video games

Exit 179. Poor, naive me. I’m a n00b.

As I’ve mentioned before (once, twice), I have a complicated history with Pokémon Go.  The TL;DR version is that I didn’t grow up with Pokémon , and I didn’t get into Pokémon Go when the game was first released in mid-2016, but last summer I started playing while hanging out with a friend who was playing, and I was pretty much instantly hooked.

Last weekend, a different friend invited me to hang out and find some raid battles.  We drove around downtown Sacramento looking to see where the raid bosses were, while checking a Pokémon group on Discord to see who else was out raiding.  (For my un-Pokémonned readers: a raid battle is where multiple players gather in the same real-life location to battle a powerful Pokémon, and after the battle each player gets a chance to catch a Pokémon of the species they just battled.)  I haven’t done a lot of raid battles, since I’m usually playing alone.  I’ve won three raid battles of fairly low strength raid bosses alone, and each time I was able to catch the guy after the battle.  But I hadn’t gotten together before with other players to take down a powerful boss, like my friend and I were planning on doing.

Eventually, someone on Discord said that there were six “accounts” waiting at a certain nearby location, and that they wanted at least nine to go into battle.  Poor, naive me.  I’m a n00b.  By six “accounts,” I assumed that this meant that there were six people, each signed in to their Pokémon Go account from their phone, ready to battle this raid boss.  I was wrong.

When we got there, there was one guy sitting at a table with four phones and tablets in front of him.  He was playing four games of Pokémon Go simultaneously.  (I think the rest of the people in the battle were only playing one each.)  When the battle started, I asked him if I should be trying to dodge the raid boss’ attacks, as I would do with a regular non-raid battle.  He said sure, if I can, but he couldn’t dodge the attacks since he was frantically tapping on four devices simultaneously with different fingers and hands.

We lost the first time, but we tried again and won, and I caught the boss.  After that, all of us decided to look for another raid battle.  Instead of walking around like the game designers intended, the guy who had the four accounts went to this other third-party site (i.e., not part of the actual Pokémon Go game) and pulled up a map of all the raid battles currently happening.  As he was trying to explain to us what this site is, one of the other players who came to this raid battle started telling about this other third-party site where you can figure out exactly how to know all of your Pokémon’s detailed statistics and how to tell if the one you caught is the most powerful possible.  I couldn’t really hear what was going on.

We found a second raid battle about a mile away… interestingly enough, it was in the middle of a cemetery.  We won, nothing special happened there.  Then, as we got to the bonus round where we try to catch the raid boss, someone bumped into me from behind and made me drop one of my Poké Balls.  The guy who was talking about how to know all of your Pokémon’s detailed statistics started going on and on about that again, repeating everything he had said before about three or four more times, and with all the noise, I couldn’t time my throws properly.  I didn’t catch it, and I was probably a bit more visibly annoyed than I needed to be.

This is the kind of situation that makes me feel like I can’t call myself a gamer anymore.  In my childhood and teen years, video games were simple little distractions.  I could get home from school and spend about half an hour playing Super Mario Bros. or Tetris, then put it aside and move on with my life, still leaving me plenty of time to eat dinner, do homework, and watch The Simpsons or Full House or Home Improvement or Roseanne or whatever show my family was watching that night of the week.  That isn’t true with modern video games.  In order to be a true gamer today, it seems that one would have to immerse their entire life in the world of the game, spending hours each day on their quests and battles and, often, paying a subscription fee or paying extra for features not available to all players (in my Pokémon example, that would be the four tablets that the one guy had, in addition to the various optional in-game purchases that can be made).  Back in the day, I didn’t have to use some third party service to tell me the statistics of every Koopa Troopa that Mario stomped on, and I didn’t have to play four games of Tetris simultaneously in order to increase my chance of getting a long straight block.  And I just don’t have the time required to immerse myself in modern video games.  I have a demanding career, and I value other aspects of the real world too much as well.

