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Games for the Lonely

girl learning coding in front of computer

Hey all, (the other) Pete here with another rant. Today’s is a good one, so get your bookmarks ready – do people still Delicious? Or Live Journal? Or Digg?

There were days in my life that I didn’t have a phone or tablet to occupy my every waking moment. I know it’s hard to believe, but the world used to be much simpler… slower. And tedious. Terribly, terribly tedious. Yes, people actually had to occupy themselves without having some form of attachment instilling digital happiness at every moment. I know what the old people are yelling (because they clearly don’t understand how a computer works), “(to)p, those were better times! We talked more and enjoyed life for what it was.” Thanks grandpa. I remember those times… and it was boring.

So, like in just about every other situation that I encounter, I played games. These games, however, were mainly played by only me – a solitaire using only the mind. These games got me through many years before “Cut the Rope” and others (I hate naming one game, because I feel obliged to name all seven hundred that I’m currently playing). And so without further adieu, here are games that you can play by yourself (or others if you insist on being social).

Counting

This first game is only for the really, really, really bored. I still play this because sometimes I am put in a situation where I cannot plug in and zone out – and I’m stuck in a gross room for more than ten minutes. The game is simple. I count things – normally ceiling tiles. The time this takes varies, but I start with a pretty standard method of making this “game-like.”

Step 1 – Estimate how many tiles are on the ceiling.

Step 2 – Do some sort of multiplication / lazy count to come to a closer number.

Step 3 – Do an actual count.

Step 4 (for the really bored) – Perform a recount.

I’ve gotten quite good at this game. If you want to gauge how interested I am in the current conversation, ask me how many tiles are in the ceiling. If I know the exact number, that’s a red flag!

Reaction

Here’s another super bored game that I’m sure many others have also discovered. I used to wear a watch – yup, there were these things that humans wore on their arms that showed the time, before the time was transmitted directly into your brain. It was very primitive. Some of these had timers on them, which I never ever used as intended, although I would always insist on wearing a watch with a timer.

The goal of “Reaction” is to start and stop the timer as quickly as possible. That’s it. If you have a very sensitive timer, this game could be incredibly captivating for about five to ten minutes. I think my record was three one-hundredths of a second. It should be an Olympic sport.

There is also a variation on this, something that Richard Feynman played himself (noted in “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”). Instead of simply going for the very least amount of time, hold the watch so you cannot see the face and start the timer. Stop the timer at precisely one minute. If you can nail that, move onto two minutes, etc. That could keep you busy for days!

Padiddle

Driving contains some unavoidable boredom. Fortunately, we have our entire music collection streaming from the Cloud, but in years past, a simple tape deck was the only method of controlling the sound – that is, unless, you took a gamble on the radio (of course, I’m really only referring to music, NPR and all news stations are totally fine).

Anyway, every now and then you see a car on the road with only one headlight. That’s called a “Padiddle.” You must instantly hit the ceiling of the car with one hand and say, “Padiddle” and you win. That’s it. This game is more fun with other people involved, but it takes years of practice to completely dominate your circle of friends. So don’t just play with others – practice alone and be quick!

Now there are all sorts of silly results from, “Padiddle” – for instance, it couple be a flirting game where the winner either gives a slap or receives a kiss. These particular rules have never really worked out in my favor.

Punch Buggy

I really don’t want to dwell on this, as it is almost entirely played with other people and almost definitely traumatizing to some slower non-car enthusiasts. Players see a Volkswagon Beetle and say, “Punch Buggy” followed by the color of the car. They then punch the other “player” (or non-player… basically whoever is around). Let’s just say that I was punched a lot as a result of the new “Beetle” a couple decades ago…

Beaver My Point

My dad has always played this game and pushed it on my family. My siblings play and I only participate to annoy them, but it was definitely worth inclusion in this list. During the holidays, there are lots of people traveling with an evergreen strapped to the roof of their car. A player shouts, “Beaver My Point” on seeing this and receives a point (the first player to yell if there are multiple participants). Each player is responsible for keeping their own score, which always leads to some skepticism toward the beginning of January when points are tallied and shared. I know. This sounds completely crazy. It is.

The Horse Game

My mom always tried to counter my father’s driving game with one of her own. This is another points gathering game, but you can play anytime during the year. The rules are very simple – horses are worth one point, white horses are worth five points, and cemeteries clear your current score. All of these have to occur on the side of the car that you currently occupy – so if you’re on the left and there’s a white horse on the left, you score five points. Simple right?

It turns out (at least in my observations) that wherever there are farms, there are cemeteries. And there’s no real skill beyond choosing which side to sit on. I suppose the driver could really go out of her or his way to avoid cemeteries on the left side of the car, but that would be pretty extreme, right? Right?!?

Crowds and Zombies

Ok, here’s my last one for now. I live in the city and there are holiday fairs around my subway stop every year. These fairs are very popular and overcrowded beyond belief. Since I can’t really avoid the crowd, I make the experience into a game.

My game is to navigate as quickly as possible through the crowd without bumping into anyone. It feels like playing Mario Kart. The good part of this game is that once you are through the crowd, you’ve actually accomplished something – in my case, I’m almost at work. In non-holiday months, I sometimes (rarely) get stuck in Times Square, where I go into race mode instantly to escape. For a higher level of difficulty, play during a major concert when everyone is trying to exit!

I told Adam Nelson from Obscure Games about this and he mentioned a zombie game that was similar. The game, as I remember it, is that everyone is a zombie. Your job is to avoid them completely without garnering any attention. If you are noticed in any way, you lose.

I have a spin on that variation, which is that you are the zombie and you’re trying desperately to convert as many people as possible. While walking through the crowd, see how many people you can make eye contact with – you get bonus points if you growl at them afterwards!