Twilight's Gaming Habit

by Lise

Chapter 1: Gamer Twilight

"I absolutely agree, Mister Secretary General." Twilight nodded with a smile. "That's a matter of considerable significance and definitely a topic for our next round of talks. I'll even make a point of discussing it with Princess Luna."

Twilight glanced at the clock on the bottom of the screen. Five minutes left. Not much of a buffer, but she hoped it to be enough. Then again, she had the same thought ten minutes ago. That was the problem with humans—they wasted time starting with trivial matters, then went to the serious questions just as the conversation was coming to an end.

"And please be sure to give my regards to your lovely wife." Twilight tapped on the desk with her hoof. Just go and leave me to my stuff already! She wanted to yell, but doing so would cause a huge diplomatic scandal and Twilight had promised Princess Celestia she would try to avoid causing more.

The face on the screen nodded, cracked a few poor jokes, then ended the video call. Twilight stood there, plastic smile on her face, in case the Secretary General had forgotten something yet again. Ten seconds passed and much to her delight no new call followed.

"About bucking time!" Twilight shouted, levitating her pro headset on while closing all unnecessary processes in her task manager. "Lousy jerk!"

The reaction was a bit harsh, but deserved under the circumstances; It was a Saturday, and even if she was the de facto U.N. representative, this was no reason to steal her personal time especially with a tournament on the way.

Two minutes! The alicorn tried to contain her panic as she launched the game, mouse at the ready. He better not have cost me the prelims! Not after all that training! It was six months ago that Twilight had stumbled in the world of gaming—an alien and almost scary experience that had nearly cost her an expensive computer as well as caused a serious setback in pony-human relations. Now, gaming became part of her daily routine, scheduled between her official duties and the time she spent with friends. And, of course, it was crazy fun.

"Two hours!" Twilight shouted in disbelief.

This was her first official visit to Earth and probably the most important moment of her life. When Princess Celestia had tasked her with establishing diplomatic relations between Equestria and the human realm, Twilight had eagerly accepted. Technically, Princess Luna was supposed to lead the negotiations, yet she had caught the feather flu, requiring an urgent replacement to take her place. Unfortunately, neither side was adequately prepared for the last minute change.

This is not at all how I imagined it. Twilight's ears drooped. She had expected long intense meetings, crowds of reporters, frequent press conferences, and all the etiquette that came with a visit of a head of state. Instead, there was waiting...lots and lots of waiting. It had started with ten minute segments, then quickly moved to fifteen, then twenty. Now, on her second day, Twilight had to wait two hours for another meeting—which, incidentally, had started forty five minutes behind schedule—to conclude before it was her turn.

"What am I supposed to do for two hours?" The Princess sighed. "I've already read all of today's newspapers."

"All of them?" The human assistant raised a brow. He was young—probably in his early twenties—and solely responsible for presenting excuses for the delays of his superiors. So far he had been nothing but nice, but what Twilight preferred was to conclude her meetings, send her daily report to Princess Celestia, and finally go exploring the city.

"Most." Twilight began walking around the table. "They aren't that many differences between them, really. The news topics are shared, and it's not like I could understand the gossip columns. The sports sections ware interesting at first, but now it's just more of the same. The most interesting thing is the weather."

"Err, Princess, you've only been here a few days," the human said. The comment made Twilight's ears perk up.

"I went through the past two weeks, of course," she said in a matter of fact voice. "The best way to learn about a society is to go through their newspapers. Also, beside being practical, it's a good form of entertainment." Or would be, if they didn't keep reprinting the same things over and over until they became completely boring.

"There are other forms of entertainment, Princess," the human suggested. "Maybe—"

"I'm not watching YouTube!" Twilight stomped on the floor. "I've had enough of practical jokes and cat videos, thank you very much! Besides, I see those at home." Plus, Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy are with me on this trip, so I could go to the source anytime. "And I don't want to risk starting any books only to stop halfway."

The assistant opened his mouth to add something, but Twilight's glare gave him pause. For several seconds he stood there, shifting from foot to foot, clearly uncertain whether he should share his thoughts or flee the room.

"Have you tried gaming?" he suggested, flustered by his own words.

