Let's Play

by Boyan Botev
1st July 2022

“Hi guys and welcome to another episode of Gavin plays Minecraft and today, guys, we’re going to be expanding our farm, but first we want to get some more paper because we want to make an enchanted bookcase to get some of those sweet, sweet enchantments.”

            The screen, the only light in the room, was reflected in the plastic of a Pepsi bottle. The curtains were closed.

            “And because it’s Minecraft, guys, the only way to make paper is with sugar cane. That’s right guys: it’s time to go exploring. We got our map here, we got our scissors – looks like we’re ready to go.”

            Through his headphones came a thumping tread outside the door, going up the stairs. On the screen, a blocky character ran through a world of cubes underneath a square sun.

            “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m super excited for the new update. We’re running it at the moment so as soon as we start going somewhere we haven’t been before it’s going to start loading new chunks with all the new features in them. But yeah, at the moment we’re just seeing terrain from the previous version. We’re going to have to go off the edge of the map to see something new.”

            He took a swing of Pepsi. The cap lay upturned on the desk.

            “Ok so here we are, guys – we’re going off the edge of the map now and yeah, so far looks like standard oak forest; we got our nice trees here and our sheep and pigs – hello Piggie – nah don’t worry, I’m not hungry. We got plenty of bread and apples with us.

            “Looks like there’s some pine forest up ahead – nothing too exciting. I know you guys are waiting to see some of the new updated biomes but just wait, guys: we’re going to find some but first things first we’re going to get some sugar cane because yeah, I can’t wait to get me an enchanted pickaxe and some enchanted diamond leggings.”

            The tread going up the stairs had stopped.

            “All right, so what’s that over there? That’s a pretty big bunch of trees for sure. Don’t usually see that in a pine forest.” The cubes of leaves and trunks fused together in a shapeless mass of blocks. The character selected an axe and began clicking through. “That’s weird. Looks like a glitch.” The character was making a tunnel through the solid mass. It kept on going. There were no gaps in the clump. “This is weird, guys, I mean… looks like the new terrain generation doesn’t work 100%. I mean to me this is pretty thick for a pine forest. Thick? I mean dense – is that the word? You guys better let me know in the comments.”

            The cube of leaves in front broke away. Behind it was white. With a few more clicks of the mouse, the other blocks in the way were broken. The character stepped forward. Only white.

            The ground was pure white. The sky was gone.

            “Ooooh… So we got a problem here, guys. Look at this. No nothing. Chunk’s not loading at all. But I can still walk, look. The ground’s still here, but I can’t see it. And look, in front of me’s an invisible wall now. The textures aren’t loading but the world’s still here. I’m bumping into it, look.”

            But something was coming out of the whiteness. Getting gradually larger. His hand jerked away from the screen.

            “What the –”

His elbow hit the bottle. It fell and the liquid slushed and fizzed onto his lap.

It was a rectangle, with moving images. Not blocky or pixelated – high definition. Curves and smooth motions. Back and forth. Up and down.

He blinked.

A woman’s body, naked. He knew that body. Even as she was turned away, he knew that face.

He searched for the Escape key, found it. Pressed it. No response.

There was sound, too – getting louder and louder. Soft moans that surrounded him, oppressive, too loud but only getting louder until they shrieked distorted in his headphones. He yanked them off and his fingers scrabbled over the keyboard. Ctrl Alt Delete. No response. The Windows Key. No response. The woman turned toward the camera and fixed her eyes on him. She smiled and bit her lip. He found the off button. He held it down. Kept holding it down.



Hammersmith flyover loomed over Stepan, the brutal concrete supports on either side of him, the sea of traffic all around. He strode through it, his long black hair tied back, his arms swinging, his body shining with energy.

            With his stubble and glasses, T-shirt and jeans, he looked like what he was: a programmer, and he was proud of it. His pride was palpable, overflowing through the air – you could almost smell it and you could not help but notice it.

            He was on his way back to the office after his usual afternoon walk, which, as often was the case, had set his mind spinning with ideas. He strode out from under the flyover and onto the street, the office in his sights.

            It had probably once been a very ugly building – perhaps it still was – but at some point one of its walls had been repainted a pastel yellow with a horizontal stripe of terracotta near the bottom: Mediterranean colours that somehow fitted. Now, in the afternoon sun, even the rest of the building was pleasant to look at, its hard lines and drab greys redeemed.

            He glided through the revolving doors and into the waiting lift. The receptionist had already left, and the IT department was almost empty when he got there. Only Josh was still there. They were closing early for the weekend and practically everyone in the building had already gone.

            As he sat down and reopened the console window on the desktop, Josh looked over his shoulder.

            “All those hard-coded values, man…”

            “Reality is hard-coded.”

