There’s a reason why I don’t play Farmville ... or participate in diversions like the Truth Game, Bejeweled, City of Wonder, Simply Hospital, Word Challenge, or Solitaire. Especially Solitaire. The alluring path of electronic games can be dangerously seductive. Their impact is best illustrated through a story I wrote (right after I erased Solitaire from my laptop) several years ago. I’ll save the rest of my comments for the end of the story.
“The Call” by JD Betts
With a second cup of coffee perched nearby, the best part of Gertrude Gunther’s morning routine began by checking her email. As a retired junior high-school math teacher who occasionally filled in to substitute, she reveled in having time to relax and catch up with old friends. The breakfast dishes had been removed and she considered this “her” time.
Little by little, Gertrude began to surf the Internet, but stayed away from those dreaded social sites like Facebook. She’d heard how they drained the life right out of you. Frankly, she didn’t care to know what other people ate for lunch anyway. No, she would not become caught up in something so time consuming and utterly meaningless.
Instead, she went straight to AOL, logged on, read her email, deleted spam, and checked the national news. Sometimes she allowed herself the guilty pleasure of scanning the celebrity headlines as well.
But one day, while sipping her hazelnut decaf and waiting for the computer to finish its virus scan, she noticed the accessories icon as soon as it materialized onscreen.
Curious, she opened it, and another screen appeared. Games sounded interesting; so she double clicked. A new window offered several options: Hearts, Freecell, Minesweeper, and Solitaire. She tried them all. Hearts, of course, she’d played in card club years ago. Nothing to master there. Neither Freecell nor Minesweeper caught her fancy. But Solitaire. She had no idea how to play, but something about it beckoned her.
At first, she seemed to be doing fine, but knew she was missing some principle. The help icon didn’t really help.
She was still trying to figure out the game when her husband wandered into the den. Jerry had retired from his insurance career six months earlier (a year after her), but continued working part-time as a traveling consultant. Today, he was home.
“Any good email, honey?”
She’d forgotten all about the Internet. “Jerry, do you know anything about Solitaire?”
“Baby, you’re talking to the Solitaire king. What do you want to know?”
Gertrude winced. She could always tell when he was about to turn tedious. She hoped she didn’t come across that way when she taught. She listened to an excruciating explanation as her husband detailed the rules of Solitaire along with a commentary on his own special methods, some of which she’d already figured out.
Jerry couldn’t believe his wife had never played before. “You’re kidding me, right?”
Impatient to apply her newly learned knowledge and tired of Jerry’s droning, Gertrude snapped. “Have you seen me playing?”
After thirty-five years of marriage, Jerry ought to recognize the signals. “I’m going to run down to the hardware store. Need anything?”
Gertrude barely heard him, but shook her head no to whatever he was saying.
The first time she played, an hour flew by in what seemed like minutes. Thank goodness the computer tracked the time for her, or she might have missed her hair appointment. When she returned home, she tidied the house, did some laundry, and started dinner. Jerry was tinkering in the garage, probably with some new device he’d discovered at the hardware store.
Gertrude checked the clock. She had almost thirty minutes before she needed to set the table for dinner. With a thrill of excitement, she nimbly double clicked the three necessary icons. In no time, she won two hands of Solitaire. She was a natural.
When she heard the door from the garage open, she glanced at the time. Forty-five minutes had disappeared. Did the roast smell burnt? Quickly she shut down the computer and dashed into the kitchen just before Jerry entered.
“I love that Solitaire game,” she told him. “Thanks for showing me how it works.”
Jerry eyed his wife steadily. “I’m glad you like it. Have you been playing all this time?”
“Just a few minutes while the roast finished. I guess the time got away from me.”
“Gertrude, don’t take this the wrong way, but that game can stick like honey. It can be hard to let go. Just be careful you don’t get hooked.”
The mere sound of Jerry’s voice scraped Gertrude’s nerves. How dare he patronize her. Wasn’t she a mature, intelligent woman? She had never been addicted to anything in her life. She bit back her thoughts and answered him sweetly.
“Don’t worry, Jerry. I’m just enjoying something new. That’s all.” Gertrude offered her schoolgirl laugh, which had never failed to disarm him. He smiled back at her.
After dinner, Jerry settled into the evening news while Gertrude loaded the dishwasher. When she entered the living room to join her husband, she noted his drooping head. His glasses tipped precariously on the end of his nose; if she clapped her hands loudly, they would surely drop. On the verge of waking him, Gertrude reconsidered. She glimpsed at the clock and made an internal deal to play the game for only twenty minutes. The news would be over at six-thirty. She went into the den and closed the door.
At seven-thirty, Gertrude was surprised to see she’d been playing for an hour. She did notice her back had tightened a little. She paused the game and listened. The TV was blaring a sitcom Jerry despised. He was still asleep. She knew she should rouse him; his neck would be stiff. But one more game, she thought; then we’ll have a nice conversation and watch the dramas together. She could rub his neck for him.
Two hours later, Gertrude didn’t hear the door to the den open behind her. Her heart jumped when she heard her husband’s accusatory voice.
“Have you been in here all this time? Your program’s almost over.”
“I, I …” She turned toward him, at a loss to explain.
“Gertrude, you never miss your show. And it’s a new episode.” Jerry’s eyebrows knitted together as he studied her.
“I felt like doing something different tonight. What’s wrong with that? You were asleep anyway.”
Jerry continued. “Do you want to watch the rest, or should we just go to bed? “ When she didn’t answer, he continued, “Are you able to shut off the computer by yourself?”
With her nose in the air, Gertrude haughtily turned off the computer. “I can stop anytime I want.”
“I can.” She knew Jerry’s tone so well.
The next morning, over breakfast, neither of them mentioned the Solitaire subject. They ate oatmeal with blueberries and bananas. They sipped their coffee while reading the newspaper together, a new routine since they were both home. Jerry liked the business news, while Gertrude preferred the local interest articles.
When they finished their sections, Jerry helped her clear the table.
“Do you want to walk outside or in the mall?” This was another routine they’d begun. Morning walks. Gertrude’s cholesterol had skyrocketed in the last six months and Jerry was determined to help lower it. In nice weather they rode their bikes, but colder weather had stopped them. Jerry tried to convince Gertrude to join the local health club so they could swim, but she wasn’t interested. Instead, they’d started to walk. Gertrude sighed at Jerry’s question. Since he’d retired, he seemed to squeeze away her time. Before, when he left for the office, she could ease into her day with one of the morning talk shows. Now he was always … there.
Stay tuned for Part 2. Will Gerty lower her cholesterol level, or will Jerry get her into the pool? More importantly what happens between Gerty and her Solitaire?