People like the Pokémon players I met take the fun out of video games for me.  It is really unfortunate.  I know that not all games are like that and not all players are like that.  And I guess I just have to find ways to make video games fun and enjoyable for me.  That’s probably why I still like a lot of retro video games.

Advertisements

Exit 158. Staring at this picture on my wall.

I’m really late this week.  It’s summer, I’m not working, and my routine is all off.  And I don’t really have anything on my mind to write about.

Earlier today, I was staring at this picture on my wall, wondering why it was still there.

kid icarus death star with name blurred.jpg

“Pit from Kid Icarus Attacks the Death Star.”  Artist: me, 2011.  Colored pencils on paper.

As I’ve mentioned before, I spent most of 2011 in a relationship with “Acrux,” who moved away a couple months into our relationship, making this decision without even telling me until it was a done deal.  A couple weeks after we moved, she Skyped me from a coffee shop.  Her dad was in a band that often played at this coffee shop’s weekly open mic night, and she showed me their band on Skype and introduced me to her best friend and some of the regulars at the coffee shop.  Acrux and her friend were playing a game where each one would give the other a topic to draw.  They asked if I wanted to play, I said sure, and they gave me the topic of Pit attacking the Death Star.

That was a good night.  That is what I thought a long distance relationship would be like.  As my long term readers and friends know, it wasn’t like that at all.  In the four months that we stayed together, we only Skyped three more times; I pretty much had to beg to get her to spend that time with me, and she wasn’t all that attentive to begin with.  That was pretty much the way things always were with us.

So why did I leave this picture on my wall, even though I got rid of a lot of other things that reminded me of Acrux after we broke up?  I don’t know.  Maybe because it’s awesome.  And funny.

And why am I writing about it today?  I don’t know.  Why not?

Exit 115. Seriously, just stop arguing and have fun.

So apparently everyone is talking about Pokémon Go. Let’s establish some basics right away: First of all, I have never played Pokémon Go.  And if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m not an expert, but from what I can gather from talking to friends and reading about it, Pokémon Go is a game for smartphones where you actually walk around and explore the real world trying to find Pokémon.  Pokémon are characters from a series of video games, collectible card games, movies, and the like; they are little monsters that you can train to battle other Pokémon, or something like that.  The name was shortened from “Poketto Monsuta,” which is the Japanese transliteration of the English phrase “pocket monsters.”

The entire world has pretty much taken sides on Pokémon Go; either you love it or you hate it.  And as with many things, I’m somewhere in the middle.

I haven’t played it yet for a variety of reasons.  There are other things I’d rather do with my time at this point, and when the school year starts, this will be even more true.  Also, a lot of the most hardcore players are twentysomethings who played the early Pokémon video games and/or the Pokémon collectible card game in their childhood, and this new game gives them an opportunity to reenact those games in reality.  The Pokémon craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s was a little after my time, as far as video games go.  I have a small amount of experience with the card game, but this came far later, in my mid-thirties, during the time that I was in a really bad long distance relationship.  Acrux had learned the Pokémon card game from the kids she regularly babysat, and she wanted me to get a starter deck and learn the game.  I did so on my next visit, and she excitedly pointed out that, since players don’t actually take cards from other players in this game, we could play over Skype after I got home.  And, in the fashion typical of how things went in this so-called relationship, she never mentioned it again, and she always came up with some excuse why she didn’t have time whenever I brought up that I wanted to play.  The one time I did successfully beg her to find some time to play Pokémon with me over Skype, we only played one game, and I beat her in about five minutes.  I then played against her best friend, who was also there at the time, and that game took much longer… so the whole point of finally getting to spend some time with Acrux completely didn’t happen.  Frequent other non-Pokémon-related instances of her blowing me off when I wanted to spend time together is pretty much why we broke up, although that’s another story entirely.  The point I’m trying to make is that, unlike many of my friends who play, I don’t have those pleasant childhood memories of Pokémon.

