I was always told that high school will be the best years of my life. People talk about unforgettable friends they made and about all of the typical high school events that they remember dearly. I don’t see what they’re on about, though. My high school life was not anything special. I made friends, but far fewer than the people around me. The school events just seemed the same as those held at any other school in the country, and the main thing that I remember vividly is studying hard to get good grades. It was not the type of high school life I was promised. It was all part of a simulation, though, so maybe the promise itself was null and void from the get-go.
I graduate from high school tomorrow. For the past year, I’ve kept my head down, not risking anything that could lead to problems like with Mr. Gary. The fact that I suspected that the world around me was a simulation is something that I’ve had to keep to myself. The weight of the realisation hasn’t gotten lighter, but I’ve simply gotten used to interacting with the world and its people as if they were real. So many things have changed since I first started noticing glitches happening around me. These glitches were the messages that I interpreted to hypothesise that I am living in a simulation, and there were quite a number of them over time.
This all started when I saw a lamppost in the middle of the street, about to lead to an accident with a speeding car. The car just drove through it, however, like the lamppost was never even there. Then there was the cultural festival, where the bonfire suddenly turned blue for a brief moment. These first two glitches were rather spectacular in comparison to most of the others, probably in order to grab my attention. I even thought that I was going crazy, until I heard a voice telling me ‘It’s not you’. That was the third glitch, trying to assure me that I was on the right path.
The next three glitches were clearly linked to each other, as all three seemed to be aimed at telling me that I am in a simulation. Both the star ornament and the clock appeared to fall, but then quickly reset to their initial positions before reaching the ground. This, along with the blurry lines that appeared during these glitches, led me to conclude that both seemed like something that would happen in a cheap game. Though the sixth glitch didn’t involve blurry lines, I did walk past the same person, wearing the same clothes and saying the same thing, twice in the span of five minutes. That seemed even more like a bug in a game, and basically solidified my theory on the simulation.
The last two messages of my second year happened almost a year ago at the graduation ceremony. When the valedictorian got on stage, everything except me and her turned monochrome, and returned to normal as she started talking. I haven’t seen her again since that day, so I’m assuming that I was correct with my initial conclusion - it wasn’t her that was important, it was the fact that she was the valedictorian, just like I’ve been working to become. During her speech, the date also slightly changed for a moment, which I later discovered was the date for my graduation ceremony. Together, these two glitches relayed the message that my primary goal should be to graduate as the valedictorian.
The number of glitches died down drastically after the graduation ceremony. I interpreted that as a hint that I was on the right track with my conclusions, as scary as they were. I was continuously thinking about why I might be in a simulation, what advantages there might be to it. At some point, while I was playing a game to pass the time, I noticed a feature in the game that accelerated the passage of time so that you could gather resources quicker. This made me think about the possibility that had been in my mind before - that the passage of time, or at least my perception of time, might be different inside this world than in the real world. I knew it didn’t have anything to do with gathering resources quickly, but there were many ways that this feature could be of benefit. As if to echo my thought, a glitch occurred after I exited the game - two birds were flying impossibly slowly past my window. That, to me, was an obvious enough hint that my speculation was correct.
A good deal of time went by while I was busy with exams where nothing strange happened. I struggled to focus completely, considering that it felt like I was only missing one piece in the crucial puzzle. Soon after that particular session of exams, I came home and turned on my computer, intending to finally relax a bit, when a strange news article appeared on my screen.
JAPAN FACES EXTREME LACK OF EDUCATED WORKFORCE
Before I could sit down to read it, though, the tab completely vanished, leaving me on my computer’s normal home screen. This was rather strange, so I tried to look up the article online straight away, but even after hours of searching over multiple days, I couldn’t find any news article that had that title.
