Language is sometimes less a set of rules and sounds as it is solely an expression of cultural identity understandable. Sometimes, you can say a lot of words and be very close to another person and yet be completely alone


She had to be the most embarrassingly dim person in the world, he was sure. As she sat there on the other side of her pretentious looking desk, he loathed her like nothing else. It wasn’t so much her chubby, pasty face, smeared as it was with an abundance of lipstick like a dressed up, bloated corpse. It wasn’t even that her do-good ideal of finding the best in everyone was contained to the most bourgeois of notions as to what that best may be. No, what was truly loathsome about her was that in spite of her glaring, narrow-minded incompetence, she wielded the power to alter and disturb the fragile state of contentment he called his life – and she could do this at will.

She pushed a pile of paper across her desk towards him without looking up from his file (she always pretended to read that file as if she didn’t know it by heart already). It was his most recent grade card and his history assignment on medieval European history – something he considered his greatest masterpiece yet, academically at least. She had been kind enough to circle several of his least impressive grades on his report card for him. He decided not to respond to the gesture and remained seated, adding to the awkward silence until, finally, she broke it.

– Care to explain that?

She still didn’t look at him as she said it, instead she was now randomly organising different stacks of paper on her desk.

– I thought it was all pretty self-explanatory, really.

She looked at him, down over her glasses with weary, lifeless eyes.

– Well, it isn’t, so why don’t you give it a go anyway?

He glanced quickly at the report card.

– Well, I got a D minus in French, as you see. And I think this is because I don’t actually speak a word of French. And you know Miss Pioline, she is all Canadian and seems to have a pretty good grasp of the language. So I think that grade may be spot on, actually – perhaps even a bit over the mark.

– I wasn’t talking about your grades; they are indeed sadly self explanatory. I was talking about the history assignment. Explain that, please.

He sighed as he ran his fingers quickly through the forty odd papers of true brilliance marred only by the injustice of a large red F written on the final page. He felt his internal balance waver and he shrugged without talking. She reached over and carefully took the papers from his hands.

– Alright, I will give you some examples then… here is one: “My primary source will be practically applied history. I will compare play-by-play analysis from six Medieval Total War II and Europa Universalis III savegames played out as Spain, Britain and France respectably – three from each game.”

She paused to look at him for a few seconds.

– And you go on: “I will thus show three credible alternatives to conventional history that might as well have occurred had slight details in strategy among the three before-mentioned nations been applied with a subtle difference in style and technique around the fourteenth and fifteenth century”. And… and then, remarkably, you indulge in more than thirty written pages about, what I can only assume, were six computer games that you played at home on your computer over no less than two weeks. Written thoroughly, in detail – every turn and every… what do you call it, event, as if you were referring facts. What were you thinking?!

She actually sounded sincerely frustrated. How do I even begin to explain this to that overdressed, sub-educated, bovine creature, he asked himself. She ranted on.

– This has nothing to do with a history assignment, you must see this. You cannot just turn every assignment you get into something to do with computer games! You cannot…

She leaned in across the table to look him more firmly in the eyes.

– … you cannot… live… your entire life… in those computer games.

Finally he lost the grip on his own silence.

– I am not! How can you say that this has nothing to do with a history assignment? It deals with nothing but history!

– Historical facts taken from a computer game. A COM-PU-TER-GAME! It isn’t real.

– Real? What history is real? It is a very decent time specific representation of the general historical consensus that rule our current times concerning the medieval period of European history. As good as any other at least.

She looked at him as if he had just recited Hebrew poetry in its original form to her. At any given time, now, she may jump out the window and run onto some pasture to eat grass and produce dairy products, he thought to himself. She sighed as she shook her head slightly and turned to the last pages of his report.

– You end up gaining world domination in all six scenarios.

He shrugged and squirmed a bit.

– Well, first of all: no, because I cannot achieve world domination in Medieval Total War II. There I only control Europe, North Africa and most of Asia Minor. And secondly: but that isn’t my point at all!

He felt annoyed, his internal balance, his world, was disrupted now.

– My point is, as I write in the conclusion by the way, that given a scenario where the supreme leader of any of these three nations have a direct and unhindered line of command over every major aspect of his empire – and assuming that leader is competent – an equal amount of potential can be attributed to each of the three nation’s position in that period of history. And so, their respective successes and failure during this period of time can be attributed to seemingly minor or even random faults in these lines of command or within the supreme leaders themselves.