"Gaming? Twilight tilted her head. "I don't know. I didn't like your parks very much. Too much noise and smoke. I guess I could teleport to New Zealand and—"

"Computer gaming," the assistant corrected. "We have these machines, Princess, that are usually used for complex calculations. Originally they were built for work, but gradually—"

"I know what a computer is, Jeremy." Twilight narrowed her eyes. "As well as computer games. An entire night of YouTube, remember? And, for your information, we have those back home. Although, we prefer the term arcade machines."

"Err." The assistant swallowed, aware of his faux pas. "You approve then?" He ventured a smile.

Twilight glared at him, her muzzle scrunching at the suggestion. Her mind raced, trying to find an appropriate response. Teleporting off somewhere no longer seemed such a preposterous option. Although, doing so might cause mass panic again. The first time Twilight had teleported to get a glass of water mid session, the U.N, assembly had erupted into chaos. Phone calls had been made, jets scrambled, the press had entered frenzy mode, only to have her teleport back five minutes later with a bottle of mineral water bought from a nearby supermarket. Never again!

"Well, why not." Twilight's expression softened. "Are you sure it'll take two hours?"

"At least," the assistant sighed.

"Oh. Well, lead the way, then."

Ten minutes and several flights of stairs later, Twilight was in a rather small, though comfortable room, staring at the the largest computer screen she had seen in her life. It was far larger than the one she had in her hotel, covering a massive portion of the wall, as if it were a giant mirror.

“Let me get you chair, Princess,” the assistant said while Twilight remained mesmerized by the screen. “Err, Princess?”

“Sorry?” Twilight snapped out of her fascination. “Oh, yes.” A faint blush appeared on her face. I shouldn't get distracted by such things. Not when I'm representing the whole of Equestria. It is a nice tv, though. She climbed onto the chair, careful not to slide away, then placed her forehooves on the desk.

A slightly used keyboard stood in front of her. The W, A, S, and D keys were particularly worn out to the point they were difficult to make out. Twilight gritted her teeth; her ears flicked as she fought the urge to magic the keys back to a pristine state.

“This won't take a moment.” The assistant shook the mouse. The screen light up. A giant suit of mechanized armor glared at Twilight aiming his hand cannon at her face.

The Princess didn't hesitate, in the blink of an eye she cast an aether shield in front of her. An instant later the cannon fired. A flash of orange burst over the screen, yet there was no impact. The suit of armor continued with its menacing, though illogical, movements, leaving Twilight staring staring at it, mouth wide open. Minutes past, the silence was only broken by the faint sound of music and explosions coming from under the desk. Loop after loop, the virtual character did its set of animations, each identical to the last. Twilight kept on watching, until a gentle tap on the shoulder brought snapped her back to reality. Slowly, she turned her head to the side. The human was still there, looking at her with the same amount of confusion and bewilderment as she felt. This is awkward. Twilight closed her mouth and ceased her shield spell.

“My apologies,” the assistant said, then—hands shaking—tapped something on the keyboard. The suit of armour disappeared from the screen, replaced by the more familiar system desktop. “Someone must have left it on.” The human wiped the sweat off his forehead, as he clicked away with the mouse. A new window popped-up filling the screen covered in a mosaic of brightly colored gems. “Umm, this is a very popular game. What you have to do is move the gems so that they form a line of three or more, then —“

“What was that before?” Twilight interrupted, tail swishing.

“Err, just a silly game, Princess, nothing that would…” the assistant’s voice trailed off. Twilight was looking at him, head tilted to the side, with the expression of a kitten demanding to have a door opened. The match-3 game was completely ignored, and even performing a five-chain combo, failed to attract any interest. “I’ll start it again, Princess,” the man said in a defeated tone. “It's…a different type of game…”

At precisely four o’clock Twilight connected to the server, as she had for the past half-year. It was almost inconceivable that months ago she had done so in secret, resorting to fabricating complex schemes and foolish excuses to keep her hobby hidden. Often she would invent imaginary problems that required her undivided attention, then teleport to the basement of her castle where her computer awaited. There, she had no such qualms, putting a “Princess in play” sign in front of her door.

