Fun and Games

Like last year, this Christmas will just be the two of us. No travel to exotic locales. No trip back to the US to see family and friends. But one thing is very different this year. We are on the farm, instead of our apartment in Valencia. So having a post-Christmas dinner virus-free ramble down the Camino to facilitate digestion will be in the cards.

And speaking of cards. We will wile away Christmas day watching our favorite holiday movies, and playing games. And not just two person games. I like to play four hand Uno with just two people. It makes it more fun. A rousing session of full contact Jenga seems particularly Christmasy this year. And then there are the video games.

I have never been into video games. Even as a child. My parents owned a grocery store when I was a kid. And like most grocery stores in the US in the 1970’s and 80’s, there were large console video games that stood near the doors and were always packed with kids after school. Or scary raggedy smoking characters smelling of booze during the day. Back then, home video game consoles were stuff of myth and legend. I never indulged in video games at our parents store, as my brother, Todd, fed quarter after quarter into Space Invaders or Pac Man. Or Frogger. It seemed like a total waste of time and money to me. At least a slot machine gives you odds on winning something. It’s why I have always left Las Vegas a winner. I know when to quit while I’m ahead. A video game would never spit out cash.

So, during that time I played one video game with my brother. PONG. We got it for Christmas with a small portable black and white TV. Todd made a case for keeping it in his room. He thought he got the better of me. I acquiesced, because I didn’t care. I thought it was stupid and boring.

Marrying Jeff meant video games and consoles would be part of my life. He purchased every single one that has been produced since 1997. And every new version. And when we moved to Spain we gave them all to our eldest, Ryan, including the vintage Atari Jeff had from the 80’s. And upon arrival in Spain, we promptly purchased them all back again with the European electrical standard. Yay! I still didn’t care. Jeff played and I sometimes watched. If it was Zelda and he needed advice on making potions and food. I had them memorized. Or how to sooth his horse. But, other than that, I have remained firmly in the ‘video games are boring’ camp. OK. I did do a little Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero on Christmas once. But thats not really video games. It’s singing (horribly <eek>) and dancing <😳 even more horribly>, while my children mocked me unmercifully. But with the Omicron portion of the pandemic raging, I decided to give playing a real video game a go.

Jeff queued up the game. He explained how to use the controller, in minute detail. I held it like the foreign object it is. Pushing buttons and moving joy sticks with my thumb and forefinger. Then Jeff began his tutorial on how I should approach the task before me.

‘Now. This one is tricky. Even if you’re not a beginner. You have to go take out the gun at the end of the canyon. There are guns and lasers everywhere along the way. No place is safe to hide. You’ll probably die a hundred times before you understand how it works. But don’t get discouraged. Every one of us has been there. It took me a long time to get through this canyon. You just have to get the hang of it.’ He warned.

I bit my lip. Tilted the view so I could see a bit further. I had just learned how to do that and felt pretty proud. Jeff urged me forward. I looked down at the controller, then up at the screen. I thought, ‘Screw it. I have no idea what I am doing.’ So instead of shooting at the guns I just ran straight down the canyon and took out the gun at the end. Then I turned to Jeff.

‘What do I do now?’ I asked him.

His mouth was hanging open, but he recovered. ‘Uh. I guess you can do it that way. But you were supposed to take out the guns and lasers on the way.’

‘I guess.’ I said ‘But the goal was to get the big gun at the end. Right? You told me that, so I did.’

He looked disconcerted. ‘OK. So a bit of beginners luck. Let’s move on to the next bit. This one has patrols. You have to avoid being seen while you make your way to the end and blow up the fuel tanks. If they see you, they’ll kill you and you have to start over. If you see them, you have to kill them first.’

I moved forward with trepidation. I watched for the pattern of how they patrolled the area laden with shipping containers. Then I employed my already tried and true method. I ran. In short order, I had blown up the fuel depot and killed all the guards. ‘What do I do now?’

Jeff sat there for a moment. Then he laughed.

‘Are you enjoying this?’ He asked.

‘I guess.’ I told him. ‘It’s just a bunch of tasks. You have a list of things you need to get done. Its like life. You can over think it. Freak yourself out. Or you can focus on the goal and get it done. The guards and the lasers and guns are just a distraction. What’s the saying ‘You don’t have to throw a rock at every dog that barks’? Basically, video games are a metaphor for life.’ I considered this for a moment. ‘Huh. Who knew?’

Jeff just sat there staring at me like I had lost my mind. I’m pretty sure I just ruined playing Halo or Fortnite for him. Forever. But, after all these years, I kind of get it now. Maybe life is just Fun and Games, after all.

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