By Cory Doctorow
Public Domain Books
Killing newbies who were trying to cheat the system seemed like a good way to make a buck. But in this simulated reality, who is scamming whom?
Anda didn’t really start to play the game until she got herself a girl-shaped avatar. She was 12, and up until then, she’d played a boy-elf, because her parents had sternly warned her that if you played a girl you were an instant perv-magnet. None of the girls at Ada Lovelace Comprehensive would have been caught dead playing a girl character. In fact, the only girls she’d ever seen in-game were being played by boys. You could tell, cos they were shaped like a boy’s idea of what a girl looked like: hooge buzwabs and long legs all barely contained in tiny, pointless leather bikini-armour. Bintware, she called it.
But when Anda was 12, she met Liza the Organiza, whose avatar was female, but had sensible tits and sensible armour and a bloody great sword that she was clearly very good with. Liza came to school after PE, when Anda was sitting and massaging her abused podge and hating her entire life from stupid sunrise to rotten sunset. Her PE kit was at the bottom of her school-bag and her face was that stupid red colour that she hated and now it was stinking maths which was hardly better than PE but at least she didn’t have to sweat.
But instead of maths, all the girls were called to assembly, and Liza the Organiza stood on the stage in front of Miss Cruickshanks the principal and Mrs Danzig, the useless counsellor.
“Hullo chickens,” Liza said. She had an Australian accent. “Well, aren’t you lot just precious and bright and expectant with your pink upturned faces like a load of flowers staring up at the sky?”
“Warms me fecking heart it does.”
That made her laugh, and she wasn’t the only one. Miss Cruickshanks and Mrs Danzig didn’t look amused, but they tried to hide it.
“I am Liza the Organiza, and I kick arse. Seriously.” She tapped a key on her laptop and the screen behind her lit up. It was a game – not the one that Anda played, but something space-themed, a space-station with a rocketship in the background. “This is my avatar.” Sensible boobs, sensible armour, and a sword the size of the world. “In-game, they call me the Lizanator, Queen of the Spacelanes, El Presidente of the Clan Fahrenheit.” The Fahrenheits had chapters in every game. They were amazing and deadly and cool, and to her knowledge, Anda had never met one in the flesh. They had their own island in her game. Crikey.
On screen, The Lizanator was fighting an army of wookie-men, sword in one hand, laser-blaster in the other, rocket-jumping, spinning, strafing, making impossible kills and long shots, diving for power-ups and ruthlessly running her enemies to ground.
“The whole Clan Fahrenheit. I won that title through popular election, but they voted me in cos of my prowess in combat. I’m a world-champion in six different games, from first-person shooters to strategy games. I’ve commanded armies and I’ve sent armies to their respawn gates by the thousands. Thousands, chickens: my battle record is 3,522 kills in a single battle. I have taken home cash prizes from competitions totalling more than 400,000 pounds. I game for four to six hours nearly every day, and the rest of the time, I do what I like.
“One of the things I like to do is come to girls’ schools like yours and let you in on a secret: girls kick arse. We’re faster, smarter and better than boys. We play harder. We spend too much time thinking that we’re freaks for gaming and when we do game, we never play as girls because we catch so much shite for it. Time to turn that around. I am the best gamer in the world and I’m a girl. I started playing at 10, and there were no women in games – you couldn’t even buy a game in any of the shops I went to. It’s different now, but it’s still not perfect. We’re going to change that, chickens, you lot and me.
“How many of you game?”
Anda put her hand up. So did about half the girls in the room.
“And how many of you play girls?”
All the hands went down.
“See, that’s a tragedy. Practically makes me weep. Gamespace smells like a boy’s armpit. It’s time we girled it up a little. So here’s my offer to you: if you will play as a girl, you will be given probationary memberships in the Clan Fahrenheit, and if you measure up, in six months, you’ll be full-fledged members.”
In real life, Liza the Organiza was a little podgy, like Anda herself, but she wore it with confidence. She was solid, like a brick wall, her hair bobbed bluntly at her shoulders. She dressed in a black jumper over loose dungarees with giant, goth boots with steel toes that looked like something you’d see in an in-game shop, though Anda was pretty sure they’d come from a real-world goth shop in Camden Town.
She stomped her boots, one-two, thump-thump, like thunder on the stage. “Who’s in, chickens? Who wants to be a girl out-game and in?”
Anda jumped to her feet. A Fahrenheit, with her own island! Her head was so full of it that she didn’t notice that she was the only one standing. The other girls stared at her, a few giggling and whispering.
“That’s all right, love,” Liza called, “I like enthusiasm. Don’t let those staring faces rattle yer: they’re just flowers turning to look at the sky. Pink scrubbed shining expectant faces. They’re looking at you because you had the sense to get to your feet when opportunity came – and that means that someday, girl, you are going to be a leader of women, and men, and you will kick arse. Welcome to the Clan Fahrenheit.”
She began to clap, and the other girls clapped too, and even though Anda’s face was the colour of a lollipop-lady’s sign, she felt like she might burst with pride and good feeling and she smiled until her face hurt.
her sergeant said to her,
> how would you like to make some money?
> Money, Sarge?
Ever since she’d risen to platoon leader, she’d been getting more missions, but they paid gold – money wasn’t really something you talked about in-game.
The Sarge – sensible boobs, gigantic sword, longbow, gloriously orcish ugly phiz – moved her avatar impatiently.
> Something wrong with my typing, Anda?
> No, Sarge,
> You mean gold?
> If I meant gold, I would have said gold. Can you go voice?
Anda looked around. Her door was shut and she could hear her parents in the sitting-room watching something loud on telly. She turned up her music just to be safe and then slipped on her headset. They said it could noise-cancel a Blackhawk helicopter – it had better be able to overcome the little inductive speakers suction-cupped to the underside of her desk. She switched to voice.
“Hey, Lucy,” she said.
“Call me Sarge!” Lucy’s accent was American, like an old TV show, and she lived somewhere in the middle of the country where it was all vowels, Iowa or Ohio. She was Anda’s best friend in-game but she was so hardcore it was boring sometimes.
“Hi Sarge,” she said, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. She’d never smart off to a superior in-game, but v2v it was harder to remember to keep to the game norms.
“I have a mission that pays real cash. Whichever paypal you’re using, they’ll deposit money into it. Looks fun, too.”
“That’s a bit weird, Sarge. Is that against Clan rules?” There were a lot of Clan rules about what kind of mission you could accept and they were always changing. There were kerb-crawlers in gamespace and the way that the Clan leadership kept all the mummies and daddies from going ape-poo about it was by enforcing a long, boring code of conduct that was meant to ensure that none of the Fahrenheit girlies ended up being virtual prozzies for hairy old men in raincoats on the other side of the world.
“What?” Anda loved how Lucy quacked What? It sounded especially American. She had to force herself from parroting it back. “No, geez. All the executives in the Clan pay the rent doing missions for money. Some of them are even rich from it, I hear! You can make a lot of money gaming, you know.”
“Is it really true?” She’d heard about this but she’d assumed it was just stories, like the kids who gamed so much that they couldn’t tell reality from fantasy. Or the ones who gamed so much that they stopped eating and got all anorexic. She wouldn’t mind getting a little anorexic, to be honest. Bloody podge.
“Yup! And this is our chance to get in on the ground floor. Are you in?”
“It’s not – you know, pervy, is it?”
“Gag me. No. Jeez, Anda! Are you nuts? No – they want us to go kill some guys.”
“Oh, we’re good at that!”