Thank You for Playing

Summary: The nearly victorious player of an augmented reality scavenger hunt changes tactics as their greatest rival closes in.

I scanned the QR code on my phone, unlocking another clue from the game's creator. Once more, I listened to the baritone voice of Isaac Chu, the creator of Labyrinthos.

"If you're listening to this message, then you're nearing the final puzzle. There is one other player as close as you are to finishing," he said. "Good work making it this far."

It was tempting to think that the messages were live, but they were not merely pre-recorded. Isaac recorded a number of messages, but the one we heard was based on a digital flow-chart of how the game progressed so far.

"It was a hell of a move you made. You understood my prior lessons, my clues, and how my philosophy shaped the game," he said. "Including the final stretch in my hometown."

I heard footsteps echoing down the sidewalk. I turned around, and I saw a familiar face grinning confidently. It was Carmen Velasquez, coming to claim the first place. I wished I could fast-forward through Isaac's file, but he'd love to leave vital information in the details. I instead wandered towards the main street, hoping to fool my competitor.

"You've employed many strategies to get this far, but there is a final trick up my sleeve."

She didn't buy the ruse for one second. She made a beeline for the QR code on the wall, and she plugged in her noise-cancelling earphones.

"Too many people think games are zero sum," he said. "But I hoped that would not be the case."

Behind me, I saw Carmen walking towards me. One of us would unlock the grand prize, Chu's fortune of cryptocurrency. I hoped he'd get to the final riddle, as I only had a half-minute lead on my rival.

"What if there were alternatives?" Chu said. "Would not civilization be impossible without it?"

I stood at the bus-stop, furiously over-analyzing every word in those sentences. I saw a QR code appear on the augmented reality screen, and I scanned it. It vanished, and another appeared. Two more appeared, from opposite directions. Too many to scan. I cursed to myself.

"What if more people turned introspection and solipsism something useful?" he asked. I wasn't sure if he was being rhetorical, but the pedestrians simply stared at me. Carmen closed in, but I almost missed her amongst the storm of grid-like tags. I saw the frustration on her face, imagining her to be facing the same problem as I was.

I glowered at her as I futilely fought off the swarm of QR tags, banishing them with my phone's camera like a ghostly legion. Occasionally, I'd look over at Carmen, seeing her own frustration. It was on the sixth time I had my realization.

"Hey, let's try this together," I said. "He mentioned he wanted alternatives to zero sum games."

Carmen nodded and smiled. We focused on that swarm of QR tags, exorcizing them from our screens like electronic ghost-breakers. As the minutes passed, the storm abated. We cleaned up the QR tags as though they were the errant space invaders of a prior generation, until the last one vanished.

"Congratulations," came Chu's voice. "I am glad that the two of you were able to solve the final puzzle. I never did say my game was zero sum."

Carmen and I looked at each other for a moment. An automated payment was made to our accounts, and that was how we won.