002.2 The Beta

“You are streaming this, aren’t you.” Alice suddenly looked and felt very very tall.

“No,” he said, as he shrank and turned round, “what?”

They both rushed over to the corner (well ok, she went and he followed) and the perpetrator stood there, still recording.

“Bruv got pwned hard and bitched her out lololol” as he commentated to his audience, he waved his free hand around for extra ummmm hype.

“What are you doing?” protested the confessor, “you told me you wouldn’t stream!”

“Ahahaha, look he’s crying now, this is delicious, the salt is real!!!” As this rather annoying person swung the camera around to put himself in the picture, Alice noticed the back of his head.

“Shouldn’t you be more salty about your hair,” she said with a restrained glee, “it looks like your mum didn’t tell you her hand slipped.”

“How do you know my mum, hey wait, what? No, no, hey guys help me out here, there’s nothing wrong, is there something wrong? Oh shit!”

Alice grabbed her still burbling confessor by the arm and walked off, as the streamer made excuses to end the stream and go find a hat. 

Turning back to the bike sheds, she met her friend around the corner, who had also been filming. 

“What the fuck Candice,” making a point to screw up her face, “maybe you could have stepped in with a little back up?” 

Candice met her look, restraining the urge to laugh and stood firm “Well I was recording the evidence! That’s good back up, isn’t it?” 

Candice definitely wasn’t going to keep this material just in case it came in useful.  She deflected quickly by turning to this random dude:

“And you, what was that about, is this a prank or what?”

“My dog died,” he half mumbled “I’m not, I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m sorry.”

They were silent. Candice knew she couldn’t win from here without looking like a horrible person. Alice had totally forgotten about being called a bitch and now was trying to figure how the voices would react.  Would they support her or troll her?  She wondered about going offline for a while.  The boy had resumed blubbering, so it seemed only right to take him to the soft drinks machine, and have him buy a round.  And this was how Vindy found himself lucky enough to talk to two girls in real life at the same time who were not his cousins, for more than five minutes to boot. He described how he had seen the situation in anime before and the two girls burst into laughter.  He decided to laugh along with them, as the tears returned.  It then became a discussion on romance and chivalry and Vindy learnt in those five minutes that everything was a lie and nothing made sense as people were still successfully doing the things the girls advised not to do.  The topic went a bit sideways as they discovered they shared tastes in anime and they shared contact details (Alice and Candice were like: yeah ok cool whatever, sub to my channel), and in the end, the two girls considered him decent enough to friendzone.  And, later on, by following up on the topic and listening rather than bragging, Vindy became one of the three.  As he walked back home, he continued to sniffle as he came to the conclusion he had no choice but to kill his dog to make sure his story was airtight. 

It was a year ago now, and Vindy hadn’t needed to end his canine companion, it had coincidentally ran out into the road, into the path of a car while the driver was looking at their phone, not that they would have had time to do anything, not even the voice assistant could have warned them in time, although the AI had seen the movement, predicted the outcome and had started the sentence, ending with reassurance that the event had been recorded and no blame would be levied. The phone had recorded game interaction at the time of the accident but as the voice assistant and the game were produced by the same company, certain domains were excluded from evidence, unless demanded by the courts.  He mourned his old friend but not really until decades later.

Alice had started her channel, and while she bounced off the reactions to that original cringeworthy livestream and gathered up a following, she hadn’t done anything in particular, bar the occasional comment on life.  She had around half a thousand followers (and still wasn’t sure why).  She continued to look for something good she could stream.

While she planned to be a streamer, Vindy still planned to marry her. Until then, he was happy to be the best friend he could, as nice as he could, and tolerate all the discussions about dating hot guys that often played out in front of him. He’d watched a lot of movies; a lot of romantic comedies. His mum said he was quite mature for his age. He would make a great husband, she said. His father slapped him on the back and reminded him to be nice, but not too nice. But that didn’t make much sense. What did make sense was being patient, being good, being reliable. She could get married and have kids and get divorced, he’d still be there for her.  She’d figure it out.  It was just a matter of time.

Candice just wanted to get through this life without any fuss, the sooner people left her alone to watch anime, the better. She didn’t see the problem, she just wanted to chill out and watch anime. What more did she need from life? Anime is love, anime is life. She often whispered this mantra to herself, more often than wondering about putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger, where a stream of red butterflies burst forth from where blood and brains should have been. Who’s to say who would be free and how it could be achieved. The problem was how to verify it.  How could anyone be sure there were free spirits sitting around right now without a care in the world, not needing to eat or sleep, just watching anime all day.  Pure bliss, and that, that, was the objective.

