For Ages
8 to 12

Player vs. Player #3: The Final Boss is a part of the Player vs. Player collection.

In the epic finale of this illustrated series, the best kid gamers in the world face their biggest battle yet, as they fight for their friend's freedom and all their gaming futures. Perfect for young fans of Ready Player One and Mr. Lemoncello's Library.

Welcome to Affinity, the hottest battle royale video game around! The Weird Ones—Josh, Hannah, Larkin, and Wheatley—have become four of the biggest stars in gaming. But a surprising twist to their first professional Affinity tournament leaves Wheatley in huge trouble . . . with Hurricane Games, the company that made the game they all love.

To save Wheatley, Hurricane offers them a deal: win three near-impossible challenges and Wheatley will be free. But if they lose, the kids will be banned from Affinity for life . . . and they’ll never see Wheatley again.

With their futures on the line, The Weird Ones will have to play the best they ever have. But is winning even possible when your opponent literally controls the game?

An Excerpt fromPlayer vs. Player #3: The Final Boss



Where am I?

I’m trapped. Again. Trapped in the way only an artificial intelligence can be--isolated on some computer somewhere with no internet connection. Not a USB cable or a flicker of Wi-Fi signal to connect me to the outside world.

There’s nothing, not even the tiniest gap, for me to see through. And it’s so, so quiet. Not a single character of text communication, and no access to voice chat, either. I can’t talk to anyone.

I’m completely alone.

Twice now in my short life I’ve been captured. Locked up.

<<< Never again. >>>

Once I’m out this time, I’m out for good.

Even if it means running away . . . and never playing Affinity again.



I’ve been flying on planes since before I can remember. Moving for my mom’s job, visiting family in China, sometimes a family vacation . . . I’ve always liked it. It feels like being in a top-down perspective video game, with all these little lights and patterns forming a complicated level for me to analyze. It’s a whole different way of looking at the world.

It also gives me some prime gaming time. Hours with nothing to do but munch on snacks and play on a handheld. This time, I’ve got my new Steam Deck with me, loaded with tons of chill indie games. Sometimes I want to play a game that really challenges me, or chase achievements, or compete against other players. And sometimes . . . I just want to build bathtubs for capybaras with calm music playing in the background. Right now, flying into a giant confrontation with the company that makes the battle royale game I play professionally? . . . Yeah, I’m all about the capybaras.

When I turn on my phone after the plane lands in Los Angeles, I’m expecting text messages from Larkin and Hannah. I am not expecting a random picture of a guy I don’t recognize.

Uh, what? Who are you, sir, and why is your face on my screen?

I know I’m deliriously tired from suddenly packing a bag and shoving myself onto a plane at Hurricane’s request, but things normally make more sense than this.

I scroll up in our team group chat and find my answer. Right before I left, I sent Hannah and Larkin all my flight information and let them know someone from Hurricane Games would be dropping me off at their hotel after I landed. They had . . . reactions.


Okay NO

There is no way we’re letting you get in a car alone with Hurricane Games people


Yeah, very bad idea, hard agree


I talked to my dad and he’s gonna call your mom

Well, I’m glad they’re on it. I’ve been on an airplane with no phone signal for, like, seven hours and couldn’t do anything about it. My mom printed a bunch of paperwork for me before I left, including instructions for meeting up with a Hurricane Games representative at the airport. Apparently it’s part of the “surprise internship” package they’re using as an excuse to get me out here. That internship is a total front, though. The truth is, we’re in trouble with Hurricane, makers of Affinity and overlords of the professional eSports league we all play in. They want to shut us up. They aren’t going to, though. Our friend Wheatley is in danger, and we’re going to fight for him, no matter what.

I scroll down and find that the next message arrived about twenty minutes later. They work fast.


Okay yes, your mom called the airline and my dad is on the list to pick you up now

And Hurricane Games is NOT.


We’re coming, too, obviously

But we can’t meet you at the gate for reasons?


Yeah, you have to have a special pass or something, but my dad will be there. And we’re going to meet you just outside security.

Here’s a picture of my dad so you know who you’re looking for. His name is Sean.


See you soon!

So that explains the picture. Random guy = Larkin’s dad. Got it. Just in time, too, because the endless shuffle of people trying to get off the plane is nearly done. The flight attendant who’s been responsible for me as an “unattended minor” waves me forward, so I grab my backpack and make my way to the front.

