Singing in the old bars, swinging with the old stars

Up until two weeks ago, I had been using the same old ancient iPhone 5 that I got way back in the early spring of 2015. I couldn’t update the software. I couldn’t take pictures because the storage was full. I couldn’t download any apps and even if I could I couldn’t use them because my iOS was too out of date.

But I was fine with it. I could still use it to surf Instagram and Twitter and send text messages and check email and Slack and order an Uber and use Google Maps. What else did I really need?

Then a couple weeks back the phone started to experience what is called “GPS drift.” In that, it never knew quite where I was. Uber drivers would be trying to pick me up five blocks away. Google Maps became useless. The situation was becoming a little untenable.

And so one Saturday two weeks back I went out to breakfast and then to the AT&T store where I got an iPhone 8 and, wham, just like that, I am back in the zeitgeist.

The following weekend I was staying out at my mother’s to help her with a couple things around the house that I wish she would sell but she won’t. There’s not a ton to do out there in the evenings. It’s either watch crime dramas with mom and stepdad, or hang out and read or surf the internet in my childhood bedroom. It was about this time that I realized that I could download games onto my new phone. Huzzah. I could sit up in my darkened bedroom and play games with headphones on until all hours.

I pulled up CNET’s “Top 50 iPhone Games” article and picked out a few that sounded up my alley. One of those games was a side scrolling snowboarding game called Alto’s Adventure. Apparently it is a beloved classic in the mobile gaming community, but I had never heard of it before, but I could immediately see why. It’s easily the most fun I have had playing a video game in decades. Probably since The Legend of Zelda when I was 10. It’s beautiful and atmospheric and downright fun. The music is like Philip Glass classical with repetition and rhythm. And there is this, for lack of a better word, sweetness to it that is so hard describe, and this despite the fact that it is literally just a character snowboarding down a mountain, jumping over rocks and doing backflips over chasms.

As you are snowboarding down the mountain you collect coins, which then when you have enough you can use to purchase additional gadgets in the game’s store. Stuff like hover boost and a horn that calls a llama herd (for real) and that kind of thing. One of the items is a crash helmet, which you can use to revive yourself after a fall. But just once. And since it’s just once, the game gives you the option to either use it or not use it, and gives you a short amount of time in which to decide. You have to think about where you are in your run, if you are close to hitting one of the level’s goals, or about to set a distance record, and then pull the trigger all while the seconds tick down, your thumb hovering over the red X for decline and the black checkmark for use.

It’s a nerve-racking. And of course it made me think of cricket right off the bat. And those 10 seconds where the batsmen or the captain of the fielding team have to decide whether to use a review or not on a close call. In that decision, there are an infinite number of factors to determine: the score, the time of the day, how many reviews you have left, what innings you are in. And that’s getting started, we haven’t even gotten to the considerations of the actual play itself. Was there an edge or was it bat hitting pad? Was it pitching outside off? Was it going to hit the stumps or was it going over? Hurry up. Make the decision. Time is a-wasting. Your captaincy is on the line. The game is on the line. Make the call and own it.

In the video game, it makes my palms sweat just a little. It’s silly but it’s true. And so I cannot imagine what is like on the field when a decision of that magnitude needs to be made. There’s a sport called chess boxing where participants play chess in between rounds of boxing. And there’s also the biathlon, where athletes cross country ski for scores of kilometers, interspersed by having to hit a target with a rifle. Calm your nerves, steady your heart rate, control your breathing, squeeze the trigger. Chess boxing is a little bit of a sideshow, but I have always considered the biathlon to be one of the toughest sports on earth.

But cricket, when you step back from it, is the same way. Batting is exhausting, both mentally and physically. It takes supreme focus working in concert with supreme athleticism. And then all of a sudden from out of nowhere the umpire calls you out but you are pretty damn sure you didn’t edge it and you have ten seconds to change gears, calm your nerves, see the whole game in your head, talk to your partner, and make the call. I never really thought about it like that before until I played this silly video game. It’s an intruiging part of the game that I always just kind of glossed over as a moment of beauracracy in what is otherwise a ballet of sorts. But it’s a moment. A hard moment. Calm your nerves. Slow your heart. Steady your hands. See the whole field. Squeeze the trigger. Make the call.

It’s just another facet of this wonderful sport that has an infinite number of them. A new one is waiting around every corner for us to discover. I will never look at the DRS call the same way again. All thanks to this silly little video game and a weekend at my mother’s house.

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