Here we go. Twilight took a deep breath, counted to three, cast away all concerns from her mind, and logged on to her game account. A large clock icon appeared on the top right corner of the screen, counting down the minutes to the start of the tournament. Strictly speaking, the first battles had started twenty seconds ago, but since the draw had placed Twilight’s team in the second batch of competitors, she had to wait an additional 45 minutes. Of course, that gave her ample opportunity to observe her opponents.

Let’s see what we have. Twilight opened a second window. Observer mode was disabled during any tournaments, but as most experts would attest, there were other ways of taking a sneak peek. Both Twitch and YouTube had live broadcasts of the event.

“Hey, Ascendant!” A helmet icon appeared in her game chat window. “How's it going? Ready for the massacre?”

The icon’s owner was Burdened—an online human she had met in the gaming circuit. A few months ago he had been team captain, yet studies and real life had forced him to step down. Regardless, Twilight still thought of him as the heart of the team, the one who had who had let her join.

“Sure am,” Twilight said gleefully. “I have my towel ready and everything. You?”

“I think I might have caught some bug. Not enough to keep me from kicking some ass, though.”

“I hope not!” Twilight adjusted the volume of her headphones. “Where are the others? Shouldn't they be here by now?”

“Kelly and JayJay will appear ten minutes before our time slot, as usual, and FlamePing went to get some food.”

“I thought the idea was to get some practice rounds before we start,” Twilight grumbled. She didn't like when people ignored her plans. Even if this was an amateur tournament that was no excuse to not take it seriously.

“Hey, not everyone's like you, ace,” Burdened laughed. “With your apm we’ll be fine. Remember, the goal is to reach the finals, not just win the first match.”

Still treating me like a noob. Twilight frowned. Even after all this time some things never changed.

“This is fun!” Twilight clopped her forehooves as her character emptied a full clip of ammunition in the enemy. A metallic scream filled her headphones, as the unfortunate target disintegrated on the screen. Moments later the end game screen appeared: Flawless Run, along with another dozen of achievements that Twilight promptly ignored.

It had taken some time to get used to split her magic between mouse and keyboard, but once she had gotten the knack of it the game had started to be fun. There was something about blasting virtual enemies to bits with giant unrealistic weapons that made her relax. It was as if the entire universe, and all its problems, were put on hold, letting her experience a moment of unadulterated bliss.

“Just two more tutorials to go!” she said, as she put a soaked in water handkerchief on her horn.

It had been less than a day since her first game, yet it seemed like years ago. Twilight cringed as she remember how bad her performance had been back then: bad a controls, lacking a strategy, jumping in her seat every time someone fired at her... The screen had flooded with angry chat messages, but instead of being bothered her only concern had been whether she had time for another round. The game had grabbed her like a siren’s song, kissed her with a passion, then run off leaving her wanting more. She had been forced to stop of course—there had been meetings to attend, treaties to be drafted, yet that night Twilight had ordered the most expensive gaming laptop she could find along with a collector's deluxe edition of Overkill. From that point on she had methodically started to read through as many player guides as she could muster, as well as complete all character class tutorials.

The first tutorial had taken her slightly over five minutes—about as much as any novice player. The related character campaign had been completed in ten. Twilight had managed to shave a minute off each subsequent tutorial until she reached a point at which it took longer to click through the in-game dialogues than complete the mission objectives.

“And that's the set!” Twilight shouted. Thirty two tutorials, all passed and completed.

Twilight stopped her levitation spell and stretched. Levitation, although being a low level spell, was a constraint drain of magic. Even at such small quantities several hours of playing proved exhausting, regardless of her alicorn powers.

I definitely need to level up my levitation spell…Heh! That’s funny. Twilight chuckled. I'm starting to think of myself in game terms. Well, I better get a quick shower. I reek!

Stifling a yawn, Twilight looked at the time; Half past one. Usually, she'd be fast asleep by now, but since she had no meetings scheduled for the following day she decided to stay up a few more hours. The notion came with its share of guilt; Rainbow Dash had been asking her to go explore the city ever since they had set hoof on Earth and so far Twilight had obliged only once. Devoting her evenings to gaming would hardly improve that.

Well, she could always go with Fluttershy. the Princess headed to the bathroom. And I’ll only be a few hours. I could still go out with her tomorrow.

