The main characters are NPCs in massively multiplayer online games. Beamed into different scenarios and games depending on the mission, Team Phoenix is the best of the best. They're more than just AI—they're intelligent, evolving AI that think tactically and adapt to situations, devising new ones much as humans would. The main character, Phoenix, is perfectly content with this life.
Then Dakota enters the team, and she starts acting... off. Phoenix and the others are comfortable in their world, but Dakota questions the very basis of their reality - she insists that she is more than just a program, and tries to talk things out rather than fight. Her questions and her actions will cause the others to question their roles and seek answers—but what they find may be more than they can handle.
This book contains examples of:
- After the End: The world outside the games is a mess; it's said a war of some kind happened, and cities are only livable if they can offer products to other cities.
- Artificial Brilliance: Phoenix and his team are learning, self-aware AI. This is because they're actually cloned humans.
- Clone Degeneration: Once outside the tanks, this nearly kills the team.
- Good Thing You Can Heal: No matter how brutal a death they receive, the ReSims heal the team completely.
- Gorn: Deaths are described in a good amount of detail.
- I Should Write a Book About This: The CEO of BlackStar intends to make a game about what Team Phoenix is going through, giving us the book's title.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Dakota is a non-romantic examples for her entire team; her questions lead them to question things and search for answers.
- Only Sane Man: Dakota is the only one to question why they're constantly fighting and dying.
- People Jars: Team Phoenix is clones of top game developers, suspended in thick gels.
- Schrödinger's Butterfly: By the end, it's not made clear whether the "real world" is just another layer of the games or not.
- Spot the Thread: Finding inconsistencies or things that just don't make sense helps the team become aware of their memories, among other things. This is played to scary effect in the ending.
- Theme Naming: Phoenix and his team are named after cities or states.
- This Loser Is You: Much fun is poked at the kill 'em all kinds of players, but this is justified in-story.
- Troperiffic: Many, many video game tropes are seen and examined.
- Twist Ending: A double whammy. Phoenix sees Dakota raving madly about being back in the games and, after thinking it over, realizes she is wrong. And then after thinking some more he realizes she's right.
- Xanatos Gambit: The CEO of BlackStar, Max, is very good at these; he brags about them in-universe by telling Team Phoenix that no matter what they do, he wins. He tells the team that they're all dying and can only live by going back into the tanks—and since they broke out, the only way they can return is if they choose to go back. When Dakota chainsaws his arm off, he admits that there's an experimental cure for their sicknesses and tells them where to find it... and at the very end, it's revealed that choosing the cure put them back in the tanks.