In video games, the practice of maximizing qualities perceived as beneficial while hampering all the others, even at risk of a woefully unbalanced result. For example, to remove a character’s ability to speak or express emotions in order to snatch a few more compensatory skill points to invest in combat abilities.
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Min-maxing, was what he bet on.
In front of his disembodied gaze floated a tall status window, the likes of which he’d seen countless times before in video games. And as countless times before, he was poring over it with wholehearted devotion.
- Species: Human (locked)
- Age: 0 (locked)
- Gender: Female
- Name: ??? (locked)
- Growth potentials:
- Explosive strength: 39
- Endurance: 41
- Flexibility: 85
- Coordination: 86
- Processing speed: 100
- Intuition: 62
- Memory: 100
- Willpower: 87
- Resistance to disease: 74
- Resistance to environment (heat/cold…): 58
- Healing factor: 91
- Beauty: 94
- Presence: 57
- Perception: 89
- Acute aphonia (+190 points)
- No facial expressions (compounded: +225 points)
- Clean body (-26 points)
- Rare blood type (+12 points)
- Sterile (+600 points)
- Perfect memory (req: 100 MEM) (-190 points)
- Ambidextrous (-38 points)
- Unassigned points: 0
“Yes. I’m done.”
The character sheet that would define his next life was finally complete. In this blank, empty, featureless space, it was difficult to tell the passing of time, so he wasn’t sure exactly how long it had taken him to browse through every trait, to read each explanatory help text for each attribute.
But finally, he felt satisfied.
“Are you sure about this? I admit compounding traits was a clever idea, but with this, you’ll have real trouble communicating with anybody. Writing on paper will get old really fast. If you had only selected one of ‘acute aphonia’ and ‘no facial expressions’, you wouldn’t have been too handicapped by it, but both at the same time…”
‘Acute aphonia’ was the inability to produce voiced sound. Not only did it include speech, but also screaming, humming, and the like. There had been other levels of seriousness to it, ranging from a benign stutter to the complete soundlessness he’d ended up choosing. For example, ‘mute’ had also been available as a less restrictive option, but he had needed the extra points to feed his growth potentials. ‘No facial expressions’ by itself had only been worth a measly 33 points, but combined with the aphonia, its value had quite simply skyrocketed. A very good deal. There had been more possibilities to compound such traits even further and gain thousands of points, but those traits would have been too debilitating, and he didn’t want to be completely cut off from the world around him.
‘Clean body’, he had taken for its convenience and its low price. Living his past life as a shut-in with only dubious understanding of the concept of personal hygiene, he felt bound by the social responsibility to no longer inflict his stench upon the world. Also, cavities hurt like hell, and anything that would make him immune to them was welcome.
‘Rare blood type’ had only been easy money to compensate for ‘clean body’. It could become a bit inconvenient, in case he ever needed some sort of blood transfusion or organ transplant, but his high ‘healing factor’ stat should nicely dodge that issue.
‘Sterile’ had been the big break, the initial capital he’d needed to get away from the lower stat values that had carried over from his past life. He’d been surprised by how much points it had earned him, but the god-thing that had brought him here to reincarnate had explained that, no matter how high he improved his various attributes, if he couldn’t pass them on to his descendants, it inherently limited their values and impact on the world, and thus, their price.
There had been other interesting traits, some he would have very much wanted. ‘Biological immortality’, for example, would definitely have been his first choice, but its price at nearly 20,000 points was too prohibitive. He’d have to earn the necessary points by zeroing all his attributes and making his new body mute, deaf, blind, paraplegic, mentally unstable… In the end, it just wasn’t worth it.
Another attractive choice was ‘video game system’, which would apparently allow him to access the same kind of status window he was currently seeing, even after his reincarnation was complete, and earn levels and skills like a character from a video game. This one was scarcely more affordable than ‘biological immortality’, though, so he’d had to pass up on it too.
“Hmm,” the god-thing mumbled. “As it is, you’ve basically turned yourself into a borderline superhuman, you know. Be careful not to end up in a lab, to be dissected by strange old men in white coats.”
“Surely, it wouldn’t go that far?”
