On a bus recently, amidst the sea of glum, blue-lit faces of dispossessed commuters and shoppers searching for hope in their black mirrors, I glimpsed a familiar sight. A flat green backdrop, overlaid with stacks of white rectangles. It's as recognisable to me as any member of my family: Solitaire. For those of us of a certain age, it was our gateway drug to PC gaming. The first game we ever played on the first computers we ever used.
To unexpectedly see it again, on the screen of a tablet belonging to a woman perhaps two or three years older than me, made me feel first scornful, then sad, then overwhelmingly envious.
Scornful because, well, I'm a horrid little oik who thinks he knows a lot about games, and thinks that somehow entitles him to judge what others choose to play.
Sad partly because my first experiences with Solitaire coincided with my school life turning sour, the loneliness and out-of-placedness of a newly-teenage, introverted nerd in a sports-centric, all-boys secondary school. The 486 SX at home, with Windows 3.1 and its built-in games of Solitaire and Minesweeper, were my refuge. That over-the-shoulder glimpse of that flat green backdrop brought so much of that back.
Sad too because there was this woman and her £400 tablet, this profound, thrilling technological advancement from the giant, slow, beige monstrosity that I'd first played Solitaire on, and this was the best thing she could think to do with it? A simple game of plainly-rendered cards, chance-based and never-changing?
Envious because I imagined (perhaps unfairly) that this person's interest in games began and ended with a simple game of plainly-rendered cards. She was a similar age to me; chances were good that she'd first played Solitaire at a similar time, on a similar machine. That had stayed with her too, but, I imagined, she hadn't needed more.
Here was I, a fortune spent over the decades on games and games machines, a soul scarred by online culture wars, a lizard brain restlessly hungry for better graphics, more compelling stories, sequels, remakes, talking to the monsters, more, more, more. And there she was, still happy with good ol' Solitaire.
I've had amazing experiences with games and gaming. It's been a life. But sometimes, I wish I were that woman, playing Solitaire on the bus in 2018.
(Of course, for all I know, the moment she got home she fired up her level 100 Warframe character).