Fireboy and Watergirl: My Favorite Pandemic Pastime

Click. clack. Our fingers lunge at the computer keys. Our eyes dart around the screen. Quick decisions and strategies are necessary here. We’ve been at this level for a while now, and this time seems like the one. I use the A, W, and D keys to navigate my avatar while my younger sister, Mandy, uses the arrow keys to maneuver hers. We’ve collected all our gems, and the finish line is in sight. But no. With a wail, Mandy’s avatar trips into a pit of green lava, and the level is done with. I sigh and say that I knew it.

At least once a week over the summer, Mandy and I have played the computer game Fireboy and Watergirl. We follow the same routine every time: settle into the couch, prop open the screen on our laps, and play until the bottom of the computer grows hot. This whole tradition has become a time for us to lose ourselves in a world separate from the pandemic and summer boredom.

The first level of Fireboy and Watergirl: The Forest Temple. (Katie S.)

Our hands are pounding with adrenaline as we restart the level. My fingers have become stiff, but I continue clicking and clacking. As Watergirl, I jump and spin over bright orange lakes of fire, and Mandy, as Fireboy, does her best to avoid stepping in pools of water. Quickly dodging and skipping, we slice through the first part of the level. I holler at Mandy to focus on this next part: don’t die. I’ve repeated those directions so many times, it’s become a chant. Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die. But it seems that Mandy has only heard the last word: die. She stumbles into a puddle of water and her avatar writhes in agony. We laughed the first couple of times this happened, but now I just squint at the computer and click the restart button in frustration.

Although this tradition has become a staple of our summer, Mandy and I have never done it in the past. In fact, the combination of 1) pandemic boredom and 2) shortage of human connection were really what spurred its existence. But gradually, it has become more than a pandemic coping mechanism and has developed into a time of joy and intense concentrationwhich go strangely well together.

As soon as I clack on the restart button, we are off. The closer we get to the finish, the tighter my stomach becomes. Although I’m controlling Watergirl, I still track Mandy’s Fireboy, wincing whenever she narrowly completes a jump or drop. We finally arrive at the water pool that Mandy can’t seem to leap over. I swallow the words Don’t die in my throat as she vaults over the lake. Almost there, almost there. She makes it, and I feel a rush of sweet relief. We just look at each other and mirror one another’s smiles.