Spike of All Trades

by Ariamaki

Chapter 1: Statistical

All credit for the concept of The Gamer and ownership of the associated light novels and webtoon belongs to Sung Sang-Young. A debt of inspiration is owed specifically to Ryuugi at Spacebattles for his seminal work 'The Games We Play'.

Spykoranuvellitar, Grand Paladin of the Order of the Scale, found himself barreling down the corridor faster than even his fantastic Move Speed could carry him. That was because he wasn't moving of his own volition: Rather, he had been hit with an attack so powerful it sent him flying. The blow in question came from the gigantic hewn tree-trunk club of the ogre in front of hi... No, scratch that. As he felt the terrible impact of the wall against his spines, he re-adjusted his thinking. It came from the ogre at the other end of the hallway. He had been thrown thirty, maybe forty feet (the corridor was ten tiles long, but he was too dazed to do the math) in one enormous slap of its club, and his fellow adventurers were not faring any better. A sickening crunch radiated out as somepony was battered into a wall, although it was quickly followed with the soft yellow glow of the party Cleric's healing magic.

Now they were all scattered across the field of battle, nopony in range to flank the beast, their best ranged units forced into melee, their best close-combat fighters struggling with the huge distances it could throw them. There had to be some kind of guiding intelligence for this beast: No ogre was capable of coming up with such tactical fighting, much less implementing it. It was far more likely that the Master of this Dungeon was toying with them, strings beyond strings, keeping them on their toes. At this rate, the next Wizard they fought might have a level of physical Strength to rival his own.

"Regroup! We-"

He hesitated, something in his head felt wrong. As a leader, he had an instinctive knowledge of what the group was able to do. And that information was looking more bleak with every passing moment. The realization hit like lead shot to his gut, more sickening than the ogre's club had been.

"We're... I don't think we can win this. We're running out of options."

A faint blue glow permeated the Paladin's mind... Or to be more correct, it flickered in front of Spike the dragon's actual eyelids somewhere else. This was just a daydream, after all: He was half-sleeping (he had hazily woken up half an hour ago and decided to stay in bed) and somepony was shining a light in his actual eyes. Spike knew Twilight wasn't awake yet, and she really wouldn't do something that mean to him anyways. He flipped over muzzily, trying to get away from it: Maybe a window got opened? Regardless, the light seemed to follow him. He growled and burrowed his head down between blankets and pillows... And it followed. He closed his nictitating membranes, the slightly cloudy eyelids beneath his eyelids, and still he could see the light. That... that was almost certainly a problem.

He blinked once, then twice, before finally cracking his eyes open and staring. Nestled deep into his pillows, slightly raised so that he could see it all in the tiny space, was a blue box. Not a package, but a two-dimensional window in three-dimensional space, like a heads-up display or a menu in a video game or a sci-fi comic (see 'Power Ponies: In Space! Issue 37', he absent-mindedly recalled). The text was written in basic Equiform, clean and crisp as if it was from a typewriter: Again, like he'd see on a game menu.



Spike popped his head out from underneath the bedding with a frustrated grimace.
"Cut it out! I get it everypony, it's very funny. Sure I've been playing too many games and reading too many comics, but come on! I was getting some well-deserved... beauty... Um."

Twilight status: Yeah, totally still asleep. Room status: Nobody here but us dragons. Window status: Still floating weirdly at a sort-of comfortable distance from his face. In fact, it moved with Spike's eyes, always staying within view but not whipping around so fast as to dizzy him. He could see through it partially, so it wasn't even obstructing him that badly. Waving a clawed hand through it... Didn't disrupt it in the slightest, and he didn't even feel that faint tingle of trying to touch magic. It stubbornly refused to disperse, leaving him muttering in confusion.
"Why do I have an options menu?"

And as soon as the words left his lips, it was gone. He blinked again, thinking back. When he'd been dreaming, and then again now...
"No way. Was it because I said... Options?"

The window returned as if it had never been gone. He started grinning.

"... Game."

