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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 536

Britta felt a surge of nausea, and then she was back in the Church of Stan Lee. She stumbled as she emerged with a pop from some space between worlds and squeezed Stan’s hand to stop herself from falling.

“Are you okay?” said Stan.

“Fine. I’m not used to transporting people with me. Makes me a bit dizzy.” She realised she was still holding his hand and let go, wiping her own hand on her jacket.

“I don’t have the lurgy, you know?” said Stan.

“Sorry, my hand was a bit sweaty.”

It was dark outside and the coloured light coming through the stained glass was muted and not very illuminating.

“Hold on, I’ll just get the lights.” Stan went to an unlit lantern hanging on the wall behind the altar. He turned a knob and it lit up, as did numerous other lanterns around the chapel.

“How did you do that?” said Britta. It didn’t seem appropriate in this kind of setting, although you could always explain it away with magic.

“I insisted they make it easier to turn lights on and off when I took over this place. I’m all for a bit of realism, but there’s no reason to go overboard, is there? I don’t want to spend hours going around striking a tinderbox for every lamp in the place. If I have to stay here, might as well reduce the tedium where I can.” He twisted the knob some more and the lighting adjusted, a little bit brighter, a little bit dimmer. “There we go.”

“But how do the lights work?” said Britta. “Gas? Electricity?”

“No, they aren’t that advanced,” said Stan, like it was obvious. “This is a pre-industrial civilization.”

“So, it’s magic?” The Industrial Revolution, which was a subject Britta was very familiar with from school, had relied on coal and steam to power it’s technological leaps. Magic made all that redundant, or it could. This world could easily surpass 18th century levels of infrastructure, if the devs wanted it to. Nothing was impossible, not even indoor lighting with a dimmer switch.

“Not exactly,” said Stan. “These are basic oil lanterns, nothing unusual about them. It’s just that when they’re hung from these hooks, the controls are all linked together, and I don’t need a match.”

“That sounds like magic.”

“In a limited sense, I suppose so,” said Stan. “It’s more of a server-side convenience. They coded it so I don’t have to waste my time on something that serves no real purpose.”

“Ah,” said Britta, “it’s not magic, it’s cheating.”

“This is a game,” said Stan. “Trying to make it as much like real life as possible is thinking too small. You of all people should realise that.”

“I do,” said Britta. “But I think a lot of people would flip out. It would break their immersion.” She knew of one particular player who would rage about something like this.

“If something like this breaks your immersion, I think you need to broaden your idea of where we are. You should immerse yourself in this world, not an attempt to make an augmented copy of the real one. This one is better. Now, let’s see the haul.”

He took the pouch from his belt, loosened the drawstrings around its mouth and turned it over.

Books flooded out onto the floor.

“So, you own this place?” said Britta as she watched the unending cascade of books gush into a giant pile.

“Yep,” said Stan. “I’m a man of property, not many players can say that, not yet anyway. Not that I’m a regular player. But then, neither are you.”

It took a solid five minutes before the books stopped. They were standing in a sea of books up to Stan’s knees, and Britta’s waist.

Stan picked up a book and opened it. “If we can figure out how to use these to level up, we’ll be able to defeat the Empire in a matter of weeks. Days, even. Once they’ve been crushed, a new era will begin.”

“With you as the new emperor?” asked Britta.

“No, no, of course not. A republic with a senate, probably. People voted in, democracy, accountability, all of that. It might even work here. First time for everything.”

“And you won’t be standing for election?”

“Me? No, no. All that glad-handing and kissing babies, no thank you.”

“You wouldn’t need to do any of that if you were a dictator,” said Britta.

“I see what you’re doing. This isn’t about me trying to grab power for myself. I want to go out in the world, have adventures, find magical treasures and legendary artefacts that make everyone sick with envy. You know, the fun stuff.”

“You want to show off,” said Britta.

“Now you’re getting it. Although you’re right, it wouldn’t be so bad if I was a dictator who had to be obeyed, you know, because of a magic book I found.” He smiled and winked at her and held up the book in his hands. Its title was Good Leadership for the People. He flicked through the pages. “I wonder how you activate these things.” He dropped it an picked up another one.

Usually, books in video games were either decorative and generally ignored by everyone apart from the saddest of players who insisted they were interested in game lore (she knew a player like that, too), or they simply gave you a bonus point in some ability as soon as you opened them.

“Maybe it has to be relevant to your class,” said Britta. She had grabbed a couple of books from the Institute’s vault herself. She was hoping being the correct class was all it took.

“This one’s called Point the Arrow,” said Stan. “I’m an archer, so it should be relevant to me.” He opened and closed it a few times. “Nope, nothing.”

“Maybe you have to read the whole thing,” said Britta.

Stan pulled a face. “Really? Oh, no, what if they expect you to actually learn things the old-fashioned way? No, they wouldn’t… they couldn’t, could they? That would be realism gone mad.”

Britta started laughing. It wasn’t really funny, but the idea of it was so crazy she couldn’t help it. What if you had to study books to learn what was in them? Learn how to do something better by studying? In a video game? People would get mad alright.


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Afterword from Mooderino
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