“Things We Live Inside” by Liza Olson

I’m making a video game for you to live inside, since you can’t live inside the world anymore. I’ve never made a game before, so it’s nothing special yet, and it’s more of a glitch simulator than anything resembling life, and Unity still has a bit of a learning curve even though it probably is the easiest entry point for noobs like me, and maybe I could’ve made you a sprite-infested 2D platformer instead, something like what we used to play inside on swimming-pool-street flood days, but I wanted as close a simulacrum as possible now that you’re gone. I know it’ll take longer. I know you won’t see it anyway. Not the you you are now. But it matters to me.

Remember when we’d overclock our millennial Pentium and bring games settings to their minimum to force our PC to run games it had no business running? They’d turn into slideshows more often than not, pixelated messes that resembled their optimal selves not at all, but it was wild to be able to say we got them running on our computer, technically, and we’d at best get through a single level before the whole thing crashed, forced Alt F4, or else Blue Screen of Death, and I’m starting to think that that’s what grief is. What it can be. I’m trying to figure it out as I’m transitioning through it, is the problem, I think.

I haven’t touched grass in a couple of weeks, haven’t really felt the need to, and my hair’s growing out now, and I’m not sure you’d recognize me anymore, at least not physically, but I don’t know if I’d recognize you either. Do ghosts get new better-than-before bodies, or is it an optimized version of your best self? Do you have a self anymore, or are you just spread out pixels on an ever-expanding screen? I haven’t started HRT yet, still waiting on insurance approval, but fingers crossed I should be able to start in a couple months. You’re the only one who knows, besides of course my doctor. I’m gonna put me in the game too, but I haven’t settled on which me yet.

I keep vacillating between wanting to tell Mom and not, definitely won’t tell Dad, because I don’t even want to see what that conversation would end up becoming, and now I’m spiraling, thinking about all the conversations you haven’t heard since being outside (outside is what I’m calling it because the alternative’s too final), and what do you think about game objectives, like what should it all revolve around, because I was at first thinking walking simulator, but we both know the genre’s saturated, and I’m thinking I’ll do a mix of everything if possible, some platforming, RPG elements, roguelike but definitely no permadeath, I think that goes without saying at this point. Permadeath is permabanned.

I’m making a new body for me to live inside, since I can’t live inside this one anymore. I’m learning contouring, and angles, shaving without my skin rebelling. I go out en femme to drop off mail sometimes, or like to move my car because the parking situation’s atrocious, and I get clocked sometimes but increasingly I don’t, I think I’m getting better at the presentation, and I just want to hear one time what it would sound like to hear the way your voice forms “sister,” and I wish I could talk it all over with you, and I wish you could know that I made it out of that fucking tiny town, and I’d take atrocious Chicago parking over cornfields and repression, and what was your favorite end level from any game, because I’m remembering how much you played the final boss in Doom, but that could’ve been like a hate-play situation. I don’t know.

I’m shipping the game today, starting HRT tomorrow, visiting your grave the day after. I’ve got the whole schedule blocked out. It’s an executable on itch.io, but I thought about putting it on a ridiculous number of floppy disks too, and leaving it in front of your stone, the same way we’d cycle out floppies for Wolfenstein 3D, but floppies are hard to find these days and besides it’d have to be like 200 to fit the entirety of the game, so I settled on a burned disc instead, and I hope whatever afterlife PC you’ve got has decent specs, because I really pushed it with this game. Overclock it if you need to. Turn the settings down, whatever it takes. I really think you’re gonna like this one. I know I do.


Liza Olson is the author of the novels Here’s Waldo, The Brother We Share, and Afterglow. She’s also the Editor-in-Chief of (mac)ro(mic). A Best Small Fictions nominee, finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and 2021 Wigleaf longlister in and from Chicagoland, she’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Fiction Southeast, and other fine places. Find her online at lizaolsonbooks.com or on Twitter @lizaolsonbooks.

Image Credit

Originally published in LEON Literary Review Issue 17