This week has been kinda stressful. I'm extremely conflict-averse, and in a normal week I might have minor conflicts with one or two people, usually fairly easily resolved. This week I had minor or major conflicts (mostly minor) with half a dozen people, mostly either initiated by me or stemming from things I did and said, and one of them in particular (at work) has been especially stressful.

I should make clear that these are all the kinds of things that most people take in stride. People disagree; people argue. But I'm a delicate flower sometimes, and this kind of thing makes me tense.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about how I've been spending my time. I've sometimes been spending a couple hours a day playing games (mostly iPad games, especially Spider solitaire), and a couple more hours a day on Facebook. And although I resist the common idea that those activities are inherently a waste of time that would be better spent on, say, face-to-face interactions with people—I get a lot of enjoyment out of both games and Facebook, and I learn a lot from reading stuff friends post—I think I have to admit at this point that both of those activities are getting in the way of my doing stuff that I want to do and/or should be doing.

The games thing has been coming and going. I've always had periods of a week or two when I obsessively focus on a particular game and play it in every spare moment; with most games, after a couple of weeks I lose interest and move on. But over the past couple months I've had a couple of periods when I was playing the same small set of games over and over, and my interest doesn't seem to be waning.

So sometime around Wednesday morning, I decided to try again on something I've tried before: each time I get the impulse to play an iPad game, I'll open an ebook instead. Or Paper, the drawing program I've been playing with. Ideally I would divert to writing instead of reading, but that's harder because I do my writing on my computer rather than on the iPad. So for now, reading will do, especially because there are a lot of books I want to read.

I intended it to be just one day, and it went well. But the next morning I decided to do it again. And again the next. And now I haven't played any games in three or four days.

(I may have made one or two Letterpress moves somewhere in there; I'm not counting that, because it's asynchronous, only needing a couple of minutes for a move a couple of times a day. I don't get obsessive about it in the same way. But I also went so many days between Letterpress moves in the past week or two that I suspect the other players have given up on me.)

I'm not dead-set on stopping playing permanently or anything; I still see nothing wrong with games per se. But I think that at the moment, it feels better to me to stop for the time being.

Meanwhile, after some arguing on Facebook the other day, I decided to take a day off Facebook. I was losing sleep over the various abovementioned conflicts, and needed to take some time to destress. And that went pretty well. I'll almost certainly be back on Facebook sometime soon, and I already stopped by briefly this morning to say happy birthday to someone, but I may start treating FB more like Twitter, just looking at the latest posts rather than trying to stay totally caught up on specific people. So if you post something to FB that you want to be sure I see, may be best to let me know via other channels.

Then again, I may be back to my normal behavior soon. We'll see.

Oh, and I've also stepped away from the Wikipedia “American novelists” controversy.

Plan for this weekend: (1) clean up messy house; (2) host a writing day tomorrow. Will also try and get some writing done today; am trying to get second draft of my novelish thing done by May 9. Unclear as yet whether I'll be able to do that, but this weekend seems like my best chance for it.

(What I've been reading lately, instead of playing games (started some of these long before the games moratorium, though): The Governess Affair, by Courtney Milan; Wide Open, by Deborah Coates; Tingleberries, Tuckertubs and Telephones, by Margaret Mahy; The Body Project, by Joan Jacobs Brumberg; Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic, by David J. Schwartz; Farthing, by Jo Walton. All worth reading, though I'm not yet done reading the last three of those.)

7 Responses to “Diversions”

  1. debbie.notkin

    I stayed away from computer games all week, because it seemed inappropriate in a house of mourning. (This makes no sense; my nephew was playing games all the time, and my niece, nephew, and I were watching silly TV when we got the chance; nonetheless, it felt right.) I’m hoping to use this as a computer-game-reduction break. For the past several weeks I’ve been putting off important things and playing silly games, and I’d like to go back to my old(er) pattern of games-as-reward, rather than games-as-avoidance.

    • Jed

      (Oops, completely missed both of these comments when y’all posted them. Sorry about that.)

      Debbie: I really like that distinction between games-as-reward and games-as-avoidance; a paradigm I hadn’t thought about before. And yeah, I definitely get the “makes no sense [but] felt right” thing.

      …On the flip side of that, I think that sometimes games-as-avoidance can be a good thing—well, really, maybe I mean games-as-escapism. A way to set aside the stresses and difficulties of the real world for a little while and focus on small, unimportant, and/or easily-resolved problems. But that idea can easily be taken too far.