Nobody wanted to ask about real feelings about life and the future, it just seemed so intangible. Even when they did, they gave an answer they thought the others would accept, throwing out references to the injustice of the world and asking why couldn’t everything simply be free.  It seemed simple and it felt right; they refused to think in any other way.  It was just too terrible to consider the alternatives. 

Nobody asked Alice in particular, while they sat on her bed in her nice house. But she was thinking, thinking about how nothing was certain now, but being this popular (500 followers I remind you) meant she could do whatever, but she should only fuck with attractive people for more media reach (she had done her research), which would give her the power so that when she found someone stupidly rich, their looks wouldn’t be an advantage over her. She would use her history as leverage and they would have to settle (as she wasn’t as pretty and rich herself, and needed to marry above her status, as she had seen on a chat stream).  Then she could lay around the house and pool and just do whatever the hell she wanted, and create her own charity for dogs with cancer.  That’s the plan, yes, she would be fucking awesome, and do even better than the girl who won the singing competition at school.

And now they sat all together, on the bed, watching an anime, keeping an eye on their devices, laughing at dumb people, people doing dumb things, quickly, rapidly, as the future continued to darken at an increasing pace, while other feelings slowly burned brighter. 

The assistant measured the components of the excreted sweat and recommended reducing his sodium intake.  It also recommended installing a partner device in the toilet for more accurate results, sponsored by New! Reduced salt Crispy Crisps.

“Yeah, yeah, we get it”, said the coach, aloud to himself, but not really.  “The advertising is just so blatant these days.”  He knew the assistant wouldn’t answer.  But the intentions were fair, arguably; the products that were thrown in his face did actually match his interests.  He still hated advertising in general, but didn’t mind the discount coupons.  “I don’t mind the coupons though”, he reiterated aloud.  The assistant didn’t seem to do anything in response, and there was no light or sound to betray it.

It occurred to him to get up and wipe his behind but the smallest room in the flat was warm and quiet. There was nobody waiting beyond this door, nobody aggravating him, no demands, well, there was the cat, but she was already dozing off in the underwear and jogging bottoms draped between his feet. Surely it stank but she seemed happy enough. So yeah, even less reason to move. He swiped open the feed and tried not to lean his neck forward, he had enough physical issues to deal with already.

There was the continued talk of the next GAFY game and what should be in it and how it should work. He noticed the trough of beta testers.

“It is obvious” he fed, to anyone who would eat, “that the players should get priority. It’s all about the players, not those frauds who make one video and then move onto another game.” 

There was no immediate gobble of this feed but he continued, a little disheartened, as usual.

“It makes me sick when GAFY gives some random person beta access to the game when they have no idea how to fucking play it and just make it look shit.”

This got a few gobbles, but Coach remained disheartened as he guessed it got reach due to the expletives rather than anything else. He pressed onwards, like a soldier, into the jungle, in the night.

“They better give keys to us, we know the game, we know what to test-” a notification interrupted his post.  Someone had replied to his sick post. 

“They should give Mr.Beardy99 a beta key. He’s funny.”

Jesus, he almost wept, is everyone on the net this stupid? 

“I just bloody well told you, that prick” – he deleted and started again

“Sure he’s funny but does he know how to play?  Does he know the series?”

As he tried working on his draft, there was another notification: 

“He’s played it a few times, it’ll be good lol.”

The reply made Coach claw at his own face.

They just don’t get it.  And why is he laughing when there’s nothing funny in his sentence?

Yes, he had assumed this poster was a guy.  He waited for people to nominate himself as a choice for beta tester.  None came.  He checked his followers, all one hundred and twenty nine. Perhaps they were sleeping or the stupid network algorithm hadn’t shown them the feed. He just had to wait.  No, fuck that. “There are people in this community, like myself, who know and love the series, we would do the game justice, we know exactly HOW to test the game.”

He tagged the community manager into the discussion. He knew he likely wouldn’t get a direct response but he was fairly sure to read it.  Good Lord he was going to be pissed if they made the wrong choices.  He tried not to think about what he could do in retaliation.

As Charles mulled one more time over the list while Dapi started to worry about other things, the notification vibrated in his pocket. Pulling it out, Charles looked over and verbally announced there might be another candidate.

He cast the gobbling to the main screen in the room. They could clearly see the recommendations and Coach’s reasoning, which started to look more like ranting.

“See,” said Charles, “this is the problem with giving it to the hardcore community, I mean, usually, these fans are going to dig through the game and find out everything very quickly if we give them early access. And they don’t have that reach with new players. MrBeardy99 sounds like a good idea actually.”

Dapi nodded in agreement. “Ok, we don’t have time so let’s get going, to start, let’s choose that crazy kid, he still seems like a good kid, and that woman with the huge… following, and MrBreardy90Nein.”

Charles wanted to correct him but it just wasn’t his place.

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