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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 561

“Simply raising your level is out of the questions,” said N-28, with a cool detachment that made it seem like it wasn’t even worth considering. “It would set a terrible precedent.”

“It wouldn’t be a precedent,” insisted Britta. “It’s a one-time, one-off, one-person thing. I would only be getting a buff so that no one can take advantage of my role in the game. Not even you.”

N-28 didn’t look convinced, but Britta saw it as a very reasonable proposition. If she received unlimited teleportation abilities (for completely unselfish reasons), he wouldn’t just be protecting New World, it would protect the game as a whole.

“No one can accuse you of breaking the rules if you don’t gain anything,” she pointed out.

“It isn’t a matter of breaking the rules — the rules were designed to be flexible — the issue is one of putting too much power in the hands of a single gnome. It’s all very well not wanting to be taken advantage of, but what if you’re the one who decides to abuse your own power?”

Britta was a little taken aback by the accusation. She understood that it was smart to consider all possible outcomes, but she had hardly demonstrated the kind of behaviour that would suggest she would do anything so self-serving.

“Why would I do that? I hardly even play the game. I’m not interested in collecting world’s first achievements and walking around in the flashiest gear to impress people, am I?” N-28 didn’t reply, although a slight shrug suggested he was on the fence, which only irritated her more. “Do you really think I’m in it for the fake gold coins and bagful of tiaras?” She was a little offended, to tell the truth.

“How you think you’ll behave with unlimited power, and how you actually behave once you have it aren’t the same thing.”

“Yes,” said Britta, “but you’re already facing much worse alternatives than me turning into a cheat. I’ve seen what it’s like over in the Legendary World. They aren’t sitting back and letting players slowly grow acclimatised to their environment. L-15 is creating an army of superpowered players who are going to dominate. L-15 doesn’t care about fair and balanced gameplay. L-15—”

“L-15, L-15, L-15,” snapped -28. “Yes, yes, yes, I understand. He’s doing everything much better and with more style and grace.”

Britta was surprised by N-28’s sudden burst of emotion. He was usually very nonchalant and unruffled when it came to the game. Although he had become a little irked with N-21, to the point of wrestling naked with him, so perhaps the AI were vulnerable to letting their siblings under their skin.

“I’m not saying that.” Britta made sure to stay calm and unemotional in response. “I think he’s rushing to get an advantage. I’m not sure what he’s planning, but I don’t think his ambitions are going to remain within his borders. And if he can use me to help him, I think he’ll find a way to do it, with or without my permission.”

N-28’s brow furrowed, but his voice returned to a more placid tone. “Yes, I know. Look, I agree with you, for the most part. I just need to be cautious when going into areas I haven’t fully evaluated. To be perfectly frank, the game rules are designed to be constantly amended as part of its evolution. Hacks and exploits by players were always going to be unavoidable and even expected. Allowances have been made and precautions are in place. But those elements weren’t meant to be used by us.”

Did that mean what players like Rick were up to was already known and considered acceptable? It would fit in with the idea of making the virtual world like the real one. If you could cheat and get away with it, you were smart. If you bent the rules but stayed technically on the right side of the line, you were legal. Even if you were caught red-handed and were forced to pay a fine, if the cost was less than the gain you made from cheating, why wouldn’t you pay up and do as you pleased?

It was all a bit depressing, really. The rules weren’t just flexible, they were open to abuse. Wide open.

Being good at twisting them to your benefit was just another skill you could level-up in. And that was in the real world. If they employed the same kind of thinking in this world, everyone would end up too busy gaming the system to ever play normally. It just wouldn’t be worth it.

Britta was not looking forward to living in that kind of a world. Once one person started doing well by flouting the rules and getting away with it, everyone would be obliged to follow suit, or get left behind.

It didn’t help that a lot of the rules were just stupid, limiting what players could do and how quickly they could do them. They made life easier for the devs, but they made things miserable for anyone who actually tried to abide by them. Games were supposed to be fun, weren’t they?

No, she was being naive. They were a business, built to make money. Cost-effectiveness was more important than customer satisfaction. That’s how they saw it, as stats and variables on a chart somewhere. L-15 was only optimising his approach for the direction players would end up going anyway.

N-28, on the other hand, seemed to be trying to create something more spontaneous and informal. Which was a nice idea, but it was too slow. Players here would be stomped into the ground before they had a chance to reach double-digit levels, and then they’d switch to using the more rewarding system.

The only way around that would be to stomp them first. And the only way to do that was to not play by the rules, which, as N-28 had already stated, was not only allowed but expected.

“What happened in the arena?” Britta asked. “How did Dad win? Was there some kind of interruption to the servers?”

“You mean because you logged in late and enabled your father to gain an unfair advantage?” N-28 raised a single, suggestive eyebrow.

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