The real reason time occasionally goes missing

I have a problem with computer games.

My problem has nothing to do with the games being violent; there are violent games I enjoy, and I’m not about to go out and actually take a sawed-off shotgun to someone just because a character in a game does it. It also has nothing to do with the marketing strategies behind various games; sure, there are some of those I don’t like, but the games I actually play are generally open-source or otherwise (legally) freely available.

No, it’s the very practical problem of time. You can argue about whether that’s also a moral issue, depending on your views of what a person should and shouldn’t spend his or her time doing, though for my part I don’t think computer games are inherently wrong. My problem, however, simply boils down to games sucking away more time than I intended from the things I need to or ought to be doing.

The sprawling epic adventure games, the first-person shooter games, the real-time strategy games, and a bunch of other kinds are all fine. Those, I don’t spend much time on, because I don’t start playing them in the first place unless I know I’ve got a couple of hours free.

No, my problem is with the short games. You know, the games that take only a few minutes per play–puzzle games, especially. The problem with those is that I’ll sit down at the computer, think “I’ll just play a quick game or two and then get to work,” and then twenty-odd games later realize that I’ve been at it for two hours and not actually done the work I meant to do.

I’ve learned that I have to delete games like that from my computer if I’m to have any hope of getting any work done. No more solitaire, no more “Minesweeper,” no more “Othello,” that sort of thing. (There’s a “Worms” clone that’s kind of borderline; I keep uninstalling and re-installing that one.)

Browser-based games are a problem, though, because I can’t delete them. I can avoid going to their host sites, but that sometimes takes more willpower than I can muster.

That was the problem today. I came across a reference to a game called “2048” and went to check it out. (For the sake of any of you who may have a work ethic, I won’t provide a link.) Turns out it’s a simple puzzle game that involves trying to pair up numbered tiles that appear in a 4×4 grid. It’s not quite “Tetris,” but it tickles my brain’s reward centers in some of the same ways.

About four hours after I first checked the game out, I glanced at a clock and noticed I’d been playing it for four hours straight without so much as pausing for a sip of water. So I closed my browser, stood up, and spent a good fifteen minutes pacing around my apartment trying to teach my eyes to see things that were more than two feet from them once more. Since then I haven’t played any more “2048”; it’s only been six hours, but so far, so good.

My name is Andy, and apparently I have a problem with computer games.

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What I did this weekend, or Why my brain now hates my guts

All right, I didn’t post this past Friday, which means I missed another weekday in my Lent 2014 goal of posting something to this blog every weekday that I wasn’t traveling. But that’s OK, really, because the time I’d planned to post an entry was instead occupied by an impromptu game of Arkham Horror at a friend’s house. To me, that’s an acceptable reason to miss a post.

It also led to a rather interesting Saturday morning, but for that I need to back up a bit.

For a couple of weeks now I’d been planning to have my Bible study group over for a game night. We talked among ourselves and decided that it’d work best as a game afternoon, to be held this past Saturday and capped off with dinner.

Then some friends of mine texted to invite me to their daughter’s third birthday party, to be held this past Saturday morning. All right, I figured; my Bible study group wasn’t coming over until the afternoon, so I could go to the party and then duck out at some convenient point to wolf down lunch and finish the cleaning. But that meant I’d have to get the rest of the cleaning done by Friday evening, since I wouldn’t have Saturday morning to do it. Fair enough; I spent much of Friday rendering my apartment habitable to humans, and I figured that when I was done I’d write a post and then enjoy a leisurely Friday evening before having to go be social. (I’m an introvert, so sometimes I have to pace myself with the social stuff.)

Then around 5:30 on Friday I got a text from a friend, unconnected to the three-year-old’s family or the Bible study group, who said she and her husband were having another couple over to play Arkham and would I like to join them? Of course I would. I had seen these friends a few weeks ago, but we hadn’t played Arkham together in almost a year, and I’d had to decline a game night invitation from them the previous weekend when I was out of town. But I had to finish the cleaning first, so I texted back that I’d be late but I’d try to get there anyway.

All well and good, and eventually I did make it to my friends’ house and we played a rather enjoyable game. For those of you who don’t know Arkham Horror and haven’t followed the link I included above, I’ll say briefly that it’s a cooperative strategy game based on the stories of H.P. Lovecraft (of “Call of Cthulhu” fame, if that helps). Players equip themselves with a variety of items and weapons and spells and what-not, then run around town trying to kill various monsters and close gates to other worlds so the big boss-monster doesn’t come to earth and eat everybody. Saturday’s game was a real nail-biter, too: we eventually won, but if any of a dozen things hadn’t broken our way over the last few rounds, we’d have been toast.

Games of Arkham tend to run a few hours, and ours finally wrapped up a little after 2:00 AM. I’d thought about bowing out early, but I wanted to see it through, so I stuck around. By the time I got home and got to bed, it was almost 3:00.

And I had to get up around 7:30 to make sure I was properly showered, dressed, and caffeinated before the birthday party. I made it, but let me tell you: After staying up until 3:00 the night before because of a long horror-themed board game that involved fighting monsters, losing sanity, and all manner of scary stuff, coloring butterflies with a dozen two- to five-year-olds was either a total contrast to or a perfect continuation of the previous evening’s activities, I’m still not sure which.

Either way, though, my brain felt very much like it had suddenly been forced to shift gears without a clutch. Also, thank heavens for coffee.