Rookie of the Year

GOAT vs. Block

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #123. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.

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A tongue-in-cheek but also painfully earnest look at pop culture and anything else that deserves to be ridiculed while at the same time regarded with the utmost respect. It is written by Matt Marrone and emailed to Stu Horvath, who adds any typos or factual errors that might appear within.

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How is it possible that, after countless rounds of the same repetitive iOS game, you could somehow not only break your own longstanding, hard-earned high score but nearly double it?

In other words: How could you suddenly be twice as good at a game you’ve played so often there’s simply no conceivable room for improvement?

It’s impossible. Well, it was impossible – until a recent Monday night.

Let me set the scene: You’re sitting in your comfy “Dad” chair. A cold pint glass of sparkling plain seltzer rests precariously between your legs. Star Trek: The Next Generation plays, on repeat, streaming via Netflix to your TV, which is partially obscured by your youngest son’s play gate. It’s late, and the living room is otherwise quiet – everyone else has gone to bed. In your right hand, your iPhone X. On your screen, Snake vs. Block.

Your high score is 11,800-something. It’s a crazy high score, so crazy you rarely ever approach it. Months ago, you’d said to your wife something like, “I can’t believe I ever got that far.” She didn’t care.

But now you’re rolling. You haven’t glanced at your score yet, as you are half-watching Commander Data turn diabolically evil and methodically take control of the Enterprise. So you look. You’re at 8,500. Wow, that’s solid. It’s usually around here that you max out on your best day, but you’re in the zone and you feel like you could keep going. And so . . . you keep going. To 9,000, 9,500, 10,000.

You attempt not to get nervous because staying calm is key to maneuvering your chain of hamburger parts past a never-ending scroll of numbered boxes. The attempt works. At one point you relax your legs a bit and your seltzer glass falls to the floor and spills out onto the rug. But you’re so focused you don’t even realize what has fallen at first.

And then the next thing falls: Your record.

Now you’ve passed 12,000 and the pressure is gone entirely. You can crash and burn whenever, knowing full well you’ve reached a new, epic milestone. But you don’t crash – you just keep on burnin’. Past 13,000. And 14,000. Then 15,000. And 16,000.

This is insane, you think.

And then you have a fresh reason to lose your cool: You realize there’s no way you’ll ever play this well again. Whatever you get now, in this moment, will be your high score. Forever.

And then you have a fresh reason to lose your cool: You realize there’s no way you’ll ever play this well again. Whatever you get now, in this moment, will be your high score. Forever.

As you approach 20,000 you know that if you see it, you’ll never see it again. And you wonder: Has anyone seen it? Someone must have, there’s always some whale in gamerland better than you. But then again, this is Snake vs. Block and who is dumb enough to play Snake vs. Block this much?

21,000.

Now you’re wondering something else: Maybe you’ll play this one round forever. Will your hand go numb? Will your bladder burst? The Star Trek episode ended a few minutes ago – both Data and the Enterprise turned out fine, naturally – and maybe you can start another one with your free hand? No, not worth it.

22,000.

And then a final realization – that your ridiculous unattainable new high score probably means playing the game will never actually be fun again – gets to you. You veer in the wrong direction . . . and that’s it.

Final score: 22,819.

That’s better than your previous best by 11,000. That’s better than the next good game you’ll play, you assume, by maybe 15,000 or more.

You Google “Snake vs. Block high score.” You find a YouTube video from someone whose “World Record” indicates he is an amateur by your new standards. So you stop searching.

As far as you’re concerned, you’re the greatest Snake vs. Block player ever now. You’ve reached the pinnacle, the very peak of your abilities. There is no need to question it. You pick up your pint glass, grab a refill and start another Star Trek episode.

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Matt Marrone is a senior MLB editor at ESPN.com. He has been Unwinnable’s reigning Rookie of the Year since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @thebigm.

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