Blotches of colour swam around in front of Britta’s eyes. She blinked but that only made the blotches dance about. Then a sharp pain entered her abdomen and the number 5 appeared in red, followed by the words ‘YOU DIED’ also in red.
When her vision finally cleared, she was still in the meadow with the dragon.
Britta looked around. The goblin was nowhere to be seen. “What happened?”
“You died,” said Nigel. “Rather spectacularly. I’ve never seen anyone do that before.”
“I know I died,” said Britta testily. She could hardly have missed the giant red letters. “Why did I die? I cast my spell.”
“Yes. You blinded yourself.”
“How can I blind myself? That’s just stupid.” She was starting to get annoyed. Actually, she was already annoyed, now she was even more so. “What kind of wizard gets affected by their own spells? If I cast a fireball will I set myself on fire? This is clearly a bug. Report it.”
The dragon stared down at her impassively as she ranted. He didn’t look like he was going to report anything.
“Oi. Are you listening to me?”
“Yes,” said Nigel a little wearily. “All spells have a small chance of misfiring, you were just unfortunate. Think of it as getting your bad luck out of the way early.” He smiled, or at least Britta assumed that was what the display of large teeth was meant to be.
As expected, as soon as she needed her magic it failed her. No real surprise. Britta shook her head. There was no point getting mad at a computer program. It wasn’t the dragon’s fault he’d been created by an emotionally stunted man with hygiene issues and pizza sauce all over his clothes. Which might be considered an unfair characterisation of game designers based on stereotypes if Britta hadn’t happened to live with one her whole life.
“I wasn’t even ready. Why did you set that thing on me when I said I wasn’t ready?” complained Britta. She could hear how whiny she was being but couldn’t help herself.
“You were ready. You pressed the Yes button.”
Britta stopped being angry as something occurred to her. “That’s why I keep having to press buttons and type things out, so you have a record of my agreeing to your terms.”
“Of course,” said Nigel. “It’s less ambiguous than a verbal response like ‘I suppose so’. We need to protect ourselves from any liability, you know?”
She let out an exasperated sigh. It may have looked like a real place, but it was still a game, run by a company, stacking the odds in their own favour and making sure they didn’t get sued. “Can I go now?”
“There are a number of optional tutorials you can also—”
“No thanks,” said Britta.
“You may find them quite useful. I highly recommend—”
“Rejected. Take down the wall or forcefield or whatever it is.”
Now it was the dragon’s turn to let out an exasperated sigh. “Very well.” The dragon straightened up, its long neck raising the head high. “Congratulations, adventurer, you have—”
“What are you doing?” interrupted Britta. “Why are you talking like that?”
The dragon had switched back to his formal, computer AI voice. He bent down again. “I’m giving you the welcome speech to start you off.”
“Well, can you not and just say you did? I don’t really have time to listen to some cheap Tolkein-style rip-off written by someone who thinks all dragons should sound like Bucketface Cummerbund. I get it, I’m off to save the world or meet the wizard or whatever. Can we just get on with it? Isn’t there a skip button?”
The dragon peered down its long snout at her. “You really are insufferable,” he hissed.
Billows of steam shot out of its nose and enveloped Britta. She was blinded again, but her first response was to marvel at how realistic the moisture in the air felt against her skin. It was strange how trivial things stood out when they were artificially created. There was a sudden gust of wind and when the mist around her cleared, the dragon was up in the sky and rapidly getting smaller.
Britta looked around, trying to remember which direction the dragon had told her the town was in. There had to be a map function she could use so she opened the status screen. No obvious button presented itself. She went into Settings and found a host of other options, from adjusting volume to adding game music. What kind of idiot walked around with his own personal theme tune blaring?
Actually, she knew exactly what type of person did that.
She found a button that said Display Map and pressed it. A square window opened in the top left of her vision. It was blank except for a red triangle, which she assumed was her, surrounded by a small patch of green. It only showed the parts she had already seen, she would have to explore to reveal more. Useless.
She closed the status screen and the map remained semi-transparent in the top of her vision. She set off in what she thought was the right direction and after about ten minutes of walking, the wonders of computer-generated grass started to wear thin. What was the point of creating a world so realistic it was actually as boring as the real one?
Her thoughts were interrupted by a sound. Movement off to her left. Her size made it hard to see over the tall grass so she didn’t see the goblin until it was nearly on top of her.
“Artua!” shouted Britta. A bright white flash and she was blind again. How could this be? It was supposed to only be a very small chance of misfiring and she’d already had it happen once. How could it happen again? How?
There was a sharp pain in her midriff. The number 3 appeared in red, followed by another stab and another 3.
Stupid buggy game.