Flowers of Amiole
by Jonathan Olfert
Targeted parasynesthetic technology (TPST) was broadly considered a garnish: the scent of blood in a shooter, burnt rubber and new-car smell on the speedway, the sweet acid of an enemy’s health bar. As one of the rare games to center interactive TPST, Flowers of Amiole was a niche offering, even a cult classic in the making. After a ten-hour shift, few things felt more genuine. Even on Tobe’s scratchy couch and patchwork system, even with latency chewing stutters in the sky.
Inside Flowers of Amiole, his cottage rested at the edge of a forest, on a shallow slope overlooking a pond. Tobe knew every growing thing and buried treasure for miles: what glades concealed the most aromatic herbs, what caves held tasty mushrooms or half-burned recipes. He paused between his garden rows and, in his unseen apartment, fumbled to set himself an alarm — a generous one. Flowers of Amiole required no paperwork, no bills, no deadlines (except the harvest). Not a bad way to forget the hunger dizzying your head. Make potions, tasty ones, right through a dinnertime you couldn’t afford. Then a quick snack, leftovers, before bed.
It wasn’t an ominous thing, using Flowers of Amiole to skip meals, not in Tobe’s opinion — and he did worry about it. If a game could help him burn time, waiting for seniority and a much-needed raise, so be it.
He cooked like a demon. Potions and stews, enchantments and snacks, using fire and magic and alembic to transform the fruits of his gathering in infinite gradations. The basic TPST synthesizer was capable of picking from and combining a library of forty thousand synthetic scents in real time. He’d long since learned what twists of magic and seasoning stilled hunger most effectively. The game still offered room for joy, of course — for experimentation — but he’d optimized his gardens and collection routes and weather and moonlight and production methods in ways that his supervisors would have found intimidating. That brought a smile to his face every time the thought occurred. It didn’t occur for long. He had too many silver honeysuckles to plant, too many unicorn-hair charms to bury, too many baskets to fill as he walked the mountainside paths and valley trails of the Kingdom of Amiole.
This world had meat, of course, but idealized without violence or mess. Fish from the fishermen in their little boats, fine cuts of meat from village markets. Maybe NPCs, maybe other players living their tiny idylls: you’d rarely know. Most Flowers players took relaxed immersion very seriously indeed.
The devs played a role there too, a compassionate one in Tobe’s eyes: matching NPC norms to player behavior. For the feasts, where happy weeping people — of either type — ate their fill and then some, in ways that real stomachs couldn’t support. Flowers of Amiole used TPST’s cross-sensory stimulation functionality better than any game around. You could well and truly feel full after a feast like that, and the feeling lasted long enough to get to sleep.
In real life, since long before he came to Amiole, Tobe weighed one hundred twenty-five pounds. In Flowers he weighed north of three hundred and loved it. You could adjust the extent to which your body gained weight from all that brewing and stewing and feast attendance; magic played a role, and not particularly challenging magic either. Very accessible. The TPST helped add a sense of heft to exertion, the taste of a shaking breath, the heaviness of a sigh. Walking to work every day, standing on concrete too, had worn down Tobe’s joints. As he roamed the trails of Amiole he felt — sincerely and without effort — that his aching knees stemmed from blissful roaming and a life of eating well.
And nothing happened. That was the point: in Amiole, by design and implicit social contract, you never dealt with raiders or theft or natural disaster or starvation. Get lost in the woods and a half hour’s gathering could feed you well as birds twittered you home. No hordes or lords either feudal or corporate. Friendships sometimes, and easy ways to make those friends in passing. Got those glowing radishes you love, Tobe. How’s your dragon-corn coming in lately? How’s the cider?
You could, in a very limited way, get drunk even off a basic system: TPST’s pheromonal hacking was that good. Tipsy and happy and even forgetful, if you saw fit. Brews both technical and freewheeling, consistent and surprising, went over very well indeed. Cheaper and safer and better-tasting than a real-world bottle. Habit-forming, sure, but not the same way. He’d even known some folks who struggled with alcohol who got control by playing Flowers. Public health miracle, right? Or would if enough people played it. Last count, around ten thousand concurrent players wandered Amiole at any given time: hardly world-shattering.
But yes, you could brew and share that brew to your heart’s content, and Tobe often did. Smoking was trickier. The system had a way of making smoke and giving it any number of tastes, even the same tipsy/happy tricks that backed in-world alcohol. But you couldn’t take a deep drag off anything, get hot choking smoke down in your chest, without aftermarket add-ons that Tobe didn’t have and didn’t particularly want. Same went for all but the mildest mushrooms. (And bad, bad things happened sometimes with hacked TPST hallucinations.)
Sex smelled and tasted right. Private, though, in subculture-y ways. Tobe figured that came down to colors: everything about Amiole was just a little brighter than reality, bright and calm and nostalgic for the childhood nobody ever had. If you wanted to get off, there were other games.
No, folks came to Amiole for something else. Two thousand hours in-world and Tobe still couldn’t put a name to it. It wasn’t innocence. Nobody here was playing childlike. The whole kingdom just felt like shared relief, like a tired but happy sigh.
Jonathan Olfert is a Canadian short fiction writer. Some of his stories have appeared in award-winning genre magazines like Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Dark Recesses Press, and Lightspeed.
By day, Jonathan works with spreadsheets and surveys. He earned an MA in Political Science from Carleton University. He and his partner live in unceded Mi’kmaq territory near Halifax.