The mission took them far from Fahrenheit Island, to a cottage on the far side of the largest continent on the gameworld, which was called Dandelionwine. The travel was tedious, and twice they were ambushed on the trail, something that had hardly happened to Anda since she joined the Fahrenheits: attacking a Fahrenheit was bad for your health, because even if you won the battle, they'd bring a war to you.
But now they were far from the Fahrenheits' power-base, and two different packs of brigands waylaid them on the road. Lucy spotted the first group before they got into sword-range and killed four of the six with her bow before they closed for hand-to-hand ...
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-armor. Bintware, she called it.
But when Anda was 12, she met Liza the Organiza, whose avatar was female, but had sensible **** and sensible armor 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 color 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 *****, sensible armor, 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 totaling 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 ***** 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.