But I’m not going to sit here and say that the game is evil, or anything like that.  If you play Pokémon Go, and you still prioritize your time so that you can be an adult and take care of your responsibilities (or in the case of children, do your homework), then good for you.  I’m glad you’re enjoying it.  I’m glad you’re getting outside, seeing the world around you, and making friends.  There seems to be a segment of the population who believes that any adult who plays video games, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, is inherently immature, childish, and irresponsible.  As much as I don’t always like to admit it, the world has changed, and video games are not children’s toys anymore.  I see nothing inherently more immature about an adult who plays video games compared to an adult who spends the same amount of time golfing, fishing, or watching TV.  Hobbies are great as long as they don’t interfere with your life unreasonably.

However, if you’re going to play Pokémon Go, stop acting like an idiot and/or a jerk.  Don’t dart out into traffic or jump off a cliff because there is a Pokémon there.  And don’t go around saying that this game is only for adults who grew up playing Pokémon as children.  No, it’s not.  Let the n00bz have their fun.  And if you just jumped on the Pokémon bandwagon recently, don’t act like you know everything, because there are people who have been into Pokémon a lot longer than you.  All of you, seriously, just stop arguing and have fun.

I haven’t ruled out playing Pokémon Go in the future.  I recently saw a coworker who is around my age playing.  She said that, since she is a middle school teacher, like me, she wanted to become familiar with the game so as to understand what the students are all going to be talking about this year.  At that age, it is important for the students to feel like their teachers can relate to them, and I totally get that.  So we’ll see.

P.S.: Do me a favor and stop calling them Pokermanz.  That’s just annoying.

Exit 112. I don’t want to play this game.

In the 2011 novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, an ordinary trailer-park kid is trying to save a dystopian near future virtual reality world from a corporation trying to gain control of it for themselves by solving a series of puzzles rooted in late 20th century geek pop culture.  I have written about this novel before (#32), and how one quote from it sticks out in my mind in particular:  “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level.  A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”

This principle seems especially true in my life today.  I came of age in the context of evangelical Christian college-age youth group in the late 1990s, and much of my views about life and the future were shaped by this world.  In this world, you get married in your early- to mid-20s (preferably without dating, and without kissing your wife until your wedding day, because Josh Harris), and start having children, who will then get involved in Awana and Sunday school while you and your wife attend the young parents’ Bible study. That ship sailed a long time ago for me.  That strategy doesn’t work in my world, and I feel like there is no precedent for me, because many people I know in situations similar to mine have long since walked away from their faith entirely.  Hence, an entirely new strategy is required.

Now would be a good time to plug a guest piece I wrote for another blog, since it is related to this topic.  Go check it out.  And while you’re at it, check out the rest of this other blog and the original blog from which this was spun off.

https://beingyoungandtwenty.com/2016/06/19/dennis/

Anyway, where was I… I realized recently that there is more to the story than finding a new strategy.  Looking around me, it seems that the life that many of my peers are living, the life that is considered normal for someone my age in my situation, is one where socializing revolves around alcohol, whether that be going out drinking with friends, going out for drinks with a date, or, especially here in northern California, a classy wine tasting excursion.  Dating in this life involves playing with people’s feelings, fooling around physically with no sense of commitment, and not communicating honestly.  Is this the life I want?  Do I want to find a new strategy only to become this?  I don’t think so.  To go back to the video game analogy, I don’t want to play this game, and the game I thought I always wanted to play is out of print, with no copies anywhere on eBay and no working emulators for it.  Furthermore, I’ve realized that I don’t know if I want to play that game after all, by which I mean that the evangelical Christian family world I described above is not entirely my ideal anymore.

But what game do I want to play?  How can I figure that out, and how much of the rest of the world’s game will influence my game?  I’m never going to be the type to hang out in bars regularly, but maybe I could benefit socially from hanging out in bars occasionally and drinking something without alcohol?  Should I give up my personal prohibition on drinking alcohol and have a drink every once in a while in moderation?  Should I be a little more adventurous in pursuing dating rather than looking for any of hundreds of deal breakers right when I first meet someone?  I really don’t know.  But I have a feeling I’m at least starting to ask the right questions.

Exit 77. My introvert is showing again.

