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“The Game”

Literary Analysis Pt. 1

When I was six we lived in a two-story house in Santa Cruz, a town that smelled like the sea. The pavement was walked on with bare feet, and the beach was everyone’s backyard. We would shout the lyrics to Dynamite and Break Your Heart by Taio Cruz, and stay up late on Friday nights watching Smallville with our dad. The house was small, with only two bedrooms and one bathroom for all six of us to share. My four siblings and I slept on air mattresses on the floor of the larger room and I would often wake up to find my sister’s foot in my face or one of my brothers drooling mere inches from my head. Despite this, I didn’t mind the cramped quarters because it was all I had ever known. Besides, sharing one room made it much easier to play “The Game.”

“The Game” was an intricate game of pretend that my older brothers created and taught to us younger kids as soon as we were capable of taking orders. The game was introduced to us in the front yard of our tiny California house. There, offering a good amount of privacy from the road, towered a massive pine tree. Aside from its large size, the pine tree at first looked ordinary. It stood to the side of our house, the last in a line of others just like it. My brother discovered that it was special while scavenging for wood to make a bow and arrow. Under its bonnet of needles and branches was a hollow center; like a secret cave made from wood rather than rock. The tree immediately became our favorite spot. Crammed under the tree, our limbs tangled together in an effort to fit all five of us, my brothers explained the intricacies of  “The Game.” 

There were rules:

  1. You have to have a unique character. Playing as ourselves was forbidden and our character wasn’t allowed to have the same name or abilities as anyone else’s character. We could have multiple characters (even within one game) as long as none of the names or abilities overlapped.
  2. You have to both narrate and act out everything that your characters do. When our characters interacted with each other it became a show where whoever came up with the idea was directing a scene. (An English teacher’s nightmare: an ongoing stream of “and then he did this… and then you do that… and then this happens… and then… and then… and then…”)
  3. The storylines have to be logical (to a certain extent.) This rule was made primarily for my younger sister who had a tendency to overpower her characters and have them go on killing sprees when we did something she didn’t like. Even worse, she’d kill off her own characters when she got tired of using them, which especially annoyed me because their storylines had so much potential. 
  4. There are no do-overs. We couldn’t undo something that was decided in a previous game, but we could play a version of the game that took place before a certain event as long as the said event of that storyline stayed the same.
  5. The game never ends. There are multiple versions and multiple timelines, but there was never any ending to any of the stories. They continued to grow as our characters grew, the story following several generations of imaginary family lines. 

These rules were the basics, and throughout“The Game” smaller rules were created as we played. 

To anyone else, our play looked like random conversations amongst little kids, but for us, it was a full immersion experience. Our pine tree became headquarters in worlds where we went monster hunting and a cave to sleep in when we explored jungles. Like the Bridge to Terabithia, that tree was our gateway to the world of pretend. We entered ourselves and came out as whoever we wanted to be. In “The Game” we could do anything and be anyone. We developed and grew our character lists, each character having its own unique backstories, special abilities, and interests. The world around us was transformed into our props: Pine needles turned into shedding monster fur, and mulch became coins to use in the marketplace. Pine cones were our children, and winterberries were jewels stolen from pirate ships. 

When my family eventually moved away, departing from our pine-tree-portal, the game would transform again, taking inspiration from our surroundings. In Florida, our portal was an old couch where we learned we could fit under the cushions if we kept still. That portal turned our floor to lava and the couch cushions to floating islands. It made the arms of the sofa horses that we rode into epic battles between werewolves and vampires. In Fresno, it was the gap beneath my bed where we transformed into hunters that stalked our prey or became architects building amusement parks for the ants that trailed out the walls. Then there were the Eiffel Tower-shaped climbing ropes at the park down the street from our home in Iowa that became a rocketship for extraterrestrial exploring and a prison for young witches charged with the misuse of elemental magic. And in Virginia, the closet with a secret passage that turned into a bunker where we hid from aliens or escaped from the labs of evil scientists. 

Eventually, my siblings and I grew up and we stopped playing pretend, our days instead being taken up by new technologies and friends. My siblings settled into their lives, content with “The Game” and all its portals becoming just another happy childhood memory, but for me, the portals stayed an active part of my life. As I grew older they grew with me, continuing to bring to life my wildest dreams and most peculiar imaginings. Instead of games of pretend, my portals became sheets of college-ruled notebook paper and a 24 pack of mechanical pencils. They are the notes apps on my phone that hold my many ideas, and my computer keyboard with a sticky “M” key. They are novels with dog-eared pages and broken spines, and ebooks that sting my eyes on late nights. Someday I hope they will transform once again from rough drafts and character outlines to cohesive stories I can share with the world.

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