He was a stranger. I knew his first name, and he mine, but that was the extent of our acquaintance.
And yet, he and I were perfectly in sync. I knew his every move. He knew mine. And neither of us ever, ever doubted the other, or had to work to understand each other. We had different communication styles, but they meshed; our meanings were always clear.
It was the best Draw Something streak I'd ever had.
I spent many years avoiding online play, multiplayer gaming, and the entire social gaming sphere. I don't like having to rely on others, and I don't like feeling that they have to rely on me. Sometimes I might flake out, or be terrible at a game. And I don't like to share my failures or successes in public.
But in the last few months, something in me has changed. I've enjoyed more time spent online, playing in the company of friends and strangers, and I've begun picking up social games. I got sucked into Draw Something thanks to my colleague Tina singing its praises. I downloaded the iOS version of the game on my iPod, then announced my username on Twitter and prepared to face all comers.
The majority who added me were friends I knew and had expected to see. But one...he was a stranger. He was the first to initiate a game with me, and the most reliable at taking his turn. Over time, our streak grew impossibly. While my best friends and I slowly approached the 50 and 60 turn marks, he and I never missed a beat.
Until on turn 77, in our never-broken chain, I made a fatal error.
The word was "carpool." I turned the screen sideways, as I often do, and indicated that the other player should do the same. I selected a dark grey and began to draw a road. I decided to go the split-screen route, putting a car with many passengers on the left and a car with only a driver on the right. I drew a divider and switched to red to draw a car.
It was late at night. I was tired. I goofed badly on my first line, realizing my perspective and thickness were all wrong. I moved to trash the drawing and start over.
But it was late at night, and I was tired. Somehow, instead of "trash," I chose "done." And confirmed it.
No cars. No passengers. No carpool of any kind. Just a stretch of gray and a wobbly line of red. It might as well have been "roadkill" or "jacksonpollack."
Dejected, I turned off my iPod and stuck it in a nightstand drawer. I had screwed up. I had a good thing going, with this stranger, and I had ruined it for both of us. My clumsy fingers and late-night brain had made the game suck. Somehow, after that run, starting over at turn number 1 seemed meaningless and hollow. I tweeted my disappointment in myself to the world, hoping my fellow player would understand it for an apology.
This, I reasoned, was why I never played these kind of games to start with. I was always the last kid picked for any team, I never performed well in auditions or competitions, and clearly even cooperative multiplayer gaming was just another sphere where I could embarrass myself and disappoint others. Lesson learned: I should stay put in offline games, where I and my ineptitude belong.
Late the next afternoon, I pulled my iPod back out of the drawer, thinking to open up a different app. I turned it on to find a Draw Something notification. It was from him. He'd guessed the word; we were on turn number 78. Our streak remained unbroken, as I carefully drew "pizza," staying far away from the buttons at the bottom until I was well and truly done.
We're coming up on turn number 90 soon. The game, as it stands, can only count two places and so if we reach 99, there we shall stay.
It is, of course, a meaningless accomplishment. Draw Something is a stupid game, a way to pass ten minutes here or there. But silly doodles with my new friend — no longer a stranger — have reminded me that counting on others can surprise me in a hundred little ways that even the best of single-player games probably never will.