At around 9:30PM on any given weekday, my phone rings and I already know who it is without checking the Caller ID. It’s my girlfriend telling me to meet her at the restaurant. Sure, a visit to a restaurant is a cliché date. But given the distance between our houses, the restaurant where she wants to meet had better be better than some greasy spoon.
I eventually arrive at the restaurant and it is teeming with people from various walks of life. I instantly spot a few friends sitting and eating the restaurant’s specials. Tonight the restaurant is serving a variety of food ranging from bacon cheeseburgers to tempura udon. But before I can decide on what to order, my girlfriend gives me a series of quick requests over the phone:
“Spice this dish, send me some parts, and get your slow butt to work now.”
As it turns out, the restaurant is a virtual restaurant that my girlfriend is running on Facebook. The food is not very satisfying, but the commute from my bedroom to the office is short while the little avatars of our mutual friends who also play tend to fill the seats. I fulfill her requests with a few clicks of the mouse. I cannot control how slow my avatar walks or fix the inept walking paths he takes to slowly serve food and bring that up to my girlfriend again. We talk a bit about her taste in decorating her virtual restaurant and time management in preparing the virtual food for her virtual customers before we visit my virtual restaurant so we can take care of it together. After filling up on virtual food and virtual business profits, we close for the night and talk about our day, current events, and plans to visit each other.
During the time that I was into and out of Facebook casual social networking games, my girlfriend eventually got caught up in them. Out of swapping gemstones, leading a mafia, tending a farm, or being a superhero, she found the cute avatars and personal customizations of her little restaurant appealing to her and signed up. I reopened mine to follow suit. We could just as easily call each other up to talk about our day, current events, and plans to visit each other without playing this social networking game. But the virtual restaurants give the two of us something we could do together while on the phone. It feels just like enjoying a meal or a movie together when we do physically see each other. And being able to talk about our virtual restaurants gives us another easy topic we both can share since we have familiarity with it. The aforementioned terrible walking paths that our characters take is just one of our mutual peeves of the game. Watching our restaurants grow through our combined efforts gives a nice sense of bonding and accomplishment even if it is a virtual achievement coordinated over the phone.
We do both wonder how long we will keep playing this restaurant game. We even joke about bringing our laptops so we can manage our restaurants a bit each night during our weekend getaway-at least I hope it’s a joke. But at least these little casual games do give us a cheap and entertaining activity that the two of us can do together while we are a distance away. Who knows, we might just turn the virtual restaurant into reality in our later life.
And no, I have no intention of adding her to my mafia family. Some “business” is best left away from the love life.