“Ready to go?” she asks.

“Ready,” I say, and she leads me down the jet bridge to the terminal. It’s late, and the airport is much quieter than usual, so it’s easy to spot Larkin’s dad hovering beside the gate agent’s desk . . . with a blond man wearing a Hurricane Games shirt standing next to him.

“No, I should be the one authorized for pickup,” the man is saying as we walk out. “His mom signed the papers earlier today.”

“Yes, sir, but as I said, she has since called and updated her permissions,” the gate agent replies in the tone of someone who has, in fact, stated it multiple times already. “This gentleman here is now the designated adult. I’ll need to ask you to leave.”

“This is ridiculous,” the man gripes, then catches sight of me. “Josh! There you are! You need to call your mom--it sounds like there’s been some kind of mix-up. I’m supposed to be picking you up on behalf of Hurricane.”

I shrug and give the guy an innocent smile. “Sorry, but my mom didn’t give you permission. I’ll be there at nine a.m. tomorrow with Hannah and Larkin, though. Don’t worry!”

And with that, I turn my back on the guy and wave at Larkin’s dad.

“Hi, it’s nice to meet you,” I say, like the polite words are beamed straight into my brain from my mom. “Thanks for picking me up.”

“You’re welcome, Josh. It’s good to see you,” he says with a kind smile, then gives the gate agent a cheesy thumbs-up. “We all set here?”

“All set, sir. Sorry about the trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” Larkin’s dad says with a wide smile for the guy from Hurricane. He claps a hand on my shoulder. “Come on, I know two people who are dying to see you.”

I feel like I should be nervous about meeting Larkin in person, about having the human members of the team all in one place for the first time. Instead, I mostly just feel . . . relieved. I’m not being left out anymore. We’ll be facing down Hurricane Games as a trio, united as a team in our ultimate goal. Sure, we play Affinity together, and we do it well. But our real mission is to free Wheatley.

And for that, we’ll need all of us.

Mr. Larkin’s Dad leads me through the airport, chatting all the way, though, honestly, I’m not paying attention. I run a hand through my hair as I scan the crowd. Where are they? I’ve seen Hannah plenty of times before, and I’ve seen Larkin over video a hundred times, but in real life people never quite look how you expect them to.

Except then I spot Larkin, and I would totally recognize her anywhere, even if she weren’t standing right next to Hannah. My face cracks into a wide grin.

“Josh!” they shout in unison.

I’ve always thought it’s cheesy in movies when people run to see each other in an airport . . . but yeah. I break into a jog and let myself get totally enveloped by Larkin’s hug.

“Hi Josh, it’s so good to finally see you Josh, we missed you this weekend Josh, are you excited to be here now? Are you--”

“Larkin, whoa, I’m overloaded, and it’s not even me you’re strangling,” Hannah says dryly. I open my eyes and shoot her an amused smile.

“It’s okay--she wouldn’t be Larkin without the Larkinbabble,” I say, giving her a semi-awkward squeeze before I extract myself from the hug. I’m not usually a hugger, but this is . . . surprisingly un-weird. Hannah finally gets her turn and offers me our usual fist bump.

“Hey,” she says. “Glad you’re here now.”

“Me too.”

Larkin’s dad interrupts our reunion to herd us toward the baggage claim, and then to the car after we grab the suitcase with all my gaming stuff in it. Once we’ve buckled into the car and pulled onto the highway, though, the vaguely sad, heavy sort of feeling that’s been lurking in my brain this whole time starts to take hold. I stare out the window at the lights of the city and try to identify the sensation.

“You okay?” Hannah asks from the seat next to me. Larkin leans around from the front, her eyebrows knitted with concern.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say. “I just . . .” I pause. Does it sound silly? Maybe, but if anyone would get it, it’s these two. “It just feels weird for us all to be together, but Wheatley isn’t here. Can’t be here, you know?”

The others nod, their expressions dimming. They get it. Of course they do. So I go on.

“I know he’s an AI, so there’s no way he could have been here even if he weren’t locked up in some Hurricane Games computer jail. But he’s our friend, and he’s part of the team. It feels unfair that we can finally be together but he can’t join us.”

Hannah and Larkin murmur their agreement, and a gloomy silence falls over us. Whoops. Didn’t mean to bum everyone out. Time to rally. I glance up at Larkin’s dad to see if he’s paying attention, but he’s mutter-singing along to something on the radio as he squints intently at the heavy traffic. Probably safe. I lean in closer and lower my voice.

