On Saturday I got into a fight with someone I’ve never met. I’ve known her for years. Her name is 70Tracy70* and she’s a goddamn lying bitch.
I “met” her (quotes used to denote the fact that I have not actually ever seen her person thus making my subsequent break with reality all the more shameful) about two years ago. We came to know each other thanks to our iPhones. This meeting was not of the sexy, let’s-touch-butts, dating app variety. Oh no. It was our mutual passion for word-play and probably a deep and abiding boredom that joined us.
You see, I am an avid player of 'Words With Friends', and, fearful I’d drive all my friends to madness with my cyber-nudging insistence that they never stop playing, I looked to the game’s random feature to be paired up with a new player. This is how I met her, Tracy The Monster From Hell.
I should explain. This 'Scrabble' derivative inspires in me the same complicated set of emotions that its forefather does. I love the game deeply. I find the game pieces satisfying and the way words gradually branch from each other beautiful and I’ll blow snot onto your left under-eye if you roll your eyes at the ‘manic pixie-ness’ of that statement.
But the game also makes me furious, because, while I am adept with words, I am solidly middle-tier in terms of ability. I would be lower-tier if my best friend hadn’t taken pity on me and explained that “strategy” is a thing. Now I win the odd game, but only because I know just enough to keep someone else from winning.
I’m a terrible loser, but that’s because I come from a family of terrible winners. In my house growing up, 'Scrabble' was less like a pleasant nostalgic repast harkening to a simpler time, and more like the inmates rallying as Bane made his final attempt to breach the prison pit. If you asked me to count the the times I lied, cheated, and/or stormed off in a rage from one of our family games I would have to shrug and say “all of the times.”
If I was playing with people who genuinely seemed to just want to have fun it might have been different. I might not have even cared. But I was playing with a table full of Joan Crawfords and I had only my junior-sociopathic wiles to save me since no adult had explained that I might want to make it difficult for someone else to access a triple word tile. I didn’t care about cheating then -- it was survival of the fittest and the game (how it was played and its outcome) was secondary only to making it out of there unscathed, tattered dignity still hiding my naughtiest bits.
But it’s different now that I’m an adult. In real life I know the world isn’t colored in absolutes, it’s a charming gray, like all cats in the dark. But I find the succor of Absolute Right and Absolute Wrong in game-play just a flicker away from total satisfaction. This is why I like playing opposite strangers. I can bellow “HONOR AMONG THIEVES” at my phone, knowing that I’m playing against someone who just wants to be playing the game. They have no other agenda. There will be no hurt feelings. I'm -- to pilfer from reality television's parlance -- not here to make friends. I'm here to win.
Until Tracy shat upon everything I loved. I’ve never won a game against her. Not ever. There have been some close matches, but in the end she always trounces me. Every so often my spidey senses would tingle -- she always had a word, and more often than not, they were words I had to look up myself. But it wasn’t until the past month or so that I began to suspect the worst: Tracy, my noble compatriot, was CHEATING AT WORDS WITH FRIENDS WITH ME, A TOTAL STRANGER.
Dorbug. That was the word that sealed her fate. It was her opening volley on our newest game. Curious, I googled...and was directed to site after site dedicated to providing users with Scrabble anagrams for whatever combination of letters they entered in. I felt liquid hot rage sweep over my person. I screen-shotted it. Hands trembling, I confronted her with a heaping teaspoon of WASP rage:
Then I quit the game. “HONOR AMONG THIEVES!” I explained to my roommate that I’d been suspicious about Tracy for a little while. Not because I'm a sore loser, not because I'm threatened by someone being smarter than I am (most people are). I knew she was cheating because she played for word points, not strategically. Sure, she’d get eighty points, but all while opening up a double word score opportunity for me when I lagged not close behind.
“Could you,” my roommate ventured, “be being slightly paranoid?” I did not dignify this with a response because my soul knew better. For over a year, Tracy had been conning me. She didn't care about the game, she wasn't curious about my next move: Bitch Just Wanted To Get Her Winner's Rocks Off.
The funny part is, if we were playing face to face and she wanted to look up a word, I probably would have let her. I let all sorts of rules fly by the way side when I play face to face with friends. Just like when I was small, my feelings get in the way. I’ll never call someone’s bluff -- I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I don’t want to feel bad about anything at all. Ever. If I can avoid it, I will. It's kept me from things I might have loved, board games, sports are but two.
That’s what made playing online so great, all those concerns were replaced with a totally inflated sense of what is right and what is wrong. It’s the kind that has you slamming blood orange sangria on a Sunday and wailing about “justice” and “betrayal” while feeling more sure about anything than you do in any other sphere of your life. In closing, you may challenge me any time you like, my username is Beesus83 and I’m not that great, but damned if I won’t play with honor.
Do you cheat when you play board games? Would you return a wallet full of cash if you found it? For me, I'd totally return the wallet, but I'll be real -- I might take the money. It depends on how much was there. I mean, I'm not a monster.
*username changed to make it clear that I am the superior person