“What’s going on?” asked Mum. She looked from one side of the table to the other.
“Nothing,” said Britta. She filled her mouth with fish pie.
“Everything’s great,” Dad said while chewing.
“Something is definitely going on between you two,” Mum continued, the only one not eating. “Is this to do with the game. What happened? Did you get into a fight with an elf, or something? Why the silent treatment?”
“I’m just eating,” said Britta.
“I know how you eat, Britta. I am familiar with your tempo. This is ‘eating without a break so I don’t have to engage in conversation’ tempo.”
Britta was a little taken aback. She wasn’t aware that she had different eating rhythms, or that they were so revealing. She raised a fork to her mouth, and then put it back down.
“It’s just that I think Dad might be evil.”
“What?” said Dad, spitting a piece of fluffy potato onto the table. He wiped it up with his finger, and put it back in his mouth. “I am nothing but love. Tell her.”
“Britta…” began Mum. “Your father loves you very much.”
“See?” said Dad.
“She didn’t say you weren’t evil,” said Britta.
“You’re the most important thing in the world,” said Mum. “To both of us.”
“Yes,” said Britta. “In this world. You don’t know the sorts of things he gets up to in other worlds.” She gave Dad a cold stare across the table.
Dad speared a lump of cod and stuck it in his mouth, chewing slowly while looking right back at her.
“Does it really matter?” said Mum. “It’s just a game.”
“I know,” said Britta, looking away to face Mum. “It’s just that it’s an uncomfortable feeling when you realise you hope no one finds out who your father is because you would die of embarrassment.” She shot another look at Dad. He countered by opening his full mouth at her. There was no winning against him at this level. He was a master at being childish.
“Oh, well, that’s just normal,” said Mum. “Teenage girls are always embarrassed by their fathers.”
“He kills people in his own team!” said Britta.
“One person,” said Dad.
“See? He doesn’t even think it’s wrong. What if he’s a psychopath?”
Mum was eating now, like the problem had been resolved. “He isn’t a psychopath. Psychopaths are much more organised. Your dad can’t find a pair of matching socks without googling a strategy guide.”
“How is that not organised?” said Dad. “That’s like the most organised.”
“Are you saying you are a psychopath?” asked Britta.
“Of course not. I don’t want to hurt anyone. It’s just a game, like your mum said. He didn’t really die, did he?”
Britta knew they were right, up to a point, but being allowed to act without the normal consequences didn’t make everything meaningless. It still showed a person’s thinking process. The same process they used in the real world.
“Why were you even allowed to kill him? I thought you couldn’t go around murdering other players whenever you felt like it. Isn’t there supposed to be special PvP zones?”
“That’s right,” said Dad, raising a loaded fork towards his mouth, but too engaged in explaining to complete the action. People really did have different eating tempos. “You can’t go around attacking people. But if they’re in the same party as you, you’re allowed to use spells on them. They can even get caught by friendly fire, like when Master Chief and the others thought your fireball was real.”
“But you deliberately tried to hurt Fart Lord.”
“Fart Lord?” said Mum. “You call someone that?”
“It’s his name,” said Britta. “He chose it.”
“Every terrible thing I think about computer games is true, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” said Britta and Dad together.
“You targeted your own side,” said Britta, “and killed your own team member. Isn’t that grieving, or whatever?”
“Griefing,” said Dad
“Yeah. Shouldn’t that get people banned?”
“It’s more complicated than that. It’s a grey area,” said Dad. “I was helping the team. It was just that I needed to sacrifice someone to do it. Sometimes ten players play better than eleven, that’s how things work out sometimes. Just another way to play the game.”
“I don’t think that’s how I want to play the game,” said Britta. “I don’t think I want to play with you.”
“Sweetheart, I wouldn’t do that to you. Not unless it was the only way.”
“That means you would do it, Dad,” said Britta.
“But that’s what so beautiful about the game. You can approach it in so many different ways. Your choices genuinely affect what happens. Do you think games have ever allowed that to happen before? Oh, they like to pretend it’s going to make a difference if you choose the red pill or the blue pill, but they’ve already written the ending. There might be two or three alternatives, maybe six or eight, even, but in the end, they’ve decided your fate. It’s all pre-recorded. This is the first time both sides are reacting in real time. No one knew I was going to do that. Not even I did. That’s a glorious thing, sweetheart. I’m in control of my own destiny, not locked into some illusion of choice. Not even real life can make that claim. It’s only right I stress test the shit out of the possibilities.”
“They’re going to figure it out,” said Britta. “It’s already over ten million views. Probably more than that now. Nerds are going to analyse it with forensic software and work out something’s not quite right.”
“I know,” said Dad. “I can’t wait. I would reveal it myself, but it’s going to be so much better for them to figure it out for themselves. Minds will be blown.” Dad’s eyes shone with an inner light. “And they’ll love me for it.”
That didn’t mean he wasn’t evil. He was just evil with a flair for the dramatic. A supervillain.
He was right, nerds would love it.