            It was true. Maybe his code was full of pure math instead of neat comments and variables that other programmers could easily read. But so was the real world. Open up a DNA chromosome and would you find instructions on how to use it?

            Besides, no one but Stepan would ever need to look at this. Unless they fired him and found someone new.

            “I’ve just got to sort a few things out,” he said to Josh. “Mind if I stay a bit longer?” Josh shrugged.

            “Whatever. You’ve got the key.” Stepan had been with the company since the Hammersmith branch had opened. They trusted him.

            As soon as Josh went back to his own desk, he minimized the console and opened Chrome. https://www.youtube.com/user/GavinPlays

            When he had first tried explaining to his boss the benefits of an afternoon walk, Josh had been skeptical, but Stepan had won him over in the end. The mind needed to relax he said, so that it could come at problems from a different angle. It was the jargon that did it in the end – ‘focused’ and ‘unfocussed’ modes, the key to the ‘flow’ state.

            If he could, Stepan would walk somewhere away from the city. In a forest. Probably to most Londoners that kind of thing was a commodity. ‘Walking in nature,’ they called it. To them birdsong might as well be a YouTube playlist of ‘Relaxing birdsong, 5hrs.’ To them it had nothing to do with the creatures that made the sound: it was just a background noise, and a ‘therapeutic’ one at that.

            To him, though, birdsong was a series of coded messages, passed constantly between entities. Looking at a curling fern he saw the Golden Ratio – in a flower’s petals the Fibonacci series. And yet the forest would so often come to a sector where all that beauty had been replaced by hard vectors. Pines planted in straight lines so you could look down the channels between them. That was the kind of math Josh dealt in. He was the kind of person who would design such a forest. It would take less effort to make. It would be more cost effective.

            But Josh was soon gone, taking his suede shoes and leather jacket with him. The entire building was empty except for Stepan. The ‘Gavin plays Minecraft’ series played in a tab, muted and Stepan regarded it with a fixed expression. Millions of people watched this, and for what? Cubes. Straight lines. What had this person made? A rectangular farm bordered by neat fences. A mine. A house copied from one on an internet forum. He closed the tab.

            Gavin didn’t stream. He recorded videos on single-player and then uploaded them to YouTube. So what was the way in?

            Outside, the perfect blue sky was deepening and the smog on the horizon had a pinkish glow. Stepan’s fingers danced on the keyboard. It was a long time since he’d given himself a challenge like this.



Gavin (although that wasn’t his real name) had always looked up to his sister. She always knew what to do, did well at school, had lots of friends. In those days, all Gavin thought about was games. When he wasn’t playing them, he could see them in his mind’s eye, thinking about the next thing he wanted to do when he got back from school and turned on the desktop. Waiting for the Windows Vista Logo, the familiar startup sound. Because when he was playing, he didn’t have to think about what had happened at school, or the exams coming up. Then, the only world that existed was the one through the game window.

            He played all sorts: real-time strategy, platformers, RPGs, but there was one game that was different to all the rest. It was the one that started him as a YouTuber, when Let’s Plays were only just becoming a thing. Minecraft.

            His mother tried to intervene, but she didn’t know how. In the summer break, some days he only left his room to go down to the toilet or get something out of the fridge. He didn’t plan to do that – it was just that once he started, there was always something else he wanted to: something else to level up, another strategy he wanted to try out.

            As for his sister, everyone said she would go far. She always got the top grades, in Maths and Sciences and Humanities as well as Art. She was going to study Graphic Design at university. It had all been planned out, and for the first two years it seemed everything would go as expected. She got into the right College; she was doing the right Course. For two years he hardly saw her. When she came back home, she was always busy studying or out seeing friends. When she told him and his Mum about it over dinner, it sounded like everything was fine. He knew she was short on money, but it sounded like she had it under control.

            There were some changes, though. She put pictures on Facebook that as soon as he saw, he closed the tab. Then people at school started talking about her, boys with older brothers who were at her uni. When he heard about the videos, he hadn’t believed it. He had only watched the beginning of one, to the point where it was obvious it wasn’t a joke. 3:18. That was where he paused it. That was where it stopped having a story.


He pressed the on button. The lights under the keyboard lit up. Then came the DELL logo. Then the startup screen, asking for a password.

            He sighed. Someone had hacked into his computer. Was that it? He didn’t understand what else could have happened.

When the desktop loaded, a window came up saying Minecraft had crashed.

This program closed unexpectedly. Would you like to reopen it? No.

He opened YouTube instead and scrolled down through the comments on his latest video.


