“We need to talk about Slug Simulator,” by Conor Sneyd

Apr 20th, 2024 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

Ladies and gentlemen, esteemed members of the PTA, please lend me your rapt attention. I know you’ve already taken in a range of different issues tonight, some of which will no doubt have shocked you. Boys caught smoking in the toilet. Office staff siphoning off donations from deceased alumni. The rowing team recruiting local beggars into a bare-knuckle boxing league. But believe me when I tell you—none of that matters. Because the issue I’m about to raise with you is something infinitely graver.

Many of you will know me as a graduate of this school. As Southwest England Regional Manager for Hayes and Harris Consulting. As champion of the Ponbridge Charity Golf Tournament 2023, after I had the initial winner disqualified for allowing his granddaughter onto the green. But above all else, I’m a father. A father who’s worried sick about his only son. Because whether you know it or not, an evil is sweeping through our community. An evil threatening to corrupt our children and lead them astray. To tear down the futures we’ve so carefully been crafting for them.

We can’t just sit back and ignore this scourge any longer. We need to take action now. We need to talk about Slug Simulator.

The nightmare arrived on my doorstep a fortnight ago, on an ordinary Monday evening. I came home from work to find my son Felix sprawled out on the couch. His maths book was open on the coffee table in front of him, but he was too busy drawing lewd cartoons to actually solve any of the equations. I was just about to scold him for slacking off, when I noticed something strange on the couch beside him.

It looked like a bicycle helmet—made of shiny purple plastic. There were a pair of yellow buttons stuck onto the side, and what looked like a ski-mask hanging down in front. At first, I thought it was some sort of hi-tech new training equipment from Coach Barrett. Felix is captain of the rugby team, you know, and he’s always trying out the latest performance-enhancing gadgets. Doing whatever he can to get an edge in over the opposition.

‘What’s that you’ve got there, son?’ I asked him.

‘This?’ he replied, patting the helmet. ‘It’s a virtual reality headset.’

‘And what exactly does it do?’

‘It’s for playing computer games. There’s a pair of 3D glasses attached to the screen, so it feels like you’re standing right inside the game.’

‘Computer games?’ I said, picking the helmet up and giving the visor a flick. ‘Since when are you interested in all that nonsense?’

‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘Not really. I’m only playing it because Charlie Jones built the headset for a Biology project. He programmed the game on it too.’

‘Charlie Jones? Isn’t he that chubby little lad who, er… tripped over your foot in the hallway last year? The one who got you put in detention? Some nonsense about you doing it on purpose?’

‘That’s him alright.’

‘And he knows you have his helmet, does he? You didn’t—how should I say this?—borrow it without asking?’

‘Of course not,’ he grunted. ‘Ms Melville made me take it. She wants each of us to play the game for a week, then pass the headset on to somebody else.’

‘Phew,’ I sighed, my shoulders relaxing. ‘But why has Ms Melville got you wasting your time on computer games? Shouldn’t you be busy studying for your A-levels this summer?’

‘This is studying. It’s an educational game.’

‘How can a computer game be educational?’ I snorted. ‘Aren’t they all about stealing cars and giving lifts to ladies of the night?’

‘Not this game. It’s called Slug Simulator, and all you do is crawl around a garden eating plants.’

‘Oh,’ I said, scratching my head. ‘But what’s the point of that?’

‘There is no point,’ he shrugged. ‘You don’t have to collect coins or earn experience like you do in other games. You just wander around exploring the world.’

‘Sounds infuriating. A total waste of time!’

‘It’s kind of relaxing actually, not having to chase after any achievements. You can just sit back and enjoy the moment.’

I stared down at him, not sure what to make of this. He’d never spouted that kind of hippy-dippy nonsense before.

‘…Maybe transporting prostitutes would be better,’ I said. ‘At least that might teach you some real-world skills.’

‘Ms Melville says this will teach us about the local ecosystem. And there could be a question about that on our exam.’

‘Alright,’ I sighed, not wanting to waste any more time. I could smell Judy heating up some lasagne in the kitchen, and my stomach was starting to rumble. ‘As long as your teacher approves of it, I suppose it’s alright. Just don’t spend too long playing, or you’ll strain your eyes. And then you won’t be able to see the rugby ball during your big match on Thursday.’

