Bitter 367

At lunch, Britta watched the ceremony again. After speaking with Lewis, she felt she had missed a lot of what had been revealed about the game. But it turned out she hadn’t.

It was just as she remembered it, a bunch of images selling the game combined with an overblown sales pitch about fighting for all the right reasons.

Now that she knew Stan was part of it, she wasn’t so distracted by his appearance, and could appreciate just how cheesy they’d made the rivalry between factions. Pretty standard stuff, as Lewis had said.

But there was no mention of full servers and new worlds to be opened soon. Nothing to indicate that planets would collide. And no mention of a procedural story generator.

What the hell had Lewis been going on about? Where had he got all those ridiculous ideas from?

It only took her a couple of seconds to come up with the answer. The internet, of course. Pompous gits on some obscure forum where everyone was an ‘expert’ had convinced him they already had the answers, even though they barely knew what the question was.

A lot of what he’d said did sound like it was possible, likely, even. Amazing things could be coming, but they would be a long way off in the future. Right now, the game was just that. A game.

She rolled her eyes, mostly at herself for getting swept up in the baseless conjecture so beloved of internet forums. Or fora, as Dad insisted on calling them. She put her phone away and went to English.

Mr Maxwell didn’t seem to have any idea that there was a revolution in gaming going on. He was far too busy trying to get people to read The Great Gatsby on their own time, even though it wasn’t on the curriculum. Britta had already read it and thought it was a terrible book, full of wan characters who she would avoid in real life, as they would probably avoid her. They certainly wouldn’t invite her to their parties.

She checked her screen to see if her homework has been returned.

“Did he give back your essay?” she asked Rashida.

“What essay?”

“The one on ‘write what you don’t know’.”

Rashida gave Britta a doubtful look. “He wasn’t serious about that.”

“You didn’t do it?”

“Of course not. No one did.” Realisation dawned on Rashida’s face. “Did you?”

“Yes. It was homework.” How could the whole class have realised he hadn’t meant it, and she’d spent two night writing up fifteen hundred words on the topic. She was so annoyed at having been misled, she went to take to Mr Maxwell at the end of class to ask him about it.

“I’m sorry, Britta,” he said genially. “I was hoping it would get people thinking, start a conversation, but I’m afraid you were the only one to hand anything in. I didn’t want to give it back in case it embarrassed you.”

“It was that bad?”

“Oh no, it was very good. I enjoyed reading it. Did you learn anything?” he asked hopefully.

“I don’t know. Was I supposed to?” She was still irked by the feeling she’d been pranked.

“Didn’t you feel, as you wrote about something you didn’t fully understand, you found yourself taking a position on the matter? Began to see a fuller picture?”

“Yes, I suppose. But it didn’t really help. I was still unsure I was right about any of it.”

“And what about the people who are sure. Do you admire them for their conviction?”

“No. They don’t know any better than I do. They can’t, the information isn’t available. They’re just bluffing.”

Mr Maxwell smiled at her. “Exactly.”

“Exactly what?” said Britta. “Nobody knows anything?”

“I wouldn’t say that, but young people today are so keen on finding someone to follow. Learn the quickest route to success, based on what others have done, don’t waste time looking for yourself. Oh, it’s a safer way to live your life, but so boring. Just painting by numbers. They just don’t take risks anymore.”

Britta wasn’t inclined to pay much attention to anyone who began their point with ‘young people today,’ but there was some truth in what he was saying. People liked to play games with a copy of the walkthrough printed out next to them. They didn’t want to miss out on any of the secret rooms. They wanted to make sure they had what everyone else had.

“What if they take risks and fail?” said Britta.

Mr Maxwell smirked and shrugged. “They can always get a job in teaching.”

It was a nice romantic notion, to go all out in pursuit of an interesting life, but the consequences were too punishing. People were competitive, they didn’t help each other. They wanted others to fail. No one wanted to be left behind. Not in life, and not in video games.

On the way home she actually got a seat on the bus. A Friday miracle. She had the weekend ahead of her, and plenty of homework to do. Although she would take extra care to make sure none of it was optional. Once bitten.

Her phone buzzed, not to tell her there was a call, but to let her know an app had finished installing. Which was odd because she hadn’t installed any apps recently.

It was from APE. A timer that told her when she had to log into the game by. She was meant to do it every forty-eight hours at the latest. Currently, she had thirty hours and some change to go before she was required to put her helmet on. Which was good to know, but it didn’t explain how they had forced the app onto her phone without her permission.

When she got home she planned to put a Hello Kitty! sticker over the camera lens on the phone.

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