Bitter 128

Dad disappeared into the living room and a few seconds later Britta heard the hum of his VR pod. She was alone in the house, or as good as, but that was okay. It was maybe even preferable. Dad would only pester her with questions, followed by lectures on what she should have done.

Most parents might give their children instructions on how to avoid drinks and drugs and sex (even though they obviously indulged in all those things like crazy when they were the same age) but Britta’s Dad was more likely to sit his daughters down and warn them about the dangers of being taken in by a free-to-play MMO.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a bit odd. It wasn’t like Mum didn’t give them the more traditional parenting experience. She knew all the things a girl her age was supposed to know, plus a bunch of stuff about why Nintendo’s business model was woefully limited without an adequate roster of third-party publishers.

At least with Dad in the game she had a baseline to compare with. He would play the game like any regular player and she’d have someone to check with to see if what she was experiencing was normal. She expected he’d go to the mines himself to check out the beginner dungeon. She knew how methodical he was when it came to gameplay, so he would be able to give her a really good idea of the differences between the normal dungeon and what the game had created for her.

Britta finished tidying up the kitchen and then had to figure out what to do with the rest of the day. The sun was shining outside and she had every kind of indoor entertainment to amuse herself with, but none of it appealed to her.

She could go online and look for more information on the game but she’d only find the same things and even she could see it wasn’t healthy becoming so fixated on this one part of her life.

The front door rattled open as Mum returned. “Hello? Little help?” she called out.

Britta helped her bring in the shopping from the car. Stepping outside, even if it was only a few steps onto the driveway, was enough to remind her what the world felt like. The game was startlingly realistic in many ways but it lacked something. In the game, you felt like everything was designed with the player in mind while here it was kind of the opposite. Here, she almost felt like an NPC. She didn’t know what that feeling was. Perspective?

“Did you have fun in your game?” asked Mum as they put away the groceries.

“Yes, thanks.” Britta didn’t feel like going into the details of how she had fended off a homicidal dwarf and her numerous subsequent suicide attempts. She felt Mum wouldn’t appreciate the game mechanics involved and just freak out. “Most of it was getting used to the game again.”

Mum gave her a sideways look like she knew that wasn’t the whole story. She folded up the empty carrier bags and put them in the drawer.

“I was going to disconnect you after two hours, but your Dad convinced me to let you log out yourself so we could see how far you would take it. If you’d still been in there when I got back from the shops, we were going to have words.”

“Mum, I’m not an addict.”

“I know that, dear, but as exciting as it is running around waving a sword and shouting “Geronimo!” you have to remember it isn’t real life. This is the game you have to get good at.” She circled her finger to indicate the world around them, or possibly just the kitchen.

Britta was tempted to correct her mother on what running around in the game actually entailed but it would probably only confuse things more.

“Don’t you think it’s strange you married someone like Dad? He’s more obsessed with video games than anyone.”

“That’s entirely different,” said Mum. “No matter how carried away he gets, he knows there’s something better waiting for him here.”

“Are you talking about sex, Mum?” said Britta pulling a face.

“No. Well, that too—and not having genitalia in the game is also an excellent decision, if you ask me—but I’m talking about all of us. You, me, Marisa. Things he cares about. That’s what you need if you want to stay grounded in reality and not float away with the fairies. Even if you don’t like boys, there are other types of relationships.”

The conversation had suddenly taken a strange turn.

“I’m not gay, Mum.”

“No, of course not. But even if you were, or just curious, that wouldn’t be anything to be worried about.”

“Mum. I’m not gay.”

“I never said you were, darling. But you’re sixteen and you’ve never even been out with a boy. Not as far as I know, that is.” She gave Britta another sideways look. “When Marisa was your age—”

Britta rolled her eyes. “We all know what kind of girl Marisa was. Still is.”

“Britta! Don’t say things like that about your sister.”

“I’m just saying we have different tastes. And standards.”

Mum nodded dubiously. “Yes, I suppose so. You know, you can talk to me about anything. Any non-traditional urges you might have.”

Britta had no idea what non-traditional urges were and she didn’t want to know. She turned and headed for the exit. She’d only been up a couple of hours and she already needed another shower to get rid of the icky feeling.

“Britta? Do you want me to tell you about my non-traditional experiences?”

“This is why people retreat into a fantasy world, Mother.” She ran up the stairs.

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