“Can I go right in?”
Minho sat in one corner of the small break room. The camera light came on and filming started. This program had to film for a long time, so they set up observation cameras rather than having individual cameramen following the action.
‘It’s more basic than I thought.’
The total number of personnel including the producer, assistant, camera director and production staff was less than ten people. Minho had gotten used to large scale broadcast these days so the simplicity was the first thing he felt.
The camera recorded Minho’s every move from the front, side and above. The observation screens popped up in sections on the monitor by the producer’s seat.
“I wasn’t going to appear on this show again but a request came in as soon as I was discharged from the army. Anyway, it’s good to see you.”
Minho’s greeting was mixed with a sigh. It was a normal reaction from anyone who appeared on CWIO more than once. The production staff just laughed.
Producer Doh handed over the mission paper which had today’s goal on it and disappeared outside.
[Reach 100 wins on Cheoltu against the ordinary citizens who visit the arcade.]
Minho asked right away after seeing this goal that was kindly written,
“Can I leave after I win 100 consecutive rounds with someone who’s bad at it?”
Producer Doh made an x mark with his fingers off camera. It meant there was no negotiation with the staff.
“We only acknowledge one win per opponent. If you lose you can challenge that person again to win.”
Ultimately, the time to clear the mission depended on how often he lost. And how quickly he could recover from the mental breakdown when a master expert intruded.
Minho looked at the rectangular digital clock that was set to [00:00:00] on top of the table. It was the clock that would run continuously until the mission was cleared. That clock was the symbol of this show.
The nightmare of the 20-hour filming was still bitter even after two years.
“I can quickly finish this 100 wins before lunch, right? I’m not going to worry about the length of the broadcast.”
The staff laughed because most of the guests who appeared on the show talked big, but Minho meant it.
Producer Doh gave a signal from the back. Minho clicked the switch on the back of the clock and with a beeping sound it changed to [00:00:01]
“Good, I’m on my way!”
The arcade was filled with people because ‘filming of CWIO’ was written on the entrance. Among the crowd there were those who were playing their own games and not minding the Cheoltu combat, but most people were gathered around the Cheoltu machine to watch.
“Welcome. Please introduce yourself.”
Minho greeted the first contestant, who introduced himself as a student going to college nearby.
“Do you go to arcades often?”
“No. I only come every once in a while to relieve stress.”
Minho eyes gleamed at the awkward and stiff tone.
‘Who are you trying to fool!?’
The student sat down and held on to the lever. The way he loosened up his hands didn’t look ordinary. It smelled of hardcore gamer.
Minho reached into his pocket to take out the keychain and put it on his waist. He had decided that he would only use the keychain when the opponent seemed difficult and he would use his own skills if they looked easy.
‘I’m only trusting you, Ray chan. Please bring me luck…dammit!’
Minho had to straighten out his confused mind that automatically began to try to talk to the doll.
‘eto….Don’t talk to the little doll.’
At this thought Minho could do nothing but stare into space.
Minho shook his head to clear his thoughts. This was very awkward but he focused on the combat first, thinking he would be fine if he just didn’t say it out loud.
Minho chose the foreign girl at the character selection window and the male student chose a muscled wrestler type.
They began with a testing skirmish. It was a contest to see who could grasp the pattern of what skills his opponent used the most. The male student’s character was playing mind games, feinting with fists and feet, and then unexpectedly threw himself in for a tackle.
The watching audience exclaimed, “Oh oh!”
Minho was pulled down and rolled on the ground with his opponent. With superhuman speed, he freed himself from the tackle. He didn’t care about winning or losing; his only concern was to protect the girl he was controlling.
The male student’s character was hit with a flood of combos in a counter attack that cornered him against the wall in an instant. His life points hit zero and Minho took the victory.
“Awesome. He beat him to the counter with a time difference of just one frame.”
“That’s the kid that ranked into round 16 at Cheoltu Clash. Isn’t Minho supposed to be good at Pentastorm?”
Minho heard the conversation of the spectators.
Minho glared at Producer Doh as if to say ‘of course’. Producer Doh only replied to Minho’s complaint of ‘how can you send out a player like this from the start?’ by making hand motions of shooting hearts back at him.
Counter attacking while checking every individual frame was only possible for advanced levels so the continuing round was a series of nerve-racking fights.
Minho barely won the victory after five rounds of combat.
‘That’s only one win and I’m drained.’
Next was a middle schooler who said he was a fan of Pentastorm League.
“Hyung. Win the semifinals!”
The kid chose a Bruce Lee style character and fiercely attacked, but it was a level Minho could handle without Producer Doh’s keychain.
