Pretty as a picture
Digital finger-painting app Draw Something reawakens a long-lost artistic streak.
Grown-ups aren't supposed to draw. Sure, there are some exceptions - artists, say, or childcare workers. But serious adults, with serious jobs and serious lives?
The last time I sat down with a sketch pad and a pile of coloured pencils was in 1993 - just before I dropped art at high school in favour of subjects considered likely to lead to a ''proper'' career (only to end up in journalism).
Having an artist mother was a constant reminder of the precarious nature of creativity. Her wildly imaginative ways meant I had some of the best fancy-dress costumes of any kid in my class, but sales of her paintings didn't exactly provide a steady income. Instead, she relied on my father - a serious man, in a serious profession - to hand over weekly housekeeping payments. This would not be my fate. So, apart from the odd doodle, I became a woman of words.
A month ago, something changed. A month ago, I became addicted to Draw Something.
The finger-painting app, which in March hit 50 million downloads in 50 days - faster than any game in mobile app history - challenges players to draw words on their phone or tablet computer screens for opponents to guess. A cross between Scrabble and Pictionary, it rewards correct answers with virtual coins, which can be used to buy more colours or make it easier to pick the right word from a selection of letters. Opponents could be friends or strangers and the app keeps a tally of winning streaks between each pair.
Simple? Astonishingly. Fun? Enormously. Addictive? Like crack cocaine. But it's more than that.
My favourite stranger is a guy with a spectacle-wearing lion as his profile pic. He consistently chooses the toughest words, worth the most coins. Not only can he draw, he has faith in my ability to pick the tricky ones.
Some of the best games are with Facebook friends I haven't seen in years. A woman I've known since primary school draws remarkable trucks. When I scrawl a compliment on the screen, she writes back explaining it's because she's now the mother of three boys. We start emailing and fill each other in on the details of our lives.
The most surprising opponent has been my brother. For nearly 20 years our interactions have been mostly good-natured but sporadic. Since he joined the army as a university student, we've had little in common. This game has given us a new language. His pictures remind me of the hours he spent as a boy sketching his carnivorous plant collection. I collapse into giggles as I watch him draw two naked figures ascending into the sky with a man who looks like Jesus. The word? Rapture. I congratulate him on the masterpiece when we speak a few days later and he tells me about his new job in the civilian world.
Our winning streak swiftly climbs to 50, then 80. For the past fortnight, we've been stuck on 99. The game's creators have admitted they never thought anyone would reach that score, so they didn't build in a capacity for it to go higher. The latest update fixes this.
My initial obsession with Draw Something has worn off. Too many opponents have resorted to writing words over their pictures, and too many of the same words crop up again and again. It's been weeks since the game kept me up till the wee small hours.
I still log on now and then. My first child is due in July and sometimes I can feel it kicking while I'm playing. I quietly hope it's inheriting its grandmother's artistic talents. Or at the very least, happily marinating in its mother's belly laughs when the next picture from her brother arrives.