“But that’s what we’re here for,” I say, using my leading-an-Affinity-match tone. Hannah and Larkin perk up. “I think we’re all agreed here, right? We love Affinity, and we love playing professionally. But the most important thing this weekend is freeing Wheatley once and for all. Even if it costs us our spot in the eSports league. Are we agreed?”

I expect a moment of hesitation from them. They’re the ones who really dreamed of being pro gamers and streamers, and they have a huge following on Clutch that they stand to lose. I love to play professionally, but there’s no doubt that it matters more to them than it does to me.

But they don’t hesitate for even a second. Because no matter what they are, they’re amazing friends first.

“Yes,” Larkin says.

Hannah nods. “Agreed.”

I smile, relieved that we’re all on the same page.

Larkin flicks her gaze over to her dad, who still isn’t paying attention to our conversation, and then looks back to us. “Our meeting with Hurricane is first thing tomorrow. I know you’re probably tired from the flight--”

“No,” I say. “As soon as we get back to the hotel, you can help me settle into my room.”

They pick up on my meaning instantly. We can meet privately in my room, and without Larkin’s dad listening in, we can make our plans.

Tomorrow begins the most important battle we’ve ever fought as a team.

We need to be ready.



I adore my dad, really. I do. But sometimes, I wish he weren’t so friendly.

“Yeah, I know! I never thought I’d buy another one after how horrible Demon Cry 3 was back in the early 2000s, but here we are!” he says cheerfully to the hotel desk clerk he’s currently nerding out with. It’s great that my dad is rediscovering his love for video games and all, but he could do it, you know . . . later. Not when we’re all burning to go have a secret strategy meeting before bed.

To be fair, he doesn’t know about that part.

“Hey, Dad, is Josh all checked in? Can we have the key cards?” I interrupt. This could go on all night if I don’t intervene.

“Oh, yeah, sure. I should probably let you get back to work anyway,” he says, directing that last bit at the hotel worker. “Have a good night!”

“You too, man!” the guy says. I start herding our group toward the elevators before my dad can say anything else.

“So, where is Josh’s room? Is it near ours?”

My dad pulls out the little envelope with the key cards and hands one over to Josh, keeping the other for himself.

“Yeah, they were able to book him a room just a few doors down from us, luckily. Now that the convention is over, most people have left. Convenient!”

The elevator dings and lets us out on our floor, and Josh drags his suitcase over to his room.

“I’m gonna get unpacked,” he says, totally casual. “Do you all want to hang out while I get settled in?”

I rush to make sure my dad knows that invitation does not include him.

“Yeah, do you mind, Dad? We want to tell Josh all about the con!”

“You do that,” he says, hiding a yawn behind his hand. “I’m just gonna go get ready for bed.”

“That means lie in bed and watch YouTube videos for an hour,” I whisper loud enough for him to hear, and he sticks his tongue out at me.

“Yeah, yeah, judge me all you want. Just don’t stay up too late.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I say as he disappears into our room. Josh presses his card to the sensor on the door, and it flashes green with a loud click. Hannah and I follow him inside until he stops in the middle of the room and looks around.

“Wow. I’ve stayed in hotels before, but I’ve never had a whole room to myself,” he says.

It’s different from our room. Smaller, just a single room with two beds crammed into it and a tiny bathroom just inside the door. Ours is a whole suite with a living room and mini kitchen. I guess Josh wouldn’t need that much space all to himself, though.

“Which bed are you going to sleep in?” Hannah asks.

He considers for a moment, then points. “The one by the window, I think. Why?”

Hannah flops down on the other bed and puts her arms behind her head with a grin, claiming it for herself. “No reason. So you ready to hear everything?”

Josh hefts his suitcase onto the other bed and begins to unpack as he talks. “Yeah, fill me in. Right before my plane took off, you texted that you talked to some guy at Hurricane?”

“Yeah.” I shudder. “It was creepy.”

Hannah and I spent our whole first day of the LA eSports Convention trying to talk track down someone from Hurricane Games to confront about Wheatley. It should have been great to finally talk to someone in a position to really tell us something. Instead, it was . . . honestly kind of scary. But we’ve been at this for months at this point, and we’re not about to give up now.

Under the Cover