With eternal gratitude to the 1980s/90s TV Programme Knightmare.

They called it Treguard. Can you picture the meeting when the name was unveiled? They must have absolutely wet themselves.

The initial release came three months into lockdown. Boredom had peaked and screen time limits had long gone out of the window, creating the perfectest of perfect storms. Predictably, the hackers and hustlers of this world saw the pandemic as an opportunity rather than a curse so, before long, malware, spyware and scareware were running rampant up and down the fibre-optic network which dangled its tendrils into the magic mirrors of our homes.

It took a while for most people to catch on, but once they did, it didn’t take long for them to react. Considering no-one could take to the streets, an army of keyboard warriors emerged instead, demanding the government, the police, the internet, somebody, do something to stop the pilfering of their pockets and the poisoning of a million tiny minds.

And so…Treguard, the dungeon keeper of all dungeon keepers. It had been ready to roll out for months but the developers had been waiting for the golden moment. This, apparently, was it. 

After the quickest beta-testing period in history, the anti-viral masterpiece was released to great fanfare. The free version offered basic protection and a monthly scan, but it was the paid-for model which pushed everyone’s buttons. Piggybacking on the resurgent popularity of all things ‘80s (Thank you very much, Stranger Things) the team had designed the software to act as a game. An interactive RPG nonetheless, the very best of quest games: Knightmare, with its riddles and bizarre supporting cast of characters and all the fighting and pixelated peril a youngster could ask for – all they had to do was don the helmet and entrust their fate to a handful of young strangers – fellow players who would guide them step by step through the castle of confusion.

This was the genius move – the interactivity and meddling with computer generated objects, monsters and traps ensured that square-eyed tweens would actively scan for malware on, at the very least, a daily basis. Parents could take their hands off the wheel once more.

‘You’re in a room.’ 

Who would have anticipated that those four simple words would prove so addictive? And yet, who was complaining? The kids were happy. The parents were happy. The software developers were coining it in. The government no longer had a digital virus to contain and could refocus their efforts on the physical manifestation.

‘You’re in a room.’ 

So easy to forget to look around you. So easy to hide inside the Helmet of Justice and allow yourself to be directed to your doom. How many of the Dungeoneers actually made it out of the dungeon, eh? Do you remember that?

‘You’re in a room’ and the doors are closing. The ledge is getting thinner and the smug fuckers who made the software aren’t the only developers with riddle-writing as a subsidiary skill. The baddies didn’t get back in the box; we’ve always been here, watching and waiting for the golden moment. 

Listen for the hunting horn. The goblins are coming…

Abi lives in Brighton, by the sea. She spends her time teaching, writing mini stories and losing gracefully at complicated board games.  Her words have popped up in various places, including Ellipsis Zine, Molotov and Splonk. She tweets @abihennig

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