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“Get on the bike,” Collier tells his character as he starts another mission. “We’ve got work to do.”

On the computer screen, Gestalt has mounted a speeder-bike and is riding through hilly fields filled with colorful virtual wildflowers. He follows a “way point,” an arrow that shows him which way to go – a built-in global positioning system of sorts.

With fishing pole in tow, Gestalt is headed toward his beach house and, later, will take a transport to a mining outpost on the planet Dantooine to make some online cash – this time, by accepting a mission to kill some small animals.

“This is pretty much my online life – hop on a bike, go fishing, make some money, kill some stuff,” Collier says. “Just doing random stuff in a virtual world, that’s the point – that’s why we’re here.”

Players can be “wallflowers,” as Collier puts it, and make their characters lead solitary lives. But the game is set up to encourage people to interact, allowing their characters to “sell” or barter services and help each other through the game’s intricate features.

Games like this one also give players leeway to be creative – in the way their characters look, the way they decorate their houses and what they spend their time doing.  Other types of online games – for instance, shoot-em-up battles – pit human-driven characters vs. computer-driven characters.

One of Collier’s latest missions in Star Wars Galaxies has been to earn badges to master the Teras Kasai profession, one of many steps to becoming the fabled Jedi. But he’s most interested in becoming an online pilot, something recent upgrades in the game will allow him to do.

“So we can fly in ships – it’s frickin’ awesome!” he says, pausing and taking a breath. “I get really excited.”

Collier has never met most of his guild mates in person, but he knows two of them very well. They are his roommates, Adam Traum and Owen Nelson, both buddies he met in art school in Florida a few years back who are now his compadres in the real and virtual worlds.

In real life, the threesome lives in what Collier jokingly refers to as the “nerd tree house,” an apartment chock full of mismatching furniture, stacks of pizza boxes, ashtrays crammed with cigarette butts and empty bottles of beer and Diet Coke. The walls are mostly empty, save the Jesus action figure that’s tacked up near the kitchen – plus an Elvis cutout, a girlie calendar and a poster of martial arts star Jet Li.

Amid all of it, the focal point is the hardware: four TVs lined up in front of the couch – and 11 computers, with various computer parts scattered about. A cardboard box near the TVs holds just about every game console ever made – and a few duplicates, just in case.

“We’re huge gamers, in case you didn’t realize,” Collier says with a wry smile.

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