Bitter 516

Britta returned to school on Monday full of excitement. She was looking forward to class, not because of all the important and interesting things she would learn, but because she wanted that wonderful warm feeling of being ahead of everyone else.

Lots of people went to tutors, of course. The teachers at school didn’t have the time and if they did, it would just mean listening to the same incomprehensible examples you’d heard in class. Having a teaching certificate didn’t make you good at teaching.

But not many people had as many tutors as Britta, and they were all for subjects she was already good at. It was hard not to feel a little superior.

Nobody would really care if they knew, most likely just call her a swot or some other meaningless insults. Being smart was no longer the put down it once was. You could be the richest most powerful person in the word and be a nerd. It was almost compulsory these days.

It only took a few minutes into her first class, maths, for the shine to wear off her smugness. Yes, she had a full understanding of what they were learning, but so did a lot of people. Life didn’t just transform overnight because you got +1 in Int. You had to accumulate those attributes.

Britta shook the idea out of her head. This wasn’t a game.

It was hard to separate the two sometimes. She was a gnome in one, but people looked at her the same in both worlds, which was a bit demoralising.

She heard people discussing the game in class and around the school. She had expected the interest to die down once the initial hype died down — none of them had access to the game, so it was a bit pointless — but like the elevated interest online, people at school were also becoming more curious about what the game would be like once they got the chance to join.

There was a lot of talk of new cheaper helmets being made available soon, and even though there was nothing confirmed and no set date, anticipation was high. They had all seen footage by now, and it was far superior to anything they had experienced with any other gaming system. For once, the game might live up to the cinematic.

Mobile gaming had been the last big phenomenon, with high-quality graphics making it on to small screens and allowing you to play anywhere, with anyone. But it was a limited experience. The battle between large visuals and something that would fit in your pocket had never been properly resolved. Folding screens and built-in projectors weren’t very convenient to use.

But New World was a completely immersive experience. It didn’t try to integrate itself into your already crammed life, it was a separate thing that took you out of your life. That was the most appealing thing about it.

Britta listened in on a few conversations, smiling to herself. She was one of the lucky few who had experienced it first hand, but playing the game had made her more interested in pushing for a more engaging existence IRL. It had shown her how far short she was of a life she found satisfactory. Escaping into a virtual world was not the solution.

She sat through French in a daydream, thinking about university and what she would study. She had initially been attracted to something scientific, chemistry perhaps. It felt like a field where she could discover new and exciting things while winning plaudits for her daring research, but it was a bit of a vague ambition. You should have a genuine passion for the thing you intended spending the rest of your life doing. Nothing gave Britta that kind of feeling.

But now she was thinking about doing something business-related. Something in technology. If the world was headed into the kind of AI-infused environment like the game indicated, then the more rational disciplines, the ones that could be worked out from first principles, would be better handled by computers. Even learning languages would be less valuable as instant translation became more common.

It was dealing with those AI that would be the next boom, at least in Britta’s estimation. Too much restriction and they would be like very advanced calculators. Too much freedom, and… it was hard to know where the world would end up.

Business, to deal with the people, and hard logic to deal with the AI, those were the key areas to get into. She considered learning programming, but that was maybe a step too far. The use of nuclear power didn’t require mining the uranium yourself.

Sitting at her desk, pondering her exciting future at some top university — perhaps abroad, maybe even in China (she wouldn’t even have to learn the language) — it took a moment for her to realise the teacher was talking to her. She sat up and answered, apologising for her wandering mind.

The rest of the class was staring at her, which was odd. She had spoken in French without realising and the lack of concern had made her speech sound very relaxed and casual. It was like she was having a chat with the teacher over a cup of coffee and a nice pastry in a Parisian restaurant.

The teacher continued the conversation, and Britta responded a little more formally, but still well enough to give the rest of the class something to think about. It was a pleasant feeling to make them realise they were two steps behind her.

On her way to lunch, she overheard some excited boys talk about the game, same as everyone else all morning, but it caught her by surprise when she heard them talk about someone who actually had a helmet.

“What, in this school? This school?”

“Yeah, man.”

“Which class?”

“I dunno.”

“Then how do you know they have the game.”

Britta’s immediate reaction was to think someone had found out about her. But after hanging around the boys talking — her natural talent for being overlooked and ignored coming in handy for once — she realised they were talking about a boy.

“He’s had it since before the launch, apparently.”

“Beta player?”

“That’s what I heard. Not saying it’s true.”

“Probably lying. Got to be, right?”

It could just be talk, but talking to another player, one she knew in real life, would be interesting. How was he finding the game? Did APE do proper testing to see how teenage boys reacted to the difficulty level? If there was someone here who played, perhaps she could discover vital info for them.

Britta met Rashida in the cafeteria for lunch and was met with a wall of sound from another bunch of boys. This group was crowded around one end of a table where Lewis was sitting with his laptop.

“What’s going on over there?” she asked Rashida.

“They’ve found a website that shows lots of videos from some new game,” said Rashida. “The excessive hormone release from their pituitary glands is causing their brains to shrivel.” She took a bite of her sandwich. “Watch, it’s fascinating. Like evolution in reverse.”

Britta wondered if they were watching Dad’s videos. She walked over, ignoring Rashida’s disapproving look, and peeked through the crowd. No one would notice one more person.

The video wasn’t one of Dad’s, it was on a Chinese website with Chinese writing all over it. The video was of a group of players destroying an army of monsters. The players wore armour that looked like nothing Britta had seen before. They had to be the mystery experts Dad was looking for.


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Afterword from Mooderino
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