Tooned Out

Suburban mommy talks about kicking her online gaming habit.

Location: Redmond, Washington, United States

Just another face in line at the grocery store...

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Online Friends - Update

I did something recently that I never, ever thought I'd do. I spent a weekend with someone I met online. Now, before you get carried away with salacious thoughts of secret trysts and infidelity, let me say that this person is also a hetero, married woman, and that she stayed the Friday and Saturday nights alone at the airport Marriott, while I spent those nights at home, with my husband.

A little background is in order. I 'met' Stacy* about a year and a half ago in Toontown. She was a friendly green dog and I was a fat brown cat. When I first met her, we weren't able to chat openly. In Toontown, to protect the children that play, you need to pass a secret code to chat openly with another player. There are clever ways to pass codes between strangers, but only the initiated, veteran players know how. Neither of us was that sophisticated yet, so we could only use the simple, chipper phrases provided by the game makers, Disney. Conversations would go something like this:

"Hi there!"
"How are you doing?"
"Great!" "What toontask are you working on?"
"I need to recover 10 lumpy cheeses from big wigs."
"Cool." "Would you like some help?"
"OK." "Let's go to The Brrrgh."
"Thanks." "You rock!"

Not real deep, obviously, but the weird thing about Toontown is you can actually tell a lot about someone from how they behave in game, even if your conversation options are limited to several dozen stock phrases. Stacy was really sharp, and me being more advanced in the game, I soon taught her a lot of game strategy, which can be tricky. Innocuous phrases can mean many different things. "Let's wait for my friend." can mean the obvious, but it can also mean "wait for all the cogs (enemies) to line up," or "let's help this stranger," or "my friend is afk (away from keyboard) and will be back," or "my friend's computer is lagging," etc. It takes brains to figure out all the various meanings.

You can also joke around using speed chat phrases, and some people are very clever at it. There are even jokes that make the rounds. There was a fart joke that was unavoidable for a while. You'd get into the elevator in a cog building (enemy fortress) and it would go like this:

"Oops!" "Sorry." "Excuse me."
"Phew!" "That stinks."
"Sorry, I couldn't wait any longer."
"You stink!"
"Ha, ha!"
"Hee, hee!"

Yes, I know it's not exactly the height of witty repartee, but whatever. There were more clever examples, honestly, but the ones I can remember are too hard to explain if you haven't actually played.

Anyway, eventually Stacy and I figured out how to pass codes so we could chat openly in the game. I found out she was the mom of 2 kids who were close in age to my own. She was married and did accounting part time. She lived in Texas. We shared many of the same values and would chat for hours, trying to solve the world's problems at one a.m.; 2 cartoon characters meowing and barking away in the "pit" in front of the VP lobby (boss level.) She always said that she wanted to see my part of the country. I always said, yes, come, I'll tour you around. So, she did.

It felt really weird meeting her. Here we'd spent hundreds of hours talking in game, and exchanged many emails since I'd quit, but I still didn't feel like I actually knew her. "Call if she's a psychopath," my husband said cheekily, as I left to pick her up for dinner Friday night. I laughed and said of course she wasn't a psychopath, but I admit I felt a tiny twinge of unease. I wasn't worried about her being a lunatic so much as I was worried that it would turn out I didn't really like her. I had committed to spending the entire weekend showing her around, after all.

I needn't have worried. Stacy turned out to be a lovely person: kind, generous, thoughtful, funny, engaging, enthusiastic, and open minded. We had a nice light dinner at an Irish pub in Alki, since I was so late picking her up (did I mention she was also forgiving and understanding?) and went for a little walk along the beach. It was just fine. The next day we toured Seattle Center, Pike Place Market, Fremont, Ballard (I'm not sure what she thought of my favorite store, Archie McPhee), and the downtown waterfront. Then on Sunday we did a tour of the penninsula, since her top to do's were to see Seattle, the ocean and the mountains, all in 2 days! Luckily, just as we were about to head back to the airport, the clouds opened up and gave us a splended view of the Olympics from the look-out over the beach at Sequim. Ocean and mountains all at once, perfect.

Now, if I'm ever in Dallas I know who to call to show me around.

*Name changed.


Blogger Beau said...

Very often when people write blogs they probably don't realize how thoroughly they get spidered, but I feel that its fitting given the topic of this blog that it did.

I tried out the game Toontown Online probably about a year ago. At which point i was 22 years old and didn't think the game would interest me much, but i was inevitably sucked into it for a couple months. The one thing that made the game so fascinating was how well Disney had produced an online game that would allow children to interact online without the threats that the internet usually entails.

Only being offered a limitted set of phrases to send back and forth does indeed still allow you to tell quite a bit about another person. Maybe I find this so enthralling because I've been studying linguistics for the past two years, but I find it truely amazing that people can create a more complexed system of communication from such a basic inventory of phrases.

I was thinking about playing toontown again but didn't want to do so without finding a community of people who arent children -- that play it and exchange codes. In doing so this blog popped up and I found it extremely uplifting. People are so negative towards the internet and online meetings, and your story gave me decent catharsis from the nay-saying you usually find scrawled across the media.


8:33 AM  

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