The best part of Thanksgiving is the arbitrary commitment to spending immense amounts of time with people you have nothing in common with. There’s nothing like being trapped, bored, starving, and then unbearably full, all while surrounded by people who you don’t trust with full access to your Facebook page. Worse, this year’s Thanksgiving is right on the heels of Pokémon Sword and Shield. Millions of people will be free from work and school but have no opportunity to battle or trade. For those of us who always miss out on the prime trading hours, it feels like such a waste. There’s no way we’re going to get through this holiday without finding a way to sneak in a few minutes of play, even if we have to hide a Switch in the centerpiece cornucopia to do it.
Now, if you’re the cook for Thanksgiving, congratulations. As the architect of your family’s dining experience, no one can tell you shit. Set your Switch up on the counter, grab a glass of wine, find a nice patch to grind for a Shiny, and have at it. But if you’re anyone else in the house, depending on the demands of your extended family, you may not have the freedom to assert your playtime, especially on such a special occasion. So that’s where you’ll have to get sneaky and underhanded. All is fair in love and war, and videogames are both.
With Pokémon Sword and Shield upon us, it’s time to get serious.
This first method is classic. Thanksgiving is chaos, and inevitably point, someone’s going to have to make a store run. By offering to run all the errands, not only do you get to spend time away from the house, but you can also avoid the eye of scrutiny, giving you time to sneak in a few minutes of gaming. The trick is to buffer each trip by overestimating how long it will take to complete, and then use that time to play Pokémon instead. It’s like money laundering, but with leisure time.
To pull this off, you’ll need to do some planning and maybe even hide a few things in your car. Making 5 lbs of butter “mysteriously disappear” from the fridge can backfire into a legitimate culinary emergency if it turns out there are no stores open on Thanksgiving Day. Instead, steal and hide a key ingredient from the kitchen, then leave under the pretense of replacing it, returning when enough time has passed to give the impression that you did something. That way you get to play hero AND Pokémon Sword and Shield.
“I need to run out to my car for a minute”
A minute? Make it three minutes! Go out to your car and sneak in a few battles while nobody’s looking. Everyone’s busy, and no one will notice if you take a bit longer to rummage around in your car than usual. And if you put the Switch deep into your purse or backpack, you can pretend to look for things in the bag while you’re playing, reducing the suspicion if anyone spots you casually from a distance.
Extended bathroom breaks
A tried and true method of escaping dull conversations and even duller family members is to spend way too much time in the bathroom. It’s the perfect cover: most people aren’t going to harass you about how much time you spend in a bathroom, because that invites details, and nobody needs that right before dinner. To pull it off, however, you have to show restraint. If you visit the bathroom too often, your family will think you have diarrhea or a coke problem, and both will invite scrutiny.
You will also need to consider hiding places. It’s less conspicuous to slip in and out of the bathroom if you aren’t seen taking your Switch with you. An old classic is to put it at the bottom of an empty trash can and then replace the bag. It’s less risky than outright hiding it in the trash, and no one ever thinks to look between the bag and the can. You can also tape the Switch to the underside of the lid to the toilet tank, but that poses the risk of detection, due to the sound of heavy porcelain scraping when you remove the lid. You can get around this by putting the Switch in a waterproof bag and dampening the sound with running water from the sink, but a better way is to find a better place to tape it, even if it risks casual detection. The underside of the inner bathroom counter works well.
Bonus points if you manage to convince your family that it’s absolutely a Thanksgiving tradition to take a long bath right before supper.
Good news! If you smoke, you have a built-in excuse to slip away for a few minutes every hour. After all, no one can tell you how to spend your smoke break, and balancing a cigarette in your mouth while playing with both hands is not hard.
If you don’t smoke, take up smoking.
Playing “with the kids”
This method is fantastic because it allows the maximum amount of playing time while raising the least amount of suspicion. With the “I’m playing with the kids” excuse, you’ll win points with the rest of the family for keeping the kids distracted, without seeming like a disinterested jerk, which you absolutely are. Talking about Pokémon with kids is one of the only times they’re interesting. If they’re young, you can openly justify making them watch the game instead of playing it with you, which is less boring for everybody involved. If you play your cards correctly, you could spend a solid six to eight hours playing Pokémon Sword and Shield and actually be appreciated for it. It’s basically the perfect crime.
The old lap napkin trick
If you’re feeling particularly brazen and have nothing left to lose, you can always play chicken with the entire wrath of your family and play your Switch directly at the dinner table. With the right amount of chaos, it’s not actually hard. Start the long con early in the day by wearing a hoodie, preferably one without a zipper, with one solid pocket in the front. Before heading to the dinner table, place the Switch in the hoodie pocket, carefully positioning your hands, so they give the appearance of bulk and then slump your shoulders a bit, so it hides the shape. When no one is looking, transfer the Switch to your lap, then place a napkin over the screen. If there’s a tablecloth, edge the Switch towards your knees, obscuring it just slightly. If you’re lucky, the tablecloth can hide the Switch but also be easily brushed back just enough that you can see the screen. If not, you can either play through the thin paper or linen of your napkin or occasionally remove just enough of it that you can see the screen. If you limit your gameplay to battles (wandering around the Wild Area will betray your line of sight), you can probably get in at least 5 battles in the course of an hour-long dinner. Which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it sure beats being bored. Plus, the thrill of the deception really makes the time fly by.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.