The conversation ended there, and I’d soon forgotten all about it. Judy and I got into a heated argument over dinner. She wanted her mother to come stay with us over Easter, but there was no way in hell I was letting that old harpy haunt my home. Especially not during Easter season, when she’d try to drag us all to a million miserable Masses.

It wasn’t until Thursday evening that the helmet reappeared on my radar. I hurried home from work, like I do every week, so I could take Felix to his rugby match. He’s usually waiting for me in the hallway, all kitted up and raring to go. But that evening, there was no sign of him.

‘Felix?’ I called, setting my briefcase down on the hall table. ‘Are you ready to go, son?’

But there was no answer.

I strode up the stairs, wondering if he had his headphones on, and knocked at the door of his bedroom.

‘Come on, son. It’s time to go.’

But still no response.

I pushed the door open, praying I wouldn’t find him doing anything indecent. But he was just sitting at his desk with that bizarre purple helmet on his head. He was still wearing his school uniform—no sign of his rugby jersey or shorts.

‘Hurry up and get changed,’ I told him. ‘We need to leave now.’

‘Hang on,’ he said, his voice muffled by the helmet. ‘I’m in the middle of eating an amazing leaf.’

‘You’re not playing that stupid slug game again, are you?’

‘It’s not stupid.’

‘Your mother would be disgusted if she knew what you were doing. Those slimy little bastards drive her mad, chomping away at her herbaceous border like an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.’

‘Whatever,’ he grunted. ‘Just give me a minute.’

‘We don’t have a minute. Turn that thing off right now or we’ll be late for the match.’

‘It doesn’t matter if we miss kick-off. Coach Barrett says he wants to save me for the second half.’

‘But you’re the captain of the team!’ I protested. ‘Even if you’re not on the starting lineup, the other lads need you there to lead them to victory.’

‘Who cares about victory? It’s just a game.’

Just a game?’ I spluttered. ‘Have you gone mad!? If you don’t want to win, then why bother having a match at all? Why not just stand in a circle and pass the ball back and forth, like a bunch of brainless babies at nursery?’

‘Sounds good to me.’

I pinched my nose, beginning to lose patience. This wasn’t like Felix at all. ‘Alright,’ I said. ‘I’ve heard enough of this nonsense. Now take that helmet off before I confiscate it.’

‘You can’t do that. It’s school property.’

‘Oh yes I can. I’ll drive around to Ms Melville’s house this instant and hand the blasted thing back to her.’

‘Alright, fine,’ he sighed, finally taking off the helmet. ‘I’ll finish the leaf later. Now go away so I can get changed.’

I should have realised then that something was wrong with him. But I suppose I was still in denial. We made it to the match on time, and he played just as well as usual, crushing the opposition like a bunch of little girls who’d wandered onto the wrong pitch. I told myself the incident in his bedroom was just a one-off blip. He was already back to his usual self. It was only when Sunday afternoon rolled around that I was finally forced to confront the truth.

Felix usually goes to see his tutor Henry at noon. He needs a little extra help with his maths, you see. Numbers have never been his strong suit, but he needs at least a B to get into Business and Economics at Oxford. I was in the drawing room reading the morning papers when I got a call from Henry. He said Felix hadn’t shown up for his lesson, and he wasn’t answering his phone either. I immediately knew something fishy was going on. Felix had left the house half an hour before, and Henry is only a ten-minute stroll down the road.

I went up to his bedroom, thinking he may have snuck back in. But there was no sign of him there. I checked the bathroom and the sitting room next, but still nothing. Judy was absolutely no help. She was still annoyed with me for vetoing her mother’s visit, and she’d spent the morning drowning her sorrows in a bucket of Bloody Marys. I was on the verge of giving up the search, when suddenly it occurred to me to check the back garden. And that’s where I found him. He was lying in the grass behind the vegetable patch, with that infernal helmet on his head again.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ I demanded, marching down the garden path.

‘Nothing,’ he mumbled. ‘Go away.’

‘Why aren’t you at your lesson with Henry?’

‘I didn’t feel like going today.’

‘You didn’t feel like going?’ I scoffed. ‘And do you think you’ll get into Oxford by only studying when you feel like it?’

‘Who cares?’ he shrugged. ‘There are plenty of other unis out there. If I don’t get into Oxford, I’ll just go somewhere else instead.’

‘But going to Oxford has always been your dream.’

‘No it hasn’t.’

