Video games. Please. I have never understood the appeal. In fact, I’ve worried that they spell the end of literate society as my husband, Dave, and my son, Tucker, seem to have abandoned the joys of absorption in a good book in favor of provoking angry birds, meddling with a pond full of hungry fish, and knocking off Egyptian pool balls.
A few weeks ago, Tucker came to visit. After dinner, instead of a family gathering of Scrabble or Scattergories, my son introduced Dave to a game with defensive gardening as its goal. In Plants vs. Zombies, the player must fortify his virtual front lawn with shrubs that shoot peas, catapults that fling butter pats, peppers that fire flames and grumpy squashes that squish intruders. All this to defend one’s home and brains from zombies.
Zombies? Yes! Well might you smirk! I did too. “Are you kidding, Tuck? A smart guy like you?” But my son merely smiled and tapped the screen of his iPad.
A simple, swaying, cheerful - and yet vaguely foreboding - melody played, a synthesized piano and violin instrumental. I was reminded of the mesmerizing strains of a snake charmer urging a cobra from a basket, except this time it was zombies lurking off-screen. “Ready! Set! Plant!” flashed an urgent red alert. Tuck tapped a round-faced smiling sunflower and “planted” it in the yard between a house façade and rickety fence. Periodically, a sun popped from the sunflower and with another tap, Tuck earned points toward plants. The music hummed as my son planted sunflowers, pea-shooters and mines. “The zombies are coming!” rumbled a threatening, throaty voice and I felt a mild unease because the pea-shooter seemed slow on the draw as cartoonish, bug-eyed zombies lurched toward my son's "house."
My book remained on the end table by the couch in the living room as I stayed on my stool, perched behind Tucker with a view over his shoulder. He lives in Boston and I don’t see him as much I’d like, so I hovered, an observer, as he fought off the undead.
As I said, I was concerned the pea-shooter was too slow and my boy’s brains were at stake. “How about the purple plant, Tuck?” I suggested. (This particular flower lunges at zombies, snaps them up, chews them with a gratifying crunch and swallows them.) “Sweetie? Maybe the cherry bomb? Watch it! Zombies in the upper right!”
A mad fray ensued - leaping zucchini, exploding cherries, flying peas, zombies losing heads and arms and finally falling. I watched with my heart pounding (yes!) until a harp-like trill of triumph signaled the game’s end and the zombie defeat. Exhausting! Exhilarating! Fun! Still, when Tuck swung around in his seat and offered me his iPad, I snorted dismissively. At first.
It was so stupid. But I wanted to play.
So, I did. And I’ve been playing too often since. Sometimes until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. The other day, I announced I was going on a zombie sabbatical – a “Zombatical” - just to prove that I could.
But Dave lures me in. He turns it on, I hear that snake-charmer music and I’m drawn as sure as that sinuous cobra. And I get it now. Fun feels good! Dave and I usually play together, taking turns, reaching over to tap the screen when the odds are too overwhelming, laughing aloud at the antics of shifty-eyed water plants, spore-spouting mushrooms, and zombies on pogo sticks, ladders and bungee cords. Who thought of this stuff? I can only imagine the self-amused glee of the brainstorming team behind Plants vs. Zombies.
The truth is, Dave and I do plenty of fun things, but for the most part, silly and goofy went out the window a decade ago, and it’s silly things that make one giggle or laugh until it hurts. Laughter is a balm in this grown-up life and for some reason, battling a zombie horde does the job.
Problem is, we’ve developed strategies too tough for the zombies – rarely do they breach the doorway to eat our brains. Tucker says there’s another game we should check out – something about covering oranges?