Chapter 4:

Lady (Sounds Like A Dude)

Tales of Virtual Shopkeeper

Isn’t it strange how there’s always one player in the hero’s group who has the role of a Shopkeeper? Haven’t you ever wondered who, in a world of endless possibilities, would ever choose to play the mundane role of a Shopkeeper? …That would be me, Yuu Watanabe. I get tons of customers with interesting tales to tell. The smiles on their faces as they tell me all about their latest quests and achievements is the greatest high in the world. And that is why I chose to be a Shopkeeper in Utopia Online.Bookmark here

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Utopia Online is the most immersive and realistic VRMMO ever created. One of the biggest draws to the game is that players can be whoever –or whatever– they want to be. Naturally, there are a lot of men who choose to play as a woman. (And, of course, the same is true vice-versa.) Some are just curious what it feels like to be the opposite sex, others use it as a means of coping with a dysphoria, and then there are those who do it for purely sexual reasons. As long as they’re paying customers, their reasons are of no concern to me.Bookmark here

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-DINGALING!-Bookmark here

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A rather plain-looking girl that I didn’t recognize stood in my doorway. She wore a pair of jeans, a small t-shirt that exposed her avatar’s midriff and a pair of thick-rimmed glasses with a square frame. Her avatar had a chubbier-than-average build, but not quite obese. It always baffled me why someone would choose to use such a basic appearance in a world of infinite possibilities, but I guess that kind of thinking was somewhat hypocritical coming from me, since my character wasn’t particularly flashy either – An open green men’s kimono, an oval-framed pair of glasses and a pair of camo pants. The only notable features of my avatar were my pointed, elf-like ears and my chiseled abs, but those were fairly common in the world of Utopia Online.Bookmark here

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The girl approached my counter nervously. Perhaps she lacked people-skills? I knew a few people who played this game to boost their confidence and better their social-etiquette, so that was definitely a plausible theory. I opened up a menu and read the name atop the girl’s head.Bookmark here

Kiran – Level 22 VillagerBookmark here

“Your name is Kiran right? That’s a nice name,” I smiled, “Hi, I’m Yuu Watanabe. I’m here to supply you with whatever you need.”Bookmark here

She mumbled as she covered her mouth, “N-nice to meet you, Watanabe…”Bookmark here

“Hm? C’mon, you can speak up. There’s no need to be shy.”Bookmark here

The girl removed her hand from her mouth, looking away as she spoke again. “I-I said it’s nice to m-meet you, Watanabe…”Bookmark here

Of course, that explained it. I leant forward on the countertop, looking my customer in the eyes.Bookmark here

“Hey, Kiran. Is your nervousness related to the fact that you’re not used to being a woman?”Bookmark here

“Gah! Wh-wha?!” Her face turned bright red as she flailed around on the spot. “Wh-what gave you that i-idea?” she stammered nervously.Bookmark here

“It’s the voice,” I stated blankly, “Utopia Online doesn’t automatically change your voice to fit your character. You have to do that manually.”Bookmark here

“O-oh, I see…” she (he?) said, no longer making an attempt to hide her (his?) masculine voice.Bookmark here

“You have to buy a third-party device in order to do that,” I informed her, “You can buy a voice-changing headset for relatively cheap at most videogame stores.”Bookmark here

“Th-thanks. I’ll be going now…” Kiran hung her head down as she walked over to the exit.Bookmark here

“H-hey! Wait a second,” I called out, “There’s no need to feel embarrassed around me! I’d still be happy to take your order!”Bookmark here

“Really?!” Her eyes lit up as she turned around, “I-in that case, I’d l-like some new Gear…”Bookmark here

“But of course,” I smiled, opening the door to the Fantasy Shoppe’s rather large storage-closet. Perhaps ‘storage-room’ or ‘storage-dimension’ would be a more accurate description for it…Bookmark here

“Ladies first,” I teased, grinning.Bookmark here

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“See anything you like?” I asked.Bookmark here

“There are so many outfits to choose from…”Bookmark here

The two of us stood next to an entire row of Gear. I walked over to a nearby shelf and picked up some bra-like armor.Bookmark here

“May I suggest trying bikini armor? I know it doesn’t look like much, but it boosts your base Defense Stat by 30 points… somehow.”Bookmark here