From office workers to restaurant owners and tournament experts again. The combat continued without rest.
Ten wins and two loses out of 12 games.
It took over five minutes including the full rounds when he battled experts but the rest were within three minutes. It took him 40~50 minutes to get 10 wins. At a simple calculation, if he could keep this up he should be finished before evening.
The next opponent was an elementary student that wasn’t even half as tall as Minho.
“Can I do two rounds if I win?”
“You can if you want.”
They had said that a challenger who won could go again.
“Then let me win one round.”
Minho burst out laughing because the kid spoke so innocently and naively. It was certain that this was a good playground for a kid who wanted to play the game more, since Cheoltu was free today.
The character the kid chose after sitting down was a bear.
“Let’s go! Kuma! Run, run!”
The bear that was swinging his arms in the air was kicked with the start of round one and rolled on the ground.
“Ah, go easy on me! Hyung! Please!”
Minho was about to attack but made his character step back and wait. The bear stood up and swung his fist.
“Good. Attack! No. Hyung! Geeze! I said go easy on me!”
Those who were watching laughed as they saw a typical elementary school kid who played with his mouth.
‘This punk has a temper.’
Minho felt like he was seeing his younger self when he used to hang around the arcade with only 100 won (approx 10 cents) looking for a game he could have the most fun playing for only one round.
He’d been playing a character with a hidden command and advancing steadily towards the final boss, when an older neighborhood boy put in a coin and interrupted his game. Of course Minho lost. In his childish anger he cut the power and ran off. Minho had to hold back tears at these dim childhood memories, He’d been caught and had to give up the money he was going to use to borrow the comic ‘Peekaboo’ volume seven.
Minho just played with the kid through round two, but at round three he showed his skills. The boy, beaten, sprang to his feet.
“Cheat! You said you’d go easy on me!”
“I never said that.”
Minho firmly drew the line.
“I’m a gamer so put all my efforts in all rounds. Sorry~”
Minho gave him a word of advice saying “go study hard” and thought he understood what that older boy must’ve felt so long ago.
As lunchtime approached the total number of combats passed 40 rounds: 33 wins and 7 losses. Minho’s fingers felt stiff even though that number was about what he’d expected.
“We’ll take a break after one more person.”
A man who was waiting walked over after the broadcast personnel shouted.
“Welcome. Please introduce yourself.”
A lanky man who looked to be in his mid 30s walked in front of the camera for the interview but then his face changed suddenly and he shouted “Shush!” at Minho.
Minho saw the man take out a cellphone from his pocket and felt suspicious but then Minho nodded after the first words on the phone.
“Yes, honey. Where? The bath house of course. I’m gonna do the sauna a bit before I go. I have to take off my clothes now. Buy some coffee when I get back? Cassia bark not cinnamon? Okay. yes, I love you too.”
The man let out a deep sigh.
“Sorry. It was my wife’s call.”
It was a lonely weekend. Most of the spectators weren’t able to say anything when they saw the man making up excuses and unable to confidently confess coming out to enjoy his hobby for a bit.
The married men cried in empathy and the men about to get married felt chills down their backs. The man who had brought down the mood in the arcade pointed to the chair.
“Let’s play. I think I have to finish quickly and go.”
Minho sat on the other side and prepared for combat.
The man played Cheoltu desperately as if pouring his whole life into it. Minho lost but rather than feeling sad he was impressed that this man had achieved a high level of skill in such a situation.
‘Gamers are everywhere.’
The man stood up and seemed sad to go even though he had won, and his gaze remained on the machine button.
“Do you want to play one more round?”
“No. I have to get back within thirty minutes after the phone call. It was…a good match.”
His sorrowful last words pierced the hearts of all the men watching.
He quickly left the arcade and disappeared.
After lunch, people gathered again to the arcade, which had been quiet during the break. There were more people who had come to play the other games than those watching Cheoltu now.
Minho was sitting in the break chair and raised a hand at Iseol who was making her way through the crowd of people.
Iseol appeared on the divided monitor. She didn’t do herself up much but still had a beauty as if she had popped right out of a youth drama, and her looks were enough to attract attention.
She made the production staff’s eyes widen. Minho was the only one smiling contentedly while everyone else’s faces seemed to be saying, ‘You didn’t say she was this pretty!’
‘It looks like it’ll be easier to negotiate since they’re into her already.’
Minho introduced Iseol to the camera.
“I told you before, right? This is my friend who’s performing in Hongdae. Iseol, you can say hi to the camera.”
“Where? That way?”
Iseol looked around and bowed towards the camera fixed in the front.
“My name is Iseol Yoon.”
