally arrived from the Bensons I decided that I should go ahead and play again. Now that the thing was here, I needed to get Vermilliac’s address so I could be rid of it. Of course, the package I sent to him was not going to have a legitimate return address.

I hoped that I would hear from Vermilliac very soon. Mr. Benson was right about the smoky smell coming from the object. I could smell it right through the package.

I wasn’t on long at all before I received a message from the scary mental patient for whom I was waiting.

“I found my half of the Clavicle!” I told him, “Just give me your address and I’ll send it to you right away.”

“Send it to me?” Vermilliac replied, “Don’t send it to me, I need you to bring it when we meet halfway between our ritual sites. I need you to help me do the final rite.”

This was not good news. I had absolutely no intention of going anywhere and meeting with Mr. Crackers. “No,” I typed back, “I won’t meet you, I’ll send you the Clavicle, get someone else to do your rite.”

“No one else can do it,” he said, “Its tuned to you. It has to be you. Meet me at Gimble Falls like we planned. We can do the ritual on the island in the river there. There should be enough water around to keep us safe.”

“No,” I replied, “I won’t go.”

“You’ld better come or I’ll come get you,” responded Vermilliac.

This was an idle threat. There was no way that he could know where I lived. I decided to just tell him to bug off. “You can’t come get me because you will never find me. However, since you threatened me, I’m not even going to send you my half of the Clavicle. Leave me alone.”

“I will find you,” responded Vermilliac, “Don’t forget that I’m a hacker. I already have your IP Address traced. It won’t be long before I have you.”

I knew he was bluffing, but just to play it safe, I turned off my computer again.

I decided to stay off of Realmquest for good this time. I had had enough of dealing with this scary whack-job. However, I couldn’t bring myself to actually delete Realmquest from my computer. As it turned out, it wouldn’t have mattered either way.

I was fairly confident that Vermilliac’s threats were nothing but hot air. I was convinced that there was no way he could track me. However, a couple days later, I was once again on my computer. But, I was not on Realmquest. My resolve was holding firm, I was merely browing web sites.

I stepped away from my computer for several minutes to fetch a snack. When I returned, I was mortified to note that something was happening on my computer screen which I had not caused. It was obvious that an intruder had managed to take control of my PC. Moreover, it was plain that he was going through my personal data. I felt my digestive track practically hit the floor as the remote intruder accessed a file that contained my name, phone number, and address.

I flung myself at the computer’s power cord and snapped the machine’s plug out of the wall socket. The computer shut down, but I knew that it had been too little, too late. I knew that the crazed Vermilliac had my address. I knew that he would be likely to come visiting much too soon.

However, I did not expect him to show up that very evening. Which is exactly what he did. I also did not expect him to put a couple pistols to my head, which is another thing that he did.

“Get the Clavicle and get in your car,” he growled, “We’re taking a little trip to Gimble Falls.”

I’m not exactly an expert in dealing with hostage incidents. However, I was fairly sure that when someone has two pistols aimed at your head, it was best to just do what they said. Within moments, we were on our way to Gimble Falls.

I’m still not quite clear about what exactly happened on that small island in the middle of the Gimble Falls river. I was really too busy panicking to pay close attention to anything.

I plainly remember that Mr. Vermilliac, (or whatever his true name was), had a printout of the Clavicle of Aglavec quest from the Realmquest game. The wild-eyed lunatic followed the ritual instructions from the game as if they were as real as any operating manual from normal life.

I was shocked when something actually happened. I was also badly burned. Vermilliac’s ritual caused a huge fiery explosion. I’m not sure what went wrong. In fact, I’m not really sure about anything at all. But I strongly suspect that if the ritual needed to be performed by someone attuned to my half of the Clavicle, the attuned person would have been the deceased Todd Benson and not me.

Vermilliac, and every other flammable thing on the island was burned to ash. I managed to make it to the water and put myself out. Luckily for me, the Gimble Falls Island is situated below the falls rather than above them or I probably would have taken a fatal plunge. I don’t even remember how I got out of the river.

I spent a couple of months in the hospital receiving painful skin grafts. I was lucky to have good insurance. I was able to have enough plastic surgery to avoid living as a completely disfigured freak for the rest of my life. I believe life as a slightly disfigured freak is probably much easier.

The experience actually managed to wean me of my Realmquest addiction. I was actually able to force myself to delete the horrible program from my computer.

I was more than a little curious regarding why a ritual from a computer game would actually cause some sort of magical effect. I began to research the issue and eventually learned that all of the supposedly fictional gods and magic on Realmquest was based on ancient deities from a middle eastern culture so old that it is only known amongst archeologists as the “Pommel Culture”. Apparently the main thing that differentiates that culture from other ones is the fact that they invented putting a pommel on their swords and knives.

I wrote to the makers of Realmquest and warned them that the supposedly harmless rituals and such in their game were actually real and extremely dangerous. I didn’t really expect them to take me seriously, I knew I sounded insane and expected them to ignore me.

I was surprised to receive a reply from one of the company’s lawyers. His response stated that the End User License Agreement, (aka “EULA”), to which I had agreed by clicking on the button marked “I Agree”, plainly stated that the company was not responsible for any damages, deaths, or injuries resulting from attempts to use any rituals from the game in real life. It also stated that the company would not assume any responsibility for loss of property, sanity, or souls.

I was, at that time, not in the habit of actually reading any EULAs that one had to agree with when using software, but I strongly suspected that such a clause was not common. The inclusion of such a clause leads me to suspect that the makers of this game included these dangerous ancient rituals with full knowledge of the dangers involved and with malicious intent.

This is why I have sent out this email to everyone I can. I feel that it is imperative that people be warned of this danger. I hate chain letters as much as everyone else, but PLEASE help me spread this warning. Please forward this email to everyone in your address book and ask them to do the same. In this manner, we should eventually manage to warn everyone on the web.

I strongly urge you to boycott Realmquest and all other software produced by its maker, Nyarlasoft.

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