I Don’t Care If I’m Real

I Don’t Care If I’m Real

Photo by Felix Fuchs on Unsplash

Sitting in front of the murky Han River, I don’t even see my own reflections. I hear remnants of life here and there: a group of senior joggers, a street saxophonist whose confidence is admirable, and a little girl screaming at something—kids always seem to see another dimension we don’t. It happens. That moment when it just doesn’t feel like a moment. You feel transitory. You become the driver of your consciousness, but you don’t even know where you’re headed to…or from. The stimuli surrounding you just feels like a conglomerate of atoms that just happened to pass you by. And this is a dangerous rabbit hole to get sucked into because as soon as you feel like you are part of a simulation, then you begin disassociating. To a limbo of meta-awareness and you are tempted to escape it.

It didn’t help that I read Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One during my most intense limbo moments. There was no part of me that felt real. Maybe I’m just going through a phase. Junior year in high school is stressful, I know, but I can’t help but shake off this feeling that this base reality does not have much foundation to be excited about. I should clarify. This is not the same thing as I don’t have something to live for. I am not heading towards a nihilistic spiral. I am simply acknowledging the fact that I’m feeling surreal, which is a totally different kind of feeling. It’s kind of cool, actually. Surreal.

Within this thrilling page-turner, I found myself nodding—and rooting for—Wade Watts, no, Parzival. He is the typical hero archetype of rags to greatness that I like. Nothing cliché about that. He has no friends, lives in a slum, and has a family member just as reliant as he is in the  Oasis. Parzival makes no effort living in the real world: the Oasis is the way to live. After all, he really took the Anorak’s Almanac to heart during the online education process:

“Being human totally sucks most of the time. Video Games are the only thing that make life bearable."

Yes, tell me about it. While his experience of living in Oasis is not a terrific one either, living in the alter ego of Parzival at least gave Wade a sense of life in comparison to his abysmal reality. And what better way to escape than to chase some easter eggs? Parzival first took the prizes of the easter egg and uncovered the intricate matrix within the Oasis. Just when things are going well, Art3mis, his closest buddy, reminds him, "You[Parzival] don't live in the real world... You're like me. You live inside this illusion.”

How ironic. I look at the clock, the real clock in my world, and it’s 4:30 a.m. Thanks for the reminder Art3mis. Being consumed in this story, that spark of joy, that sense of adventure, I am zapped by the reality of a full day of research commencing in three hours.

I’m left again to reconcile finding meaning in a hybrid-virtual reality future. To me, Ready Player One was less about the fun camaraderie among strangers coming together and hunting that coveted easter egg than I’m left pondering more about what it means to be human after James Haliday’s big reveal to the Oasis singularity. I thought that Earnest Cline would have made a statement about trying to argue that the metaverse is not all that bad. But in actuality, there was a definitive statement to recognition of the real world.

“The only place where you can find true happiness.”


In the Spring of 2017, I will never forget the ten worst and best days in Europe with my parents. After months of planning, I proudly exported my excel sheet with rows for budgeting and columns for places of interest to my parents: data that maps the precise itinerary layout through five different countries, seven different cities, and finally leaving with a graceful exit out of Budapest, Hungary.

We first began in Paris. I didn’t know escargot smothered in butter and garlic tasted so good. I didn’t mind the long, three-hour line waiting to see Van Gogh at the Louvre, and then, feeling the steel structures beneath my feet as I climbed the Eiffel Tower. I thought to myself, if this is how the trip starts, then the other six cities would be nothing short of awesomeness.

I was naive. At 14:45 in the afternoon, April 4th, 2017, we hopped onto the ÖBB Railjet train from Vienna to Budapest. Alternating tones of black (headrest) and red (chairs) balanced the interior to a warm tone, which made us feel comfortable. However, little did I know that a stranger was lurking in the corner, turning our romantic week into an uncomfortable nightmare.

