Gaming Grandma

Once upon a time, kids played innocent video games that had, as their selling point, learning and teachable moments embedded in the fun.  LeapFrog was one of these; a creative, book-oriented electronic game whose only purpose was to teach our kids how to count, how to read, and how to sing very annoying songs. My kids were no exception.  We leaped with the best frogs.

Next came computer games, like Club Penguin, Toontown, and Jumpstart.  These were adorable games where the kids learned to chat in controlled phrases, and they began to experience their first taste of competition.  The next logical step was Pokémon and Naruto, where competition, chatting, and teamwork became part of everyday life.

From there, my kids jumped into League of Legends, where the sole purpose of the game was to annihilate other players.  Yay, progress.

When my son was living at home, I would hear the muffled thuds, the not-so-muffled thuds, the cursing, the banging, and occasionally the overturned chair coming from the sanctity of his room.  I wondered, but no way was I going into a teenage boy’s room alone; God only knows what science projects he had brewing under his bed or in his dirty laundry hamper.   It was hard to tell if he needed a new hobby, more practice, or better friends.  My daughter wasn’t much better, only her game frustrations were much quieter and spilled out to the dinner table in the form of dirty looks and grumbling.

I went through the usual parental worrying.  Do they spend too much time online?  Are they secretly chatting with some 60-year-old pervert in a pink tutu in this multi-player game?  Do they need to get out and socialize with the real world?  And most importantly, will they end up living in my basement into their forties?

Obviously, my kids got their video chops from their cool mom, right?  Yeah, not so much.  I don’t like video games, they make me anxious and I get stressed when I play.  I blame Milton Bradley’s Perfection. While not a video game, it was a battery-operated panic attack. Besides, life is like a video game, with adventures to be found at the grocery store, the freeway, and, occasionally, the kitchen when I try a new recipe.

So, if not me, where did they get this video game aptitude from?  Well, look one generation back, and there it is.  Thanks, mom.

Oh yes, you read that right.  My mom, sweetest lady, butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, the picture of innocence.  My mom was a pro gamer before gaming was cool.

First it was Atari. That was too easy for her. Asteroids, tennis, and pong?   It was like shooting fish in a barrel for my mother. Come to think of it, she had that game too.

The next level of her addiction came with new heroes, courtesy of Sega Genesis.  Round, prickly ones named Sonic.  Sonic ushered in some of his closest friends, including Zelda, who rode in on the wave that was Super Nintendo.  The original Zelda, thank you very much. Kids think they know Zelda, but you’ve never played Zelda until you’ve played it on the original gaming platform, in full glorious side-scrolling wonder with its tinny music and recycled backgrounds.

Then, hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen … along came Mario Brothers.  My mother immediately forgot everything else in the world as she threw herself into mastering this game.  My family frequently went without eating for days at a time, no clean clothes, up to our ankles in our own game, “Chase the Dust Bunnies.”

Of course, that’s not true, but she was completely obsessed with the game.  I still remember when she hit the high score or won the game, whichever the goal was.  She left the game on the entire day as proof and if I recall correctly, she took a picture of the tv screen for good measure because she was afraid no one would believe her. I like to think that the birth of my brother and me were the happiest days of her life, but I tell you, I’m not so sure.

Once she conquered the world of supersonic mammals, Italian plumbers, and valiant quests, she went for a more maternal distraction because, apparently, a real family wasn’t enough stress. She went full on geek and got herself a Tamagotchi critter, which I think was a dog.  She even took it camping and on vacation, so it wouldn’t die.  I have no idea how long it survived, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was years. Hell, she may still have it in a closet somewhere, secretly feeding it and dutifully cleaning up its little digital poops.

I often wonder, does my complete inability to play video games reflect poorly on her?  Or did her gaming ability soar straight through my DNA without passing GO and hit my kids squarely in the controllers, picking up power as it went?  If that’s the case, then my great-grandchildren will be amazingly gifted… prodigies even.

As for me, I’m still playing the fun video game, “set my car clock for daylight savings time.”  It’s been going on for days now. Fall back indeed. Just what the hell did I do with that owner’s manual?

When the Elderly Attack

Ah, the world of phone scammers.  Surely, they think when they hear my sweet mother’s voice on the phone, this will be an easy target. I mean, who wouldn’t? Butter wouldn’t melt in that woman’s mouth.

Not so fast, imposter account manager from India, Nigeria, Kalamazoo, or wherever you are!  My mom may have a senior citizen discount to IHOP, and she does in fact know every word to the Hokey Pokey, but make no mistake.  She’s nobody’s fool.

To clarify, my mother does in fact shop at physical stores and use an archaic form of payment known as a “check.”  She actually visits her bank in person, and knows the tellers by name.  She doesn’t shop with those newfangled “online” gizmos everyone else uses.  So from the very beginning, the scam is pointless.

Tired of receiving multiple phone calls daily from “Microsoft” or “Windows” representatives who inform her in heavily accented voices that her computer is sending out “illegal signals,” my mother decided to have a little fun of her own.  She knows that these scammers only want access to her computer to pull out any financial information they can.  I told you, she may have seen Elvis in person (good Elvis, not bloated Elvis), but she isn’t stupid.  My mom is far from demented.  She is slick as an oil spill, but now, phone scammer from India or Nigeria, you made her mad.  You won’t like her when she’s mad. Trust me.

