Barbie Horse Adventures proved to be more challenging than Tom had thought it would be. Granted, he’d never actually played the game before (though he had grudgingly admitted to Rick that he had—once—watched his six-year-old cousin play it). Still, a game was a game, and Tom was a gamer. Every game had rules; you just had to learn them, and you were good to go. Barbie Horse Adventures shouldn’t be any different.
And yet, it was. Part of the problem, Tom thought, was the well-endowed body that the game had blessed him with. Try as he might, he could not get used to the way his center of gravity had shifted from his hips to his incredibly large, yet perky, bosoms. Weight distribution was also tricky. All of the other characters were wearing riding boots, so he couldn’t be entirely sure, but he suspected that their feet were still shaped for high heels. Try as he might, every time he walked, he couldn’t quite make his heels touch the ground. It was very annoying.
The new body was only part of the problem, though. He had also been having a lot of trouble concentrating since he entered the game, though not for the reasons he would have expected. The truth was, the other characters just really unnerved him. They had an uncanny resemblance to their plastic predecessors. In spite of the wonders of computer-generated imagery, all of their smiles were perpetually frozen in place, and the expressions in their eyes were always cold. Every time one of them spoke to him, that perfect, toothy grin somehow remained fixed throughout the entire conversation. It was really starting to creep him out. He often found himself wondering what, exactly, Barbie and her friends liked to eat, and whether they were likely to develop a fondness for human flesh anytime soon.
So, it was something of a shock when, three days after being dumped into the game, he encountered someone who wasn’t smiling. He was standing in a crowd of riders, listening to Barbie explain today’s mission. As it turned out, today’s mission was pretty similar to yesterday’s mission, so he found his attention wandering. He happened to glance around at his fellow riders, and began scanning their faces, looking for some sign, any sign, of genuine individuality. Brunette, brown eyes, same plastic smile. Blonde, blue eyes, same plastic smile. Black hair, black eyes, brown skin (the game’s nod to ethnic diversity, Tom guessed), same plastic smile. Red hair, green eyes.…Tom stopped. The redhead was staring straight at him. Staring, and frowning.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” she hissed.
Tom’s jaw dropped in shock, and he simply gaped at her. The functional half of his brain tried to think of some kind of coherent response, but the most he could muster was, “Uhhh.…”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Asshole.”
She turned and stalked back toward the stables. Tom stared after her. He was still staring a minute later when, speech over, the crowd of riders dispersed. He was still staring five minutes later, when everyone else mounted up and rode off. He was still staring ten minutes later, when the dust had settled and he was standing alone in a deserted courtyard.
“We may have a problem.”
“You always say that.”
“Yeah, but this time, I’m serious.”
“Fine. What’s the problem this time?” Rick asked.
“The other character. She swore at me.”
“Yeah, I noticed that.”
“Don’t you think that’s weird?”
“Jesus, Tom, I swear at you all the time. I still don’t see the problem.”
Tom thought for a second. Rick had a point, but there was something downright unsettling about getting cussed out by a player in a Barbie Horse Adventures game, especially when he hadn’t done anything particular to provoke her. He couldn’t remember the last time he had run across someone so arbitrarily hostile. All of the other characters he had met since entering the machine had more or less acted the way the game designed them to act. Allies acted like allies, enemies acted like enemies, comic relief characters acted like idiots. The rules had been changed before, but the fundamental nature of the characters had not. Why the hell would this girl be any different? She shouldn’t be, unless.…
“I think I may have found the other user.”