“Well, no, it probably wouldn’t. Though you’ll still need to be careful. Your 94 in ‘beauty’ might attract a different kind of strange old man. You might want to invest in a good mask. Or a bodyguard. An asexual bodyguard. I’m not kidding.”
Before starting his work on his character sheet, most of his stats had gravitated around 20, with a spike in the intelligence department – though even then, still below 40.
Now, however, he’d maxed out the two growth potentials he’d felt were the most important, and quite a few others besides were also in the 90s.
If an average of 20 represents my past life as a rather average person, perhaps ‘borderline superhuman’ wouldn’t be exaggerated for the current values. They’re consistently 3 or 4 times higher than they were when I started.
The perfect memory he’d purchased would become his greatest asset in his new life, he was sure. How convenient would it be to need only cursory glances at any material to be able to recall it long afterward? It had cost a lot of points to not only bring his ‘memory’ attribute to 100 but also buy the appropriate trait, but it was no doubt well worth it.
There also were other interesting traits that required maxed-out stats, like the ‘parallel processing’ linked to the attribute ‘processing speed’, but none had felt as important as the one to improve his memory. Except perhaps the one for ‘healing factor’, which would have turned him into some sort of human planaria. Still, considering the price, he’d needed to make a choice, and memory had been it.
‘Beauty’ had made him hesitate long and hard. It seemed like something of a waste – too vain and shallow to invest in – but in the end, he couldn’t resist the allure of sinking some points into it. The help text indicated that the beauty in question was based on his own perception of it, which meant he wouldn’t become universally attractive to absolutely everyone in the whole world, but that didn’t matter. Finding himself beautiful was precisely what he wanted. It would do some good to his lacking self-esteem. Though, considering he’d also decided to change his gender, he was a bit worried at the idea of being aroused by his own appearance…
‘Perception’ had also been a small stumbling block. The help text indicated this attribute would increase the sharpness of all his senses. Problem was, it was also explicitly stated that high values would make his entire body extremely sensitive to stimulus – which kind of sounded painful.
All in all, it had taken quite some time to attain a satisfactory result. It hadn’t been helped by the complex relationships between the different stats. Adding two points there could automatically add or retract one point here. All the attributes were subtly linked together, and it had taken a while until he properly understood how to most efficiently allocate his points to achieve the best outcome.
“I’m somewhat surprised there isn’t a ‘luck’ attribute.”
A thoughtful sound resounded in the empty, blank space around him. “Hmm. There is no such thing as luck. Exactly how would this ‘luck’ attribute of yours even work, anyway? When you’re playing dice, the movement of the dice is determined by how hard you throw it, the angle it hits the table, the air pressure around it, the friction between the colliding surfaces, etc, etc… Why would your attributes, which affect only your own self and nothing else, make it more likely for your dice to land on specific faces? It’s nonsense. Nonsense, I tell you.”
“If you say so.”
“I do say so. Actually, my dice example isn’t even very good, because you at least have some measure of control over the outcome. It’s humanly possible to learn a few tricks and make the dice do whatever you want. But let’s say there is a meteorite from outer space threatening to fall onto your head. It’ll be affected by gravity and cosmic forces and stuff. How is your ‘luck’ attribute going to make you dodge the meteorite? Is it going to change gravity? Half a solar system away from yourself, without you even being aware of the danger? Now, if that isn’t nonsense, I don’t know what is.”
“You don’t need to convince me, you know. I’m already more than happy with the current stat sheet.”
“Right. Oh, by the way, remember that they’re not actual stats. Except for some inborn ones – like your memory – those values only represent the state you will end up in upon reaching full maturation, at 24 years old. Even then, the final outcome will be affected by how you live your life. If you spend your early years sniffing asbestos, rubbing your own face against a cheese grater, eating junk food, and living like a generally worthless blob, you’ll never get the full benefits of the choices you made today. Clean living, boy – girl, sorry. Clean living is key.”
“Clean living is pretty hard, these days.”
“Well, I suppose that’s true, at least on the world you came from, but your healing factor is strong enough to dissolve most ambient carcinogens and things before they can build up and negatively affect your health, so you’ve got a head start on that point. Just, you know, put in the effort.”
“It’s also true the other way around, by the way. If you do a good job, you could very well end up surpassing the values you chose today and becoming an actual superhuman instead of just a borderline one. In the end, it’s all up to you. You just created a baseline, today. Got it?”
