Bitter 93

Britta took off the helmet and lay in the dark, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Then she turned on her bedside lamp. It wasn’t that unusual for an online game to need maintenance, most had regularly scheduled downtime and the occasional unscheduled one when something went wrong, but it was still irritating.

She got up and went downstairs. Dad was in the kitchen on the small laptop Mum always kept plugged in next to the kettle so she could check her emails and messages. She had a phone that could do that, of course, but she always put it on to charge as soon as she walked in the door.

“The game's in maintenance,” said Britta.

“Yes,” said Dad, “I know. Just tried to get in. They’re fixing a bug from the last patch, apparently. Somebody figured out you could fall under the map in the level ten dungeon and avoid all the monsters.

“What’s the website it says to check?”

“This one.” Dad spun the computer around so she could see the screen.

She came closer and sat down at the kitchen table to get a better look.

“Hungry?”

Britta nodded as she scrolled down the page. She wasn’t really hungry, but it would pass the time. On the screen was a forum full of threads about the game. Which characters were too good and which needed to be buffed. Different builds. How to defeat certain monsters. Everything you would expect from a game’s website. And a stickied post about the emergency maintenance.

It didn’t say what the emergency was and it gave the same 12-36 hours time frame. It did promise regular updates, the last of which was from two hours ago. So not that regular.

“Isn’t ‘twelve to thirty-six’ a bit vague?”

“Yes,” said Dad, taking tupperware boxes out of the freezer. There were dozens of them neatly stacked on top of each other. “They just say that to give people the feeling it won’t be long without actually putting a deadline on it. The truth is, they probably have no idea how long it will take, but if they told people that it would only upset them.”

Dad put the boxes in the microwave and started taking out ingredients for a salad from the fridge. Despite being a scruffy gamer, he was very organised when it came to the domestic stuff. All the frozen meals were made and stored away by him.

“Shouldn’t I have access to this site, too?” It seemed a bit of an oversight not to have told her the site existed. It seemed to be part of APE’s main website, but she’d visited that many times and never seen a link to this forum.

“Yes, probably. You have to be invited. Send Gillian an email.”

“Gillian?”

“Dr Reedy. She probably forgot it existed. It’s more of a community thing.”

“How many people play the game?” Britta looked up when there was no answer.

“You should probably ask Dr Reedy about that too,” said Dad.

“We both signed the NDA, Dad. You don’t have to keep secrets from me, anymore.”

“Yes, I suppose you’re right. Force of habit. I think it was three thousand when I left APE. Probably a few more by now.”

“And how do they choose them? Nobody even knows the game exists.”

“They’re all investors, or at least most of them. Some are like you and me, brought in for special reasons. People who put money into the company get the opportunity to have early access to the game.”

“And they’re all Dungeons and Dragons fans?”

Dad stopped chopping up the cucumber. “No. Why would you think that?” The microwave pinged.

“They could use the technology to make any sort of world, but they chose elves and goblins and pretending to be magicians. Why not something else? Something more realistic?”

“It’s mages, not magicians,” said Dad emphatically. “They don’t go around sawing people in half. And they did try to create other worlds. Alien planets you could explore and beautiful beaches you could go sit on, but people got bored too quickly. Around the fifty hour mark, I think it was. It might surprise you to learn, my darling daughter, that they did quite a lot of testing.”

Britta ignored the sarcasm. “Not everyone likes fantasy, though. Mainly nerds.”

“Yes,” said Dad. “But they chose something the coders would be familiar with and find easy to translate.They found the two things players responded best to were solving problems and fighting each other.  An RPG was the obvious fit. They could have made it more realistic, but do you really want to fight the Nazis in World War Two and then go check out the concentration camps?”

“They could always leave that stuff out.”

“And be accused of being Holocaust deniers? No, you need a bit of a buffer from reality, otherwise you have a bunch of players all suing you for giving them PTSD. Nobody feels bad about killing an orc.”

She could see his point, but she wasn’t sure the orcs would. Especially if they weren’t just a bunch of pixels the way everyone thought they were.

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