This time she didn’t answer. She just looked very tired.

– Look, I know that accurate historical facts are not to be found in computer games, but they are not to be found in just any old history book either! The science of history is dynamical and should always be based on as much archaeological research as possible – I haven’t got the time to do archaeological research in high-school! I mean, be realistic! If I just read some random history book and based my conclusions on whatever it said, I would be nowhere nearer the truth than I am here anyway. Historians disagree all the time, you know.

She had stopped moving entirely, and he felt sure she wasn’t listening anymore either.

– Here at least I have made my own conclusions in a new sort of scenario that I actually question and debate!

Her head sank down and rested itself in her hand, the pale skin under her chin collapsing to form a noxious pillow of excess flesh.

– You wrote your last English paper from the view of an Imp in the computer game Doom III, and your last social science project was a four hour video of you playing Sim City 3000.

– You are so hypocritical!

He felt anger rise in him and tears pressing against his eyes.

– You never wanted me to write a history paper at all! You just wanted me to find a random history book by some random PhD or above and show that I can extract the essential meaning from it and that I can debate it. So… so then just say that; stop saying that you want us to study history, when you don’t. In every God damn study related to humanities that is all you ever want us to do; read a text, analyse it and debate it. It really doesn’t matter if the text is about contemporary history or obscure Greek literature on the occult – just go through the motions. It’s the same with the computer games that you hate so much; you don’t want me to play them, but you DO want me to produce them! You said so yourself, right? And I bet you have it in your paper there somewhere to say it again to me today, right?

She looked down at her paper very shortly with the slightest of frowns.

– Well, it would be an obvious career choice for you, but not with these grades, you know. It’s not the easiest of careers to get into, you know, so…

– No, but exactly! Why would you want me to produce computer games that you don’t want anyone to play? Think about it, for once! You want us to read philosophy, but you certainly don’t want us to use it to question reality, do you? I’ll tell you what the difference is; you want me to produce. To circulate money in this self-sustaining monster you call society, that is all you want. I can produce anything based on inconvenient sciences and thoughts as long as I don’t try an apply them to your idea of reality. You claim to be here to guide me, but you are only here to fit me. There is a difference, you know.

That actually made her look hurt and she sat up and took off her glasses.

– No, that is not true. Even though it may feel as if society is imposing on you like that, I am just trying to prepare you for the reality that awaits you. Not a theoretical reality that can be debated with clever words but one where you will have to acquire food and basic necessities for yourself. And to do that you will have to produce something that someone is willing to pay you for. I just want that something to be as gratifying to you as possible, and that is why I keep suggesting a career in software programming or designing. And that is why I try to remind you that such a thing won’t be easy, and that you need to start preparing for whatever you want to do soon.

Her rehearsed caring slapped him across the face like a giant, frozen fish. His anger froze solid inside him.

– I just want you to at least stop hiding from the reality that awaits you. You are a very bright boy, but you are hiding behind your intelligence; distancing yourself from what you don’t want to face. That you are able to logically and academically defend your escapism does not make it any less dangerous to you, you must believe me. If…

She went on ranting about how she was only trying to help him prepare for his future, as if she had any idea of what the future would bring anyhow. As if her life was some form of ideal for him to strive for. Chaos reigned inside him, a big whirlpool of repressed emotions around an iceberg of anger. He had to find his balance again, to restore contentment. He blocked out the sound of her voice, reminding himself that she was only paid to pretend to care for him. None of this would matter if he could just make it out of here soon. He could choose freely from any reality, he wished, if he could just make it out of this office. He could be the king of England, leading his armies across French soil. Or the hero of the far away realm of Cyrodil, fighting off the imposing hell from the doorstep of the empire. He could be the perfect thief, hidden in shadows of the city or anything else he wanted. This was all nothing, he reminded himself. Just distractions.

She kept ranting on and she would for some time yet, he could tell. But she would get no more from him. He could retain his inner balance as long as he could block out the unintelligent babble of this ruminant human. How could she guide him anywhere, when she did not even understand what he said? He sat back and started breathing slower and slower, knowing that he would escape this place soon. He was misunderstood by reality, not the other way around. He knew the hypocrisy of the real world only too well, and he was in no hurry to join it. Finally she finished and looked at him expectantly .

– So… what do you think?

He smiled and talked but didn’t answer.

By Jeppe Grünberger