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Monday, December 3, 2018

Virtual Reality Game Testers Should Always Read the Fine Print: My Review of Ryan Decker's Deadly Realm: Fighting for Freedom

In Ryan Decker's gamelit novella Deadly Realm: Fighting for Freedom, a young game tester is thrown into a fast-paced, virtual reality world that tests not only his survival skills, but his sanity!

The story begins with Paxton Tyler selected to test out a new game that supposedly will help advance autism research. His brother is autistic, so Pax sees this a triple-win: He can help his brother, get paid, and enjoy playing inside a computer game. Pax loves computer games.

Unfortunately for Pax, it isn't that simple. And the experience is more terrifying than enjoyable. He's greeted by a tough, mean-spirited guide who claims she is trapped inside the game. Within a few pages, his guide softens and warms to him. But she's pulled away from him after the first three levels. The nature of her 'reality' is part of the story's mystery. And he faces a succession of monsters that cause him intense pain, panic, and medical crises back in the real world testing facility.

As the story itself puts it: "[Pax] thought living in a fantasy world, battling demons or beasts would be everything he'd ever dreamt of. Instead, it filled him with confusion and fear unlike anything he'd known before."

Deadly Realm is light on game mechanics and RPG elements. Those who enjoy hard litrpg (lots of charts, number-crunching stats, etc) should look elsewhere. It's also quite short. An experienced reader can zoom through this in one sitting. And while short reads are fine (at least for me), the speed with which Pax races through the levels makes the story feel rushed for no reason. The game world doesn't feel very big and certainly not very open. The short length, combined with the story's fast pace, also makes Pax seem more powerful (despite his earnest fear at times) than what the story tries to convey. And the ending is, shall we say, rather abrupt.

Definite language warning on this one. Many of my faith-oriented readers will want to take a pass. I suppose this reflects how a majority of RPG gamers talk, but I find such vulgarity unnecessary and a definite turn-off.

I personally found the story enjoyable overall, though hardcore Gamelit/LitRPG readers will likely see plenty of room for improvement.