She destroyed Preppy’s and my high scores within two days. This roused the competitor in me. Emerging as the SongPop champion became an obsession.

Not coincidentally, around this time my husband lost all interest in the game. Apparently my sister and I had raised the stakes beyond his ability to enjoy it. We have a tendency to do this in my family.

My mother’s mother, Memama, would play remarkably contentious Scrabble games with my Uncle Paul. The games would last entire afternoons, and none of us would be allowed in the room while the death match was being held. So we’d sit by the door and listen, since the language was much more colorful than anything on TV.

“God…Dammit, Shirley! That is NOT a goddamn word.”

“Go ahead and look it up, Paul, if you’re willing to risk the points. You were wrong about ‘striven,’ but maybe you’ll be right about this one.”

“God…DAMMIT, Shirley!”

Then we’d hear her musical little chuckle.

“Alright, so that’s a triple-word score…”

Memama was a teensy slip of a woman from Arkansas without much education, up against the 300-pound Shell Oil executive who’d married her daughter. In any other scenario imaginable, he’d have the obvious upper hand.

But Memama had one hell of a vocabulary, and on the battlefield of Scrabble, she was a formidable opponent who would knock your highfalutin’ ass down a few pegs, ‘til she could look you in the eye.

She taught her grandkids that simply by sharpening a few well-chosen skills, you could take down any opponent. The trick was always making sure you were playing your game, not theirs.

Leaving my sister and I to battle it out over SongPop, Preppy moved on to a Facebook game called Pet Society. It’s a benign little enterprise where you create a cartoon animal which you can play Frisbee with and dress in little outfits.

You can also earn coins to purchase home furnishings for your pet by visiting strangers and washing or feeding their animals. Once Shannon and I discovered this, the game was once again on.

“I’ve neglected my own children all morning while I sat online bathing strangers and feeding them pineapples,” says Shannon on the phone. “But I got four hundred coins and bought a chandelier!”

“Preppy says we’re ruining another game,” I say, brushing a random rabbit and stocking up on coins.

“He’s just saying that because we’re winning. If you’re that worried, buy him a present.”

I send my pet over to his pet’s house. Preppy was a few beers in when he created his animal and accidentally misspelled its name, which apparently one cannot change, so he’s stuck with a cat named “Butterscotche.”

I spend the coins I was saving for a new sofa and buy a bunch of presents for Butterscotche. This may all sound insane to the uninitiated, but it’s a significant choice in Pet Society: I’m not winning anymore.

But the next time he opens the game, instead of seeing how high I’ve managed to push my score, he’ll find a room full of gift boxes.

Even if the gifts aren’t real, the intent behind them is. Sometimes, when you lose, you win.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at

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