Bitter 565

Dad was sitting at her desk when Britta returned to her room. The laptop had turned itself off and he looked a bit bored as he spun around on the chair, one way then the other. She sat up on her bed.

“Oh, you’re back,” he said. “Your tutor arrived a bit early. She’s downstairs talking to Mum. I was sure you must have only popped in for a second so I thought I’d just wait rather than go in after you.”

“It was just…” Britta wasn’t sure if she should mention the message from inside the game to her laptop. As trivial as it was, it still felt like it would be considered a big deal if she told him. “I’m trying to get them to let me teleport wherever I want so I’m not associated with any one server.”

“Right,” said Dad. “This is because of…” He pushed down the lid of the laptop, like that would make a difference. “L-15?” he whispered.

“Kind of. Just a precaution.” She didn’t want to unduly worry him — she didn’t want to unduly worry herself, either, come to that.

“Did they give you what you needed?”

“Not exactly,” said Britta. “I have to earn the skill points to unlock any additional abilities, and the only way to do that fairly is for me to go to school. Magic school.”

“Makes sense,” said Dad, like it was the most normal thing in the world for a daughter to tell her father. “Just take care not to overdo it. You’ve got your school work, your tutors coming here in the evening, and now more classes in the game. You’re in danger of burning yourself out.”

“It’s just pretend classes,” said Britta, which was how she saw it. They weren’t going to really make her study.

“Sure,” said Dad. “But it’s still mental stress. You’re going to feel drained no matter what you do if you don’t give yourself a break every now and again. It might feel like you’re just playing a game, but it stops being fun once you take it seriously. You’re not just a gamer, remember, you’re also an employee. There are expectations on you to perform at a certain level, and that’s going to create pressure whether you expect it to or not. Focus is focus. It takes energy to produce, and even more to maintain over a long time. Do you think professional gamers come out of a match like they just had fun?”

“I would think so,” said Britta. “Isn’t that why they play the game in the first place? Because they enjoy it?”

“That’s why you start playing. That isn’t how you feel when there’s a huge amount of money on the line and you mess up. Competition has its downside. It can break you.”

He was being very serious now. Much more than he would be if he was talking to her about becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Gaming was a profession that he actually respected.

“Well, I’m hoping to do it all in a single class. Once I have the ability to teleport anywhere I want, it’ll mean I can never be trapped anywhere.”

Britta considered this as a definite improvement, but Dad didn’t look very pleased.

“There are always going to be ways for people to oppose you in unexpected ways,” he said. “Everything that makes it easier for you can break or be broken. Don’t be too reliant on your equipment.”

He was being deadly serious. And he was right, but Britta wasn’t going to sit back and think she was invulnerable from now on, because she never thought that way. But she would be able to take care of herself better, and avoid problems before they became an issue. It was just a shame she didn’t have a similar option in her real life.

Britta went downstairs where her tutor was chatting with Mum over a cup of coffee. Her lesson went well, even though Britta was very tired. Dad was right about one thing, it was exhausting to use up so much mental energy. She slept soundly that night.

The following day at school there was a lot of excitement about the arena battle in the game. It was common knowledge among a certain group of students who were into that stuff, and even more so among a smaller group who had been directly involved.

“Did you hear?” said Lewis quietly, looking around to make sure no one else was listening. “Rick won. It was him who beat that Chinese team.”

“Oh, that’s good,” said Britta, careful to make it sound like she only had a vague idea what he was talking about. “Did he get anything good for winning?”

“Good? Yeah. Pretty damn amazing. He levelled up to Level 5. Shame it wasn’t a battle to the death, he might have picked up an item off their bodies.”

“Are you talking about this new virtual reality game,” said Rashida, leaning across Britta. “I’m thinking of getting a helmet.”

“Why?” said Lewis. “You aren’t into gaming, are you?”

“No, it’s juvenile nonsense. But if it’s where the cool kids are hanging out these days I thought I might go in there and spread the word of Allah.”

“Really?” said Britta.

“No, of course not,” said Rashida, rolling her eyes. “You think I want people like that in heaven with me? I’m just glad they’re rounding them up so we know where they all are. I’m hoping they can find a way to extend their lives indefinitely in cyberspace, and we never hear from them again.”

She smiled at him in a way that was more of a snarl, and then got up and walked away.

“I wonder what she’d be like if she really did get a helmet,” said Lewis. “Do you think she would be an evil character?”

“No, of course not,” said Britta. “She would hunt down evil characters and make them pay for their crimes.”

“Like the Spanish Inquisition?” said Lewis.

“Exactly,” said Britta. “Only not so reasonable.”

Lewis shook his head violently. “No, no. It would be awful.”

Britta smiled to herself. Maybe she could ask APE if they had a spare helmet lying about.

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.