  2. danima

    Good luck on the mood-engineering project! You know some of the steps I’ve taken along those lines, and I’m happy to report that they’re producing good results. As a believer in the power of games as both art and practice (as well as someone who falls into those obsessive game loops you’re talking about), I’d also remark that changing the *kind* of game you play could be as significant as not playing — see, for example, that you instinctively aren’t counting Letterpress. Specifically, I find Spider Solitaire to be a particularly punishing game: in general, things just keep getting worse and worse. Contrast this to Freecell, which can also be fiendishly difficult, but which has an underlying “tidying up” flow to it. In fact, I often find the metaphor of playing Freecell coming to mind when I’m cleaning house or trying to manage my workload.

    Not that everyone has to love Freecell, just using it as an example. And it sounds like playing no games is working well for you, so I’m not trying to talk you into picking up new ones!

    Lastly: is _Gooseberry Bluff_ available other than via Kindle? I had a great experience with a serial last year and I’d love to try another one, but, you know, Kindle.

    • Jed

      danima: Yay for mood-engineering producing good results!

      I think I would make different distinctions among kinds of games than you’re making. The reason I didn’t count Letterpress was, essentially, that I don’t get into obsessive loops with it—but the reason for that is partly that I don’t find it as satisfying and partly that it’s asynchronous play with another person, so I would have to have a lot of games of it running at once to keep me busy for hours at a time.

      Whereas for me, Spider solitaire isn’t usually punishing; I play it more as a puzzle than a game, with lots of backtracking when I reach dead ends, and I usually end up winning. I’m playing the two-suit version instead of the four-suit version, and I often undo many steps, and if I can’t find a path using undo then I redeal the same hand and try a different angle on it, and the result is that these days I tend to eventually win maybe 80% of the time. But it also means that a single game can sometimes take an hour, and if it turns out to be one of the 20% that I don’t win, then I feel the need to play again with a different hand so I can get it right this time.

      (The same excellent solitaire app also includes a set of nifty solitaire games (Scorpion and relatives) that involve moving stacks together in a way that’s really satisfying in an anti-entropy kind of way, but those games involve a great deal of luck, and I only win my favorite of them about half the time. So for a while I would play a quick game of one of those types, and if I lost that then I would play Spider, and if I lost that then I would play Thieves of Egypt, which I can almost always win.)

      I had also been playing a lot of Osmos, which I totally love, but I had been playing the same level over and over again because it was easy. Relaxing, but also almost entirely pointless, and I was spending more time with it than I was comfortable with.

      And I had also been playing some San Juan, which I like quite a bit and can usually win against the computer players, and doesn’t usually result in looping for me, but a game takes on the order of 20 minutes, which is longer than I want to be regularly spending on a quick diversion.

      Anyway, so I think for me the most important factors are (a) whether a particular game is likely to result in my playing it several times in a row several times a day, and (b) how long each session takes.

    • Jed

      Re Gooseberry Bluff: It’s only available for Kindle as far as I know. I’m not sure whether your objection is to the Kindle hardware or to Amazon in general; if the former, free Kindle reader software is available for all major platforms except Linux.

      I’m not sure what happens after the serial runs its course; I know the complete book will still be available for Kindle, but I don’t know if it’ll become available in other formats.

  3. danima

    Oh! Your Spider implementation has a complete undo stack? That *would* change matters quite a lot. 🙂 …and I think I got a little sidetracked on Spider itself and lost track of the main thing I was trying to say, which is more about noticing how different games make you feel when you play. Asynchronous play with another person has a distinctly different feel than, say, a twitchy one-player platformer.

    …and about the Kindle thing: I don’t have a Kindle, so that’s a problem, and (inconveniently) I use Linux at work, which is where I’m most likely to have a short window in which I could read a chapter of a serial. I’ve tried Amazon’s web-based Kindle reader, and I found it very difficult to read more than a page or two.

    FWIW, the last two serials I subscribed to were email-based and (open) web-based, picking up new installments of the latter on the soon-to-be-shuttered Google Reader.

    • Jed

      Heh—yeah, Spider would be much much less appealing to me without infinite undo.

      I think I agree about the different feel of asynchronous-play-with-another-person, but I’ve been trying recently to figure out what the difference is between that and (say) a turn-based game with computer players, and I’m not sure I’ve come up with an answer.

      🙁 re Amazon’s web-based reader not being good. I’m guessing Gooseberry Bluff will eventually be available in other forms, but I’m not sure.


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