This is what death feels like. The slow unwinding. A specter haunts my social media. Weeks ago, a celebrity first tore through the veil of my feed to evangelize to me. I can hear him even now, his lines bound to my soul like some dark incantation.
Smooth animations. Gorgeous graphics. Offline play. No ads.
Another celebrity. And another. All serving the same lord, all bound by the same strictures. All repeating the same mantra of doom. No ads, except for the Cult of the Match. Robert’s Zealots. The Connected Three.
Eventually I could relent no more. These minor celebrities had succeeded in their dire vertical-video machinations. I downloaded the game and faced my tormentor.
Before I played even a single level of Royal Match, I was confronted by the music. A demented Sousa march slowed down to 80 beats per minute. While recording it as evidence, I accidentally triggered my phone’s Emergency SOS feature. Was this a sign? As I matched my first sequence of three shapes to its incessant thrumming, I shuddered. How long would I have a soul left to save? Was it already too late?
I set about helping Robert rebuild his castle by aligning rune to tiny rune, spending my coin to summon furniture and gazebos from the air for his pleasure. With each victory, my phone groaned. After level two, I asked, Who could possibly play this game for more than a few minutes? The void whispered back: Milk, of Level 5801. In a thrill of hubris I tried to join team Milk. I was denied, peon that I was. How could I have been so naive? Before I could reach such heights there were more shapes to move. More screens to tap. Furniture to place for my King.
On level three I intentionally tried to lose to see what would happen. Would my King be displeased? But the shapes refused to be misaligned. King Robert wants only to please, to keep you in thrall as long as possible. To draw you into the reskinned version of Candy Crush, which is itself a reskinned version of Tetris Attack. When was the evil first born? Royal Match answered: “But even Bejeweled isn’t the original match-three game. That honor probably belongs to a Russian computer game from the early 1990s called Shariki, or ‘the balls.’”
The twisted spheres have always been. What does Robert know? What has he seen? Why, at level 1650, is our King trapped in a Jigsaw-style death scenario? Why is aligning three shapes in sequence the only way to save him from certain doom? Were there not better things to do with my time?
I abjured the demon and swore never to conjure him again. Three levels were enough poison for one lifetime.
But he already had me in his grip. That night I joked with my wife about the game I had put behind me in all its monotony. But as I did the dishes, I found myself humming an all too familiar dirge.
A few days later I was caught in a weak moment on the bus. With no Wi-Fi, and without the stomach for ads. King Robert strikes just when you are weakest. A push notification to the immortal soul, offering a few free levels.
After all, why not? Why shouldn’t I keep matching?
Now I understand. Why the dissonant music of the spheres must be brought to order. Why the call of the match must be answered. Now I understand the slow death of all things.
As time passed I had learned to love the smile hidden beneath the smooth animations, the gorgeous graphics, the polka music. It was alright. Everything was alright. I had won the victory over myself. I loved King Robert. But did he, I dared to ask, love me?