This time of year is a contemplative one for me. I tend to ponder a lot, though others might use different words for what I'm doing. My daughters came over last night and one of them poked her head into my office to greet me with "What are you grumping about in here?" She may have been right. I probably did have a pretty fierce look on my face as I contemplated how I was going to negotiate a compromise between the mined cobblestone to donate to the multi-player server's railroad system on one screen and the balancing game on the other screen of numbers in my bank's online app versus the items left on my Christmas shopping list. But there's a lot of thinking about the bigger stuff going on, too.
I've been taking stock of a lot of things. What I spend my time on and what's really important to me. And every time I turn around I bark my shins on games and how they interact with my life.
This year has been eventful; one long roil of births, deaths, weddings and separations. I have unlocked the "Empty Nest Syndrome" achievement. I had no sooner retrieved one son from Army than the other moved to Texas for work. Among the signs that I’m getting old, my daughters are turning 21. I'm seriously considering a career change, and I'm not the only one around here. Everyone seems to be growing or changing their life in huge ways.
Sometimes games are a burden. If you had told me in 2010 that I'd spend a large part of my gaming time in a blocky, little low-fidelity realm, happily doing chores, I’d have laughed loud and long. But here I am, still swinging my trusty pickaxe Wilson. Time and again it's confirmed my choice to stay out of MMO's — just managing my little bit on the GWJ multiplayer server is not easy. If I had a guild or a story to have to care about, I don't know what I'd do.
Sometimes games are pure joy. This year has been full of little surprises and big smiles that keep me going. Clicking through Steam I stumbled into Jamestown, which I had imagined would be some sort of old school adventure game a la Oregon Trail. It turned out to be an old-school bullet-hell that brought me back to playing the old Gradius cabinet in my college dorm's rec room.
I don't even have to be the one playing for it to be important. Some of my favorite memories of the holidays over the years are of talking and laughing with family and friends through the cutout over the breakfast bar while they play Texas Hold 'em. Hold 'em is rare in that it's probably one of the few games I don't and won't play. Their part is to play, and mine is to tease them about it and refer to it as Calvinball. They enjoy playing together, and I need plausible deniability so I can get stuff done while they do it. That hasn't changed much, except the dealer button is now my eldest's Ranger coin instead of that little squeaky turtle someone got for Halloween back in junior high. (Don't worry, the turtle took up an exciting new post as the marker for Big Blind).
And time and again I come back to all the connections that come from games.
One of those momentous events I alluded to earlier was a trip I took over Thanksgiving to meet my biological father. Outside of phone calls and letters, we really didn't know each other and were both stepping carefully around the minefields in each other’s life. But there was common ground in an unexpected place.
While there, I found that one of his wife's favorite things to do while chatting is play a wicked version of Rummy I wish I'd taken notes on. It involves three whole decks of cards shuffled together, and instead of just dropping points as you get them, you have to get an increasingly intricate and difficult combination of points out first. Over slices of her pecan pie, she kicked all our backsides into next week. I don't know if getting beat like I stol'd sumptin' is the best way to start a relationship, but through all the fumbles it built a bond that I hope we can carry with us.
Even solitary pursuits end up being part of being together. My daughter brought home a friend (I think he's her roommate's fiancé’s roommate, and I think she likes him, too) and while eating dinner, he moved between handing a Wiimote back and forth with her on Skyward Sword and taking a look at our the GWJ Minecraft server over my shoulder while telling me all about the one he plays on with his buddies.
I already went through the big poker set and made sure it's ready. There are new batteries in all the controllers. I need to test the Rock Band setup so it's ready for after the presents are unwrapped. But in all the fuss, I try my best to remember that it's not nearly as important which games we have put under the tree, as it is what you do with them once they're opened.