“Hey, I just got a Pikachu,” a guy in front of me at Target said yesterday. I fist-bumped him, losing a beat in the game I was playing.
He was finding funny-looking little monsters in Pokémon GO. I was trying to level up on Maleficent Free Fall, a puzzle game where the challenge is to line up exploding colored gems with all sorts of distractions and additional tasks. There are colorful, flashing lights and munchkins. Magic points are rewarded for passing a level. So, what’s not to love?
Pokémon GO guy had a billion things on the conveyor belt, but I was unbothered because where else besides the doctor’s office and commuter bus can you kill time playing a game, guilt free?
I was at this triple-digit level I’d been playing pretty compulsively for days; a level so hard I thought I was going to be playing it for the rest of my life, and then about halfway through his checkout, I did it.
“Geek power,” he said, fist bumping me when I shared my victory.
The words set me back because I don’t feel like a geek, although I can see how he mistook me for one after seeing my single-minded game concentration when I could have easily read a junk mag for free.
Hardison on Leverage was one of my all-time favorite TV characters and he was a cool geek I think I could have been friends with (the character, not the actor) as I generally hover around things tech, puzzles and problem solving.
So I see it; I just don’t want the label.
Why? Geeks get shoved into that anti-social or nerd box a lot due to an addictive attraction to activities that say “I am a current or former science club member.”
But, you can be a social geek, and even if you’re not, I still don’t see the problem unless you’re up to no good.
I pay bills, work, exercise, give blood, vote, listen to NPR, and read myself silly, but I play games a few hours a week too. Five minutes here, fifteen minutes there.
The same people who are surprised to learn I am a Trekkie and Marvel Avengers fan also scratch their heads over my fascination with computer games, yet I’d put them in the same basket if I was outside looking in.
I love math, puzzle and word games. Since my 23andMe DNA test results showed a slight predisposition for Alzheimer’s, I also added some for memory improvement. When I only have two brain cells left though, I play Angry Birds.
When I told a workout buddy, she sheepishly confessed to frequenting Pokémon GO –which may involve the same number of brain cells. During a rough workday, she circles the block with her phone hoping Pokémon GO monsters pop onto the screen. I get that. In times of extreme workplace stress, I beat it to the breakroom to slingshot some Angry Birds into things.
At least I don’t drink.
A temp who caught me called me a gamer and I heartily disagreed. The next day she brought in the Statistic paper she’d written for her masters, which was coincidentally titled Angry Birds and, according to her research, I roughly have the gaming habits of an adolescent boy a few times a week.
My sister-in-law is a quasi-gamer too and we shared my charger on a train to Portland this summer because games drain batteries fast. Yes, we chatted and read, but in-between we strummed our devices while my brother slept.
You can be social and game. You just have to do it with other gamers who understand your need to conquer random tasks assigned to you by The Thing in your gadget.
Until recently, I had never seen this dual skillset in a young child before.
My friend and her five-year old son joined me for lunch. He walked into the cafe with his blanket, his stuffed monkey, a five-year version of Xbox and two game cartridges. After we ordered, he was quietly focused on doing math problems and then he switched cartridges and played Sponge Bob. Although I wanted to bond, I couldn’t hate him for that since I’d been engrossed in 2048—an adult math game—an hour before.
And no matter how much his mom sweetly suggested a polite stowing of his cartridges to get to know me, the little guy’s expression just said, “You two have each other and I have my games.” He wasn’t rude about it; he just had a determined plan to entertain himself, which graciously included a few smiling glances or giggles, borrowing my fingers to solve a math problem, and answering a few questions about his soup. Since I have seen little kids go crazy at restaurants, I admired his restraint.
Too, sometimes, gaming is just relaxing. Not massage-relaxing, but relaxing in the way you hypnotically give yourself to something until it becomes self-soothing.
I still don’t think I am a gamer in the truest sense. I may, however, be someone who accepts ordinary playful distractions from the busyness and seriousness of life.