Nothing. But... Button. Oh! It's a button. He reached out and hesitantly 'clicked' the empty space with his finger, the same way he'd select it with a joystick or a gamepad. The button-of-sorts really did depress as he did so, at least visually, and the screen changed to match.



"OK, as weird as this entire situation is, let's mess with something less weird, relatively. Back."

No dice. Another click button, or... Actually, if it worked the first time, it should have worked this time. Well... Spike put a bit more oomph into his voice this time, not with volume but with emphasis and mental focus. He wasn't just saying the word, he was issuing a command.

And that did it: The menu transitioned back to the previous state. Seemed to accept touch or emphasized vocal inputs, but not just casually saying the words. At least, that was a hypothesis: He'd have to test it more later.
"Sweet. Audio."



Volume... Yeah, hitting those just showed him sliders. BGM was all the way at 0, and after he slid it to 10 he could actually hear music... Pretty catchy, too. He dropped it back to around 2, just in case, um, well, he wasn't quite sure in case of what (maybe it had battle transitions?), but he never turned it all the way off in games anyways. Of course he also had no idea what was even going on, but he was never one to look some gift weirdness in the mouth, especially when nopony else was involved yet. He just didn't get to have as many adventures as everypony else, and even if this adventure was entirely in his own head and ended with him in Ponyville Sanitarium?

He'd take what he could get.

"Subtitles... Right, OH, yeah, neat. Let's change the color a bit though. Turn on the outlines... Extra neat. Um. How quiet can I be and have this still work?"

A minute or so later, Spike was barely even speaking, unable to so much as hear his own voice over the music... But the faint purple-and-black letters at the bottom of his vision still spelled it out perfectly, all in clean crisp Equiform. This was cool, but he was a little irked that his own brain had better clawwriting than him. Next step for testing that... He'd need somepony else to be talking where he shouldn't be able to hear it very well, or even in another language. But that's for later... Regroup, take stock, think about Twilight's lessons about science. Not her lessons about, like, chemistry or astronomy, but her lessons about the science of science.

Lessons like 'Study things from every angle available to you, seeking first to cause no harm, second to leave no traces, third to come away having learned something.' Or the classic 'Any test in which you learn something and nopony gets hurt is not a stupid test, even if it might seem like it. Try everything, within your means and within reason.' And of course, 'It is always valuable to maintain your skepticism in the face of the impossible, but evidence is evidence, and until it is shown otherwise, arbitrary skepticism is the same as willful ignorance.'

Well then, he could temporarily exclude any ideas that required another pony to test: Like if this was only visible to him, if his subtitles worked on other ponies or if they translated other languages, and so on and so on. Leaving him with the more immediate issues, like if he could work on figuring this out without looking crazy to anypony looking. So! Test #1: Are the menus just voice-and-touch driven, or could he command it in his head somehow?

Spike concentrated hard and thought the word "Back" with as much emphasis as he could. It didn't work. He 'clicked' a random space near the button. Nothing. Space between the buttons? Nada. Poked the screen with a nearby quill. Not-a-thing. He said the word "Back", without any emphasis. Still the same. He said the word "Rear" without emphasis. Nu-uh. Said "Rear" with emphasis... Nope. Finally, he went back to the tried and true method of saying the right word with the right emphasis... There we go. Theory confirmed.

"Verbal controls it is. So... Why were some of those menus disabled? I mean, one of them was just sound related, it wasn't even a game thing. Lemme see here, it was... Audio, Language."

The menu shifted once, but then a new box came up, a small lemon-yellow alert.

You do not meet the requirements to change this setting.
Required Intelligence: 125
Alternate requirements: ???

"Whaaat. OK, intelligence. Capital I Intelligence. Like a statistic? Um. Character sheet? Stats. Attributes. Traits... Status?"
And there it was. This... was a lot bigger than he'd even thought.

Name: Spike
Class: The Gamer
Title: The Gamer

Level: Lv 1
HP: 100/100
MP: 50/50

STR: 10 (-) (+)
DEX: 10 (-) (+)
VIT:   10 (-) (+)
INT:   10 (-) (+)
WIS:  10 (-) (+)
LUK:  10 (-) (+)