“Aheh,” Kiran laughed meekly, scratching the back of her head, “I d-don’t quite think that my avatar has the… body required to p-pull off that look…”Bookmark here

I shrugged. “Yeah, you might be right,” I replied, putting it back on the shelf.Bookmark here

“…Hey, hang on! I think I know what would suit you!” I bent down, picking up a pair of plus-sized metallic shorts and some chest armor, “I think these might be a better fit for your avatar’s… unique build.”Bookmark here

“Eek,” she shrieked, “That’s perfect! I’ll try equipping them immediately!”Bookmark here

I blushed, my pupils widening as she unbuttoned the top of her jeans. The fact that she was actually a man didn’t make this feel any less awkward. On the contrary, it actually made it worse.Bookmark here

“What the Hell are you doing,” I yelled, stopping her before she went too far, “There’s a changing-room at the end of the hallway, you know?!”Bookmark here

She looked away, adjusting her glasses furiously. She was even more embarrassed by this interaction than I was.Bookmark here

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I had been standing in complete silence outside the changing-room for about ten minutes, the sound of rustling clothes echoing throughout the closet.Bookmark here

“Hey, Kiran. Are you alright in there?” I asked, knocking on the door.Bookmark here

“Y-yeah,” she huffed, “It’s just a tad difficult to wriggle out of these pants! I-isn’t there an easier way to equip your Gear?”Bookmark here

“You can only quick-change into Gear that you’ve previously worn,” I told her.Bookmark here

“Th-that sucks. What kind of idiot designed this game?”Bookmark here

I sighed. She probably wasn’t going to be finished up in there anytime soon. I needed to find something to do to pass the time.Bookmark here

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“Yo, Kiran. Can I ask you something?”Bookmark here

“S-sure, make it quick. I’m nearly done here.”Bookmark here

I doubted that. Unless she had managed to pull those jeans off within the last thirty seconds, I didn’t have much hope in her being ‘nearly done’.Bookmark here

“If it isn’t too embarrassing for you,” I began, “I’d like to know why you chose to play as a female character. I’ve pondered for a while on the reasons that other players might have for doing as such.”Bookmark here

“O-oh,” the Villager stammered, “I-I doubt you’d find it very interesting…”Bookmark here

“Try me.”Bookmark here

Sometimes tales about a customer’s personal-life were more entertaining than stories about their virtual-life. After spending years in the role of a virtual Shopkeeper, I’ve developed somewhat of a sixth-sense when it comes to telling which customers have interesting personal stories to tell.Bookmark here

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“T-to be honest… I originally created this avatar as a test.”Bookmark here

“Oh,” I asked, “What kind of test?”Bookmark here

“Well, I heard that Utopia Online is the m-most realistic VRMMO experience out there, so I got curious and d-decided to make an avatar that was everything that I’m not, i-in order to see just how realistic this game really was," she explained. "Instead of being the t-tall and handsome muscleman that I a-am IRL, I made my avatar a sh-short, slightly-overweight, fairly average-looking girl.”Bookmark here

“Wow,” I muttered, “Sounds like you’re a dreamboat in real life…”Bookmark here

“I had intended to d-delete this Account after I tested the game out, b-but… I kinda liked the feeling of b-being a girl. I know it’s weird but--”Bookmark here

“I don’t think it’s weird,” I interrupted, “I think it suits you, if that makes sense?”Bookmark here

True, she definitely played the role well. I found it hard to imagine what Kiran was like in real life. I couldn’t possibly picture a so-called ‘tall and handsome muscleman’ stammering nervously like some scared school-age girl.Bookmark here

“D-do you really think so, Watanabe?!”Bookmark here

I smiled. “You can call me Yuu.”Bookmark here

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The changing-room door flung open as Kiran made her grand entrance. “How do I look?”Bookmark here

I examined the girl’s body as she turned around and struck a few poses. She was clearly happy with her purchase, and so was I. (Admittedly, it was the most expensive set of armor that I had on offer, but I chose to omit that detail from her…)Bookmark here

“It looks great, Kiran!”Bookmark here

At the start of the day, I had wondered why other players would sometimes choose to play as the opposite sex. Was it out of curiosity? Was it a means of coping with gender dysphoria? Or was it something sexual? I suppose that the reason wasn’t important, as long as they were enjoying themselves…Bookmark here

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END OF PURCHASEBookmark here

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