Facebook Made My Mom A Gamer

By Gus Mastrapa in Pretension +1
Friday, September 24, 2010 at 9:00 am
It's no news that casual games like Bejeweled have made addicts of people formerly considered immune to the appeal of video games. A survey funded by PopCap, purveyors of the aforementioned time-killer, found that the average social gamer was a 43-year-old woman. 

So while everybody has a story about their aged mother discovering video games, I never expected it to happen to me.

My 67-year-old mother has been resistant to tech. She begrudgingly uses her home computer because that's where baby pictures come from. The sporadic family emails we've shared over the years are the best I thought I could hope for.

But then Facebook came along and did the impossible -- it put me and my mother in constant contact, daily contact around a virtual Scrabble board.

My mother has always encouraged my interest in gaming. She's the one who brought home all those Atari cartridges in the '80s. It was with her that I first learned to love Scrabble -- a board game that meshed well with my teenage penchant for vocabulary. My mom was a good, but not cutthroat, player. Still, I value the day I bested my mother at Scrabble more than the day I first out-swam my father.

My family fell apart in the '90s. Dad moved to Puerto Rico and stayed there. My mother went home to Michigan. My sister moved to California for school. I remained in Florida. Even before then dad was always travelling -- living months, even years, at a time overseas. Distance has always been a problem for us to overcome. 

When the Internet came along I figured these issues would be solved. But dad lives so remotely in the Puerto Rican wilds that he can't get a land line. And mom, she's been plagued with a dial-up connection and a computer mired with bloatware. 


My sister has always been easy to connect with. She's a nerd like me -- a NASA scientist to be precise. Though we haven't lived in the same city for decades we still hang out every week or so in Azeroth. And while World of Warcraft isn't the best venue for catching up on life I find this kind of casual socialization extremely valuable. Crawling the Underbog with my sister and her husband is like sitting on the couch and watching TV together. It provides me with a special kind of familiarity that I rarely get during face-to-face visits. Family visits are all borrowed time. This, for some reason, feels like things used to be -- when we were all, for better for worse, under one roof.

I tried buying a PC version of Scrabble for my mom ten years ago. Hoping that she and I could share something simple, something that could help buffet our often strained relationship. But there were too many barriers to entry. The game needed installing. She had to boot up some other program, specifically dedicated to Scrabble, just to play. For gamers this sounds like a terrible excuse. But to my mom, who balks at nearly all technology, it was a deal-breaker.

To me it felt like just another way I was failing to communicate with my mother.

Then Facebook came along and changed everything. I didn't need to tell my mom about the ubiquitous social network. She just showed up one day. On a whim I sent her an invite to play EA's Scrabble game. Mom bit and we haven't stopped playing together since. She takes at least five or six moves a day. We banter in the game's tiny chat window. It's mostly small talk about the way each game is going. 

Maybe it's kinda sad, but I value these detached moments with my mother more than our infrequent phone calls. Because when we're playing Scrabble we're not catching up or filling each other in. We're just there, sort of together, just being. 

Pretension +1 is a weekly video game column by Gus Mastrapa that occasionally gets a hair too personal.
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