          Piggie: …

          Gavin: be my fren

          Piggie: *walks away*

          *Sad music plays*


          Me: XD


          Do Terraria! Pls pls pls


          Mfw u got that skeleton. EPIC


          Lol gavin even piggie says us have no life lol jk ilyr u da best


He closed the tab. Automatically his finger double clicked on the Chrome icon again. His fingers typed the word. Porn. The page of entries came up. Pornhub. He clicked. There was the home page. There was a tension in his hand. His eyes scanned over the rows of thumbnails, the categories. Popular. Recommended for you. See all.

            He clicked on the Search bar and typed in her name. Not her real name. Jessica Pearl. Enter. The rows of thumbnails loaded, one by one. There she was, naked in all of them, held in different angles by men whose faces were off-screen. He glanced down at the carpet and back up again.

            Cute girl gets pounded. Euro blonde takes hot facial.

            He stopped looking at the titles, tried to focus only on the backgrounds. He scrolled down. It wasn’t any of these. There – the same yellow couch. Fake leather. A hand gripping her by the ponytail. Click. The video loaded the same image but larger with a triangular ‘play’ icon over it. Click.

            There she was, walking into the room. He couldn’t hear her heels clacking. She was talking to camera, but there was no sound. Underneath were white subtitles.



He blinked.

thats not your real name

He froze, finger on the mouse.

so you’re lying to millions of people.

The video kept playing. She had stopped talking and was kneeling in front of the man.

don’t pause it. this is what they’re going to see. your subscribers. its the next video you’re going to post. along with your real name.

            There was a light above the screen. The webcam was on. He tried to speak but nothing came out.

            don’t worry. you won’t have to do anything. i already have all the details i need.

            “But –” It came out as a splutter, a cough. His sister’s head was bobbing up and down.

            all those fourteen year olds are going to learn something about you.

            “You.. But what about my channel?”
            your channel will be taken down for violating youtube content guidelines. but by then you will have deleted all your previous videos and the saved files on your computer. there will be no channel.

            He stared into the point of light.

            “But… I-”
            don’t ask why. you know why. you’re the shit thats bringing this civilization down. you’re turning young men into people like you. you’re teaching them not to grow up. and your spreading your addiction to mindless content. you even seem proud of it.

            He opened his mouth.

            all you do is take. you take from your mother, whos too kind to say no to you. you take other peoples work and film yourself consuming it. but its ok. its all going to stop now. i’m going to help you do it.


            i’m going to turn you into a man.

            He cried out. There was a thump of feet outside the door. A knock.



Anna opened the door. Her son had the guilty look he often had when she came in, as if he’d just closed five tabs and taken off his headphones. He’d been watching pornography, then. His face was white and covered with sweat. The screen was black. He’d even turned off the computer but was still sitting in front of it. It was hard even for her to pretend she didn’t understand.

            “Yeah?” he said.

            “You’re making all this noise. For YouTube?”

            “Um. Yeah.”

            “Don’t know why you need to make so much noise.”

            “I wasn’t-”

            “Yes you were. Screaming and shouting. It’s the middle of the night. I said today I’m coming home late –”

            “Ok, Ok.” But she wasn’t going to stop now. Apart from the disabled teenagers she looked after at work, she’d hardly spoken to anyone all day.

            “Not ‘Ok.’ What are you doing all day? Playing games.”


            “I don’t know what is this job where you’re making this –” He got up and started walking out the room. “Where you going?”

            “I’m going out.”

            “You going out? It’s middle of the night.”

            “I’m going to the police.”

            She took a second look at him. He was almost at the door, his face turned away.

            “Is about Maria?” He didn’t say anything. “What happened? Someone…?” She stepped closer. He turned further away, then pressed his fingers to his forehead. He mumbled something. “What you say?”

            “Maybe you’re right.” He was digging his index finger into the bridge of his nose.

            “I’m not understanding. Maria is in trouble?”

            “I said maybe you’re right. About the job. About YouTube. Maybe I should delete my account.”

            She shook her head. What was her son talking about? Wasn’t he famous? Didn’t he have many people watching his videos?

            “I’m not saying that.”

            “Well, maybe you were right. Maybe I should delete it.” She took another step towards him.

            “What happened with Maria?”

            “Nothing. She’s fine.” His voice was a monotone.

            “But you going to the police?” He stared at the point where the carpet met the wall.

            “I’ll call them. I guess.” She took his phone from the desk and handed it to him.



Behind the curtains, the light of morning was getting brighter, yellower. On the floor lay an empty Pepsi bottle. The voice that spoke was tired.

“Hi guys and welcome to another episode of Gavin plays Minecraft. Today, we’re going to be expanding our farm but before that we want to get some paper because we got to make an enchanted bookcase.

            “And because it’s Minecraft, guys, you know how it works. The only way to make paper is with sugar cane. So that’s right: it’s time to go explore the world. We got our map, we got our scissors here – looks like we’re ready to go.”

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