News and Tribune

February 22, 2014

DODD: A fake poker face

By LINDON DODD
Local columnist

“Most people are awaiting virtual reality; I am awaiting virtuous reality.” — Eli Khamarov





I have never been a video game person. I tried to play some of the games with my son over the years, but I just couldn’t enjoy any of them.

Then my son discovered my video crack. My addiction was found in the form of a free poker game sponsored by the World Series of Poker.

In my past, I used to love to gamble. That was back when I didn’t have a wife, a son or a mortgage. I could go broke and show up at my parents’ house around dinner time and eat. Playing the ponies, i.e. thoroughbred horse racing, was my No. 1 passion. I did enjoy casino games on a vacation trip out west close enough to Las Vegas or Reno (that was pre-Indiana casino days when going to a Nevada casino was something unique). And finally, I loved to play poker.

When I say play poker games I mean all night long and, on occasions, all weekend long poker games. I don’t know what there was about poker, but man I could play forever or until I went broke, which always seemed to come before forever. Most people who enjoy gambling will win or lose a few dollars and then stop to go on with their life. A true gambler stops when they go broke.

Anyway, it’s been a few years since I threw a few hundred dollars around on a poker table. The last all-night poker game I played was on a four-day trip to Las Vegas with my old friend John Hagan a couple decades ago. He and I spent a long weekend in Vegas, during which time we slept for six hours and ate one meal.

The rest of the time was spent in a drinking and gambling marathon. And yes, I ended up being one of those poor, pathetic Vegas visitors who was playing my pocket change at the airport awaiting my plane trying to win back the bankroll I had lost. Thank goodness they didn’t charge for drinks and meals on the plane back then.

Anyway, now I have rediscovered my competitive passion with the WSOP poker game my son downloaded. I have discovered my poker addiction is as bad as ever. I have played all night on more than one weekend evening. My bankroll has been as high as $4.2 million and I have zeroed out and started over with the gratuitous $2,500 they provide to get one started.

Now the weird thing about the game is the personification that has become a part of it for me. For those who are not familiar with the game, you pick an animated character to represent yourself, known as an avatar. You can design yours from a plethora of characteristics both male and female. My son had one of a young male with a Sega T-shirt and glasses. His screen name is Mr. Smack. His is the avatar I have used playing the game.

You have to understand this set-up to know why Kim has become concerned about my grip on reality. She has heard me cussing and loudly exclaiming my frustration while sitting alone in the basement on more than one occasion. I get pretty involved in the games and start to even take on personal grudges against some of the animated avatars.

I am sure some of the avatars are not indicative of the actual people playing poker. Some of the females tend to be very sexy animated characters with often very provocative modes of dress. It seems none wish to appear to be older, out of shape or plainly dressed.

It is possible to hook up a microphone and talk during the game. While I have never done that, some of the conversation has been interesting listening. Cameron even commented one night that even though the characters are not real, usually when a female avatar is talking the male avatars seem to always be flirting with them, and sometimes the conversation can turn a bit risqué. It can turn into soft porn poker.

One of the more interesting things I have noticed is how the males take such juvenile approaches to designing their avatar characters. The most common forms are either outlandishly cartoonish or along the lines of fanatical sports fans.

After playing for several months, some of the avatars have played in games with me many times. I have gotten to know their personalities in some cases. Some of them are jerks, some are overly aggressive and some are almost likable in a way I can pull for them to win if I am out of a hand.

That’s where reality and virtual world seem to converge for me. I actually can sense personalities through an unseen and unknown person expressing themselves through computer animation.

Virtual reality of the future is sure to be rather mind-blowing. My own experience with the poker avatars has shown me the possibilities of mixing the real world with the imagination.

Kim and I joked about the sexy nurse character that was in a game the other night, trying to guess her real life physical characteristics. Is the design of the characters simply an extension of the real people or perhaps an idea of being the dream person they can never be?

And in the end, how can a rational person such as me find myself cursing at a cartoon character on a screen discussing their lineage and progeny while being emotional charged over losing a game in which the stakes are imaginary money.

What does that say about me? I am sure psychologists and sociologists are studying this phenomenon.

I will continue to play the game for now while understanding it has exposed all of my worst personal traits, especially when my 19-year old son is sitting beside me. Just the other night, I asked him what dollar level of tournament did we want to risk for a game. His answer, “Whatever gets you the maddest and makes you cuss the most.”

I am sure there is a level of shame there which I should be feeling more than I do. But, hey, every father and son has to have their own definition of quality time.

And the next time that sexy nurse is playing that handsome young man with the cool shades, perhaps it’s just a homely and lonely widow lady who is actually playing against a middle-aged married man whose wife is shaking her head from the next room, trying to remember that exciting handsome man she once met on an athletic field. It’s kind of a sad pathetic Norman Rockwell painting gone terribly wrong.

I know I should simply grow up and stop. But I won’t. It’s like being broke at the Vegas airport in the middle of the night with a pocketful of change all over again. But this time all of the pathetic people gambling are a lot more attractive.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at lindon.dodd@hotmail.com