I had people over this weekend for a night of hanging out and playing retro video games.  I’ve mentioned before that this is something I do every few months.  It’s always a lot of fun.  It’s great seeing friends and reliving childhood memories and introducing younger friends to the popular culture of my childhood.

But sometimes lately I get weird awkward feelings hosting events like this.  For one thing, enough people usually show up that I feel like I can’t possibly spend a lot of time with everyone.  I don’t like having to leave people out, and I don’t want anyone to feel like they came all the way to my house only to be ignored by the host.  At these retro gaming events, I also tend to have a short attention span.  I’ll play one game for a while, then jump to another game, then take a break to eat, then jump to another game, and again, that makes me anxious that I’m leaving people behind when I decide to play something else.

I’m pretty sure all of this is in my head.  None of my friends have ever told me that they feel neglected when they come to my house.  If anything, they tell me how much fun it was and how good it was to see me.  Maybe part of the problem is that I wish I could be in all places at once, spending time with everyone at once.  Some of the people who come to big events at my house are people I don’t see very often, and when I finally get to see them, I have to divide my attention.  I wish I didn’t have to do that.  And I wish I could play all the retro games at once.  Between my collection and those that friends bring over, there are hundreds of games here, each one providing many hours of involved gameplay.

I think there’s one unifying explanation for what’s happening here, though: my introvert is showing again.  Even though I enjoy spending time with my friends, I can’t do it all the time.  I get to know people much better one-on-one and in smaller groups.  Big groups of friends have their place and time, but I need more than that.  And that’s okay.  I don’t necessarily have to feel like a bad friend; it’s not possible for anyone to develop deep relationships with all 20 people when 20 people come over for a few hours.  I just have to get it out of my head that there’s something wrong with the way I do large groups.

Exit 48. I can’t please everyone.

Hosting an event at my house is always tricky for an introvert like me.

I’m not 100% on the introvert side of the spectrum, that’s for sure.  I enjoy having a bunch of friends over.  I’m thankful that I have a house that I can share with my friends for events like this.  And being that I am the only homeowner among my closest group of friends, I often volunteer my house to host friends’ birthday parties and the like.  It’s the least I can do.  However, because I am an introvert by nature, I can’t do this every day, or even every week.  Once every month or two is enough for me.

As I’ve said before, every few months I invite people over to hang out and play retro video games from the 80s and 90s, while listening to 80s and 90s music.  If this sounds like fun to you, and you live within day trip distance of Sacramento or plan to visit Sacramento at some point, let me know.  We’ll talk.  But anyway, I had 22 people over last night, plus me.  While not quite a record, this was the largest crowd I’ve had in quite a while.  And whenever the crowd gets big, I always feel like I’m spread thin.  I can’t possibly spend significant time with all 22 people.  I can’t participate in every game that gets played.  And sometimes that makes me feel like a bad host.

I think my friends understand, though.  I’m certainly not ignoring them on purpose.  And I would understand if the tables were turned.  I’ve been to big parties before in which I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the host, because there were so many people there, and yet I’ve still had fun.  And I’m sure my friends did too.

It’s been on my mind a lot lately that I don’t feel like I fit in with adults socially, and activities like this certainly contribute to that feeling.  Video games are not a so-called adult activity.  But I don’t see anything wrong with what I’m doing.  I don’t play games often enough for it to take over my life, and most of my games go untouched in between these events.

Regarding not fitting in socially with adults, for example, I know a lot of adults whose entire social lives seem to revolve around drinking.  I’m not being judgmental, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a night at the bar, wine tasting, or a beer festival, as long as you’re doing everything in moderation and not making reckless decisions that will leave you dead, injured, or infected.  If that’s what you like, go for it.  But I really have no interest in that.  Believe me, I’m not uncomfortable being around people who are drinking, so if you’re considering whether or not to invite me to your birthday party where most if not all of the guests will be drinking, please go ahead.  I want to see you even if I’m not drinking myself.  But I just don’t feel like I should be changing my interests and activities just to fit in.  I’m willing to try new things, I’m willing to change to improve myself.  But if you can’t relate to me because I don’t drink, then I just can’t make myself see that as my problem.  (To clarify, I’ve never been told this to my face, but I kind of get the impression sometimes from some conversations I’ve had and the way some people act around me.)  I hope no one sees me that way, because some people I know whose social lives revolve around drinking seem like pretty cool people in some ways, but maybe they aren’t so cool after all if they can’t include me.  And I just have to understand that I can’t please everyone.  Not everyone is going to be a lifelong friend, and that’s just a sad fact of life.  All I can do is be who I am.

