One wish for the new year

Michael Johansen
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First an O and then a B. The first S is already on the board and there’s plenty of room for an E and two more S’s. Double letter score on one tile and triple word score on the whole thing. Mega points!

Few addictions of the modern world trap minds and steal time as insidiously as online gaming. You can dress up as soldiers to roam vast digital landscapes, executing missions and fighting whatever gets in your way.

You can play cards against real people or computers, wagering real or fake money to win or lose thousands of dollars.

You can be captain of a pirate ship, admiral of a royal fleet, general of an army, ruler of a country, or supreme leader of an entire empire. Or you can simply stack vanishing bricks, knock out glittering jewels, or shoot disgruntled wildlife.

These days, I like word games — if “like” describes an increasingly unhealthy compulsion to string letters together for the sole purpose of racking up more points than my equally driven opponents.

Right now this opponent is using my O by putting a G and L in front of it. She has her own B and it goes after the O, with an A and another L following behind. Mega points, too, unfortunately.

Most online games (aside from card games, of course) are just electrified board games with one revolutionary difference: unpowered games can seat six to eight players at the most, but online a single match can involve thousands who devote most of their waking hours to playing, or would if they could.

My turn. I’ll use my own E and slap DUCATE into the squares beneath it. Too bad my last letter is not a D or an S. If I could play them all I would score really big.

Word games don’t allow for thousands of opponents.

The original tabletop versions have room for four, but online only two can play against each other. The Internet being what it is (as is the “search for random opponent” button) my rivals can be from next door in North West River, from a steamy apartment in a South Seas city, or from anywhere on the planet in between.

Her turn. She takes the E at the bottom of EDUCATE and runs LIB to the left of it and RATE to the right.

She’s used all her letters, so the extra points give her the lead.

Most of the opponents the Internet randomly delivers for me to cross words with come and go as anonymous photos or faceless names, with little learned except the person’s relative skill at jumbling words together. Sometimes, however, the pictures become less anonymous and the names grow faces.

Back to me. My latest crop of letters is sparse, but I can string HOPE off the end of LIBERATE – spelling, HE, as well, so I count the H twice.

This opponent, for example, not only provides challenging wordplay, but also offers a window into one of the seminal events of recent history. From Indonesia herself, she was finishing a graduate degree in Egypt when the Arab spring dawned and all hell broke loose in the streets. She and countless other foreign students packed up on short notice to leave the country — she to the safety of a teaching position in the United Kingdom.

The second S in OBSESS is very useful to her. She’s got another of her own, doubles them up and tosses PROGRE on top.

The democratic movement that swept through Arab lands is still struggling to survive. Continuing civil strife in Egypt keeps the country unsafe, but so far it has not led to loss of life on a horrific scale — like in Syria.

An O is there for me to place an S on one side and RROW on the other.

This world seems constantly in uproar. No matter the year or time of year, disaster is always striking. This season, however, is for reflecting on better times, so if I may get one wish come true in 2013, let it

be that dictators everywhere stop killing their own citizens.

There must be a word for that.

Michael Johansen is a writer

living in Labrador.

Organizations: G and L

Geographic location: Egypt, North West River, Indonesia Labrador

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