Free to Play
Amy mindlessly scrolls down the EULA of her brand new mobile game. Her friend, Robin, has been raving about it for days, and apparently they’d both get some sort of reward in gems if she signed up with her referral link, so, here goes nothing.
She usually games on her PC, of course, but it's so rare to see anything as ambitious as a full open-world RPG for mobile. It’s not like she's going to spend any money on it - she’s always been so good at knowing when a game is trying to manipulate her.
It doesn’t take long before she’s watching a surprisingly high-fidelity cutscene of a burly man with an axe fighting a tiger. “Now I know why Robin is into this.” Amy muttered under her breath, just as the fatal axe blow is blocked by a ludicrously over-sized sword.
She sits up to attention as the camera slowly pans to reveal the sword’s wielder - a stunningly tall woman in a golden cloak, her hair tied in a perfect bun. The cutscene fades into gameplay and teaches her the basics - small attack, big attack, dodge roll… standard, really, and it isn’t long before she’s routed the boring burly man.
She sets off following the arrow to the nearest town, a little confused about what happened to the tiger, but she’s very quickly accosted by the slightly annoying yet endearing mascot character, who tells her through her headphones to look at the small book with the exclamation mark in the corner of the screen - the quest log.
Head to the Nearby Town - 100 Coins
Give Us Your Name - 30 Gems
“Gems are special! You’ll only get them from special quests, so don’t forget to do them!”
She sighs, thinking this is probably the premium nonsense, and enters her name into the appropriate menu.
“Thank you, Amy!” says the Mascot. A clinking sound plays as her number of gems increases. “Alright, let’s go!”
She starts making her way up the path to the to- Wait, did the mascot say her name? That’s wei- before she’s interrupted by an ambush! Goblins jump out at her from the bushes - a fairly large group, but nothing she couldn’t handle, and it’s only a minute or so before she hears that clinking sound again as she loots the bodies.
Her phone vibrates with an incoming message, and she closes the game briefly to check it. Robin, of course.
“Hey, I saw you were playing! How are you finding it?”
“Good so far, I guess? Killed some goblins. More than a little lusting after the main character.”
“Oh, I love my one, too. Have you gotten to Pendleton yet?”
“I assume I’m just on my way. Wait, what do you mean “my one” - are there multiple?”
“The game’s got some really innovative features! It’s constantly adapting and changing as you go. It’s what I love so much about it.”
“That’s… interesting. It hasn’t asked me for money yet, so I’m happy.”
“Oh, it won’t - It’s really good on that. But I’ll let you get on, tell me how it goes, okay?”
She’s on the bus the next day when the notification pops up. “Want to find out what happens next?” it says. She has nothing really to do, so she boots the game back up, and… she’s back where she was, except this time with a new quest in her book.
Listen - 50 Gems
“If this plays me an ad,” she thinks, “I’m uninstalling.” But no ad plays, just that clinking sound. She shrugs, and makes her way up the path to, what the banner image helpfully tells her is, Pendleton. She goes and buys a new weapon, chats with the surprisingly tastefully rendered yet rather busty innkeeper, and finds her next quest - something about bandits.
She looks up and realises she’s one stop further than she should’ve been, throws her phone in her pocket, and dashes for the door.
A couple of days later, she’s left Pendleton well behind, and is slogging through the jungle to the West to find the innkeeper’s missing sister. The storytelling is cliche fantasy, but frankly the dialogue is very well done and she can’t help but love the characterisation.
Just as she finishes a particularly tricky vine-swinging section that took her a couple of attempts, she gets another new quest.
Give Us Your Age - 100 Gems.
It’s a little weird that the game would want to know that, but it’s a lot of gems… and what’s the harm. She enters 26 into the box, and hears that satisfying clink one more time.
“Wait.” Amy messages Robin. “What are the gems even used for?”
“Uh, you spend them in the gem shop, obviously.”
“Oh. I don’t think I’ve found that yet.”
“It’s right there in the menu you know.”
She’s interrupted by a notification: “A new quest for you, Amy!” it says.
Forget - 200 Gems.
She’s traipsing around a castle doing… something or other for the local lady. That little exclamation mark pops up.
Refer a Friend - 300 Gems.
She thinks for a second, before opening up a messenger window to her friend, Janice. Each letter she types makes that clink just a little louder.
She’s waiting for the next quest while in the caves in the Northern Kingdoms. It doesn’t take long.
Tell Us Where You Work - 500 Gems.
She hits refresh on the quest page until this one appears.
Give Us Your Email Password - 1000 Gems.
She gets the next one at 4am.
Give Us Your Credit Card Number - 2000 Gems.
This one at midday.
Give Us Your Time - 5000 Gems.
She barely notices the exhaustion when, at 10pm, she sees that exclamation mark again.
Give Us Your Life - 999999 Gems.
She shrugs, and presses one last time.