Blog Post No. 447
There are a lot of little time sinks in my life and most of them are my own doing. Back when I was in university and had a laptop capable of some decent multi-media, I would often download and watch movies on it. There were many Sundays with a test or paper due on Monday where I would tell myself that I could watch just one movie before I got started. Now that I’m a writer and spend most days sitting at a desk, there are even more distractions at my fingertips. Like Youtube. I’ll watch a video to settle in, but some videos are an hour and some are ten minutes, so maybe a I’ll watch couple. It’s a slippery slope, but nothing seems to steal my time more than incremental games. Simple, browser based games where something counts up and everything gets more complicated the longer you play. Something that you can leave running in the background and check in on once in a while.
Except once in a while becomes all day very quickly. I’m very easily absorbed by them, and I think it has something to do with triggering dopamine. They simulate productivity at an accelerated rate. You’ve collected ten candies (in the case of Candy Box) and now you can sell them for a lollipop which unlocks the desert which is the way to the farm. There is something about the loose framework of a story that grabs me. It’s an adventure open to tons of interpretation.
The incremental nature of the games mimics the incremental writing process, too. Every day I add a few more words to the book or I get through more chapters in an edit. The difference is that with real world examples, most of the time there isn’t exponential growth like there is in those games. I don’t get more words per day unless I write them. It’s sisyphean. The rock is always at the bottom of the hill and I have to push it up to get anywhere.
Those simple games are a replacement for so much. Saving for retirement, working out, writing, cleaning the bathroom. It fells great every time I make progress with one of those things, but I have to do the work, and in a few days, the progress I made now will be meaningless unless I keep it going. But in the end, the game either keeps going with no more challenges to face (the thousands of candies gained per second becoming more meaningless the more they accumulate). Or the game gets so big (like in Crank) that it’s basically endless and the excitement of gaining a new feature is buried under the impossibility of ever reaching a conclusion. That’s where reality has the upper hand.
The money I save will eventually be spent, ideally in leisure and comfort. The more I exercise, the better I feel, the more I feel like exercising. And, when I finally finish a book, I get to start a new one and relive the excitement with a bit more experience under my belt. As for the bathroom, it will always get dirty and cleaning it will always be a chore. There’s no getting out of it.
So, every once in a while, I may lose a day to a stupid game with no point, but if it makes me happy and doesn’t prevent me going back to what really matters, I’m going to give myself a pass. I’ve reached the halfway point in the second draft, but I’m no where near where I’d like to be, so I’m going to once again try to pick up the pace. Hopefully by next week, I’ll have a better progress report to share. For now, I’m closing the browser with the game and focusing on what matters.