I don't play video games. The last video game I played was probably Pong, during the late '70s and early '80s. Remember Pong? You plugged a giant box into the TV and hit an imaginary Ping-Pong ball back and forth with your sister until you got in a fight with each other or realized that watching "Brady Bunch" reruns was more exciting. I was never very good at it.
Pac Man. Ms. Pac Man. Donkey Kong. I passed on 'em all -- partly out of boredom, but mostly because of a lack of eye-hand coordination.
And then video games got violent. I'd walk past the study and see my otherwise angelic husband, Ray, pointing an enormous, very real-looking gun around the interior of a half-submerged submarine, waiting for a predator to pop out. Boom!
"It's relaxing," he explained, eyes on the screen, keys clicking, mouse poised, muscles clenched.
As far as I was concerned, being a true video-game junkie required more time than I was willing to spend. I'm the queen of multitasking: I shop on the Internet while I do the laundry. Or I watch "Ally McBeal," talk on the phone, pet the dog and eat a Starbucks low-fat frappuccino bar. Or walk on the treadmill, read the paper, listen to a CD, watch the "Today" show and talk baby talk to the dog.
But that all changed when, a couple of weeks ago, my friend Rob came over and insisted that he had to show us this video game, Sissyfight 2000, that he'd read about in the New York Times. Although the concept is different from traditional video games, Sissyfight is no less violent, let me assure you, than Ray's shoot'em-up games. The players are girls on the playground and the goal is to humiliate the other girls until you win. The graphics were cute, so I watched over Rob's shoulder. But I wasn't really interested -- it was just another video game.
Then one night, after I became tired of eBay and I'd already bought a CD on Amazon.com, I noticed www.sissyfight.com on our bookmarks.
So I pulled it up. I haven't been heard from since.
It's not just that Sissyfight is fun, which it is. Or that I'm getting good at it, which I am. This game has stirred something inside me I thought was dead: the urge to bludgeon someone -- whether with words or fists -- on the playground. It's a vicious pleasure that I never got to indulge in as a child.
Here's how Sissyfight works: You go to the Web site and create a player. You choose a name, facial expression, skin tone, hairstyle and hair color. The girls then gather on playgrounds in groups of three to six. The object is to fight your opponents until two of you remain. You can chat back and forth, egging one another on and forming alliances. You can beat up on each other by grabbing, scratching, teasing or tattling on your opponents. Or you can cower. Suffice it to say that strategy is required.
I'm learning. The best thing is to cower during your first turn, while you wait to see where other alliances have formed. Don't attack too soon. And certainly don't tattle -- it's widely considered to be the worst offense. You'll cost your opponents points if they're caught grabbing, scratching or teasing and, just like in the real world, those who you've ratted out will turn on you.
I used to start by encouraging the other girls to beat up on someone -- "She smells! She was mean to me!" -- but it works better to stay quiet and see which way the tide turns. (A strategy I never learned when I was a real schoolgirl.) I've had to resist the urge to make fun of the other players' grammar and I've had to scale down my vocabulary. Again, these are skills I could have used in third grade: I once used the word "unfortunately" in the course of delivering an insult to Ronnie Sullivan, and was castigated for months. (I make a much better adult; trouble is, I did when I was 8, too.)
To win Sissyfight, you must learn to conform. Rob had to change his name from "Sissyclit" to "Big Grrl" because he was teased so much. (Those names aren't unusual; yesterday I was on with a "Cuntilla".) Rob's mohawk and green skin didn't help, either. "I was called a slut and they made fun of my hairdo," he told me. He changed his look and now he's winning on a regular basis.
My name is "Sweetrosy" and I have pale skin and red pigtails. I always say, "Hi, girls," when I come into a playground and I always compliment the winners, even if I think they're lame. I cherish my alliances as if they're real friendships -- even though I know that "Peri" or "Lynette" could easily turn on me in the next round.
Just like in real life.
In real life, the childhood me had the wrong look: wrong hair, wrong body, wrong tone of voice, wrong everything. It wasn't tragic -- it wasn't like I didn't have any friends -- but I was never popular. I was a geek. A creative geek, but a geek all the same. When I ran for class secretary in the sixth grade, I walked around with a stuffed Woodstock taped to my shoulder, because it fit in with my Peanuts campaign theme.
I lost the election.
If I did the equivalent of taping a stuffed Woodstock to my shoulder on Sissyfight, I'd be teased off the screen. So I don't. And I'm winning.
When I told my mom about Sissyfight, we tried to decide just what makes a girl popular. It's not just looks. I recalled a girl named Carmen, with frizzy hair, a pig face and a big butt, who always hung out with the cheerleaders in high school. "And remember Sue Anne, your sister's friend, the one who was really popular?" my mom asked. "She always smelled."
But Sue Anne was comfortable with herself, my mother and I decided. And so was Carmen. (Or maybe she was sneaking vodka from her parents' liquor cabinet for the other girls.) And now, years later, so am I.
But I sure do enjoy a good round of Sissyfight.