I was a bit suspicious at that time, since the previous glitch was the first one that took place while I was at home. I assumed that the article was another glitch, so I changed my way of thinking a bit. Mainly, my suspicion that my parents might be involved resurfaced. I think that maybe, deep down, I wanted my parents to be involved, just so that I can at least tell myself that they are real people. There was a time before that when I stopped caring about how I came across to other people, thinking that nothing mattered since nobody else was real, including my parents. Soon, though, I chose to let go of that way of thinking, since a sudden change in how I acted towards people around me could have been as dangerous as talking about my suspicions outright. I vowed to treat everyone around me the same way I did before I suspected anything, whether they turned out to be real or not. Even then, I still secretly wished that at least the people who raised me would be real. I put the thought aside after some time, and started thinking instead about what the news article could have meant.
The only information I had to go off of was the title, but it gave enough to have a couple of things to think about. Firstly, it seemed like a reasonably realistic problem that a real world country might have, especially if it has developed very far technologically. That made me think that the article may have been from the real world in the first place, though since there was no way of knowing for sure, I didn’t waste too much effort on that possibility. The most important detail, though, was the mention of education. That alone connected it to many other events that focussed on academic performance. After a while, I came to my final conclusion, the one I stand by to this day.
The real world is a technologically advanced society that has outgrown the intellectual capacity of its workforce. As a result, they required the education process to be streamlined and accelerated rapidly. They achieved this by creating high-quality computer simulations, placing young people into these digital worlds, and having the entire education process take place within. This way, they could closely control almost every aspect of the person’s upbringing to maximise learning. Most importantly, though, these simulations could be accelerated, so that the education process could be cut down from more than twelve years to any number of shorter time periods. As for why each person would need a whole world generated with such detail, I believe it has to do with the inherent nature of humans requiring a nurturing environment with enough social stimulus to develop properly.
In short, the entire schooling process is now being packed into a fast-forwarded virtual environment. And I am the real person in this world.
I believe that the glitches I have seen must be because of someone in the real world who is involved with running my simulation, who reached out to me with the intent to clue me in on all of this. It could be that Mr. Miyazaki is real, or maybe he is just an avatar that the real person is using, but who it is hardly matters at this stage. My guess is that they had to play it safe so as to not get found out, which is why the glitches were so non-specific individually, and also why it would have presented a problem if I started talking about my findings openly.
This also means that I was almost certainly not meant to do anything about the situation until after I left the simulation. If there was something specific that I had to do from the inside, then I would surely have gotten some form of instructions since then. The best I could do is to take this knowledge with me and wait until I get back to the real world. Then I can decide what to do. Is it right to create a whole world of fake personalities and fool a young person into believing that those fake people were their friends and family all along? I’m not sure. The only way to properly judge for myself is to consider the details behind the system and the situation in the real world. Whatever I choose to do, I must leave this world first.
I wake up to the smell of breakfast. A sense of dreaded excitement washes over me as I realise what day it is. I’ve been anxiously awaiting my graduation for the past year, but now that the time has finally come, I’m unsure about how I should feel. If my suspicions are correct, today will probably be my last day in this simulation… but what then? What will be waiting for me after graduation? I know I’ll be the valedictorian, but what if that’s not enough? What if I misunderstood something?
“Stop it,” I scold myself, “I’ve thought about this long and hard this past year - I’m sure that I’m on the right path.”
After some more self-encouragement, I finally get out of bed and get ready for the day. I then make my way downstairs, where my parents are waiting at the kitchen table. It’s been a while since I’ve seen my mother so formally dressed, but it kind of suits her. Breakfast passes by as usual, though our smalltalk is more focused on what today’s ceremony will be like. Afterwards, my father rushes to grab his briefcase out of habit, but stops and grabs the door handle instead.
“Come on,” he says as he opens the door, “we don’t want to be late. Let’s knock ‘em dead today, Ayato!”
That’s the first time that he’s actually referred to us instead of just me in his daily inspirational phrases. This realisation hits me harder than I expected. This is probably the last time I’ll get to spend with my parents, or at least these virtual versions of them. I was never able to figure out whether they are real or not, but I’ve still grown rather fond of them regardless.
My parents and I separate as soon as we reach the school gates, and I continue on into the courtyard behind the school hall. Many of my fellow senior students are already waiting, including Misu and Saori.
Saori greets me in a rather subdued manner. Misu, however, seems to have just as much energy as usual.