We carried three different bags. One silver and one black Rimowa carry-on for our clothes and iPads, but one of them stood out: an old brown leather satchel, polished and checkered, which housed our passports, money, and most importantly, the limited Mont Blanc edition of the Little Prince Pen. This bag deserved our paranoia, and we took turns reminding each other, it is the bag with you, every chance we could get. Our communication was impeccable. Within the ten-second window of time, my mom placed the silver Rimowa on the side, and my dad and I lifted the black Rimowa bag on the top space above our seats. When we turned to tend to our third—and most precious—bag, it had vanished. The culprit did not miss the given chance. In that split second letting our guard down, our Debussy-like dreamy adventure turned into a nightmare that we wouldn’t wish upon anyone. The train started; the view and the screeching of the tracks didn’t speak of adventure. They were daunting, leaving us hopeless.

In this tremendously awkward moment of silence, I saw two kinds of reactions from my dad. The bubbling anger of passivity, passing slight jabs of blame to each of us, and then, downright frustration of visceral anger, pounding the window. My dad’s face was a countenance of madness but more of perplexity, ravaged by a feeling of responsibility and the injustice of being victims. I knew my words couldn’t console him, so I pretended to close my eyes to sleep. My excel sheet now had unpredictable detours. As soon as we got to Budapest, instead of enjoying a nice stroll along the Danube, we rushed to the U.S. Embassy, thirty minutes before closing. The objective of the vacation changed from where should we go to how can we make sure to get back home? The rest of the trip was filled with misery, cutting it close to the possibility of never returning to Korea. The adrenaline and relief following the issuance of our temporary passports was the wildest roller coaster I have ever experienced.

Occasionally, I’ll bring up the memories of that day with my dad with jokes like “Hey, Dad, coming in empty-handed?”


I’m back to my daze. What seemed urgent back then is a blip in the expanse of my reality. Then, what is virtual reality, the space of our collective escapade really for? This absolute claim about the—oftentimes—mundaneness of our actual lives is the reason to find happiness? I found myself not agreeing to the familiar sentiment that plays to the tune of most adventure arcs. “Happiness is with each other.” Or, “We go far, only to realize that the home is within us.”

Sorry, not to sound so cynical, but please. I think the lessons of humanity deserve a bit more nuance than that. Wade finally recognizes the flaws of hiding away from the real society, and the character development of Parzival cannot be simply reduced to it. In my own life, traversing between the real and the virtual world is part of the fun. We, the human species, are the master weavers of creating meaning out of nothing. Abstract art is beautiful. Not in its physical value but in its perceived value. In the future, I believe that the virtual world will make us feel even more real. Not the other way around. To question our very own existence—and even the absurdity of it all—is what makes us feel like we are part of something larger. Why else would a poor boy from the slums even bother to play a game? Why do I feel the need to muse at all? Under the capitalist game, he should be getting a job, saving up, invest a little into ETFs, and try to land that first property towards financial independence. Sure, that’s one way to live, but there is something illogically romantic about the weird idealist in us that seeks freedom above all else. We don’t even know what that freedom is, but we chase it, in the hope that it frees us someday. We are all addicts to gaming, and the purpose of gaming is to escape our base reality. I would even go as far to say that there is nothing wrong with this pursuit. We desperately need this, in my opinion. Because the feeling of being an NPC is not the state we should be striving for.

No matter how our society turns out to be, a spectrum between utopian and dystopian, I hope we all chase that easter egg. Without hesitation. We don’t do it for the prize. For Wade, and for me, it’s to be liberated. Then maybe, instead of questioning reality, I can just say this is part of the adventure. And most importantly, laugh at the gaping chasm we definitely have no control over. That’s how we really win.

About the Author

Andrew Park

I'm a senior high school student at Lawrenceville. I'm a gamer, but in the academic sense: I muse about how characters traverse the digital ecology filled with lush, narrative landscape. I also seem to be a rather unlucky person; I encounter hurdles after hurdles of inconvenience. Not the tragic kind, but the ones that make you waste a lot of time, so you're just left with your thoughts. In these moments of limbo, I find moments of comedy in it to write. Wallowing is not in my blood.

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