Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Success in the Real World

I don't know what I think of this article.  But I do have a story I can tell!

In January of 2008, I was living very, very far uptown in New York City, near the Dyckman St. 1 train stop.  It was a vicious, bitterly cold month and you could feel the wind off the Hudson up there.

I came home from work, changed into shorts and a T-shirt, and hopped onto my roommate's elliptical.  She wasn't home, and didn't mind me using it.  I did my 30 minutes of self-torture and then, in my workout clothes and sock feet (smelly sneakers blissedly off), I started to work on some chores.  I grabbed the bathroom trash and leaned out into the hall to drop it down the chute.

The door closed fatefully behind me.  As it turned out, my roommate had flipped the switch on the side of the door that made it lock automatically.  Never before in the 8 months that I lived there had she done this.  She had done this on the way to the airport, and would not be returning for six days.  And so there I stood, in the hall, in January, in socks, a t-shirt, and a pair of shorts.  My keys, phone, and wallet were all inside the apartment.

Now what?

I knocked on some doors and found that no-one who lived on my floor spoke any of the same languages I did.  (It's a heavily Latino neighborhood, and although I can get by well in French and at least ask for help in Mandarin, Spanish isn't my thing.)

Over the course of the following 90 minutes, I sprinted up and down 6 flights of stairs (I lived on 5, and the Super's apartment was in the basement) more times than I could count.  I hit up the lobby, I hit up neighbors, I did everything I could think of.  Eventually two women my age came into the lobby, I begged one to let me use her cell phone, and she said, "Actually, the battery is dead, but come with us" and brought me to their place and gave me hot tea and dug up the emergency landlord number and let me use their land line, and eventually we found the Super (who hadn't been in his apartment, and whose unpleasant wife spoke only Russian or possibly Ukranian) and I got back into my apartment.

It was quite an Ordeal, but after I got back in to my own bedroom I realized something: I had approached this challenge exactly the way I approach an adventure game.  I assumed there was a solution and that I just had to work harder to find it; I reviewed my entire wardrobe and my entire inventory; I thought about how to use objects together in the world; I started talking to every person I could find until I'd exhausted my speech options; I repeatedly checked every available location to see if anything had changed.

When my mom told me to get off the damn computer already in 1994, I made a (I thought) persuasive case for why playing Myst and The Secret of Monkey Island was improving my problem-solving skills.  14 years later, I was shocked to learn that I had been right!

There are lots of skills that we pick up from gaming.  I realize these days I think of the GPS, mirror, and dash lights in my car as a kind of HUD containing vital stats.  I always look up when I'm in a room and want to ascertain if I'm the only one there.  And apparently, I learned how to keep a cool head when it's six degrees out and I'm in my gym shorts.  Who knew?


  1. There is nothing I hate in this world or in Postapocalyptia more than I hate "Johnny Guitar."