In the dim glow of the moonlight, nobody spots the cyborg assassin peeling herself off the back of a stone gargoyle’s head. She moves with the liquid grace of a stalking cat, her eyes, one human brown and the other an electric blue, scanning the damp street before her. In one smooth motion, she raises the scope of her sniper rifle to the blue eye and peers through it. There. Her heat sensor picks up a small figure scurrying behind a building. The assassin smiles. From the way the figure moves, it’s obvious that it’s a dwarf. Dwarves are armed with machine guns, so it’s in her best interests to eliminate this one before he spots her. Her finger caresses the trigger. Just one more step and the dwarf will be out of cover. She takes a breath to steady herself. The dwarf’s hat comes into view, followed by his head. She pulls the trigger just as a huge shield appears in front of the dwarf.
What? It takes a second for the assassin to realize what’s just happened. The shield is being held by a huge, hulking figure. A grinning giant of a man. The second it’s taken the assassin to reassess the situation costs her. Before she can react, the dwarf swings his machine gun over the giant’s shield and the world explodes. Machine guns are rarely accurate. But then, they don’t need to be.
“VICTORY” flashes onto my screen as the assassin, along with the stone gargoyle, tumbles down onto the street. Grinning, I tap my fingers against my keyboard with practiced ease.
The robot assassin was the last of the enemy’s team. Both teams started out with five members each, and the robot assassin managed to pick off three of my team members within the first ten minutes of the round. When our second member was sniped three minutes in, I told Sourdawg, who has chosen to play the machine-gun-toting dwarf, that we needed to stay well away from the assassin so we could kill off her teammates before getting to her ourselves. He agreed—he always agrees—and the two of us did what we do best, with me playing as the gigantic tank.
Sourdawg: Teamwork makes the dream work!
My grin widens. Sourdawg is such a dork, I swear. He’s always ready with these little clichés that should be cringey but, coming from him, are adorkable. Plus, he’s not wrong. Ever since we started teaming up, Sourdawg and I have held one of the highest ranks in the Southeast Asian section of Warfront Heroes.
Dudebro10: Ooh, watch the replay. Look at my shield. Looook!
On the screen, the replay starts, showing my ridiculously muscled character crouching behind his lead shield as he crawls behind Sourdawg’s character. I was so careful to make sure that I was covered by the shield the entire time so that the assassin’s heat scans wouldn’t pick up my body heat.
Sourdawg: You move very smoothly for such a big guy.
Dudebro10: Hey, big guys can be graceful too.
Dudebro10: Plus, I’ve been doing ballet since I was—
Oh shit. Delete, delete. Gah. I take a deep breath to recenter myself. What was I thinking? The well-earned victory must have gone to my head.
Sourdawg: So anyway, you remember that sourdough starter I ordered weeks ago?
Dudebro10: The one made from vintage grapes peeled by anointed virgins under a full moon next to Lake Como?
Sourdawg: Okay, smartass. Plus, it’s not a full moon. It has to be under a waxing moon.
Dudebro10: I know you’re kidding, but I don’t actually know if you’re kidding.
Sourdawg: SIGH. Anyway. It arrived yesterday, and guess what?
Dudebro10: Does it taste like the tears of anointed virgins?
Sourdawg: What do the tears of anointed virgins taste like?
Dudebro10: Iono. Like unicorn breath.
Sourdawg: Okay, that’s not actually helpful. And it sounds gross. Anyway, no. I don’t know what it tastes like, because it was DOA.
Sourdawg: Dead on arrival.
Dudebro10: I know what DOA stands for. But what do you mean?
Sourdawg: Exactly that. It was dead by the time it arrived. Maybe it got too hot during shipment or something, but all I got was rancid goop.
Dudebro10: Oh nooo! RIP, unicorn breath starter.
Sourdawg: I was so bummed.
Dudebro10: I bet! You’ve been looking forward to that starter for months. Let me guess: You want to send them a strongly worded email.
Sourdawg: VERY strongly worded. I can’t do it alone.
Dudebro10: Of course not. The level of passive aggression we’re aiming for requires teamwork. Okay. Let’s see. “To Whom It May Concern . . .”
Sourdawg: “I would just like to flag—”
Dudebro10: “—as a matter of utmost importance—”
Sourdawg: “—the fact that my order was DOA and is very definitely not made of unicorn breath.”
Dudebro10: “I thought I’d bring this to your attention.”
Sourdawg: “Looking forward to your timely reply on this very serious matter.”
Dudebro10: “Regards, A Disappointed Customer.”
I lean back in my seat and review the email we’ve composed together.
Dudebro10: One of our best works, I must say.
Sourdawg: I like how you managed to slip in “as a matter of utmost importance.” A true masterstroke.
Dudebro10: /bows. Thank you. I appreciate that. I thought “Looking forward to your timely reply” was a particularly nice touch.
Sourdawg: I thought it would put some pressure on them.
Dudebro10: It definitely will.
Sourdawg: Truly, the perfect email.
Dudebro10: You’re not sending it.
Sourdawg: Of course not.
I can’t help but snort at this. Then I realize that my cheeks hurt, because I’ve been grinning nonstop since our round ended.
Dudebro10: You should send them something, though. Like, a real complaint. I mean, you don’t have to be a dick about it, but they should know that their product arrived dead.
Sourdawg: IDK, bro. Can’t I just order another batch and hope they do it right this time?
Aaand now my smile’s gone. Not because Sourdawg is such an adorkable pushover but because of the word “bro.” Every time he calls me “bro” or “man” or “dude,” it feels like a needle pricking into my skin and letting air out. Erm, blood? Okay, gross. All I’m saying is, it makes me feel deflated. And it makes me want to scream “I’m not a dude!” at him, which is stupid, because whose fault is it that Sourdawg thinks I’m a guy? Who was it that chose the most cis male–sounding name in the history of names?
In my defense, I didn’t do it for shits and giggles. And I definitely didn’t do it thinking I would form any meaningful friendships on, of all places, Warfront Heroes.
Don’t get me wrong: as far as gameplay goes, it’s right up there with the best of them. The weapons are so creatively varied there’s no way anyone will get bored, and the character designs are the most diverse in the history of games. Plus, there are no overtly sexualized female characters with watermelon-sized boobs bouncing wildly as they run, which is saying something in the gaming world—a world dominated by very, very frustrated guys. (And I don’t mean frustrated as in “Gah, my coffee machine broke!” I mean the other kind of frustrated. The sexual kind, in case that wasn’t obvious.)
Despite all these progressive steps that the makers of Warfront Heroes
have taken to be more inclusive, they still haven’t managed to win the last battle: harassment. Sure, a few of the more overt trolls have been banned. But in order to get banned, a player would have to make truly awful, abusive comments that count as threats. Anything less than that and all they get is a gentle reminder from a mod.
Copyright © 2023 by Jesse Q. Sutanto. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.