‘Of course it has! You need to go to the top university if you want to get a top job.’

‘Well who says I want a top job? It sounds stressful. I’d rather do something that leaves me with a bit of free time.’

Free time? For what!?’

‘I don’t know… for relaxing, I guess. For enjoying life.’

Relaxing? Enjoying life? I’ve never heard such nonsense!’

I glared down at him, wondering if all that head trauma from the rugby pitch was finally catching up with him. But I couldn’t see his expression underneath that hideous helmet.

‘This is because of that game, isn’t it? You’ve spent so long being a slug, you’ve forgotten what it means to be a man. Well, I won’t put up with it any longer. I’m taking that helmet straight back to Ms Melville.’

I bent over and gripped the helmet, jamming my fingers in under the edges.

‘Stop!’ he cried, clamping his hands down on top of the plastic. ‘I won’t let you take it.’

‘Just try and stop me,’ I spat, jerking the helmet from side to side.

We struggled back and forth for a few seconds—me standing and him still sitting in the grass—until finally, his grip faltered. The helmet slid up and off, sending me stumbling backwards. One of Judy’s godforsaken garden gnomes tripped me over, and I ended up losing my balance and landing in a heap in the vegetable patch.

‘For God’s sake!’ I grunted, pulling myself back up and inspecting the damage. The garden gnome was shattered, and my entire side was caked in dirt. ‘This shirt cost me three hundred pounds, and now it’s ruined!’

‘So what?’ he sneered, climbing to his feet.

‘So who’s going to pay to replace it? Three hundred pounds is three entire weeks of your pocket money.’

‘Just buy a second-hand one at the charity shop. It’ll only cost you a fiver. Plus, it’s better for the environment than producing a new one.’

‘That’s it!’ I growled, dusting myself off. ‘I’ve had enough of this eco-communist nonsense. It’s time to put a stop to it, once and for all…’

I snatched the helmet up from where it had fallen, gripping the base in one hand and the visor in the other. Summoning all the pent-up rage I’d been holding down before, I ripped the cursed thing clean in two. The plastic wires popped apart, revealing the copper threads within. I threw the severed visor onto the path and stamped on it until the glass shattered. And then I picked up a pair of garden shears and stabbed them over and over into the purple plastic shell.

‘There!’ I grunted, wiping a bead of sweat off my forehead. ‘It’s finished.’

Felix stared down at the mangled helmet, dead silent. I couldn’t tell if he was going to start crying or try to claw my eyes out. But after a few seconds, he just shrugged and sat back down in the grass.

‘Whatever,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t matter. I don’t need a virtual garden when I’ve got a real one in front of me.’

‘I’ll tell Henry you’re not feeling well this week,’ I grunted, turning back towards the house. ‘Just don’t let this happen again.’

I thought it was all over then. That without the helmet, Felix would go back to normal. But his newfound habit of lounging in the garden continued. He’d spend hours at a time sprawled out on the grass, heading straight out there as soon as he got back from school. Sometimes he’d read a book or listen to music. But mostly, he’d just stare up at the sky.

I tried talking some sense into him a few more times. But that just made things worse. He started saying that maybe he would like to go to Oxford after all, but to study Literature or History instead of Business and Economics. I asked him what he was planning to do with such a useless degree, and—God help us—he said he was thinking of becoming a poet. Poor Judy was so distraught, she downed an entire bottle of vodka before dinner.

And so, that’s why I’m standing here before you all today. Because I need your help to put this right. I know my old son is still in there somewhere. My strong son. My ambitious son. That evil game is still influencing him somehow, I know it is. Maybe Charlie Jones built another helmet, or maybe one of the other boys did. They must be passing it around at school like some illicit contraband. Or meeting up in secret to play it in the shadows. We just need to figure out how they’re doing it…

You might think this doesn’t affect you. That your child is safe from the game’s foul influence. But if it happened to Felix, it could happen to anyone. And your precious sons could be next. The only way we can protect them is by destroying Slug Simulator. By wiping every last trace of it off the face of the Earth. Only then will our children be safe from laziness and lack of ambition. Only then will they embrace the power of productivity. Only then will our markets remain strong and our pensions proliferate!


Conor Sneyd is an Irish author living in London. His debut novel Future Fish—a comedy about cat food conspiracy theories—was published by Lightning Books in 2023. Find him on Twitter @conor_sneyd

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