Sunday, January 6, 2013

Playing to win

By Daris Howard
Gazette Contributor
            I am not a gamer, and I doubt I ever could be. I was a math and computer science major, and I have always found myself more interested in how programs worked, and trying to outsmart a game, than in actually playing it.

            But if there is one thing that I am, it is competitive. Thus, even though I’ve never been into playing video games, when my wife, Donna, claims she can beat me at one, I take it very seriously.

            One night when we were newly married, Donna challenged me to a game of Tombstone City. I told her I didn’t think I had time because I had a lot of homework to do. She just laughed, knowing my lack of expertise. “That’s okay. It will probably take less than 5 minutes for the tumbleweeds to get you anyway.”

            Tombstone City was a game on an old TI computer that someone had given us. The computer connected to our television, which basically didn’t have any other use since it usually didn’t pick up a tv signal anyway.

            In Tombstone City, tumbleweeds would come after the character on the screen of the person that was playing. If they hit him, he died. But if he shot the tumbleweed before it got him, the tumbleweed turned into a tombstone. The tombstones became permanent, and the tumbleweeds were forced to go around them.

            A person received points in two different ways. First, 10 points came for each tumbleweed that was shot. Second, a person received 1 point for each minute their character survived not being killed by the tumbleweeds. Surviving became harder and harder as the tumbleweeds came faster and faster.

            I told Donna that I would take her challenge and told her to go first while I continued to study. Donna has very good reflexes and her turn lasted about ten minutes. She racked up about 700 points, knocking off a lot of tumbleweeds. When she finished, she grinned at me. “See if you can beat that!”

            She went off to check on dinner, and I sat down to play. I moved my player into the center and waited for the tumbleweeds to come to me. As they did, I fired at them until I had created a circle of tombstones around my player so that the tumbleweeds couldn’t get through to him. I then went back to my studies.

            Donna came into the room and saw me studying again. She glanced at the screen and laughed. “You only made 62 points? Six tumbleweeds and two minutes of life has got to be a new record low, even for you.”

            I smiled back at her. “You might want to note that the game is not over yet. I’m still playing.”

            “What do you mean? You’re back at your studies.”

            “Look at the screen,” I replied.

            She looked and saw the game was not over and that I had just gained my 63rd point for lasting another minute. Knowing me, she went over and studied the screen carefully to figure out what I had done. When she finally realized that I had enclosed myself in tombstones so that the tumbleweeds couldn’t get to me, she spoke in exasperation. “What kind of a game strategy is that?”

            “I am getting 1 point for every minute,” I told her. “It will only take me a little over 11 hours to equal your score, and then I will continue to surpass it. I figure I can just let it keep going forever.”

            “That’s cheating,” she replied.

            “If you don’t want to get beat,” I told her, “you should learn not to challenge the master.”

            And that was when Donna, as master of the power cord, pulled the plug on the computer.

 (Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at; or visit his website at

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