Exit 32. Welcome to Warp Zone.

I recently returned from attending the California Mathematics Council North conference at Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove.  This really is an amazing place: a conference grounds built right next to the beach, in a forested area where deer occasionally are spotted running around, in a town full of big trees and old houses that is one of the best places I know of to take a walk.  But as much as I love talking about different parts of northern and central California, that’s not where I’m going with this today.

A few days before the conference, I asked the principal and the other math teachers I work with if there was anything specific they wanted me to look for.  No one said anything in particular, although one coworker asked if Dan Meyer was speaking, since he is one of her favorite speakers at events like this.  (I have not had time to properly vet Mr. Meyer’s blog, so if you click the link, be aware that the content belongs entirely to Mr. Meyer, and Highway Pi does necessarily endorse any of the opinions or writings shared my Mr. Meyer.)  I was planning out my weekend, and I saw that the title of Mr. Meyer’s talk was “Video Games and Making Math More Like Things Students Like.”  With a title like that, how could I not attend this talk?

Dan Meyer is an alumnus of UC Davis, my alma mater, and he is currently working on his Ph.D. at a major private university in Northern California which (no disrespect to Mr. Meyer) I dislike so strongly that it shall not be named in this blog.  He is a young guy, probably younger than me, considering that he received his B.S. from UC Davis a full five years after I did.  He does a lot of these talks, apparently.  I went into the talk willing to put aside my bias against his affiliation with Voldemort University (I did not know at the time that he also had a UC Davis connection).  I was expecting something that looked a bit like what I already do in the classroom, where I’ll make up word problems on quizzes about Mario and Link to get the students more engaged in what they are doing.

That is not what the talk was about at all.

At one point, Mr. Meyer was talking about real-world relevance of mathematics tasks.  This is a big thing with textbook writers.  The example he gave (probably from a high school pre-calculus textbook, although considering he’s from Voldemort University and the Silicon Valley, where so many people are so well educated, his classes probably do this in Algebra II) involved graphing fourth-degree polynomials.  This is normally a pretty dry topic, so the textbook he was citing from as an example had a picture of a snowboarder and made the graph be the number of Americans who participated in snowboarding.  Now, all of a sudden, according to textbook author logic, fourth-degree polynomials are cool… but that doesn’t really help students who don’t get it in the first place.

This was humbling to me, because what the textbook author did here is pretty much the same thing I do when I retype quizzes and make them about Mario and Link.  I’m still going to keep doing that, because the students seem to enjoy it, and those problems are still less dry than the ones that come with the textbook.  I still believe that these make my class more enjoyable for students.  But the point that Mr. Meyer was making was that this is not the kind of fundamental change that brings student success.  And those are not the connections with video games that he was there to talk about.

The talk was not just about connecting video games to the classroom; the point Mr. Meyer was making was about how video games engage students, and how we can engage them in math the same way.  For example, real world relevance the way textbooks do it is not what determines students’ engagement, because video games are much more engaging, and they do not take place in the real world.  Video games capture students’ attention despite the fact that none of these students have ever seen a portal gun, a Goomba, or an angry bird with a slingshot in real life, so contriving real world situations like the snowboard example above doesn’t help students.  Video games (at least most of them less than 30 years old) leave the path to the goal open-ended, so we should construct math problems that give students multiple options for how to reach understanding of the topic.  Video games deal with failure by giving you another chance, so we should give students multiple chances to demonstrate their learning rather than base their entire success or failure on one test.

