Thursday, March 01, 2012

Because I Said So: It's not about who wins -- oh, who are we fooling?

Years ago I got caught up in playing chess online. It was a lot of fun, but maybe a little too fun as I found myself consumed with it, having half a dozen or more games going at once. Some matches were quick, back and forth games, while others, those being played with people on the other side of the planet, were longer affairs with turns being taken during each of our waking hours. I finally had to let it go. I finished a final game and never went back to the site. I was spending too much time thinking about my next moves and checking the status of ongoing games.

So when I received an invitation from Andria to play Words With Friends, Facebook's answer to Scrabble, I hesitated (which would be a great Words With Friends word), and when Kristy then joined in the fray, I wavered (also a good play), but I finally had to sip from the pitcher of Kool-Aid being served me.

I've really only dipped my toe into the pool of possible number of games, but I've found Words With Friends to be just as big a time suck as chess was. But it is highly entertaining, and I keep telling myself that I'm using my brain. I'm using language! It's probably educational.

I've won quite a few games while a couple of opponents (Caleb and Steph) seem unbeatable and are probably cheating, though I haven't figured out how yet. My uncle Aldo from Georgia challenged me to a game out of nowhere and thrummed me soundly. In a follow-up game he seemed to have other things on his mind, or perhaps I was actually playing his son, my 7-year-old cousin Aldo, the entire time, because I managed to eek out a win.

It's been fun, if not time consuming. I'm not sure I'll keep up with it, I may just drop it the way I did cyber-chess. Until that time, though, I'll keep searching for the perfect use for this 'Q' and gleaning whatever column fodder I can from the distractions the Internet offers.

Today's "Because I Said So" column in The Commercial Appeal:
It isn't about winning and losing.

I have a child who comes home from school each day, tackles his homework (always homework first!), and then it's straight to the computer or the Wii for an afternoon of video games. Within a half-hour, I can hear his anguished cries of defeat and near, so very near, expletives.

It's an addiction, the video games. I can see the sweat beading on his forehead when he's away from it too long, the trembling in his thumbs. On Saturday mornings, he's the first one up and standing in front of the television playing whatever his current obsession might be. These days, it's one featuring an elf who may or may not be riding on a seahorse and wielding a large butter knife. I'm awakened by the vocal frustrations of his losing a round to a gnome riding a starfish, or something.

The blips and bright lights of this simulated world are all too real for him, the losses far too personal, and this is an issue.

So we stick with the tried-and-true mantra -- it isn't about winning or losing; it's about enjoying the challenge itself. This, of course, falls on deaf ears, or ears too stimulated by the bells and whistles of the game.

I know of what I speak. I should admit to you that I've stopped writing this column no fewer than three times to check on the seven different games of "Words With Friends" that I have going at the moment. I'm happy to say that I'm winning five of them. This makes for a good afternoon regardless of what we, as parents, insist.

If you're not familiar with "Words With Friends," it's the online version of what we used to call Scrabble. Alec Baldwin was recently and famously removed from an airplane for refusing to end a "Words With Friends" game; it's addictive enough to forfeit first class.

As a child, I spent long evenings with my family around the dining room table attempting to parse vocabulary words from the "Q," "P" and five "E's" in my rack. Aunts and uncles would come over, and we'd make a night out of it with snacks and good-natured competition. The adults appeared to be more interested in winning and not losing.
I'm still playing with my uncle Aldo, who is 500 miles away in Cordele, Ga. And I'm playing with my wife and a friend, who are sitting 6 feet away on the sofa (I'm winning all three of these games).

Is this a new era of family game night? Games are being played, perhaps not in the same room, or even the same time zone. The fun is in the games themselves and not necessarily the winning face-to-face (I just took the lead in a sixth game), and my win over a friend in Midtown is no more enjoyable than the experience of the humiliating defeat at the thumbs of one in East Memphis.

My son isn't yet into "Words With Friends," though I expect he will be soon enough. And when he is, I'm sure he'll be a force to reckon with if his scores on vocabulary tests and his skill maneuvering that seahorse-riding elf are any indication.

Until the time I'm able to crush his spirit in cyber-Scrabble from across the house, or across the room, though, I'll continue preaching the ideology we've discussed.

And, of course, to always do as I say and not as I "D-O" (3 points!). 

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

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