“Good. Oh, speaking of which, why did you decide to change your gender? Your choice to discard your ability to procreate might allow you to dodge some of the onerous aspects of being female – namely, menstruation – but I can tell you right off the bat that it’ll still be a bit disconcerting, at first. You’ve already lived more than 50 years as a male, after all.”
“To change. To shake things up. Rolling a new character sheet isn’t very exciting if you simply recreate the same character you were playing before. It’s important to try something new, every once in a while.”
“Um, you do realize this isn’t a game, right? It’s your life. And you won’t have another chance at reincarnation. Next time you die, it’s over.”
“I know. I’m comfortable with my choice.”
“All right.” The god-thing paused for a moment, and an absolute silence fell on the blank void before sound returned. “You’re quite decisive. I appreciate that, for what it’s worth.”
“I’m curious. Would you have even changed your species, if you had been allowed to? Would you have discarded your humanity and turned into something different?”
“Huh. Interesting. Do you want me to unlock that field? I can do that, if you want.”
“Oh, sure. Thanks.”
“Not a problem. Here. Take a look.”
Taking another glance at the top of the character sheet, the field for his species had indeed been unlocked. He focused his awareness on it for a few moments, and a dropdown list appeared.
- > Human
- X Elf
- X Orc
- X Dwarf
- X Vampire
- X Fairy
- X Angel
- X Demon
- X Lamia
- X God
- X Goblin
- X Ice Elemental
- X Fire elemental
- X …
The list continued seemingly infinitely. Some options were quite familiar, but others he’d simply never heard of before. There was a short description of each species, with their main characteristics and differences compared to humans, and he could tell that most of them were interesting in their own right, and that it would take a long time to make a choice if he had to wade through all that data.
However, he didn’t have to.
Because, while the field itself had been unlocked and he could open the dropdown list, the options making up the list themselves were all disabled. He couldn’t select any of them but ‘human’.
“All the options are greyed out,” he said hesitantly.
“No, no. It’s just that the available options you can select according to your current karma are all lost in the mass of disabled ones. As I thought, that list is just too long for easy perusal, isn’t it? Do you want me to filter it?”
So elf and demon and god truly couldn’t be chosen. He couldn’t help but feel disappointed, especially after the pleasant surprise the god-thing had given him by allowing him to change his species.
With a small electronic sound, the dropdown list was suddenly cleared of almost all its contents, leaving only a scant few choices.
- > Human
- > Amoeba
- > Cockroach
And that was it.
“Are you kidding?”
“Well, yes. Actually, I am. Pffft, hahaha, sorry, that was mean.” The dropdown list suddenly disappeared, and the field on the character sheet returned to its previous state, locked on the ‘human’ value. “Actually, you can’t change your species at all. Sorry about that.”
The formless, amorphous soul that he was now let out a sigh. “My new gender isn’t a joke, though, is it? I am actually allowed to change it?”
“Yes, no problem here. Changing your gender is fine.”
“Right. Then, one last warning.” The god-thing’s voice suddenly became serious and official. Solemn. “You have agreed to go through the process of reincarnation. As you were warned earlier, this chance is not cheap. Your trials will start once you’ve matured. Be ready, human.”
“24 years old, I think you said?”
“Is that some sort of natural law? Does a human’s growth invariably conclude on one’s 24th birthday?”
“No. It’s simply how your body will be calibrated, so that you’ll reach your full potential and be sent to your first trial at an easy-to-remember date. Other humans would be fully matured around that age, as well, but for them, it’s not precisely defined down to the day or even to the month.”
“I see. Can you really not tell me what form these trials will take?”
“I cannot. What I can tell you, is that they will be difficult.”
“Difficult does not equate to impossible, however. Remember that. There is always a way to succeed. I will not be throwing you into a death trap. I’m not here to torture you for my own sick amusement.”
“Now I’m getting worried…”
An echoing chuckle resounded throughout the blank space, and he – she, now – felt her very self shake along with it.
“Enjoy your new life, human.”
With those words, the small, fluttering wisp of soul that had been floating within the blank void, perusing and tinkering with the character sheet, slowly dissipated, heading for its new life.
Soon, the entire void was silent and still again.