Since the days of the Game Boy, the biggest joy of handheld gaming has been portability. From a bench in the park to the backseat of a car, anyplace can be a venue for button-mashing. This has become even more true during the last two years, when being able to play while reintegrating with the outside world has become a way to cope with Covid-19 anxiety. Last week, though, I discovered a whole new utility: Helping me keep my cool while stuck on a train for 35 hours—with a toddler.
This revelation came via the kind of catastrophe befitting the start of 2022. Like many other families, mine struggled with what to do this holiday season as Omicron cases surged. Ultimately, my husband and I decided to get out of the Philadelphia cold and take our toddler south to my parents’ house, driving down and taking an Amtrak train back. We could isolate with my family, and, on the journey home, try to stay Covid-safe in a private cabin. However, like many others, we got stuck when a massive snowstorm pummeled the Northeast last week, leaving cars stranded on I-95 in Virginia, and us stuck in our cabin with little to do but wait.
The trouble started around 5:30 am, when I woke up to discover the train wasn’t moving. There were trees down on the tracks between Richmond and Washington, DC, and we couldn’t move until they were cleared. In a surreal turn of events, we didn’t get any updates until almost noon because the train conductor forgot to include our car in announcements. We had no idea when we’d get moving again, but in many ways, we were lucky. We had heat, private space, a bathroom, and as others on the train inquired about diapers or formula, overpacking ensured we weren’t hungry.
What we needed, though, was a way to keep our tiny human from devolving into a crying mess. We had an iPhone 12 Pro with abysmal battery life, an iPad, and a Nintendo Switch. It was the latter, and specifically Cozy Grove, that saved us all.
I like to describe Cozy Grove as a sort of quest-based Animal Crossing. You’re a Spirit Scout and your job is to help ghost bears around your island regain their memories so they can move on peacefully. It’s a tranquil, calming game, and while playing definitely helped ease my nervousness about the situation, my toddler reaped most of the benefits, ordering his mother around to show him various things on the island—whether it be fish, Mr. Kit (“Mama, I wanna see the fox!”), or a seashell. He was especially fond of the different bears on the island, asking me to guess which one it was he wanted to see. (“Is it the one that looks like corn or the one that looks like a flower?” was a common question over those long hours.) The part I was most grateful for was that, thanks to my impulsive upgrade to the Nintendo Switch OLED, I was easily getting six-hour playing sessions, which made a huge difference on our journey.
At 1:30 am the following day, we arrived bleary-eyed at our destination—35 hours after we left. Fortunately, my child was already asleep by the time we got there, and he went to bed as soon as we got home. But even after he drifted off, I continued wandering around my Cozy Grove island. It’s still the perfect escape, even though I’m no longer trapped.