Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hated for the White Devil, and...Volleyball!

A lunchtime volleyball game occurred today at work. I say "occurred" because these things are like major events in astronomy: they're so vanishingly rare that you can't even try to predict them. You may as well just sit back and enjoy the show, because who knows when you'll ever see its like again? Volleyball appeals to video game testers more than some other sports because it is, fundamentally, a game of standing. Contrast this to soccer--which, as Coach McGuirk notes, is a game of running. Here is a video of his collected wisdom, which I invite all persons of good taste to view.

Look, volleyball is a sport populated with great athletes--coordination, agility and strength are all valued. But they're not really necessary, are they? You'd have to pull off an amazing dive to dig a pro baller's shot out of the sand, but a dork? The ball will probably graze the net if it clears at all, and it will be moving slowly. The server will probably not be jumping, and he will probably consider it an accomplishment to just get the ball to somebody on the other side of the net. Which isn't even the point of serving, but we'll take it. And before you think I'm a douchebag, I will admit with full disclosure that I sucked too. I tried to perform an aesthetically appealing serve on two occasions. On the first, I over-estimated my vertical jump (stupid bare feet on sand) and totally whiffed the ball I'd tossed up over my head. The second time, I made contact but didn't get the ball over the net. I blame a decade of Ultimate for this--who knew that balls travel in a parabola instead of gliding in a straight line? This would have been useful information while I was taking those Stanford physics classes.

The point is, it's damn hard to get nerds to participate in voluntary exercise unless it is performed in front of a Nintendo Wii. Double that for the fine employees of Namco-Bandai America, who prefer to spend their time away from video games...playing video games. Nobody leaves the goddamn office until 6pm, they just microwave their lunches in Tupperware containers. The Tupperware is important because if they lose it, Mom's gonna freak. However, they will occasionally play table tennis. Sand volleyball is fundamentally table tennis, only it's outside and there are more people involved. But the extra people means you don't have to be involved on every play and can just stand around. Because volleyball, again, is a sport of standing. By the way, I call it "table tennis" because "ping pong" sounds like an racist slur somebody would have directed at an Asian person around 1930. I'm pretty confident somebody in a bowler hat yelled such an epithet through the door of a San Francisco laundromat at some point in history.

The whole "outside" thing is unfortunate but it was a nice warm day and everyone seemed happy enough. There were murmurs about sunburns, but you're statistically unlikely to get melanoma by standing outside with your shirt on for forty minutes. Also, nerds may dislike the sun but they fucking love to wear shorts. Playing volleyball allows them to wear shorts, or (alternately) to roll up their jeans so that it's like wearing shorts. Sadly I have no insight to offer on the nerd proclivity for shorts-wearing. I'd guess that it's related to the nerd desire to always wear the same thing. In the future when computers have positioned nerds to control everything, we will all wear black tracksuits at all times. They are slimming and their dark colors mute the garish orange of Cheez-It crumbs. Nerds wear shorts all the time in their living rooms, so being able to take that show on the road (with minimal risk of getting cold, because you are a well-insulated dude) and wear shorts very minute of every day is really an ideal scenario. That's my theory, anyway. I'd ask one of the shorts-wearing dorkmachines at work, but I don't think he'd see anything remarkable in it.

The game was a lot of fun. I joined a team as its only non-Asian member, as well as its only member taller than 5'6". This was about as awesome as I'd hoped for, because it meant I was the only guy who could play "above the rim," and by rim I mean net because in volleyball there's this net right in the middle of everything. At one point, a teammate made a nice jump and spiked the shit out of the ball, which shot forward in a horizontal line until it impacted the dead fucking center of the net. I started to celebrate, but then I remembered it wasn't soccer and hitting the net was bad. Sports are confusing.

At one point, an opposing player was struck in the face with the ball and busted her glasses. This was a problem and she seemed a little upset. I don't think she should have been, since the last things to touch the ball before it ricocheted into her face were her own hands. After a break, she returned sans lunettes and the game resumed, though she whiffed on basically every ball that came her way from there on out. I can't remember the last time an activity had to be put on hold because somebody messed up her glasses. At least I didn't have to endure a lunch break in a game that took place on lunch break.

I've decided volleyball was actually more fun this way. It was as though we were all trying to tame some capricious woodland spirit that had taken up residence inside of a volleyball. It was nearly impossible to tell what direction the ball would travel after a player hit it, though it was slow enough that it could usually be tracked down. Who knew what that rambunctious little pixie would do next? The games were always close, because 95% of the points would end in an unforced error by one team or another. We were all terrible, so each team was as likely as the other to commit such an error and everything stayed relatively exciting throughout the games. I say "relatively" because watching two teams trade a half-dozen points without a single serve landing fair can be something of a drag. We won in the end because we had the only player who could actually spike it over the net. Again, I don't mean to toot my own horn because I am also terrible at volleyball. Whereas actual volleyball players get "kills" (far too brutal a term to apply to such a tame sport), I get "maims."

I thought of a good analogy. It's a hunting analogy, though I've never been hunting. If actual volleyball players are hunters who kill animals, I'm a shitty irresponsible hunter who just maims them. I spray the underbrush with bullets, and my quarry gimps away bleeding to croak somewhere else. The ball will get over the net and it will eventually strike the ground (probably after bouncing off somebody's leg or hands or face), but nobody looks good and nobody's happy with the result. But you know what? We won, and it was cool enough for me to keep my shirt on. Though now that I think about it, taking it off might be a good professional decision. I can imagine my boss' reaction: "Ooh, a silverback! That's leadership potential right there!" And the sky is the goddamn limit.

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