My horoscope, quite literally, says, “It looks like it’s a frozen pizza in front of the TV kind of night — again.” I have chosen to ignore that last interjection and have given up a large HUZZAH to the first bit. I don’t actually own a television, largely because I don’t find television worth watching unless I 1) don’t understand the language 2) have been hearing about it for more than three years 3) my friends make me watch Archer and Community while under the influence or 4) it’s Mythbusters. What I do own is (was) a DiGiorgno pizza and a laptop that can stream Sherlock.
I have now eaten my pizza and I can feel the salt piling up into a little fortress in my arteries and I will never be hydrated again but my Sherlock has been interrupted by the fact that Wil Wheaton (@wilw) tweeted:
«@TheBloggess .@wilw: I believe this is relevant to your interests: thebloggess.com/2012/02/dear-w…» I LOVE YOU.
And of course I had to click through and see that and, oh my lord, why do I not follow that blog already? Epic.
Speaking of “epic,” I am currently reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken. For most of my life, I would never have considered myself a gamer. Gamers play video games. I only ever owned a Nintendo64 (which I adore to this day but, due to lack of a television, don’t use anymore). I was never allowed to go into arcades and even when I visited friends who did own consoles, they wanted to go play outside. I only ever played outside! I wanted to play a game!!
Having, now, attended a nerd convention (PAXEast 2011, baby!), I have slowly come to realize that gamers don’t just have to play video games. I was the scourge of downtime in my family as a child; hey we’re all home and nobody’s doing anything so let’s play a game of LIFE. I don’t know (or much care, honestly) if my parents and sister ever wanted to read a book or watch a video. Board games meant the whole family clustered up around the table, actively involved in something that wasn’t awkward “How was your day?” “…Okay.” conversation. I dreaded those conversations, I never wanted to talk about school. School was easy and boring and I never felt like I was getting anything out of the experience. Games, on the other hand, brought laughter and competition and frustration and fun. If I had to do it all over, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would force my family into endless rounds of Candy Land all over again, cheerfully ignoring their groans and complaints all over again, winning and losing all over again.
Games have always been big in my family. When I was very young, my grandmother taught me how to play Solitaire and War. Every Sunday my maternal extended family would join us at my grandmother’s house for dinner and several hours of Uno. When we got a bit older, my sister and I were introduced to the games that our older cousins had stashed in the hallway closet of that house, games like Sorry! and Clue Junior. Yahtzee went with us pretty much everywhere.
I was extremely lucky in that my mother taught the gifted program in the elementary school I attended for several years. She introduced me to puzzle games like Tangrams. She subscribed to Games Magazine, logic puzzles from which she used as warm-up exercises for her students. My father, on the other hand, was more tactile and spent a great deal of time instilling in me a love of jigsaw puzzles. Those hatefully difficult three-dimensional cathedral puzzles spent more time clogging up our living room floor…! He also routinely trounced the rest of us at Scrabble, which my mother now steadfastly refuses to play.
I’ve been slowly collecting games of my own over the past eight years, through college and grad school and the need for distractions from severe depression. This past October, I asked my parents to bring some of our old puzzles to me when they drove out to visit. They did me one better.
On and around this shelf are games I received as presents over the past few years, a couple of jigsaw puzzles I bought as a New Year’s present to myself a while back, some toys friends have sent to me from abroad, and all kinds of games that I hadn’t even remembered existed. Basically, my parents brought my childhood straight to my door. Among the loot:
Othello, also known as Reversi, which I could never get enough of losing to my father in.
The National Geographic Board Game, which is completely outdated and involves answering questions about various countries and collecting a “portfolio” of picture cards.
Boggle and Big Boggle, which I had a heck of a time ever convincing anyone to play because of the noise.
My favorite puzzle: 500-pieces, cork-board, with odd shapes and fantastical artwork.
A puzzle of the Badlands National Park, which Dad and I spent weeks struggling with, with Mom poking at it when she thought we weren’t looking.
I am ecstatic, even at this very moment four months later, to have these things in my household. I haven’t managed to convince any of my friends to play NatGeo with me, but I’m going to keep trying. It’s guaranteed to be hilarious, I mean, who among us remembers anything from when it was still the Soviet Union? We were not socially conscious at that age.
One of my favorite things about my friends is that they’re all up for playing the occasional game. When I first met the people I most frequently hang out with, my roommate had an XBox and Halo and we alternated between shooting faces and playing poker during brunch. Once that apartment was no longer in the plan, we drifted slowly toward more and more Settlers of Catan, Risk, and Dungeons & Dragons. Tabletop games, tactile games, games where we could make up alliances and stories and work together before stabbing each other in the back. I was never this comfortable with my friends while they were killing aliens and I was being killed by aliens in Halo!
Last month, something even more glorious and completely random happened. After our bookclub meeting, some girls hung around and chatted about our favorite good books and our most beloved ridiculous series. There were five of us: myself, two girls I’ve hung out with several times before, a close friend of mine whom I browbeat into joining the club, and a girl who has quietly attended meetings for the past several months but never really said anything. We had a blast. We sat in the café for nearly 45 minutes after the club dispersed. That night, I sent out an email to everyone asking for reminders of all the books we had talked about. One of the other girls replied, “You know what, we should have a game night.”
