0094 – games aren’t just games

Spent half my train ride looking for a really good picture of FemShep to use as a motivational wallpaper. (Heroine of Masss Effect series.) Can’t find anything I like. I might have to commission it. Been thinking about getting an action figure for my table at the office. I don’t know why I like the idea of this so much, but I do. Maybe I’ll dissect that separately another time.

If I could turn back time I’d have invested more points in “draw”. There’s also “code” though. And maybe “dance” and “work out”. Anything would’ve been better than “laze around listlessly”. That’s something I sorta like about Beeminder- there’s a sense of collecting data points. I know that we shouldn’t be attached to points and meters, but they work for me- I played cookie clicker- so i’m going to collect data points. I’m incorporating a game element into it. This doesn’t mean I think it’s “just a game”, it means that I think it’s important enough that I want to modify my own behaviour. It’s very tragic that games are associated with an idea of dismissiveness. It’s “just a toy”. Toys are about play! Toys are tools for the imagination. Toys are about wonder. Play should be fun, enriching.

It’s strange, isn’t it? “Don’t play with her heart. Don’t treat him like some toy. Is this a game to you?”

All of these sentiments suggest a sense of disrespect, of triviality.

Why is it implied that a toy is something negative? Why is something “just” a toy? A toy can be something that’s imbued with a lot of meaning. A toy or a game could mean more to someone than other things of supposedly more-real value. (Speaking of which, I should probably watch Toy Story. I haven’t watched any of the three movies.)

I want to deconstruct this. The “is this some kind of game” question suggests that the player isn’t taking it seriously, and I don’t like that. I feel like we haven’t figured out games properly- and even our current discourse on gamification, with the great work that Jane McGonigal is doing- and the quantified self people are doing- isn’t enough. It doesn’t quite get to the heart of it.

The point I want to make is… if you could make the average teenage boy treat school the way he treats dota or league of legends or wow or whatever he’s playing these days, you’d be celebrated as a hero among schools.

If games are trivial, why do kids (and adults) take them so much more seriously than work? There are two people in front of me playing games right now. Anybody who’s on social media is kinda playing a game too- the game of identity construction. We take that very fucking seriously. I think there are huge tracts of opportunity here in the space between compelling games and boring work/school. If beeminder works out for me for writing and work and reading and exercise then I will implore that it be tested by parents, teachers, students… if it works why isn’t everybody using it? Let me give it some time myself.

Cigarettes are a game. When i think of identity-construction as a game (and remember a game doesn’t have to be trivial- it can be powerful, compelling, consuming), I get the feeling in my stomach when I go through some sort of paradigm shift. This hasn’t happened in a while and I’m rarely writing while it’s actually happening. Usually it happens in conversation with another person.

Identity construction. I constructed an identity for myself which was… slacker. I don’t “do” studying, or mugging. This is how republicans are convinced that it’s Obama’s fault that veterans can’t get to their memorial parks. Games are compelling and identity construction is perhaps the most compelling- and something that requires such a massive investment is something that’s going to be hard to kill. This is why pg said to keep identities small. Identities are bitches. They initially serve to distinguish you from the blurry, indistinct masses, but subsequently pigeonhole you into a neat little spot that’s designed just for you, so you can play your predetermined role in a play scripted and directed by others. Fuck. This is why I don’t identify as atheist anymore. Why does it matter whether god exists or not? It doesn’t. We just do it to feel better about ourselves. We’re fighting for the sake of fighting. Why not pick the greatest difference you can make and throw yourself into that? Often because it’s a little too difficult, a little too costly, a little too inconvenient.

I discovered a beautiful term thanks to dreeves of Beeminder, and it’s Akrasia. It’s when you don’t do what you want to do. I’ve been suffering from akrasia all my life. My boss has asked me a couple of times in our one-on-one meetings- “What happens when you miss a deadline? Don’t alarm bells go off?” And strangely, for me, they don’t. Not in regular day-to-day life. I’ve spent such a long time failing to meet deadlines that they barely register on my radar. “I love deadlines,” said Douglas Adams. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

I became deadline insensitive after years of conditioning. A lifetime of conditioning, even. The one hack I can sort of think of is… games. I do fight to meet deadlines in video games. I’m habitually late for meetings and stuff, and I’m trying to fix that. I want to say I’m trying really hard, but “trying really hard” is a hard thing to objectively measure. I don’t want to say that I”m trying really hard. That doesn’t seem right, or fair. It would be more accurate to say that I’m not trying very hard, even though I want to. Akrasia. Why? I think it’s because I didn’t know how and where to start. “Everywhere” is too intimidating. I needed the controlled setting that video games are so good at providing. That cigarettes are so good at providing. That even FACEBOOK is great at providing. And, as I’m finding, Beeminder is pretty good at it, too.

Feels good, man. I’m not going to overthink it for now, but I have a lot of chaotic thoughts bouncing around my head and I’ll get to them in bits and pieces over the next 10 or so word vomits. Exciting. I feel more in control of myself already.

One thought on “0094 – games aren’t just games

  1. Pingback: Another Press Roundup Part Deux, Revisted: Return of the Beeminder Buzz Returns Again! | Beeminder Blog

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