Anyone who knows me, my family, friends, and, the kids I work with (even the ones I have recently met), can tell you I hate playing games. It doesn’t matter what genre – board, card, console, computer, puzzles, or even those silly little phone games. Don't get me wrong – I fully appreciate that many folks like them or even love them. Along with the psychological community, who have researched them extensively (in all their forms), I will vigorously defend them, as the perfect tools for some people to learn an endless list of skills. They are just not my thing.
Over the years, I have attempted to decipher why I have this antipathy, and the only solid reason I can determine is the fact that my brain is not capable of holding onto sequential rules or strategizing. Rules and instructions, quite simply, confound me (and honestly bore me) – they are steps that I have to, not only, memorize, but then follow. Pure torture! When Grandma showed me the trick for winning tick-tack-toe, when I was four or five years old, I quickly became frustrated that I could never remember it. I think I accomplished it once or twice in my lifetime, and that was, utterly, random. Any three-year-old can beat me. And, chess, just “Oh my GOD!”
The other piece is that I get, very easily, visually overwhelmed. For that reason, I don’t like graphic novels or comic books, either. I have a hard time interpreting the drawings, and, then, connecting them to the few words the author has chosen to use, to understand the story. Video or computer games provide a similar challenge – there is too much going on at the same time. And, then on top of that, I have to figure out the rules.
Besides all of that, I also stink at spatial recognition. When I was in seventh or eighth grade, we took some kind of aptitude test to determine what field we should prepare for. The only clear memory I have of that exam is sitting and struggling with the part where you had to determine from the five choices (a – e) what an unfolded shape would look like if it was folded up, and, conversely, what a folded shape would look like if it was flat. Double ugh! I got so annoyed and bored that I started filling in random bubbles on the answer sheet. Consequently, when my Guidance Counselor sat down with me to go over the results, his one recommendation was that I avoid engineering. As a thirteen-year-old, I remember thinking, “well, duh, I also detest math, so there isn’t a chance in Hell I am going to pursue that field. Could you please, just, tell me what the test said I am good at?”
It is funny the things you look back on and realize how damaging they actually were. If only I knew then what I know now – that discussion would have gone in a completely different direction. And, as for that guidance counselor – well never-mind. Hindsight is always 20:20, right? What matters here is that as a direct outcome of that test and resulting conversation, I have actively avoided anything that will put me in the place where I have to use spatial reasoning, and, consequently, look dumb. That is, until, two days ago.
I have, for obvious reasons, never had any game apps on my phone. Late Friday afternoon, I was waiting for someone to meet me at the Center to purchase some of the items from our garage sale. I was tired and didn’t feel like I had the brainpower to start the next project on my summer "to-do" list. That is when an ad for a game app randomly floated by my eyes as I scrolled my Facebook news-feed and I clicked on it. What? Really? I NEVER click on ads. But there it was, a seemingly basic game with no rules. The goal is to “dig out” the sand under little green balls to guide them into their designated “hole.” My thought process went something like – “hey, I bet I can figure that out, easily enough.” Of course, there are multiple levels, and as soon as you succeed at one it sends you to the next, as well as the over-the-top ads for other games.
Guess what? Yup, I discovered that I am damn good at this game. It fulfilled my innate desire to solve problems. If I failed the first attempt, I was able to redo it as many times as I needed to deduce what happened and change the way I tackled the puzzle. And, once I figured out one level, I wanted to challenge myself to move onto the next. Let’s just say, in between messaging with a colleague in NH, I spent the entire evening completely caught up in "winning" this game – time disappeared.
I now fully understand how gaming can be so addicting. The lure is two-fold. It hooks you with the challenge – your stubbornness kicks in and you refuse to give up. Then when you succeed at a particular task, you get direct feedback that you are good at that discrete skill, you then feel good about yourself, and as a result, seek out that opportunity again. Case in point, there were a couple of levels that were ridiculously hard; however, I was not going to give up until I figured out the strategy because I thoroughly enjoyed that hit of triumph, every time I got close and then ultimately solved it.
To be completely clear, I still don’t like (most) games. It definitely comes down to the rule thing. And, you won’t find me compulsively glued to my phone, playing “dig it.” I soon discovered that I don’t like the feeling of having time erased from my memory unless it is when I am completely caught up in a project - working on something tangible. You know – like writing, or designing graphics, or talking to kids about what excites them and makes them utterly happy.