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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 566

There was a very definite increase in interest in the game at school.

When the game was first announced, there had been some talk, some predictions (both positive and negative), but the chatter was mostly among a small group of boys who were into that stuff. The same boys who watched trailers for movies that wouldn’t be out for a year and scoured the internet for the latest news of advancements in nanochip technology. Nerds.

Interest quickly faded after the game was released because of the lack of any new information. People who were playing didn’t say much about it and it was hard to appreciate what the game was like from videos, of which there were only a few.

There was still a large rumour mill in operation on the net, but it was just gossip, and there was always some other new thing to talk about.

Britta was sure the way New World had been slowly dripped into the public consciousness was completely deliberate. She had no idea why it had been done like that or what they hoped to achieve by doing it in such a cautious manner — the game was bound to be massively successful whatever approach they took — but there were clear signs that everything so far had been carefully orchestrated.

Which was good in that it showed a firm hand behind the steering wheel. And at the same time, it was a little worrying how tightly controlled they planned to make the gaming experience.

Now that there had been an announcement about a new range of helmets coming out, interest had once again picked up. People were aware of the game’s proximity once more. It was close, and they had a chance to try it.

Not just that, there was talk of dedicated VR centres where you could try before you buy, or hire time inside full-immersion pods. It wasn’t just a revolutionary gaming system for the select few, it was affordable and available to all. Or it would be soon.

Coupled with that came the videos. Dad’s short films were already quite popular, and they showed amazing things, but nothing a few million dollars and some deft CGI couldn’t replicate.

The difference was that this was CGI you could live inside and experience as real as real-life, but you couldn’t really tell that while watching a video on your phone.

Testimonies from people who had played the game did raise expectations, but enthusiasm from early adopters was a common reaction that often proved naive in retrospect.

Cautious optimism was as far as it had gone until now. But the new video that had caught everyone’s attention didn’t show off the graphics or the monsters. It focused on something else entirely.

“That’s hilarious,” said a tall boy in Britta’s geography class. He had three earrings in one ear and a hairstyle that had been very trendy about six weeks ago, but was in need of a trim now. His comment was aimed at the video a group of six people were crowded around while the teacher sat at her desk browsing on her own phone. Probably not watching gameplay vids.

The lesson was over but the bell hadn’t rung yet. People were quietly amusing themselves.

“Look how upset they are. They got properly demolished.” The tall boy seemed very pleased.

“They’re so good-looking,” said one of the girls. “Where are they from? Do they speak English?”

“They’re Chinese,” said Lewis, who was at the centre of the group. “If you listen carefully, you can hear them when they speak.”

“When they cry, you mean,” said the tall boy. He chuckled to himself. “Their faces when they rubberbanded to the start… priceless.”

“They don’t look Chinese,” said the girl.

“You can look however you want,” said another boy.

“At least we can beat the Chinese in something,” said someone else.

“Yeah. We might not be able to stop them taking over this world, but at least we can stop them in a new one.”

“Look at how much better their gear is. This was just a fluke. You really think they’ll fall for something like that again? No way, bruv.”

The chatter turned to talk of how Chinese dominance in the world of finance and business was corrupt and underhanded. Somehow these children seemed to think they could right all previous wrongs by playing a video game.

Britta felt a bit uncomfortable. Not least because Wendy Lee was Chinese and was sitting a few seats away. She had been born here and had never even visited China, but it can’t have been nice hearing the people around her say derogatory things about her race.

What would it be like in the game once more people were playing and buying into the them-versus-us mentality that seemed to be growing? Racism and sexism had always been prevalent in gaming, maybe even more so than in normal life. You could get away with more heinous behaviour when you were anonymous behind an avatar and goofy username.

New World’s option of completely changing how you looked and removing all sexual organs made it much harder to pick on someone for those sorts of reasons, but would that just get replaced by some kind of xenophobia? Nations fighting wars in cyberspace?

“Your Dad’s vids are great,” said Lewis at lunch.

Britta pulled a face and indicated for him to keep his voice down.

He returned the look with an apologetic one and looked around to see if anyone had heard, which only made him look more suspicious.

“Did you see Rick?” he said in a whisper, too excited to stop talking about the game completely. “He was the one in the black cloak. He was the leader of the winning group. He’s the reason we won.”

His admiration was bordering on hero-worship.

“He must be very happy,” said Britta.

“He is. He says this is the time to push, while we have momentum on our side.” Lewis dropped his voice even further. “He’s going to take over. He’s got a plan, we just need to wait for more players. Three weeks. I’ve already pre-ordered mine.” His eyes sparkled with anticipation. “Then all those Chinese bastards will get what’s coming to them.”

Britta winced, and looked around in case Wendy Lee was close by.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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