The camera captured the guitar on her back falling forward and back again. The production staff signaled for them to move over. Minho laughed and pulled Iseol’s arm and placed her in front of the main camera.
“You have to stand here to be captured on screen.”
She put her head down as if embarrassed and there was no man whose heart didn’t flutter watching her. That went for Minho as well. His heart fluttered but he steadied his mind after remembering his purpose in inviting her.
“I don’t know if you guys know, but she’s the girl from the Hongdae goddess video that went viral.”
Minho gave Iseol a look to ask for her understanding and asked in a low voice,
“Can you sing us one song?”
She smiled to say it wasn’t a problem and nodded. Then she sat down and took off the guitar case.
“I’ve never sung on a broadcast, but how about it, do you want to hear one?”
The staff had already become enthusiastic fans and looked impatient for her to sing.
“Our Iseol is actually looking ahead to her debut and she can’t do this for free, right?”
Minho’s gaze went towards Producer Doh. ‘No matter how much you’re into 2D girls such as Lily chan or Ray chan or whoever, if it’s Iseol’s charms then surely….’
‘He’s not even looking!’
Producer Doh was sitting alone at the monitoring seat and was playing a cell phone game with one of the pretty girls on it. Minho sighed deeply. It didn’t matter if Iseol sang or not if Producer Doh wasn’t enthralled. This was anime mania’s ultimate barrier.
“Minho oppa, shall I sing?”
Iseol quickly finished tuning her guitar and looked at Minho. Her unruffled gaze calmed him down somewhat.
He would take off 10 wins at best at this rate.
He only needed to suffer 30 more minutes as long as he had the key chain. There was no reason to use Iseol for a negotiation like this. Minho, who’d been planning to use her for his own gain, became embarrassed and replied quietly,
Iseol smiled brightly at the people watching.
“The title of the song is ‘Once Again’. Someone who’s my savior helped me arrange this song.”
Minho shook his head urgently, from a spot where the camera couldn’t see him. Arranging was only possible at Once and only for Iseol, so it wouldn’t be good for him if rumors spread.
“Heh heh. Okay, I got it.”
Iseol’s eyes became a glare as she looked at Minho.
Iseol’s voice flowed out with the guitar, gifting everyone’s ears with a sweet melody.
“The song’s good.”
“Who is that? She’s really good.”
While everyone listening was being soaked with emotion, Minho gently closed his eyes and fell into the three-minute musical journey.
Clap clap clap!
When Iseol’s song had finished, the small space in the corner of the arcade had turned into a small live stage.
The spectators where shouting encore and Iseol made an apologetic face saying there was only one song she could let them hear right now. Her older songs were being reworked for her album and weren’t as refined as ‘Once Again’.
“Just sing anything!”
“Yes, Nuna! Just one song!”
As the crowd’s excitement didn’t die down, Iseol looked over at Minho, not knowing what to do.
She could’ve just gotten up and that would be it, but Minho knew that she would feel bad about it, with her kind-hearted personality.
‘It should be okay to sing the song she sang at the playground.’
Minho thought she should sing at least one song since everyone wanted it so much. He walked over to Iseol’s side.
“Do you have the harmonica?”
Iseol took out the harmonica from her guitar case. Minho’s excitement towards music that he had forgotten sprang up again as soon as he touched it.
“You know the song you sang before? Sparkling Star. Let’s do it so I can remember as well.”
It was a completely unplanned duet but Iseol was excited rather than nervous and got into position. Minho sat next to her and glanced at her.
Tap tap tap! ting~
The song started with a rhythmic tapping beat on the guitar.
The spectators became entranced by the music at once and fell quiet as the captivating introduction began with the harmonica and Iseol’s humming mixing together.
The sense of immersion in the experience was so strong that even the noisy background music of the arcade machines seemed to blend into a chorus for the song. Minho blew into the harmonica, treasuring every moment, and Iseol continued singing with a smile.
“Awesome. The reaction would be amazing if we make this the promotion video for this episode.”
Producer Doh who was into his cell phone game looked over at the production staffer’s words.
“Heol, Producer! What were you doing? Minho invited an awesome guest.”
Producer Doh observed Minho and Iseol without much enthusiasm.
“They’re good. The goddess and her knight that came down to the arcades. We can put in subtitles bam bam.”
“The subtitles are a little weird.”
The spectators cheered louder than before as the song finished. Minho waited until it quieted down and then spoke.
“Those of you who want to listen more, come down to the streets of music tonight. Iseol’s performance is at 6 pm.”
Iseol seemed embarrassed by this bit of PR, but she gave Minho a grateful smile.