Bitter 587

The world was sitting up and taking note of the upcoming changes in the world of entertainment. Britta could tell the media had decided to embrace the digital revolution taking place.

Adverts on billboards and on the screens inside her bus to school were pushing Anderson cradles and the joys of virtual reality. It had gone from a specialised piece of tech known to only a handful of gaming enthusiasts, to a mainstream worldwide phenomenon eagerly awaited by young and old.

Now it felt like every website and every news outlet was doing a story about New World. Video footage was available, players were interviewed in depth, journalists reported back from trying the game themselves. The only thing the media blitz couldn’t do was convey what it actually felt like to be inside New World.

But they could still hype the crap out of it.

In many ways, the inability to experience it for themselves put people in an even greater state of anticipation. After keeping news of the game suppressed for so long, now there was a massive glut. And the effect was sending people a little crazy.

Was this all part of the plan? Britta assumed the marketing people at APE had carefully arranged for the excitement to reach its apex just before the full launch. The game devs might not be able to produce a game without bugs or exploits, but the PR folk were masters of their domain.

Britta found herself thinking about where they planned to take the game from here as she got off the bus and walked into school. Around her, the other students split up into groups as they chatted and laughed, off to the lockers, then onto their form rooms. It was the same thing every day. The same people.

Most of them hung out between classes and after school. Went out with each other on weekends. Would they all stay at home from now on, lying on their beds with a cradle on their heads? Would they meet up inside the game and carry on being friends without ever leaving home?

It seemed impossible to guess how they would react when the finally saw it for themselves, even for the marketing people. But with so much money invested into it, scrutiny would be greater than ever. Attention on the game would only become more intense from here on out.

Britta wasn’t sure she was going to like how things would change. Even without knowing what those changes would be.

Maybe it would be popular for a moment and then fade away like every other game. Maybe there was something even more amazing just around the corner.

“What are you daydreaming about?” asked Rashida.

“Nothing,” said Britta, her denial instinctive.

Rashida’s eyes narrowed to laser intensity. “You’ve changed, you know?”

“Me? No, I haven’t.”

“You have,” said Rashida. “It’s like you stopped caring about school.”

“I care.” Britta wasn’t sure what Rashida was talking about. If anything, Britta was more committed to her education than before.

“It’s like you’re not really here,” said Rashida, peering into Britta’s eyes like she might find a clue in there. “Like this just a bus stop for you.”

She was making Britta uncomfortable. “Well, isn’t it for everyone? We won’t be here for that much longer.”

“True,” said Rashida, “but that’s not how you’re supposed to think. These are the best years of our lives,” she said completely deadpan. “Apparently.”

“Do you really believe that?” said Britta.

“If I thought it was true,” said Rashida, getting up as the bell for the first class went off in the corridor, “I would have gone to a better school.”

“By the way,” said Britta as she followed her out into the hall, “did you order a helmet?”

“What do I need a helmet for?” asked Rashida.

“An Anderson cradle? The game?”

“Oh,” said Rashida. “No. These things never live up to the hype. And even if it does, do I really want to be trapped in a box with a bunch of overexcited children?” She stopped as two boys ran past throwing a rugby ball to each other in between students who cried out and jeered them. “Where’s the escapism in that?” she said with an eyebrow raised.

“I think this time it will actually live up to the hype,” said Britta. “And you don’t have to stay where everyone else is. You can go wherever you want.”

“You seem to know a lot about it,” said Rashida.

“Just what I’ve picked up.” There was part of her that wanted to openly talk about everything she had experienced in the game but at the same time it felt like she was just looking for a chance to show off.

This is going to be a great thing and I’m already part of it so I must be great.

She was about to change the subject when she saw an awkward, spindly figure coming down the hall towards them. He had his eyes locked on Britta.

“Anyway, we’ll have to wait and see,” said Britta, pushing Rashida into the classroom and quickly making her way to her seat.

She looked back towards the door as she sat down and saw Rick in the doorway, adjusting his old lady glasses and gritting his teeth as he prepared to charge into the enemy camp (which was any room with people in it as far as he was concerned).

Britta jumped up and walked quickly back across the classroom. Her sudden move caught Rick by surprise and he stood there, waiting.

She knew he was here for her. Whether it was to ask her about Dad or confront her over something else didn’t matter. It would be better to deal with it outside.

Mr Maxwell appeared behind Rick and tapped him on the shoulder, making him jump.

“Sorry, sir,” he said as he moved to one side.

“Just be a second,” said Britta as she pushed Rick further back and out into the corridor.

Mr Maxwell looked like he was about to say something, then thought better of it and went into the classroom, “Morning, morning,” to be met by moans and groans.

“What?” said Britta. “I thought we sorted everything out already.”

Rick seemed a little thrown by Britta’s confrontational manner, which was what Britta had hoped for. You had to take control of the battle if you didn’t want to always be the reactive one.

Rick gathered himself and stood tall, which gave him about two centimetres on Britta.

“I know it’s you. You’re the gnome wizard.” There was a triumphant gleam in his eye.

It didn’t come as that much of a shock. In real life, a simple mask over the eyes didn’t hide your superhero identity. People who knew you could tell it was you with and without glasses on. They recognised your voice even when you tried to sound like Darth Vader.

“Yes, it’s me. So what? Everything I said still stands. I can’t talk to you without reporting back to APE. They watch everything I do. Everything. Not just in the game. If you want them to start watching everything you do, you’re going the right way about it.”

Rick stumbled back two steps. “I… I see.” He turned and ran off.

Britta let out her breath. That went a lot better than she had expected it to. Perhaps the game was starting to improve her skills in the real world, too.

 

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Afterword from Mooderino
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