You know those eerie feelings you get when you are playing a multiplayer game and there is no one on the server, apart from you?
For instance; boot up Minecraft right now and scope around for some deserted server that is running, but no one is on.
Feels pretty weird, right? Well this is what my hobby was: going around to these barely running games and seeing what people had left behind, not just Minecraft either. Counterstrike, Team Fortress 2, World of Warcraft. I used all of these games to explore the special servers nearly every day. I logged down what was on them: buildings, maps, announcements and then my friend would come along and wipe/build on what I had logged in. I would get paid about $50 for every server I cleared, depending on the size.
So anyway, I'm sitting there sipping on a Coke when my unnamed friend (due to security reasons) rings me up over Steam and says that there is this really big Indie game map that was just abandoned and he wanted me to check it out. He also mentioned that the map was larger than normal, so he would pay me around $100. So, I accepted and went to download the client. It was an old website. The design was pretty poor and it didn't look very popular, so I speculated that he wanted me to just see if it was working. So I created an account and booted up the game. It looked normal enough, sort of like Second Life, that game where you play as yourself and run around and buy/build stuff.
So I started at the server maintenance screen and went over some of the hosting stats and found that the server was being run from a single tower that had a proxy. I couldn't list the location to get a proper ping to report to my friend, but since he was probably going to delete it, I guessed I would just make it up. I scanned over the other active servers and it seemed like the only active one was this one. He was probably going to wipe it and demolish the company project, so I guessed that's why I'm getting such a big bonus for it.
I logged into the server and the loading screen came up: hints, a bar and some pictures of people playing. The usual. After the screen had completed, my avatar was dropped into a little forest, what I assumed would be outside of any main city or town. So, I walked forward hoping that some sort of tutorial would guide me around but nothing happened. The graphics were quite advanced for a game its age, the forest spanned for ages and the trees were like that of Elwynn Forest of WoW. I told all of this to my friend as we kept the channel open for fast information.
After walking around in the forest for about twenty minutes, I came to a bigger than normal tree. It had this big door on the front of it that looked as if it had been carved into the wood by hand, kind of like the ones of Nightmare Before Christmas. But, anyway, the cursor came up with an interaction symbol and then the screen went black and my voice channel cut out. There was no loading screen, only the sounds of the poorly looped 8 bit music that was on the last loading screen. So I waited and waited until finally the game comes back in with my voice channel. The only thing in the entire tree is a big mirror, totally separating the middle of the tree from the other half. My character then walks up to the tree, without my control, and puts his hand toward the reflection. After this I was suddenly brought to my desktop.
Along with the Icon of the game all the files are missing too. The http has also vanished along with it. I ask my friend if he cut the server and he replies an innocent "No."
Anyway, he transfers the money to my PayPal and logs out.
So I go to sleep that night thinking about what I will spend my $100 on as I drift into sleep.
I wake up about 6 times that night. Always seeing that damn tree. It's not even scary, just annoying. It's a vividly recreated mirror just like the one out of the game and I keep touching it.
I get up at around 6am after being unable to sleep and decide to hop on the computer for the weekend and rummage about on Steam for some good deals. I get about halfway though watching some saints row trailer when I get invited to play some CS:S. The name was added to my friends but I don't recognize him at all. The name, actually resembling mine, keeps flashing and after a couple of minutes I decide to oblige.
The server is pretty normal, just a dust_2 with no announcements and him and myself on opposite teams. It must be a peer-to-peer because the server name is exactly the same as mine. I bet it's my friend pulling a prank.
After I go through the options and get my game all set, I decide to buy an AWP to shoot this guy up with, but whenever I press the key I have assigned to bind the game freezes and goes back to normal after about 2 seconds.
So I decide it's some buggy server coding and continue with the game with the trusty old Glock. After I run out of spawn I can hear a fair laugh/ giggle from the other side of the map. I brush it off a script of plug-in and keep running around. I look for this guy for about 10 minutes when I am about to leave, but I see him in the corner of my eye running under the walkway. I follow him under, but when I re-emerge on the other side I see not the other side of the map, but the inside of a big tree and the large mirror stretched across my screen. The reflection is not of the terrorist I am playing as, but of me. Sitting there at my keyboard. I throw my headset off and check my webcam. Nothing is turned on. What the hell is this?