[[We have now had two. We gather, chat, make dinner, and play something awesome. The first time, it was spaghetti and Elder Sign. The second time, it was Pad Thai and Dixit, which we promptly made ourselves absolutely hysterical over by deciding that whomever was “it” each turn would have to make up a story that strung together the images from all of the cards on the table. I quite honestly spent part of the evening in tears, I was laughing so hard.]]
I have wanted to read Dr. McGonigal’s book ever since I heard that she was going to be the keynote speaker at PAXEast last year. I was somewhat nervous about going to the convention because, again, I have never considered myself a gamer. My friends encouraged me to go, assuring me that not everything would be a reference to video games I had never played. I couldn’t, however, afford the newly-published Reality is Broken. I was unemployed, surviving on paychecks from temp works and the generosity of my parents. The three-day pass to PAXEast was an enormous expense that I hoped would pay huge dividends in my feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, frustration and inadequacy.
I came away from that weekend with an entirely new sense of gaming. There were lots and lots of video games, yes, but also table upon table of geeks playing card games, board games, word games, and roleplaying games. The convention itself was a game: QR codes were printed on some of the banners and signs plastered around the convention center and each scanned code provided a letter and a number. Once you had the letters, the numbers told you the order the letters appeared in and everything came together to provide a secret message which, when delivered to the convention staff, earned a special badge. [[I didn’t have a smartphone then, so I commandeered the arm of one of my friends and made her run around the building with me. We were magnanimous and allowed our lackadaisical friends to get badges, too.]]
What’s more, Jane McGonigal introduced me to an entirely new concept of gaming. Not only are tabletop games legitimate games, games can be used to encourage, improve, even heal! Her keynote speech was incredible. From the hilarious icebreaking outset, when she organized the entire audience into the biggest, most massively multiplayer thumbwar ever, to the moment she concluded her litany of the ways game behaviors could improve daily life, her arguments completely reformatted my brain. I’m experiencing the same sensation, almost a year later, now that I’ve found her book in paperback and could afford to treat myself to it. Not only am I legitimately a gamer, I am desperate to explore the world of alternate reality games and find ways to level up in my personal life.
As I mentioned last week, my housing situation has recently changed. One of my roommates moved out, a stranger moved in. I am one of five people in a two-floor apartment. It occurred to me that the guy who moved out had two of the utility bills in his name. It also occurred to me that they might still be in his name. It further occurred to me that I really, really, really wanted to play a game I had read about on the bus during my commute to work that day.
Alternate reality game: http://www.chorewars.com/
WHERE WAS THIS GAME WHILE I WAS GROWING UP?! You can earn experience points for dusting. You can gain strength points by taking out the trash! You might run into a bugbear while making your bed. This system takes mundane household tasks and turns them into events in an epic adventure game!
Nothing doing, of course, but that I take a few moments to create an account, write up a few “adventures,” and create a party called “Guildhouse (our street number)” before I went to my email account and typed out, “Hey housemates, what’s up with the bill situation, oh by the way we should do this (insert link to Chore Wars party here).” Okay, so those aren’t exactly the words I used about the bills but I really did say we should do this. I think it would be fun!
That was yesterday. This morning, I decided to learn more about the mechanics of Chore Wars, which Dr. McGonigal had made sound like an absolute blast. I discovered through trial and error that when you claim an adventure (chore), Chore Wars assumes that you’ve already done it. So I gained 30 XP and then I had to come home after work today and vacuum the upstairs common area so that I could stop feeling guilty.
I am, so far, the only member of my party (lame, housemates!) but I’m actually already having a great deal of fun with this. Even (especially?) if I’m going to be playing this by myself, I can set point goals for myself and use the virtual gold I earn to reward myself in the real world…maybe by working out a conversion rate to real-world dollars to buy more board games…? I am delighted by the fact that the room is freshly vacuumed, even though I did it myself, and I find myself wishing I’d thought to get some quarters so I could go on a laundry quest.
I think this is going to be a huge turning point in my life. Chore Wars is just one of the many alternate reality games discussed in Reality is Broken and I’m itching to try the other ones. I’m fairly certain that my contributions to the upkeep of the apartment are going to increase dramatically and I know for a fact that I will benefit both emotionally (uncluttered environment) and physically (lessened allergies) from the cleaning. I will be experiencing real, quantifiable feedback from playing a game.
I do rather wish I wasn’t playing alone because competition would make leveling up more urgent. Would anyone be interested in playing alone together? It would be on the honor system, you clean your place while I’ll clean mine, and hopefully we’ll both come out of it with improved habits. Is there any interest out there? Anyone? Bueller?
One last thing before I leave you: it doesn’t pay to only make a Valentine’s Day card for one coworker. The others hold a grudge. Be on the lookout for index cards dropped on your desk chair.