In it to win it

GA Voice - - A & E -

It all started with Song­Pop. My hus­band, Preppy, found this iPhone app that’s sort of like what would hap­pen if “Name That Tune” had a baby with a satel­lite ra­dio — his ar­eas of spe­cial­iza­tion were ‘80s Pop and One Hit Won­ders.

I’d hear five notes of “I Wanna Dance with Some­body,” fol­lowed by a lit­tle vic­tory chime, fol­lowed by a squeal of de­light. When he played the game on the couch, I’d shout out pos­si­bil­i­ties with­out see­ing the mul­ti­ple choice an­swers. Nine times out of ten, my guess was Heart. Fun fact: 90 per­cent of all ‘80s Pop and One Hit Won­ders sound like Ann and Nancy Wil­son.

Any­hoo, even­tu­ally I signed my­self up for Song­Pop, and my sis­ter Shan­non quickly fol­lowed suit. That’s when things turned ugly. My sis­ter’s chil­dren are both in school now, which left her plenty of time to kick ass in fringe cat­e­gories like Hor­ror Movie Themes.

She de­stroyed Preppy’s and my high scores within two days. This roused the com­peti­tor in me. Emerg­ing as the Song­Pop cham­pion be­came an ob­ses­sion.

Not co­in­ci­den­tally, around this time my hus­band lost all in­ter­est in the game. Ap­par­ently my sis­ter and I had raised the stakes be­yond his abil­ity to en­joy it. We have a ten­dency to do this in my fam­ily.

My mother’s mother, Me­mama, would play re­mark­ably con­tentious Scrab­ble games with my Un­cle Paul. The games would last en­tire af­ter­noons, and none of us would be al­lowed in the room while the death match was be­ing held. So we’d sit by the door and lis­ten, since the lan­guage was much more col­or­ful than any­thing on TV.

“God…Dam­mit, Shirley! That is NOT a god­damn word.”

“Go ahead and look it up, Paul, if you’re will­ing to risk the points. You were wrong about ‘striven,’ but maybe you’ll be right about this one.” “God…DAM­MIT, Shirley!” Then we’d hear her mu­si­cal lit­tle chuckle. “Al­right, so that’s a triple-word score…” Me­mama was a teensy slip of a woman from Arkansas with­out much ed­u­ca­tion, up against the 300-pound Shell Oil ex­ec­u­tive who’d mar­ried her daugh­ter. In any other sce­nario ima­gin- able, he’d have the ob­vi­ous up­per hand.

But Me­mama had one hell of a vo­cab­u­lary, and on the bat­tle­field of Scrab­ble, she was a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent who would knock your high­fa­lutin’ ass down a few pegs, ‘til she could look you in the eye.

She taught her grand­kids that sim­ply by sharp­en­ing a few well-cho­sen skills, you could take down any op­po­nent. The trick was al­ways mak­ing sure you were play­ing your game, not theirs.

Leav­ing my sis­ter and I to bat­tle it out over Song­Pop, Preppy moved on to a Face­book game called Pet So­ci­ety. It’s a be­nign lit­tle en­ter­prise where you cre­ate a car­toon an­i­mal which you can play Fris­bee with and dress in lit­tle out­fits.

You can also earn coins to pur­chase home fur­nish­ings for your pet by vis­it­ing strangers and wash­ing or feed­ing their an­i­mals. Once Shan­non and I dis­cov­ered this, the game was once again on.

“I’ve ne­glected my own chil­dren all morn­ing while I sat on­line bathing strangers and feed­ing them pineap­ples,” says Shan­non on the phone. “But I got four hun­dred coins and bought a chan­de­lier!”

“Preppy says we’re ru­in­ing an­other game,” I say, brush­ing a random rab­bit and stock­ing up on coins.

“He’s just say­ing that be­cause we’re win­ning. If you’re that wor­ried, buy him a present.”

I send my pet over to his pet’s house. Preppy was a few beers in when he cre­ated his an­i­mal and ac­ci­den­tally mis­spelled its name, which ap­par­ently one can­not change, so he’s stuck with a cat named “But­ter­scotche.”

I spend the coins I was sav­ing for a new sofa and buy a bunch of presents for But­ter­scotche. This may all sound in­sane to the unini­ti­ated, but it’s a sig­nif­i­cant choice in Pet So­ci­ety: I’m not win­ning any­more.

But the next time he opens the game, in­stead of see­ing how high I’ve man­aged to push my score, he’ll find a room full of gift boxes.

Even if the gifts aren’t real, the in­tent be­hind them is. Some­times, when you lose, you win.

To­pher Payne is an At­lanta-based play­wright, and the au­thor of the book “Nec­es­sary Lux­u­ries: Notes on a Semi-Fab­u­lous Life.” Find out more at to­pher­

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