The shower was quick and efficient, thanks to some advice on YouTube. Apparently, something good had come from watching cat videos. Still, it was not as relaxing as Twilight had thought, rather the opposite: it had made her ever more restless. The more she she scrubbed her fur, the more Twilight would think about what best class to use. The Fireflame Sorcerer was the logical choice, weak in health, but with the highest DPS by far after midgame. There was no reason for her to even consider anything else. And yet the Cannon Knight kept tempting her. He was clearly a support character, if there ever was one, slow and difficult to maneuver despite his vast damage output. According to all game guides, the character was to be avoided as a main unless there was a specific need for him in an well rounded veteran team. But just as much as Twilight’s logical part of the brain yelled for her to pick a better choice, the emotional side wouldn't let go. Cannon Knight was the very first thing she had seen of the game and managed to spark her interest.

“Well, the hay with it!” Twilight said shaking the remaining water off her fur and mane. “If I have to join a team I will!”

“What do you think of that, horn-suckers!?” Twilight yelled, unleashing her ultimate attack on the enemy sniper. “Next time don't camp in plain sight, noob!”

“Fuck you, bitch!” Her opponent responded, as his character’s death was announced on the server.

Twilight ignored him. Her team was still behind and there were only four minutes remaining. Even with her incredible rate of actions-per-minute she couldn't brute force her way to victory. If her team was going to win this they had to play it smart.

“Ass, where are you? I need you for the bunker!” FlamePing shouted in the team com.

“It's Ascendant, learn to read!” Twilight launched a fire barrage at the distant buildings. If they were about to make a final push for the bunker she wanted to be sure that no one would sneak behind her. The effort was rewarded with the sound of a horn—the game’s indication that an enemy opponent had been killed—followed by two usernames appearing in red in the upper corner of the screen.

Double kill? Twilight’s heart skipped. That was lucky! Had she done a normal attack or rushed for the bunker right away at least one of her opponents would have snuck up from behind, thus allowing the enemy team to keep their lead.

“Shit!” someone cursed in open channel. “Judge! The chick uses hacks! No one can aim at that speed!”

“Oh, piss off!” Twilight rushed towards the gathering point on the map. “As if I need hacks for a fuck like you. Just get back to making cat videos. That is if your not busy pissing in your pants!”

“Wow, Ace,” Burdened said on team com. “Cool the language, will you? Some of us might try to monetize this, you know.”

“Yeah, well, I'm tired of sniveling shit heads claiming hacks every time someone kicks their ass!” Twilight snorted. They deserved it! She knew it without a shadow of a doubt that they did, but at the same time, she also knew that Burdened had a point. She had changed quite a bit since her early gaming days. The naive starry eyed newbie that had once been was replaced by the sharp-tongued gamer that would take nothing sitting down, unless it came from a friend.

Another rejection. Twilight sighed. It had been a week and still no guild would accept her, even after all the trouble she had gone through to make her profile noticeable.

The very first thing she had done was use the unique collector’s copy skin and particle effects. The new appearance made the Knight look more techno than magic, and should have emphasized that she was serious. The choice of username, however, had taken longer than anticipated. For starters, Twilight had found that her proper name was taken, as well as “Princess”, “Sparkle”, “Librarian”, and even “Alicorn”. Her childhood nickname “Twily” had been available, but it would a sunless day before she registered that. At the end she had settled for “Ascendant”—a name both catchy and accurately depicting her nature. Also, it hadn’t been taken by anyone else.

From there on it should have been easy, or so she thought. Things couldn't have been further from the truth. Of the twenty eight groups she applied to, half rejected her outright, five ignored her, and seven had given up the moment she had mentioned that Cannon Knight was her main. What few remaining had offered her a tryout, but after a few games with mixed results had decided “she wasn't what the team needed”. Apparently it was more difficult to join an Overkill team than it was to enter in Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.

“I might as well duel.” Twilight sighed and clicked on the quick play button.

Technically, one-to-one duels were also part of the game, yet it wasn't the same. There was something special in being part of a team, five characters each with their separate role, yet working together to achieving the win conditions before their opponents. In duels there were only two players facing each other, and nearly always involved a lot of shouting and swearing.

Opponent found!