In the reflection my hand extends from my mouse and begins cutting into its arm with its nails, smiling the entire time while it does so. The cuts start appearing on my arms as he giggles and does so. I scream and turn off the computer, before fading to black, my face is flashed on the screen, all distorted and rotted.
I wait about 4 days before turning the computer back on.
I need to do this, I tell myself, for work. I turn the computer back on and start Word. The program immediately shuts down and begins booting up Battlefield 3.
"What?" I say out loud.
I wasn't even using battle log. This is too suspicious. I am about to turn the computer off in fear of seeing my doppelgänger start going all cutty cutty again, but I see I was invited by my old friend.
The server is pretty normal; just a squad DM on Caspian border. I spawn and select my weapons. After this I alt tab and open a chat with my friend. Only static.
"Hello?" I say into the microphone.
Only static is returned.
"Come on, dude. Don't do this now," I say in hopes of getting a response.
"Whatever, let's just play," I say.
I run around the map, looking for my friend amidst all the bushes and trees lining around the gas station. I see a model run behind a building. It didn't look like the silhouette of a normal model in game. I remember Dust_2 and decide to turn the computer off. I reach up to the power and press in once. I look back down to my screen and all I can see is that all the trees now bear the same door.
"Oh shit," I say as I struggle to look away.
The power wouldn't turn off as my character walks unattended towards the largest of the trees. The door opens, and guess who is sitting against the mirror? Sitting exactly like me, my doppelgänger stares blankly into the screen. He's changed since the last time I saw him; his eyes are sunken, and his bones are now clearly visible over the fleshy creases in his face and skin. He grimaces and starts jabbing himself with a piece of wood.
"AHHAHahhaH," I scream as his actions replicate on my body.
I reach for the cord as pieces of wood and splinter start cutting into my chest.
I finally grasp the cord and pull it out. The laughing and screaming die down on both ends of the voice channel.
I am rushed to the hospital and receive around 60 stitches for my cuts and gashes. I sell my computer when I return home.
A couple of days pass and things are looking down for me. I lost my job after having too many days off, still thinking about the tree and my doppelgänger. I began walking around the interior of my house, thinking about what I can do. I think about mirrors, me, insanity, and how I can overcome this bastard.
Then it clicks.
The mirrors and trees. I need to get back to the game. Knowing the http is downed, I realize I need to host it.
I buy a cheap Dell computer from my local store and set up a peer-to-peer host in the hopes I can just get me and this bastard in one room again. The server pings online as I enter what I remembered to be the host. Hashes and strings of code from any file residue I can find. After working for about 3 days, I finally get the server back online. The web address works and I brace myself as I click login.
The page is different. It had pictures of me losing my job, as well as my loved ones and crying people being killed. Beheadings, torture, cannibalism and decapitation lined my screen as the game played that same howling noise when I first met this doppelgänger.
I log in, the loading pages going black once more as I am dropped into the forest again. It's different; gore and blood splatter the entire landscape and bodies hang from the branches. They follow me with their black, cold eyes as my character progresses through the landscape. In real life, I'm shaking. The barriers of the game and reality slowly drift apart as I advance deeper and deeper into the forest. I am walking on my own now; no keyboard, no mouse. It's me in real life.
I continue, falling over corpses as I keep going. I have to do this. I keep saying to myself, "I have to."
Until I finally come to the tree.
I brace myself and walk toward the main door, screaming still ringing in my ears. It slows down to mere giggles as I walk toward the mirror. I see myself covered in blood, elongated features, black eyes looking at me. It starts rasping and crawling toward me, breaking the mirror. Now was the time. I pull out my pocket mirror with all my strength and show it to the doppelgänger. I heard a massive burst of screaming echoes, making my eardrums bleed as I held the mirror with all my willpower.
I suddenly awaken in my room, on the floor, covered in blood with the mirror laying to my left.
I calm down. It's over.
I got up and collected myself. After a quick shower and a glass of water, I got in my car and drove as fast as I could to the nearest bridge over water. I got the mirror and threw it down into the water and began to walk home; safe, and a hero after defeating the doppelgänger.
That's why I am writing this now, to save you the trouble of all of this. Be cautious whenever you join any type of empty or abandoned server. You might just start to hear the laughs and giggles echo toward you, and if you encounter your own doppelgänger, I fear for the worst. A couple of months ago, the police dredged lakes around the country and found mirrors exactly like the one I used to defeat him my first time. And I have a hunch he won't make the same mistake again.