Bitter 325

“Couldn’t you adapt the blue demon—”

“Blue Spider Demon God-Queen.”

“Yes, can’t you adapt it so it’s what they want and what you want?”

Dr Reedy had asked Britta to present the alternative storyline to Nigel, she didn’t say he couldn’t make changes.

“It’s not that easy,” said Nigel. “Once you start making changes, the whole thing can fall apart. And what could I even do to make it better? It’s completely terrible.”

He sounded like Dad. Perhaps they should get together and hash something out between them. She immediately regretted even thinking such a thing. It would be like asking a ten-year-old to design a car. You’d get some rocket-powered monstrosity with twelve wheels, wings and a periscope.

“It can’t be that bad,” she said. “They’re professionals, they know what people want to play.”

“They know what people are willing to play that’s profitable,” said Nigel. “They know the visuals and the immersive experience will be enough to bring people here. They just want to keep them busy. I want to do more than that.”

“Such as?” asked Britta.

“Tell me, Britta, what would you want this world to be like?”

“Why are you asking me? I don’t know the first thing about how to make a video game.”

“That’s not what I mean. You’ve spent time here. You can see what’s possible. If you could take it in any direction, what would you do? What would excite you so much you’d come here every day?”

Britta opened her mouth, ready to tell him, but nothing came out. She didn’t know what to say.

At first it had been the novelty of being here that had kept her interested. Everything was new and different. And then it was the ability to do things that were impossible, but it was surprising how fast you got used to being super strong or creating balls of magic light.

The thrill of fighting for her life had never been very appealing, though. But that was just her. The main audience for a game like this wanted to see gladiators fighting to the death. Actually, they wanted to be gladiators fighting to the death.

“I’m not really the target audience for this game, though, am I? If they want it to be popular, they have to get boys to like it.”

Nigel looked at her and Sister Florence’s eyes seemed to twinkle. “You’re very quick to make excuses and assume obstacles where there aren’t any. This is a game aimed at everyone, in all parts of the world. Even the poorest where they don’t have stable power or enough food.”

“I don’t think a luxury toy is going to be very popular in—”

“You’re doing it again. Their ambition is greater than being the best selling console at Christmas. Britta, you have to think beyond what’s happened before. What would you like to happen? If you had the chance to shape the world, what would you do?”

Britta sat quietly for a moment. She searched her thoughts and found her mind was blank. “I don’t know.”

It was disconcerting to have felt for so long that no one really cared about what she wanted, and then to realise she had no idea herself. Was it the complaining she enjoyed?

She was only sixteen. Was she supposed to know? Should she have everything already mapped out? Some people did.

“But if you could make it about anything. Anything you—”

“I said I don’t know,” she snapped, and then realised she was being unreasonable. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” said Nigel. “Like I said, it’s a lot of pressure. Having no choice is only slightly worse than having every choice. Where to even begin?”

They sat there, thinking.

Britta wasn’t a game designer. She wasn’t really the creative type. But she should still know what she wanted. It would be a difficult task to come up with something that made everyone happy, but she should at least be able to make herself happy. What would the ideal game for her look like?

“What about you? You’ve had time to think. You must have the fastest processors on the planet. Do you at least have a short list?”

Sister Florence’s head bobbed up and down. “I’ve spent a lot of time studying human history, how you formed civilisations, how they collapsed. It’s interesting. You go out of your way to help each other, take care of the old and the weak, and create incredibly strong bonds that you consider worth dying for. And then… you also try to prevent each other from succeeding. The person who gets ahead usually does their best to put up as many obstacles as they can for the ones behind. The rich try to make his workers earn as little as possible, the great leaders make laws to prevent anyone taking away their power. The big companies lobby for less regulation and insist the free market will provide balance, and then they close off opportunities for others so they face no competition. It makes it a horrible experience for anyone who gets into the game late.”

“That’s just how people are,” said Britta. “The ones at the bottom know they’ll never get to the top, so they break the rules. And the ones at the top know they don’t deserve what they have, so they make new rules that favour only them.”

“But what if there was a game where you couldn’t cheat, no matter how successful or powerful you got?”

“I think that would be great,” said Britta. “Unfortunately it would have to be a world without people in it.”

Sister Florence grinned, which was somehow menacing and goofy at the same time, possibly because she had such large teeth. “That’s why I like you, Britta. You have a fine grasp of the human condition. But don’t you think people would like to play a game where everyone had the same opportunity no matter who your mother and father happened to be?”

“Yes, of course. But you haven’t explained how you would make that happen. Even now, the bigger guilds bully the smaller ones. And people have found all sorts of exploits, like climbing out of the map and taking shortcuts. You can’t make it perfect.”

“Nor would I want to,” said Nigel. “That would be boring and people should be allowed to be people, good and bad. But the ones who get so big they try to decide the rules for everyone else, what if we got rid of them?”

“And who would be in charge? You?”

“Does that sound so bad?”

“It sounds,” said Britta, “like the start of every science-fiction horror movie where humans end up fighting robots.”

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