I never imagined that the skills I learned during my online gaming days would come back to help me follow physical distancing as the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions ease. I grew up on the gaming console Nintendo. My gaming ‘career’, though brief, was a mix of titles such as Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, Aladdin, TNMT, and Universal Soldier and the underrated classic Bomber Man.
Present day players will probably swear by games like Plague Inc, because of the stark similarity to the current pandemic. Then there are the Covid-19 specific games like Can You Save the World? that help explain the importance of social-distancing, or Covid Run which was launched by the Kerala government.
But walking through a market today, or anywhere really, feels like a live version of Bomber Man. The Japanese video game follows a tiny white-haired man who must navigate roadblocks to an exit window, has the ability to plant bombs to clear his path and picks up bonus powers on the way. A trigger-happy me would often end up planting too many bombs and trapping myself within a blast zone.
Which is what my latest trip to the market last Sunday was like.
Navigating the marketplace
If one stays out too long, the market can end up feeling like a petri dish. This has made shopping more like a strategic marathon, rather than the leisurely window-shopping exercise I normally enjoy.
The eased lockdown restrictions meant that more people were out and about, some with masks, some with gloves, some with both and some with neither. Not everyone was following the six-feet of separation or just didn’t know how to. So, to protect myself, I had to duck, dodge, dive, and snake my way out of pandemic-unfriendly proximity — useful skills I acquired from Bomber Man.
Bigger shops were easier to navigate since there was ample space. But for those of us who can only manage going to the nearby local market, it is a choice between a variety of booths. You have to stand six feet away from the shop window, bob up and down to catch the attention of the usually listless or distracted staff.
At some of the shops, there are circles drawn outside to mark the safe distance between waiting customers. Moving from one to the next felt like I was levelling up or picking up bonus powers — on Bomber Man, if it’s a smiley face, you know it’s a good bonus power, much like the magic mushrooms in a Super Mario game. In real life, I was getting the power to advance closer to the shop window. The faster I got done, the quicker could move to the next shop.
And then there were the unknowns that I didn’t account for.
Social distancing, or not
A fellow customer suddenly appeared out of nowhere on my right at one of the shops. There was barely six centimetres of distance between us, let alone six feet. I recoiled. This is when things got interesting.
Suddenly Bomber Man turned into Dance Dance Revolution, and I was doing the quick step. Quick backward step, two sideward steps … and then I ran into someone else who was waiting their turn, suddenly feeling rather boxed in. The person who uprooted me had taken their mask off to ask for whatever goods they were buying, and I was suddenly hearing an alarm bell warning me I was in the blast radius.
The staff suddenly became super-efficient and took both my order as well as the customer standing next to me. He was probably trying to get rid of both of us at the same time to avoid the little crowd at his shop window. One more backstep opened up some space around me and I had some sense of social distancing again. I could see my order coming up, so I quickly checked for my exit window and I moved to the next level — a shop with aisles.
It was a 24Seven, so I was greeted with a squirt of sanitiser on my hands. Since bigger shops regulate the number of customers inside, it wasn’t too hard to avoid people. Dodging them was less like Bomber man, but more a game of kho-kho really.
Now, I know all this comes off as a bit dramatic, but I’m sure you’ve found yourself similarly dodging people since the pandemic struck, especially in a country where our understanding of personal space is zero. But I would have never thought that the simple act of grocery shopping would call for a few of Micheal Scott’s parkour moves from The Office to make a quick exit.