The Quantum Leap meets Captain N story of a gamer literally sucked into videogames.
(To catch up with the story and read previous editions of “Quantum Geek,” click here.)
“So Emmi,” said Tom, “this ‘giant confrontation’ we need to distract the bad guy. What would that entail?”
“It must be drawn into a situation wherein nearly all of its processing capacity is being used in competition with us. This should slow it down enough that the Creator can navigate past its defenses and disable it.”
“So what you’re saying is…we need to make it laggy,” summarized Alli.
“Laggy?” asked Emmi.
“Sorry, Emmi,” apologized Rick. “‘Laggy’ is a colloquial term used by those of us who play videogames that refers to a situation where the action in a game slows down because too many things are happening at once.”
“Ah, I understand. Yes, essentially we would be trying to make our opponent ‘laggy.’” Like before, Emmi seemed extremely awkward as she tried out a word that was unfamiliar to her, and it belied her inexperience with the human mind and the world outside of I.D.E.A.S. Maybe after all this is over, Rick can upload some data from non-videogame sources, thought Tom, and let her learn a bit from the Internet. Tom then stopped for a moment, and realized it would probably be a terrible idea to let a sentient A.I. loose like that. Then he realized it was an especially bad idea to let that A.I. learn about humanity from, of all the places, the Internet. Shakespeare, thought Tom. We’ll start slow by uploading some Shakespeare.
“All right, so we have to make the game laggy. What’s the best way to do that?” asked Tom rhetorically. “Something with really good graphics and sound would help.”
“My apologies,” began Emmi, “but those functions are not controlled by our adversary, and would do nothing to impede it. It is responsible solely for the A.I. guiding the elements actively opposing you.”
“Crap. You know what that means,” lamented Alli.
“Yup,” said Tom wearily. “If we’re going to slow this thing down, we’ll need to be fighting a lot of bad guys. Lots and lots of bad guys.”
“They’ll have to be reasonably intelligent, too,” added Rick. “Low-level mook A.I. barely takes any processing power at all these days.”
“Awesome. So we have to fight a lot of really smart enemies.”
“If it is any consolation, we may be able to introduce other factors for the enemy to consider, such as weather, terrain, and morale. Our opponent would naturally need to account for these, causing its calculations to become more complex and consume more resources.”
“Yay! Now we get to fight lots of bad guys in the rain!” sniped Alli.
“Well, at least you’ll only have to worry about controlling yourselves under bad conditions; the A.I. will have to worry about thousands of units!” Rick’s silver-lining was lost on Alli and Tom, who chose to focus more on the “thousands of units” part of Rick’s encouragement. Tom and Alli fell silent and sullen, and Rick, realizing too late what he had said, soon joined them.
Alli perked her head up with a pensive look on her face. “I’m just going to throw this out there; feel free to throw it back. …Can we cheat?”
Tom, though naturally averse to taking shortcuts in his games, suddenly found himself not caring all that much about whether he cheated, considering that he was in mortal danger. “That’s….a very good question. Rick, Emmi, can we cheat?”
“Umm…hmmm,” began Rick, “You mean like cheat codes, or console commands? I guess it’s possible; I’m just not sure how we’d do it. Emmi hasn’t been able to restore that many system functions to me, and it’s not like I can pop a Game Genie into I.D.E.A.S.”
“There’s also the danger that our adversary would detect this and begin to use such tactics as well,” added Emmi.
Tom felt robbed. “Dammit, the computer always cheats.”
“Technically, it would only cheat if we cheated first,” quipped Rick.
“It may be possible to engage such commands if our adversary is already suitably occupied; however, any such commands would need to be implemented by the Creator. He will already be busy devising a way to disable the enemy, and performing other tasks may provide the enemy with a chance to counter his work.”
Tom pouted, as Emmi’s logic unfortunately caught the group between a rock and a hard place. It looked like there was only one road open to Alli, Tom, and Emmi: the unpleasant one.
“All right. So it looks like we’re facing a huge battle in unfavorable conditions without the use of any cheats or hacks against a computer opponent. Which, you know, is awesome.” Tom rolled his eyes. “Are there ANY advantages that we have?”
“Well,” began Rick, “Emmi was able to restore my ability to select which games are loaded by the system. So…there’s that.”
“Whoa, really? That’s great! So we can at least get the home-team advantage.”
“So, where should we go?”
“Let’s see…something big, with lots of units. Something that a human might be better at than a machine…”
Alli glared at him for proposing something so preposterous. “That game doesn’t exist, Tom.”
“There’s gotta be something! Some game where being crafty works better than being a computer! A game that…wait…that’s it!”
“What? What’s it?” said Rick and Alli in unison.
“Starcraft. We’re going to play StarCraft.”