Diner Dash: Memories, Sweet (Resurfacing) Memories
The summer I turned 18, I began my first job as a waitress at Friendly’s. I had previously volunteered at my local library, and done my share of babysitting over the years, but I had never before worked anywhere that required a W-2 form. As a result, it’s pretty safe to say that my expectations were fairly low. I’d never made more than $5 an hour babysitting (I always viewed it more as a favor to friends and neighbors than a real source of income), so $10 an hour in tips sounded like a lot of money. Sure, I would be serving ice cream instead of alcohol, and sure, the vast majority of my patrons would be children, but hey, it didn’t seem like it would so bad.
Hoo, boy, was I ever wrong. In all the years since, I’m still not sure I’ve ever worked as hard as I did that summer. People are in and out of Friendly’s pretty quickly (especially when the Friendly’s in question is housed in the local mall), and they tend to expect very speedy service to accompany their very cheap meals. Even when I wasn’t waiting tables, I didn’t get much of a respite. I spent my “down time” making salads and ice cream sundaes, restocking the salad bar, rolling silverware packets, and de-icing the ice cream freezer. I never quite figured out how the other waitresses managed to sneak off for their smoke breaks. Maybe the trick is to not be bothered by the fact that you’re keeping somebody waiting, which is something I have never been able to do. I also never learned how to handle the really difficult customers. Day in and day out, I dealt with the customers who would complain about waiting for their tables on a busy day (and then complain about being seated too near the smoking section), berate me for not appearing the moment they were ready to order, demand that I bring their screaming spawn the complementary ice cream sundaes to which they were entitled, and then refuse to tip because they deemed my service “unsatisfactory”. [Note to readers: Tipping is NOT OPTIONAL.]
And then there were the dreams. I mentioned in one of my previous articles that when I playvideogames too long or too late, I often have stress dreams in which the games play themselves in my head all night long. The same was true of waitressing. I would wait tables all day, then come home and wait tables all night. Night or day, it was an endless cycle of coffees, soda, drinks, salads, and ice cream. Needless to say, I was quite relieved when the summer ended and I went back to school.
Even so, that experience has stayed with me for a long time. To this day, I am extremely polite to waiters (even the snippy ones), and I always tip at least 20% when I eat out, no matter how mediocre the service. So I was kind of surprised at myself when I recently became addicted to the online game Diner Dash. In the grand tradition of Phoenix Wright and Trauma Center II, Diner Dash takes a real job and turns it into a form of entertainment. However, whereas doctors and lawyers at least seem cool, waiting tables really lacks the kind of glamour that you’d think would be necessary for a successful game. As in life, the customers in the game are overly demanding, get pissy easily, expect you to stay on your toes at all time, and refuse to tip if you don’t. On a good day, it’s a pretty thankless job. On a bad day, it’s hell. You’d think that with my background, the post-traumatic stress flashbacks the game invoked would keep me miles away. But no, I kept playing. Worse, I liked it.
A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend purchased me my own copy of Diner Dash for the DS. You can imagine the hours of my life I lost to that game. I would become hyper-focused (because there was no time to rest, not with people waiting!) and I would stay that way for hours. I wouldn’t pause the game or set it down unless absolutely necessary. I didn’t even hear my boyfriend when he would address me from across the room. While I played the game, nothing else mattered.
Even now, writing this, I find myself shaking my head at the irony of this latest hobby. I wonder how on Earth a game that feels so intrinsically masochistic is also so much fun to play. The best analogy I can make is to compare playing the game to untangling a complicated knot. It can be demanding and frustrating, but it’s also perversely fascinating. The gameplay taps into a part of my brain that doesn’t require higher levels of thinking, and it becomes automatic. God knows why I derive pleasure from such a bizarre experience, but my best guess is that, on some level, I find it relaxing. While I found the real-life job to be extremely stressful, scary, and hectic, my counterpart in the world of Diner Dash allows me to slip into a place where the cares of my current real-life job (which is much more intellectually challenging than waiting tables ever was) seem to slip away. Even though the game reminds me of a rough patch in my life, it is in and of itself a soothing experience. Bizarre, maybe; ironic, definitely; but still somehow soothing.
Honestly, I think the makers of this game may be sitting on a gold mine, and they just haven’t realized it yet. If they can make waiting tables (arguably the worst job I have ever had) remotely palatable, what could they do with the other jobs I’ve held over the course of my life? They could advertise it as their “Career Capers!” series, filled with titles such as: Intern Insanity!, Paralegal Puzzles!, Editing Escapade!, Copyediting Craze!, or even Freelancer Frenzy! The possibilities are endless. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll turn your job into a stress-relieving game, too! Then you can work ALL DAY LONG, and love it! Hell, who wouldn’t want that?