As soon as one of these calls comes through these days, my mom just pours herself a cup of coffee and sits out on the porch to feed her minions wild “pets” while she talks to the oh-so-helpful con artist on the other end of the line.  Little Miss Sugar Sweet has a backbone of steel and wit as sharp as a Ginsu knife.

A typical phone call with her scammer friends may begin innocently enough.  The heavily accented voice warns her that she is about to lose everything…EVERYTHING, we tell you…because her licenses are expiring. You read that right. Her licenses. Her computer licenses. She greets the man warmly, thanking him so much for caring about little ol’ her and her big, bad computer.

Voice quaking in fear and sorrow, she asks the kind gentleman to discuss her options.  He advises her to turn her computer on.  Mom makes clunking noises as if she is walking to the computer.  She may thud her coffee cup and bang the phone a few times for emphasis.  Then, she sighs heavily and in apparent frustration.

“I’m sorry, how do I turn this thing on again?  I hate computers, I’m not used to this…oh wait.  Wait, there it is.”  She clicks a fingernail on the table.  “There.  It’s coming on.”  She sets the phone down and sips her coffee; she gives it a solid five minutes before picking the phone back up.  “It’s on.  Now what do you need me to do?”

The patient account representative from Microsoft Windows of India or Nigeria or Kalamazoo advises mom to hit the control and ALT buttons.  “Control?  I don’t see a button that says control.”  Clicks fingernails against table. “I found something.  Let me get my glasses…well, this thingy says CTRL.  You’d think a computer could spell better than this.”  She allows a few minutes to go by as she throws some bird seed to her adoring fans.  “ALT.  As in, alternative?  What is this an alternative to?  I always prefer originals.  Delete?  This thingy that says DEL?  I thought that meant delicate.”  More fingernail tapping, than a horrified tone of voice.  “DEL means delete?  I’m sorry, sir, I don’t want to delete anything.  Why would I delete my alternative button?  Then I wouldn’t have a choice at all.”  And so it goes, until the scammer is nearly yelling from frustration. She made one cry.

Mom likes to play with the scammers; she feels the longer she keeps them on the line, the less time they have to scam someone else. More power to her, I say.

The best secret she keeps, though, is how fruitless her scammer’s efforts really are after all is said and done.  I mean, even if he were successful and got into the secret vault that is her computer system, all he would find are funny cat videos, pictures of kittens, about a million pictures of my kids, a video of my brother’s dog, funny memes and joke pages, and links to America’s Funniest Home Videos from the entire past decade.  Her favorite is a link to a local zoo who has live-cam footage of a giraffe on “birth watch” who we both agree is just having a joke at all our expense because this sneaky giraffe has yet to give any indication she’s going into labor. I think she just wants the romaine lettuce treats they’re giving her…good old April the giraffe is likely running a nifty scam of her own.

The moral of this story, dear scammers, is it’s just not worth it.  God love her, mom has a new hobby now though, and that’s cool. Keeps her occupied.

And be warned, she will out-scam you every time.

A little something called your computer’s history

You don’t have to be an IT expert these days to know about a little something called your computer’s history. Back when the Internet was first being explored by us commoners, the intricacies of our activity were tougher to figure out as we struggled to understand how connecting to our phone line can make pictures appear on a screen. Crazy!

Now it’s 2014. We have no excuse for not knowing what the history is. And we also have no excuse for not knowing how to clear it. Spoiler alert about the movie Don Jon: Joseph Gordon Levitt is a guy addicted to porn blah blah blah. He meets a girl blah blah blah. She goes on his computer to check his browsing history blah blah blah. She finds all the XXX sites he’s been to for the past ten days blah blah blah. Wait, what? This is where the record scratched for me. Not only was he so dumb that he didn’t clear his history of his more intimate indulgences but he had no clue what his history even was.

This should not be. This cannot happen. People, how would you feel if your history were made public one day? I, personally, would feel fine because the most you’re going to see out of me is that I read too much (yes, yes, I am aware of the numerous visits to Amazon and Barnes & Noble), make frequent visits to Irish travel guide sites (a dream as yet unrealized), spend way more time on Facebook than I should (who doesn’t?), and that I really, really like Marvel Comics (I am NOT ashamed).

Clearing one’s history is not only good advice to keep in mind for porn aficionados and e-voyeurs, but also surprise birthday party planners, gift givers, child stalkers (your own child, pervert, not other people’s!), Words With Friends cheaters, and closet Kevin James fans. Oh and if you’re going to be chatting it up with people you really shouldn’t be chatting it up with?  Yeah, it would be a good idea to delete that too.

Long story short, if you’re going to do something sketchy online you should really be better at covering your tracks. It’s really not that hard. Yet some people just can’t seem to grasp the basics.  Would you ever rob a jewelry store and not wear gloves? Websites have fingerprints too. All your movements leave a trail, but clearing history can wash away that digital DNA, at least off the surface. Use it or if you get caught I can only say to you, “I told you so.”

Of course there’s always the novel idea of not doing sketchy things to begin with.  Oh, who am I kidding?  Like that’s ever going to happen.