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RANT: Home Maintenance

I recently rented a house for the first time. Despite having lived in college dorms, shared and private apartments, and guest houses, I've more or less treated my living quarters as though I was still an 8 year old child: stacks of D&D tomes everywhere the eye can see, empty half-finished wine glasses on every available surface, and Chex Mix bags in lieu of wallpaper. While guests to my new living quarters might still come away with the impression that I'm emotionally stunted, this house is still the biggest single residence that I've ever had to take care of, and that's exactly why I rented it - to get the experience of what home stewardship is like before I did something idiotic - like buying one.

As it happens, I haven't lived here for a month and I've already had a surprisingly large share of disorderly conduct from the installed appliances. While I'm glad for the experience, it's left me wondering why anyone would allow themselves to be trapped in such a ridiculously burdensome ordeal as home maintenance in the first place. The sheer number of different moving parts that comprise a house are astounding, and each one often requires a completely different overpriced specialist to analyze it when it goes wrong, another one to install the replacement, and yet a third to fix the damage done by the first two specialist. As a designer, my brain is constantly searching for ways to take complicated interactions and boil them down into simple, fun interactions that can be repeated for hours on end, but the only thing repetitive about owning a house seems to be hitting X to reach for your check book.

But designer I am and design I must - so here's some games to play in order to fool yourself into thinking that all the time and money you're sinking into a house is more than just endless sisyphean drudgery.

The only way to win is not to play.

Here's the joint - I'll name a mundane but noisome part of home upkeep and relate it to a somehow-similar video game experience. Next time you have to engage in said activity, simply use the infinite power of your imagination to pretend that you're playing the game as I've dictated it. If you lose, remember to use PayPal to send me a quarter before you re-engage your imagination.

Task: Sweeping a Dirty Floor
Game: Wii Sports

Let's start off small - floors get dirty. Whether you're someone who's a fan of eating meals, going outside, or hiding pocketfuls of chiseled-away prison cell walls in your pocket so that you can dribble them around over years and years of forced captivity, your floors are probably going to get stuff on them. As is usually the case, Miyamoto is a step ahead of me on this one, and Nintendo released a product several years ago that allows you to reasonably mimic the action of moving a broom or a Swiffer back and forth across a dirty floor. Next time there's excess lint, dirt, or potato chip crumbs on your tile, grab your cleaning tool and simply imagine that you're in the boxing ring, senselessly beating to death a Mii that was clumsily designed to look like your grandmother one fine Christmas morning. You'll TKO those chores in no time!

Task: Cable Installation
Game: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Multiplayer

Installing cable internet isn't a big hassle for you physically, but depending on your service provider, it can be an extreme exercise in patience. AC: Brotherhood's MP component is similar to this experience in all the wrong ways. The cable company's not going to tell you when they're going to be there. They'll give you a 72 hour window where they MIGHT be there. This is the part of the game where you sit at the screen and wait to match with players for an undisclosed amount of time while other Abstergo test subjects join the match with juuuuust enough regularity to keep you from getting frustrated, even though other players drop just as quickly, keeping the total number of players waiting in the lobby at a solid 3/8 for the better part of your natural life.

When the installation guys DO finally set up, even though the process should be as easy as confirming that you understand what the word "Ethernet" means and resetting your IP address to support multiple online devices, you wind up wandering the hallways of Roma for 18 solid minutes without so much as a trace of human interaction beyond the goofballs jumping up and down on your roof. When you finally do have Internet access, there's a momentary rush of glee ... then the adjoining neighbor jumps onto your unsecured wireless signal, murdering you like a demented marionette dancing to the tune of their Templar tyrants.

Nothing is true, everything is WPA-secured.

Task: Installing a Dishwasher
Game: Metal Gear Solid

24 hours ago, the nuclear disposal facility on Shadow Moses Island in Alaska's Fox Archipelago had a faulty dishwasher. It emitted a weird smell and would get stuck in mid-cycle, wasting a lot of water. Your mission is to infiltrate the disposal site, find out what's wrong with the dishwasher, and fix it - if you can. Guess what, moron? Colonel Campbell doesn't even give you a goddamn monkey wrench before he crams you into a one-man propulsion missile. You'll find the DARPA chief, who'll tell you that the thermostat is broken, and then have a heart attack. Then you have to find the president of ArmsTech, who will deliver a new dishwasher to your house, but while he's installing, a goddamn Cyborg Ninja cuts open your sink pipes and sprays water all over your kitchen floor for some honor-based grudge, despite the fact that he sends you follow-up CODEC messages telling you how to find the water main and turn it off. Once you wise up and beat him in hand-to-hand combat, you'll have a 35 minute heart-to-heart with Otacon about the feasibility of love blooming - even on a battlefield - before he steels his nerves and fixes your fucking sink. Now you've got a working dishwasher and two corpses on your floor. Hide them in a locker before your date comes over for dinner, Snake!

Task: Assembling IKEA Furniture
Game: Shadow of the Colossus

I've known about IKEA for many years but only recently took the plunge and actually wandered around the store. I came away with a guarantee of delivery for four reasonably large pieces of furniture - a cabinet, a dresser, and two bookshelves. I've owned the actual furniture for nearly two weeks now and I've only put together one of them. Why? Because it turns out assembling these things is an eighteen-part task requiring several hours of your time, sharp reflexes, and focus on a moment-to-moment basis. Wander had it easy climbing gigantic moving statuary and stabbing at their uniquely glowing runes - at least with giants, you don't have to worry about losing one of the hundreds of pieces that come in the box. The giant is always right in front of you. You dropped a single washer? Sorry, bub, but that bedside table needed that washer at its fulcrum, and now all you're capable of doing is hauling the entire sad sorry mess out to the dumpster.

Like Shadow of the Colossus, if you screw up on a given step, then usually it's a cascading pile of failure all the way back to the very beginning as you unravel what you've done in the hopes of somehow salvaging a victory. Need instructions? Sorry, no one speaks English in either IKEA instruction manuals or the world of the Colossi. The sad truth is that once I do finally man up and finish my remaining pieces of furniture, I'll probably unlock the time trials.

Task: Exterminating Vermin
Game: World of Warcraft

As a former WoW raiding alumni with multiple max-level characters, I feel well-informed enough to mention that although it's one of the most ingenious games ever created, your experience in Azeroth can be boiled down into its crudest, most base components pretty quickly - find shit, and click on it 'til it dies. Surprise surprise, home owners! Turns out you can live that same experience in real life without the embarrassment of purchasing an Overlord Saurfang latex mask! Your entire home will be invaded periodically by all manner of living things that exist for the sole purpose of you finding them and crushing them. You'll do this over and over, too, because bugs auto-respawn periodically. You don't even get a Tuesday reprieve - there's no server updates in real life. Getting tired of doing it yourself? Once your pride cracks and you hire a gold farme- ... errr, I mean, exterminator, you'll experience a short period of carefree bliss ... until the next patch comes out, and the bugs go up in level.

There you go, dear reader. Five perfectly satisfactory ways to imagine the doldroms away! Got a favorite fantasy you indulge in when reality rears its ugly visage and you're forced to deal with it? Share your innermost desires on our Facebook pages! It's not weird - it's social networking!

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