Ascendant vs. Burdened

Levitating her headphones on, Twilight waited. The game had selected the Underforest as the arena, possibly the worst choice for her character. Then again her opponent—playing Drill Sniper King—didn't have a particular advantage either.

Hmm, damage against range, Twilight thought. Both characters had low attack speed and did ludicrous amounts of damage. On average three shots were needed for a Sniper King to kill her knight, even with the shield buff active. At the same time a direct rocket hit from her cannon could easily wipe out most of the sniper’s health.

3… 2…1… Go!

Instantly, Twilight rushed to the center of the level. Her optimal course of action was to reduce the distance between her and her enemy so she could engage in a direct shootout. The tactic was described as stupid in most of the online guides, mostly because it was highly unreliable. The Cannon Knight had a high built-in shake factor, making it next to impossible for him to hit a precise target. His purpose was to provide area damage and gradually grind down enemies or, failing that, use the created chaos to get close to them and kill them with his sword arm. Twilight’s method of playing was different; her use of magic provided her with a reaction time faster than most humans, thus allowing her to fire at the precise moment the weapon crosshair was over the target she wanted to hit. It didn't always work—Twilight was still annoyed at her 83% success rate—but with the element of surprise on her side there was no better tactic.

“Going for the high ground?” Her opponent asked on the voice chat. “Won't do you any good.”

“Oh, you’re most definitely mistaken.” Twilight smiled. At least this one didn't resort to insults this early in the game. “There are a limited amount of locations you could snipe me from, which would either force you to try your luck, at a 24% success rate, or approach, granting me the advantage.”

“Aww, that's cute,” Burdened laughed. “Newbie thinks she could play. Where did you read that from? The loser boards?”

“Why, thank you.” Twilight fired a barrage of distraction shots, then leapt up the ruined citadel, heading for its highest point.

“Huh?” There was confusion in her opponent’s voice. Twilight could almost picture his expression.

“I just thought it was nice that you toned down your trash talk for me.” Her character was in position. All she needed to do now was to find out where he was hiding, while “knight dancing” so as not to be an easy sniping target.

“Ah. Well, maybe I'm a gentleman.”

“Or just single and flirting.” Not the best insult, but Twilight was still learning. As distasteful as it was, talking was an extremely effective way of forcing opponents to make mistakes. Furthermore—and this still alarmed her—mocking others felt relaxing. “Better give up. I’m so out of your league.” Technically, it’s even also true.

“Well, excuuuuse me, Princess,” Burdened laughed. The word made Twilight freeze. Does he know? the question popped up in her mind. Had she been stupid enough to put her full details when registering for the game? At this point she couldn't be certain she hadn't.

A muzzle flash in the distance snapped her back to reality. Half of her character’s health vanished, putting her in lethal territory. Twilight’s instincts took over. Her only hope was to bet everything on a well aimed ultimate shot that would kill her enemy before he had a chance to fire again. Quickly she moved the virtual crosshair to the area she had seen the shot come from. The game marker hovered over the spot following the standard semi-randomized pattern. The seconds dragged on; ive more and Twilight would be dead.

Come on! Twilight bit her lip. She could feel her heart racing, as adrenaline rushed through her bloodstream. One shot, all she needed was one shot. The crosshair kept moving around like a butterfly, then after what seemed an infinity later, fell into place. I have you now! Twilight grinned as she pressed fire.

A virtual explosion erupted in the distance, followed by the sound of a horn and the message YOU WIN! written in large red letters.

“What the fuck?” Burdened shouted. “How did you do that?”

“Newbie’s luck,” Twilight lied. She had learned the hard way that no one would believe such shots were intended. The only explanations people would accept were that she was lucky or using cheat mods. After having her account tested twice by the game’s community managers, Twilight preferred “being lucky.”

“Don't give me that shit! Do you use hacks?”

“No, and my account has already been checked by—“

“Listen,” Burdened cut her off. “There's no way you went to the center of the map, climbed to the top of the shrine, and just stood there to be lucky.”

“No, I assure you that's all there is. I didn't mean to beat you. It was a calculated risk. You still have a 76% chance of being victorious.”

Silence. No chance he’ll agree to another match. Twilight’s ears drooped. Even nice players usually quit by now. Victory in less than a minute was not something humans could accept, apparently.

