Travel is a supremely solitary experience. Or at least it can be. Almost every component of it is made to isolate you from the throngs of people that surround you. Airport security processes you as singular threats, not as companions. Plugged into a seat, you are a capsule in a tube of pills. Face forward, watch the TV, and don’t mingle.
Certainly not intentional and absolutely not all encompassing, but it is a definitive summation for many of the trips you, I, and others have had. That’s why we bring books and iPads and laptops along with us to entertain us as we soar through the sky or plod along the road or skim across the rails. It’s to distract us from the numbing silence surrounding the act of transit. Stories and games often do that, after all.
To transport us to a place much more exciting or interesting than where we currently are. That’s an interesting idea not because of its core conceit but rather that it’s usually interpreted as a gesture towards a world that simply doesn’t exist, one full of spies or elves or space marines. You are transplanted.
But consider what it would mean if it were to simply keep you where you are and that world were to come to you. That reality where people congregate as a whole of vitality and joy or drama and heartbreak. That would be a truly surprising turn of the tables.
I have been traveling a lot lately. That, among other reasons, is why this bubbled up in my brain as something worth crunching. As Foursquare was kind to depressingly remind me, I spent the past two months going from hotel to hotel, airport to airport, isolation to isolation. Finally coming home and faceplanting into my bed felt as alien as entering room 1835 at The D or any other number of cold, anonymous, numbered rooms in a building full of rooms just like it.
And somehow, by the graces of internal desperation made external (and a dash of randomness), the last flight back to DFW was one that left me thinking maybe it’s not so bad. It was a late flight leaving Las Vegas and I just couldn’t sleep. Pulling out my iPad, I began to run through the games.
I’d just played Super Hexagon for a solid hour at the terminal. I’d beaten The Room Two on the way in. Going through more than two or three drops at a time in Ridiculous Fishing had become a rote exercise. But Hundreds. Well that I hadn’t even come close to finishing, or even opened in the past year.
Hundreds, if you aren’t familiar (and you should be), is a mobile puzzle game. Your goal is to tap any number of gray circles, inflating them and their numeric value until the screen’s total is 100. The complication comes from the fact that you can’t be actively pumping up the dots when they touch another dot, otherwise it’s game over. Some deflate over time, some freeze other dots, and some stop time.
It’s a wholly gnarly game. I made it through about 70 levels by myself before giving up on completing anything beyond because god damn is it hard. But after the 60+ days of shuttling from city to city, I guess I was in a bit of a masochistic mood, wanting to see how more blood I had to give to the winged beasts of the American Airlines skies.
Jumping right back to where I left off, I’m reminded of why I gave up. Like, hard. Attempts are lasting in the range of mere seconds. My frustrations begin to manifest physically to the point where the fellow on my left takes notice. “What are you playing?”
The flash of red subsides as I think better of slapping this inquisitive man in the face for interrupting my downward spiral into madness. So I tell him. I explain to him the general concepts of the game as I continue to fail over and over again. Nodding along, he suddenly reaches out. He moves a puck piece, blocking a sizable dot from bursting over a bladed cyclone of resetting demonry. I physically and literally pause.
It was incredible I hadn’t seen this before. This game, ostensibly single-player, was made for cooperative play. A few more attempts—he playing defense against the razors and me playing offense with the rapidly deflating dots—and we beat it. We cheered. It was one of the few truly jubilant moments of the past handful of weeks I’d had.
So we continued. We sighed. We yelled. We slouched in defeat. And we emerged victorious. It drew the eye of those around us, eventually piling up the attention of the rows in front and behind as well as the other man to my right. (Yeah, I had a middle seat. WELCOME TO MY LIFE.) By the time we landed, we had, as a collective of half a dozen heads and a dozen hands, gotten to the final stretch of levels. The ones where you can’t even see the circles as they float about.
Travel is made to be solitary. Face forward. Don’t talk. Stand at the line. Now stand in the line. But what if you make a turn. What if you do talk. What if you take the individuals all around you and form something better than the systemic isolation built into boarding a plane or finding parking or huddling in the back of the bus.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m supposed to be playing Destiny with the two aforementioned flanking fellows.