I didn't realise I was only playing a game until I died.

Things had been pretty hectic for several weeks, or possibly months. I had lost track of more or less everything, not just the passage of time. I would have had to think pretty hard to remember my own name if I'd had the time to worry about it, but all I had time for was trying to prevent nuclear war. I did all I could, and I still don't know exactly what went wrong, but I failed. I found out that I had failed by dying.

I was walking along a road up a hill with a view over the city when the warhead exploded over it. I did not stop to wonder why I had not been burned to a cinder and started running to try to escape the shock wave. This was not as stupid as it sounds, since the wave was moving much too slowly. I could see it coming towards me, a discontinuity between the clean intact world around me and the rubble where it had passed. If I could only make it around the next bend I could shelter behind the mountain, I thought.

I was too slow. The shock wave caught up with me, picked me up, and threw me at the rock face on the other side of the road. I had time to think that this was wrong, that everything was far too slow, and then I was dead. 'Game over' said the machine. It took me a few minutes to realise what it meant, and a few more to decide what I felt about it. I was glad to be alive, of course. I felt a little stupid that I had got so involved in the game that I had forgotten that it was a game. And then I felt far more worried when I realised I could not remember my name.

I wandered the streets of a familiar city and wondered who I was. After a while I got hungry and looked for money in my pockets. In my wallet I found not only money but also my ID card and photographs of my family. Memory returned in a rush. I vowed never to play again: how close I had been to losing myself!.

At home I found signs of a fight, blood on the floor, and a ransom note. The next few weeks or months passed in a blur. I lost track of more or less everything, not just the passage of time. I would have had to think pretty hard to remember my own name if I'd had the time to worry about it, but all I had time for was trying to find my family. I did all I could, and I still don't know exactly what went wrong, but I failed. I found out that I had failed by dying. This time the physics were realistic: a single shot to the chest takes much less processing power to simulate than an entire nuclear explosion. 'Game over' again.

Once again I was disoriented for a little while. As I wandered through the streets of another familiar city, I found a logical explanation for what had happened to me: while inside a game, I had started playing another game. It makes sense for the game makers to put other games within a game if they can: it increases the realism of a simulated contemporary environment, and gives people a chance to sample a variety of games without leaving the machine. All that was unusual about my case was that I had lost my memory while in a game within a game. Just as I had recovered my memory in that game, so could I expect to recover it in real life. I didn't seem to be carrying any ID, so I decided to go to the police.

The police were friendly and helpful. I was expecting them to be surprised at someone coming in off the street and asking who he was, but apparently it happens all the time. A lovely little woman officer had just finished noting down my description when a gang burst in carrying guns and took everyone in the room hostage. They wanted their leader released.

As we shivered huddled together in the basement that night, the lovely officer told me that there was no way their demands would be met. The government would rather sacrifice us than give in. If we wanted to live, we would have to do something about it ourselves.

I lived long enough to feel her die in my arms. Then I too succumbed to loss of blood.

'Game over.'

Once again, no ID. I went for a long walk in the park. Was this reality or was this a game? Was dying the only way to tell? What if I died in reality, thinking it was a game? In the end, I decided the only thing to do was to go to the police. If this was a game, then no doubt something dramatic would happen. If it didn't, then I might find out who I was.

When I saw my wife, memory came flooding back. Unfortunately. No wonder I had sought diversion in a game! Ruin and worse were staring me in the face. I tried my best to sort everything out, but in the end there was only one way out: my family could lose me to death or to prison, but at least if I died they would have the insurance. And I would be spared the shame. I thought long and hard about how best to make it look like an accident. I remember how beautiful the world appeared on the day I had chosen to leave it. Then...

'Game over.'

I have been for a walk around the block to clear my head. It is so good to be alive! When I looked for ID I found a note in my pocket: 'Beware! This might be reality!' I didn't recognise the handwriting at first, but I think it is probably mine. So I have been here before, in more ways than one. Of course, this might be another game. I don't know. But I don't want to find out: it's too much of a risk. This time I am not going to the police. When I have stretched my legs I am going straight back to the arcade. It's no fun playing if you're scared of dying.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.