Maybe I’ll change my class after all, the Princess mused. Playing with a more straightforward character would undoubtedly increase her chances of finding a team. Or maybe she could start joining random matches? It wasn't as fulfilling as being part of a permanent team, but it beat playing duels, and she could still play as a Cannon Knight.

“How long have you been playing?” Burdened asked.

“Huh?” Twilight blinked. She hadn't expected any further interaction on her ex-opponent’s part. “About a week. Why?”

“And you've only been playing with Cannon Knight?”

“Well, I rather like him,” Twilight began. Don’t freak him out. Don't start talking about stats. “And it's said he's quite strong in team play. Though, I haven't been getting any success on that front. Say, you don't happen to have a team do you?”

“Err, that was sudden.”

“Sorry, sorry!” Stupid, stupid, stupid! Twilight covered her face with her wings in shame. “I just got carried away and… it's been a long week, lots of boring meetings, and my friends left for home a few days ago, so I…” she paused. “And I just made a bigger fool of myself, haven’t I?”

“Are you sure you aren't thirteen?”

“Hey! That's a rude thing to say!”

“Don't blame me, you walked into that one,” Burdened laughed. “Anyway, you up for another go? I'll choose the arena this time.”

“Err, sure?” Twilight's wings fluffed up. This was the first time anyone had asked for a rematch without shouting or cursing. “Want me to change my main? I'm not that good with the rest, but—“

“No.” An invite popped up in the middle of Twilight’s screen. “I want to see how you handle Cannon Knight.”

“Die, die, die!” Twilight kept shooting as fast as the weapon cooldown would let her. The opponent team had completely outclassed them dominating the entire round. It had taken them one game to identify her team’s weaknesses and devise a tactic to exploit them. From the second game onward Twilight had been obliged to play constant defense, trying to keep her teammates alive for long enough to do something, anything. Alas, so far it had made no difference whatsoever.

“Oh, baby, I love it when you talk dirty,” someone floated in the general chat.

“Fuck you, wing licker!” Twilight shouted stomping on the floor. The game was pretty much over at this point. Forty seconds remained, not enough to let her make up the three hundred point deficit even if manage to escape the enemy crossfire.

“Calm it, Ace,” Burdened said on team com. “Seven four isn't a bad result. We’ve got a real shot for top sixteen. Just let this game go.”

“Suck my horn, shithead!” Twilight completely ignored the advice, shouting in the general chat.

“Easy now,” her opponent laughed, “You'll have to buy me dinner first.”

“Oh, yeah? I have your dinner right—“

“Umm, Twilight?” a familiar said behind her. Twilight froze. Droplets of cold sweat formed on her face. Levitating her headphones off her head, she slowly looked over her shoulder. Standing at the entrance, a semi-asleep and somewhat annoyed dragon was leaning against the doorframe. “It's half past two, Twilight. Can't you stop with your stupid game until tomorrow, maybe?”

“Err.” Twilight felt her face burn with shame. This was the fourth time this month the dragon had commented on her gaming habits. The last time he had caught her Twilight had officially promised to lay out some ground rules, including no gaming after two in the morning. “Right. Sorry, Spike,” she whispered. “I'll be done in a bit.”

“Yeah, whatever,” the dragon grumbled. “Just keep it down, okay? I've got places to go tomorrow.” He yawned, then giving her one final glare, turned around heading back into the corridor. “And you don't have to whisper. I'm already awake.”

“Sorry,” Twilight watched him close the door behind him. That was embarrassing. Next time I'm casting a silence bubble even if it increases my input lag. A flash of color came from the screen. The game had ended with Twilight’s team losing by two hundred and eighty points. Not the worst result, but definitely not something to be proud of either.

Guess that's all we could manage with six months training, Twilight thought, as she levitated a wet towel onto her horn. The cool sensation felt refreshing.

“Sorry guys,” Twilight said into her mic. “Guess we still have a way to go before we become championship material. Good work, though. Almost no forced errors, just a matter of practice and tactics. Maybe a change of characters—three supports is too much out of meta. I'll see if we can make a built with two and three DPS. It’ll probably take some trial and error, but I'm sure that in the end we’ll… actually, you know what? I think I still have time for one more practice round…”

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