This is the typical view you get if you’re riding a London tube train at rush hour. In the morning it’s packed but high-energy and it smells faintly of cologne and coffee.
On the way home it’s different. Everyone retreats into their own world even more than normal. They’re tired. They’re packed together. It’s been a long day. They don’t smell of coffee and cologne any more.
On the tube home from work today, in an only slightly less crowded train, I noticed the girl next to me was smiling. This is a rare enough occurrence on the underground to warrant further investigation, so I looked up from my game of Carcassonne to see why.
She also had an iPhone, and she was using it to play a game of air hockey. She had an ear-to-ear grin because she was winning. Breaking the tube taboo of never looking at anyone for more than two seconds, I could see she was totally engaged. She mouthed the words ‘Yeah! That’s right!’ as she sunk a goal. I found myself smiling sympathetically just from watching her.
She passed a couple of levels and eventually got so into the game that she forgot herself entirely and said ‘Shit!’ out loud when she lost a round. She looked around, embarassed, and said ‘Sorry!’
Everyone pretended they hadn’t heard, of course. Other people don’t really exist on the tube. That’s the fiction we all agree to when we travel there.
I remember when I first got a smartphone and started gaming on the tube. At first I was super self-conscious of it, because I’d never really seen anyone do it. Read books, sure, apply makeup and even curl eyelashes (that was weird) yes. But gaming wasn’t something you saw people do back in mid-2009. (Oh, those many weeks ago!)
How things have changed, and how quickly. Every third person seems to be playing a game on a phone these days. It’s especially interesting to see how kids react, because most smartphones are still owned by adults, so you don’t see kids gaming on the tube so much.
You do see kids discreetly standing right next to you, thinking that you haven’t noticed them shoulder-surfing your game. And then getting their little sister and showing her. Still thinking you haven’t noticed.
Games on the tube. They make little islands of obvious delight. It’s a nice thing to see.