• Gina Greenlee, Author

Overfunctioning Recovery: Lessons from Playing Diner Dash

Updated: Apr 6








Seven years ago I discovered the video game Diner Dash. One night I played four hours. I was enjoying myself, racking up points and advancing to higher rounds. Hour five of my play brought a shift. I was not earning the usual bonus points – 7,000 – to advance to the next level of play. Worse, I was losing points: 500 here, 500 there. Why?









The businesswomen customers, who the video game said, were “testy and high maintenance and so you (the video game player) must serve them quickly,” were getting pissed and leaving. I couldn’t figure it out. I had seated them, taken their orders, and relayed same to the cook. I brought everyone’s food to the table together and in timely fashion. Still, the avatar businesswomen shook and fumed (a smoke graphic wafted from the top of their shimmying little heads) and poof! They were gone.


I yelled at the screen, “Why are they so pissed off!?” I ignored all the other customers to more closely observe the businesswomen. Aha! I’m not clearing and bringing their checks fast enough.


Next, a tension headache bloomed over my left brow bone. I became certifiably anxious: how am I going to please them?


Before recognizing the pattern of businesswomen storming out of the restaurant, I had been focused on a different type of patron: families. When families were added to the game board after successful rounds of my having pleased other categories of computer-generated “diners,” I immediately deemed the families “high maintenance.” Why? Baby’s tantrum launches a beverage onto the floor; I run to get the video game mop and clean up after baby before returning to the kitchen to get baby’s order.


Overfunctioning


Also, I noticed the ticker clock was counting down fast for the business women than the families. Ah! I can let the families wait a bit longer and give my attention to the pissy businesswomen.


So that’s what I did.


To better focus on these women’s needs I turned down the video game’s soundtrack. With no audio distraction, it was visually obvious how much running around the digital waitress game player (me), was doing. Yup, that’s me, I thought, observing the waitress avatar zig zag across the restaurant while running the mop to clean up the baby’s spill, placing the high chair for the next family that came in with a baby, seating the rest of the diners and relaying the orders to the cook, busing tables.


What a powerful metaphor for the messed-up way I used to live.


My next thought?


I can’t play this game anymore. I was re-traumatizing myself. Diner Dash players “win” by raising overfunctioning to an art form.


Catering to high-maintenance avatars reinforced what I worked hard not to do – put the comfort, feelings, goals and dreams of others before my own. By playing Diner Dash I was reinforcing the “tennis ball” dynamic that my psychotherapist had brought to my awareness.

What a powerful metaphor for the messed-up way I used to live.

Epiphany


For a new round that included the pissy businesswomen, I had already reached a score of 7,000 points, and 9,000 were required to reach the next level. It felt doable. Still, I couldn’t please them. I kept trying and failing. When I realized it was three o’clock in the morning I thought, if I reach a score of 9,000 that means I have invested a night’s sleep trying to please high maintenance digital beings that don’t exist. This has to end.


Revolution


In my non-digital life I’m practicing letting people wait. Sometimes my phone is off. Perfectly reasonable when I’m on a writing deadline. I have a friend who gets hysterical when I don’t return her call at the drop of a hat – this after we’ve not spoken in two weeks. She can wait. The office staff at the driving school where I used to work can wait. They kept me waiting in the parking lot at the Bradenton Convention Center for three hours when their crappy car died. At night. Everyone else who worked at the driving school was at home with their families.


So when I had my Diner Dash epiphany I thought, I don’t need to play that game anymore – on or off the screen. Plants vs. Zombies was different. More empowering. I was protecting myself from the walking dead.


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