Monday, September 21, 2009

The Greatest Game

Over the weekend, Son finally realized a long-cherished dream of his: to own an Atari video game console. I'm not exactly sure why this was such a coveted item for him, nor am I sure he knows. He simply says, "It's a piece of gaming history." Nice. Something from my childhood is viewed by my son as "history". An antique, if you will.

Although it was fun to watch Son eagerly catalogue and assemble his new toy, I admit I began to experience a small amount of panic. It should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I lack the skills to play video games. Technology and I are not exactly on the best of terms. In fact, the other day, I was afraid I'd have to wait for Son to get home from school to set up the Wii for me. And then I'd have to bribe him to go away so I could play without being heckled. It was much like the time I had to wait for him to come home from pre-school to set the VCR for me. (Fortunately, my mother-in-law came through for me on the Wii thing, thus sparing me further mockery.)

Son takes entirely too much delight in his video game prowess. Since the time he picked up his first controller, he has heaped the abuse on us, even stating repeatedly that he doesn't feel safe riding in the car with people who can't even negotiate their way around Wario World. And all these years, my go-to excuse has been, "I may not be able to play these games, but wow. You should have seen me play Pong. I was truly great." It seemed like a safe thing to say at the time. What were the odds that he'd ever find "a piece of gaming history" and actually WANT to play it?)

So, yes. A bit of anxiety over the imminent blowing of my cover. I mean, I really WAS able to play Pong. I really was able to do a lot of things, once upon a time. I had skills. Skills that apparently fade if you don't practice them for a couple of decades. (And while we're on the topic, whomever came up with the phrase "It's just like riding a bike" clearly had never met anyone like me when they came up with that particular bit of nonsense.)

Last night, after a day of evading Son's challenges, I finally agreed to play. And let me just say that when I beat him soundly, I have never in my life experienced more joy in a win. I was giddy with triumph. Sure, I know that in a day or two, he'll be able to take me out easily, but that's certainly not going to stop me from revelling in the moment while it lasts.

The instant I realized he was starting to get the hang of it, I handed over the paddle and announced I was going to let someone else have a turn. I went downstairs and soon my mother-in-law came down and shared the information that my father-in-law was having a marvelous time trouncing Son. Earlier I'd had the opportunity of witnessing HER have a marvelous time defeating Son as well, so, you know. I couldn't miss the final blow.

When I got back upstairs, I found Son scowling with frustration at the screen while my father-in-law was demonstrating, "See? I can even do it with my toes!" Sure enough, he had the paddle on the floor and appeared to be scoring effortlessly using only his toes. I sat and watched for a few minutes until my father-in-law grinned and said gleefully, "You should try this, Stacey, because (Son)...he's just not very good at this at all!" Son's scowl deepened as his grandpa handed over the controller. I moved it a few times and noticed something odd: No matter how I turned the paddle, my little player continued to move independently. "Um...this doesn't seem to be working..." Grandpa rushed to assure me, "Oh it works, just keep moving it."

I was a little slow, but I finally caught on. And sure enough, I was easily able to defeat Son who could not BELIEVE how poorly he was doing. We played game after game, each one ending in the thrill of victory...for me. Son's grandpa kept trying to give him helpful tips, pointing out how I was smoothly moving my player up and down, and tracking the "ball".

After several games, Son demanded to switch controllers, since his was obviously faulty and "jittery". "Oh no," Grandpa said. "The one you have is fine." Then Son demanded to switch to a different game. Grandpa informed him that the winner got to pick the next game, so until Son could beat me, he'd have to play the game of my choice. I chose to continue with Pong. "You know what?" I asked, as I proceeded to win yet another game, "I think you've been spoiled with all your cool graphics and sophisticated controllers. I think when it comes right down to the basics, this is the game where true skill is required. Back in the day you had to really KNOW how to play if you wanted to win."

I showed Son all kinds of ways to play. With one hand. With my elbow. I even showed him how I could just listen to the sound of the game and still hit the ball every time, WITH MY EYES CLOSED. "This isn't fair!" he protested.

"Sure it is. Besides, Son, part of being a good gamer is knowing how to accept defeat graciously."

"Yeah right."

Never have I seen such consternation. It was beautiful. On and on we went, Son losing more bitterly every time. Grandpa eagerly urging Son to keep going. Finally, Son appeared to simply give up. He sat back as my player continued to score points and eventually win, 21 to 0. It was around then that Son held aloft the other end of the controller's plug. "How are you playing without even being plugged in?" He demanded.

"I'm just that good."

"Ok, what's going on here?" he asked, suspiciously. I sat and pondered Grandpa's poker face for a few moments until the light finally dawned for Son. "I've been playing the COMPUTER??" He tried to wrestle the controller from me, between trying to tickle me into an admission.

"I can't believe you did that, Mom!"

"I can't believe it took you so long to figure it out! Playing by SOUND? Really?"

Then Grandpa scored the best shot of the night: "I can't believe you didn't figure it out when I let the dog play. And she won."

So, no, maybe I didn't deserve all those wins. (Okay, I didn't deserve any of them, though I still contend that I beat him soundly when I was actually in control of my player earlier in the evening.) But, oh, that was glorious!


Ronni said...

When they hit the teens, you have to get sneaky to win anything at all...arguments...the last waffle...the shotgun seat...

Abby said...

You cannot imagine how hard I'm laughing. You must publish.

Harmony said...

Sweet victory! And ditto on the publishing idea. I'd buy anything you'd write.