A new game in town.

My crew and I had gone to lunch at a local café. Since we were working in town, it was just a short walk to the restaurant from our street staking project. As we waited at the stoplight to cross the street, a boy of about 8 (who was also waiting for the light) started to get excited about the pocket game he was playing. He called out loudly, "Mom, I made it to the party chief level!" His mother congratulated him, although she was not nearly as excited.

The boy's exclamation naturally piqued our curiosity. The party chief level? So, as we crossed the street, I asked the boy what game he was playing. His response floored me. He was playing the latest in high-tech, hand-held games, Pokey Surveyor. There was no mistaking it; this kid was playing a high-tech surveyor game. On the opposite curb I stopped and asked the boy to tell me all about it. It was a revelation.

Apparently there are several dozen characters in the game, all with differing levels of knowledge about surveying. Each player engages in different adventures and advances to new levels by proving knowledge of the subject matter. The game also includes hazards and potential disasters that can disrupt or end the journey.

You start the game by taking a makeshift IQ test. If your score is too high, you are eliminated immediately and told to try an alternate game, like Pokey Nurse. And if your score is too low, you are sent into a remedial game called Pokey Realtor.

Once you make it past this IQ test, you then qualify as a Survey Apprentice. Your first adventure is to pop 100 manhole lids and measure inverts. But each manhole has some challenge hiding under the lid. I popped my first manhole lid to find a lurking monster cockroach, which pulled me into the sewer. Apparently the game is designed to be politically correct, with a minimal amount of violence. The screen simply told me I had "expired." For those of you over 50-I died.

Another adventure included the "snake pit brush line" level. Need I say more? And how about the level where you have to explain a boundary survey to an engineer? I couldn't imagine things getting much worse, until the boy told me you have to make the exact same explanation to the exact same engineer several times before passing. What a challenge.

Yet another level is the "government employee" career ladder alternative. Here you have the unique goal of doing more with less¿forever! A hazard in this level is actually producing too much work. If you do, you will get in trouble with all the other Pokey Surveyors. And if that isn't bad enough, you also have to endure 14 re-inventions by your "management leadership team." How could anyone ever get beyond that nightmare of a level?

Just then, a friend of this boy passed us on the street. "Hey Billy, do you still want to trade that ACSM Executive Director card for a Massachusetts State Board Member card?" he asked.

"No way, that's not a fair trade at all!"

"How about a New Jersey Society President card?" he asked.

"I'll think about it," Billy said.

When I asked about this, Billy explained there was a whole series of trading cards with all the Pokey Surveyor characters on them. Trading was a serious business venture, he added.

I realized this game had many levels and possibilities, so I asked the boy to cut to the end of the game; how does it turn out? He said eventually you qualify at the party chief level, only to face possible dismissal when the firm you work for runs low on work. You also face another real danger; the boss's son is placed on your crew, and he constantly reminds you "I'll tell my dad." I secretly hoped that players had the opportunity to contribute to the expiration of said boss's son, but I did not ask.

Having just achieved the party chief level, this boy could only give me a rough outline of what lay ahead. His friends told him you can really move up when you go into the office level. This qualifies you as a "Digi-Surveyor." The challenges include being chained to a computer that constantly runs CAD programs or having to find your way to a jobsite you've never been to, but for which you've done all the calcs and boundary analysis. In that level, you risk another form of "expiration" by being sent to a land description sweat-shop on a large right of way project never to be seen again. How frightening.

Finally, he explained, the dream of all young game players is to achieve the ultimate level of success. "You get registered?" I asked. He looked at me in a puzzled way and said, "No, you go back to the field and look for corners again until you expire."

I thanked the boy for sharing all this with us. And as we walked back to the jobsite, I pondered whether this game would be of much interest to real surveyors. I asked the crew what they thought, and they said it wasn't realistic enough. I began to worry.

As the boy turned a corner, I called out one more really important question. "Do you want to be a surveyor when you grow up?"

He replied, with a confident look on his face, "Nope. I'm gonna work at McDonalds!"

Disillusioned, I returned to the jobsite and went back to work. It really wasn't that realistic a game anyway. It probably scared off more kids from the profession than it recruited. So I got back down on my knees, wiped the salty sweat from my eyes, swished away a couple of wasps and started pounding blue tops into the concrete-like sub base. Ah, this is real life. Who needs that dumb new game anyway?