This talk, as well as many other things I heard this weekend, drove home the point that I really have a lot of room for improvement in my teaching.  With the new curriculum standards, the focus is turning from students’ ability to get the right answer to students’ ability to reason and understand concepts.  I’ve always treated reasoning and understanding as an ideal goal in my teaching, but in the past, students have still been able to get by in my class by memorizing and getting the right answer.  The new standards and the new curriculum are forcing me to bring my actual teaching in line with those ideals.  It’s difficult, and I’m having to do a lot of things differently from what I’ve done before, but it’s exciting too.

One of my favorite books is Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.  This 2011 novel is set in a dystopian 2040s, in which society is falling apart, and everyone escapes from their reality in a giant virtual-reality video game called OASIS that had grown over the decades into a social network, an operating system, and so much more.  (Imagine if World of Warcraft and Facebook had a baby.)  The OASIS’ late creator, who was born in 1972, was obsessed with the popular culture of his childhood, and he hid a series of very difficult puzzles in the OASIS, essentially a treasure hunt, that will lead to fame and fortune for whomever solves them first.  Wade, the protagonist who tells the story in first person, is trying outwit a bunch of shady corporate bigwigs, who form the villains of the story.  The puzzles make reference to early video games and 1970s and ’80s music and movies, which is what made it such a fun book to read.  I’m glossing over a lot of the back story; you’ll just have to read it yourself.

At one point, everything looks hopeless, and the corporate bigwigs appear to be winning.  It is in this hour of darkness that Wade says my favorite quote from the entire book: “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level.  A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”

Sometimes, playing video games as a kid, I would get to a level that was really hard, and I would find some way to skip it.  Super Mario Bros. 3 comes to mind, with the cloud, or the warp zone whistle, or the P-Wing that would give me the power to just fly over all the enemies.  My career is at a new level.  The last level got really hard, so I got a new job; this is analogous to using the warp whistle, to escape to a different level.  And this new level is harder.  Welcome to Warp Zone.  There are a lot of new challenges before, and what I did before may not get me through them.  But I’m working on a new strategy.  And every day, I have another chance to try new strategies for the challenges I face in life.  It’s like getting an extra life.

(P.S.  Because I know some of you are curious, here is a link to the same talk that he previously gave at a different conference: http://vimeo.com/113714091)

Exit 7. The ’90s are gone, and no amount of sitting in a bean bag chair and watching X-Files will change that.

Living in the past… the phrase often brings up images of middle-aged people who never made much of their lives, who have so little joy in their present lives that they have to place an undue emphasis on their past accomplishments in order to feel that their lives have had any meaning at all.  And often, those past accomplishments are relatively insignificant in and of themselves, like having been a cool kid or a star athlete in high school.  Like this guy.

(This is an original post, but I’ve written on similar topics over the last few months on my personal Facebook page.) As I have now attained middle age, I’ve thought a lot more about this idea of living in the past, because it’s something I’ve started doing a bit of.  I’ve amassed quite a collection of ’80s and ’90s music, because it reminds me of when life was simpler and the future seemed to hold a lot of hope and promise that hasn’t always come to pass (and, well, because some of it was just good music, of course).  I’ve also mentioned before that I host an event at my house a few times a year that involves staying up late playing old video games from the ’80s and ’90s.  And when I read my Facebook news feed, most of my friends from high school and college that I’m still in touch with are posting things about what their kids are doing, and jokes about how they never stay up past 10 anymore, whereas I’m posting about how I stayed up until 4am at a blues dancing party or how I sat in the back of a pickup truck watching the stars and making Doctor Who-themed Yo’ Mama jokes with friends who are at least a decade younger than me.  (Yo’ mama so fat, she’s bigger on the outside.  Yo’ mama so old, she and the Doctor were in the same kindergarten class.  Yo’ mama so ugly, she’s the reason the Weeping Angels cover their eyes.)