“Here he is everybody, the man of the hour! Mr. Valedictorian himself!”
I chuckle at his flamboyant introduction. Somehow I can’t help but be embarrassed, despite the fact that I’ve more than accepted that the people around me aren’t real.
“Have you memorised your lines yet?”
“Of course, I don’t wanna make a fool of myself on stage.”
“Nah,” Saori puts her hand on my shoulder, “I’m sure Ayato will be fine. There’s no need to put any more pressure on him.”
“Aya thrives under pressure! He did even better on the big exams than on the smaller tests! Mine was the other way around…”
Suzaku’s voice comes up from behind.
“Don’t compare yourself to Ayato, Misu, he’s the freak here.”
“Hey, Suku is here now too!”
“Morning,” Suzaku greets, seeming a little bit nervous.
“Just in time, too, the ceremony is almost gonna start!” Saori scolds Suzaku mockingly.
“I planned to be just on time, leave me alone.”
We giggle as a group for one last time before we are called to line up and move towards the hall entrance.
An unexpected wave of nostalgia hits me as we start walking down the centre aisle to the front of the hall. The feeling is very different from last year, but I still refuse to play into the cliché of crying. We start filling our designated seats and soon, the ceremony starts. The principal kicks it off with a paraphrase of his speech from last year, which itself felt the same as the speech from the year before. Again, I can’t help but to let my mind wander rather than paying attention.
When the principal gets to the part about what makes our year special, despite saying virtually the same things as last year, I think about Mr. Gary’s absence again. I tried to forget about it in the past year, even though finding a hobby to replace chess never quite worked out. I was occupied with studying and my free time was mostly taken up by trying to figure out what the glitches meant. I can’t say that I didn’t miss playing chess with Mr. Gary though. More than being a chess opponent, he felt more like a peer than many of my classmates. He was one of the only people that I could talk to about my hobbies without feeling like I might be judged. Although, it was because of that trust that I tried to talk to him about my speculations regarding the simulated world, and that led to him leaving. Whether or not he is real, I hope he is now safe somewhere.
My focus returns when I am called up for the valedictorian speech. I make my way onto the stage, half-expecting something to happen like last year. Everything goes normally, however, and I soon find myself behind the podium, facing the crowd. I immediately spot my mother’s beaming face, coupled with waving that’s embarrassingly enthusiastic. Even my father can’t seem to contain his excitement. I look away to avoid second-hand embarrassment, but instead find the teary faces of my classmates. In front of them, I spot Mr. Miyazaki, who has a scarily uncharacteristic smirk on his face. I take a deep breath and start my speech.
I chose not to make use of a presentation like last year’s valedictorian. Instead, I simply memorised a very basic summary of my shared experiences at the school, and threw in some motivational quotes for good measure. It seems to be well-received when I finish and make my way back down to my seat.
With the weight of the speech lifted, I relax a little and start reminiscing. My parents always supported me, despite being busy themselves, and also managed to never have unreasonable expectations of me. I don’t know whether I would have put so much effort into my studies if they had a different approach to raising me.
Whether or not they are real people, the bonds we share feel very real and I’m grateful for having met them. The same goes for my friends.
Misu and Saori are both very unique and special, and Suzaku was exactly what the group needed to remain grounded. Despite my initial doubts, I’m happy that Misu and Saori are going out. They are perfect fits for one another, and it really seems like they make each other very happy. Suzaku was always supportive of all of us, but could also be serious when he needed to. Because of this, he was really the only person other than Mr. Gary that I felt comfortable enough with to talk about my hobbies. We don’t really share those hobbies, but he never made me feel bad for liking different things. They are all dear to me, each in their own way.
They start calling us up one by one to collect our diplomas. Despite feeling like an incredibly slow process last year, this time it goes by quickly, and the ceremony soon comes to an end. We are dismissed, and I find myself at the front of the file heading towards the rear entrance. The feeling of excitement and uncertainty is palpable throughout the hall, just like it was last year. This time, though, it carries far more finality, now that it is my own graduation.
I smile as I open the door, stepping into the world of the unknown, while leaving my high school life behind.