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Chapter 6:

Binga Inc., where Croptown found its unfortunate birth, was the intellectual backwaters of the video game industry. When they weren't busy making a shoddy game, they were attempting to devise more efficient ways to fill your device with malware. The time spent on the latter always being more than the former. In order to combat this deficit of mental energy, they had gotten into the habit of gobbling up smaller studios only to excrete their IPs in an unrecognizable state years later.

Mars was glad to be working with them. They released a few AAA+ games through Facepalm. He and Martin Phineas, the owner of Binga, were also friends to some degree. Every now and then they would get together on weekends to share tips on lifestyle topics like cake baking, flower arranging, insider trading, and championship dog grooming.

After calling him and explaining the gist of the situation, Martin invited him to come get a prototype copy of Croptown from company headquarters. For some reason, Eugene insisted that he come along too.

Upon reaching the building, Eugene and Mars saw a group of protesters outside.

"Ok, stay inconspicuous," Mars mentioned to Eugene as they got out of the car.

This plan backfired when Eugene accidentally bumped into a woman on the way to the door.

"Hey! I don't appreciate you pushing!," she yelled at him.

"I'm sorry miss...what is your name?," Eugene asked.

"Karen, Karen White...Well, it's okay I guess. Just watch where you are going. I almost dropped my picket sign!," she scolded.

Looking up at the sign it read "End Microtransactions!".

"I see that you are protesting racism, good job!," he said in a patronizing tone.

She became aggravated. "That's "microaggression" genius! And we only protest important things!"

Eugene's face became red. Whether this was because he actually thought race issues were important or because his attempt at virtue signalling failed, Mars did not know or care. He just wanted to get inside, get the game, and leave.

"Hey, if you don't like it, don't play the game! No one has time for your first-world problems!," Eugene spat at her, his anger and his voice both rising.

Mars grabbed the sleeve of Eugene's coat and firmly pulled him aside. Through gritted teeth he rhetorically asked, "What is the matter with you?! Are you trying to start a riot? Come on!".

As Mars dragged him away, Eugene stuck his tongue out at Karen, scrunching up his face like a small child. He could hear her growl as they disappeared into the crowd ahead.

Mars felt a little more at peace when they made it past the security guards flanking the steel doors at the front entrance of Binga. Expecting to see an office building, Eugene was surprised at how "medical" it all seemed.

Martin met them at the front desk. After exchanging greetings and introductions, he lead them down a corridor. "The game is still in the development lab. Please follow me," he said cheerfully.

Passing door after door on the way there, one in particular caught Eugene's eye. It had a sign that read, "Danger: Live Animals".

"Do you sacrifice animals at this game studio too?," he joked.

"No, like most companies, the sacrifical offerings are done off of the premises. Those animals are only for vivisection," Martin explained seriously.

Eugene's curiosity piqued. "Animal testing? For what?"

"It may not look like it, but Croptown has millions of dollars worth of research into hyponsis and behavioral conditioning poured into it...some of which is not always legal to do on humans without a permit...," Martin elaborated.

Eugene's jaw dropped. "...Where the heck do you guys get a million dollar budget to blow on a video game?!"

"In partnership with the psychology departments of several colleges, we get a lot of government grants to carry out this research for them...One could say that we are "well-endowed"," he chuckled to himself.

This was news that Mars wasn't privy to before. Upon hearing it, he couldn't help but think back to Wayne's comment about "wasting tax dollars". It made more sense than a $10,000 toilet brush.

"Here we are gentlemen! R&D #1!," Martin presented, both of his hands raised as if he was carrying a serving dish. "Let me just get this door open...," he murmured as he struggled for a moment to slide his keycard into the electronic lock next to the door.

Inside of the room were several workstations with computers, and racks holding whips and cattle prods.

"Is the gameplay so bad that you have lock the testers in the room and beat them into submission?," Eugene attempted to joke again.

Martin paused, looked deeply into his eyes, and whispered gravely, "You don't know how accurate those words are."

Eugene went pale and shuddered.

Martin's face broke out into a wide smile. "Haha! I'm just kidding! You should have seen your face! Those are just for disciplining the animals..."

Eugene breathed a sigh of relief. "You had me going there for a minute..."

"...the real test subjects are the actual players," Martin concluded without laughter.

He walked over to a workstation and started to save some files to a thumbdrive from an ancient looking computer. Once he was finished, he handed it over to Mars.

"Thanks Martin! I really appreciate it. Sorry to cut our visit short, but we have to drop this off," Mars expressed with gratitude.

"I understand. I'll let you guys out of the backdoor...The situation in front is a little intense...," Martin replied.

"Yeah, I noticed that you had a protester problem. What happened?," Mars asked.

Martin pulled at his face in exasperation. "Two words: 'downloadable content' and 'loot boxes'."

"Technically that's four words, but I get your meaning," Mars sympathized.

Sometime later, Mars pulled into the parking lot of an abandoned pantyhose manufacturing plant at the edge of the city. A rusted sign that said "Get Hosed" glinted in the evening sun.

"Man, that place gave me the willies. You'd think a game company would be all about fun and joy," Eugene admitted as they sat in the car.

"If you think about it, these aren't games...they are drugs," Mars said as he held up a thumbdrive containing the prototype of Croptown like a dealer dangling a baggie of an illegal substance.

"Ok, pusher!," Eugene sarcastically shouted as he snatched the drive from Mars' hand.

He opened the door and got out of the car.

"Hey, Eugene! What are you doing?," Mars yelled after him, getting out of the car to follow.

"Don't tell me you didn't see this coming Mars? Tech is a dog-eat-dog world!," Eugene said, dropping any pretense of friendliness.

Mars did not quite comprehend. "What?"

"All of our apps are too close! I have to be the one to work with Orange. If I got rid of Facepalm and Tweeker, then Cracktalk would be free to float to the top like the foam of a fizzy drink!...Mmmmm...And I will be the one to quench my thirst on that beverage Mars! I WILL!," Eugene divulged.

After his villainous monologue, a black car pulled up next to Eugene from behind the building. One of the rear doors swung open. Despite the heat, Laurel Sheets was sitting there with a fur coat on and a sphynx cat in his lap.

"Don't look so surprised Mars! That's what we do at Giggle, misdirect people's searches to our own ends!," Laurel taunted.

"So this was your plan all along?," Mars asked.

"Not all of it. We had to improvise a bit. We didn't expect to get this!," Laurel waggled the thumbdrive at Mars after Eugene handed it to him. He slammed the door after it was in his possession. Rolling down the window, he began to speak to Eugene.

"Speaking of which, your services are no longer required."

"What?!," Eugene was taken aback.

"We now have an unreleased game, a new Giggle Fun app store exclusive! iGoons is now iGone! Muahahahah!," he bellowed.

And with that, the black car sped off into the sunset. Dumbfounded, both of them watched it drive away.

Mars walked back to his car crestfallen.

With an embarassed laugh, Eugene called out to him, "Uh...Mars, think I can get a ride back into town?"

He looked at Eugene blankly, pointed at the sign on the building behind him, and drove away.

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