I know why I do those things.  Because I can and because they’re awesome.  I’m good at video games made before 1994, and I’m not as good at the ones made after that.  Being with friends all night is fun.  But I have to be mindful of reality too.  The ’90s are gone, and no amount of sitting in a bean bag chair playing A Link To The Past while watching X-Files will change that.  I have to live within the world the way it is in 2014, mindful of the fact that I am 37 years old; some things have to be done differently from when I was a teenager and a college student.  I don’t have football to look back on like Al Bundy does, but I look back on being in high school and college, because back then, life was easy, every year brought new classes and new opportunities, and the path to success was simple: study hard and get good grades.  I’m good at studying hard and getting good grades.  I’m not good at doing whatever it is to succeed in life as an adult.

I was reminded of this in a rather harsh way a few months ago.  (Some of my real-life friends have heard this story before.)  I tend to be rather sentimental; if you have written me a letter on paper, a birthday card, a form letter for Christmas, anything in the regular mail within the last 20 years, I probably still have it.  While cleaning out the garage, I found a box that contained all the personal mail I had received from the time I moved out of my parents’ house in 1994 until I moved to Sacramento County in early 2006.  At the bottom of that box were fourteen letters written to me by a pen pal of sorts that I had from 1994 to 1996.  She was one of the first girls I talked to in an AOL chat room back when that was still a new thing for me; she rarely did AOL chat rooms, but gave me her address and phone number to stay in touch.  And I did, for a year and a half.  We lost touch rather abruptly; I think life just got in the way and she didn’t have time to write anymore.

Anyway, I read those letters again a few months ago and got to thinking about tracking her down, here in the age of Facebook and Google.  I debated whether or not to do it, because it would be great to hear from her again, but since I didn’t know what she’d been doing since 1996, I had no idea how she turned out, and I might find out something that would tarnish the happy memories I had from when we were younger.  I eventually decided to go for it, and after looking through about 40 people with the same name who came up on a Facebook search, I found her, and I sent her a message.

A few days later, before she had replied, I went to Picnic Day* at UC Davis (and I listened to a mix CD of ’90s music on the way over).  While walking around the campus, I discovered that the dorm where I lived freshman year—the same dorm room where I lived for much of the time I had been in touch with that girl, where the first ten of the fourteen letters had been sent—had been torn down.  I would never see my old room again, because it didn’t exist.  And that really got me thinking about how, even if she did write back, even if we did get back in touch, there was never any way things would be the same.  I was remembering her as a teenager, and if she wrote back, it would be the present-day 35-year-old version of her, not the teenager that I loved writing to and hearing from so much back in the ’90s.  She did write back, a few days after seeing that my old dorm wasn’t there anymore, about a week after I wrote her, but only to say that she didn’t remember me.  She said that she remembered knowing someone from Davis, but that my name didn’t ring a bell, and that that was a long time ago.  She wasn’t interested in reestablishing contact.  It’s understandable—as a beautiful, sweet, and friendly teenage girl, she probably had the attention of hundreds of guys, and can’t reasonably be expected to remember all of them when she’s 35—but it was still disappointing.  It’s probably for the best, though, because like I said, things will never be exactly like they were in the past.

Some say that I am immature, because I still stay up late (it’s 2:22am as I write this), I play video games, I don’t do adult things, I live like a college student… whatever.  I tend to think that those people can suck it.  But, on the other hand, sometimes I wonder if they have a point.  I have a hard time relating to people my own age because I don’t live like them, and sometimes I feel like this also has to do with why I’m still single.  Whether or not that block is real or just in my head is something I need to figure out.  I don’t want to change who I am, or change my lifestyle to fit in with others; that goes against everything I stand for.  But it’s not healthy to keep living in denial either.  The trick is to find a healthy balance… and that’s something I’m still working on.


 

* Picnic Day is alcohol-free and family friendly.  If this conflicts with what you have heard about Picnic Day, then you mistakenly have Picnic Day confused with people who use Picnic Day as an excuse to get drunk off campus.  Do your research.  And, by all means, go to Picnic Day, because it’s awesome, but stay on campus.