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Everything posted by Zeno

  1. As I've suggested elsewhere, if games are your "coping mechanism", your most important task may be to figure out what it is you're coping with - or running away from - and turn to face it more directly. Is it something in your situation at home that's giving you difficulty? Is it some psychological distress or trauma from your past? Is it existential angst? Whatever it is, escaping into the fog really won't help, especially when commitment to others is on the line. I must say your wife's response is especially unhelpful. Somehow, she needs to come to understand that you are quitting for her sake, but that it isn't easy to quit because the underlying neurological mechanism of gaming addiction is not under your direct control. You may choose not to play, but you may not choose - directly at least - not to want to play. It would be much more helpful to you if she could see that difference, see that you are doing something very difficult for her sake.
  2. An Observation My ex has left for home, and soon enough all her stuff will follow. As planned, I'd spent some time this afternoon cleaning the side-room where her stuff had been stowed. Also as planned, I've spent my evening reading - some really good science fiction - in my comfortable chair. Along the way, though, I found myself caught in an odd duality. On the one hand, my obsession with a new gaming PC rages on: I've selected the components I want and added them to a wish-list on the website of one of the online retailers. On the other hand, I've been watching live streams from E3 and the Summer Games Festival, and I've generally been bored by what I've seen. With only one exception, none of the games featured in the presentations was even mildly interesting to me. That exception is only of interest for narrative reasons: a game I enjoyed last year will have new content and expansions well into 2022 and I'd like to see what happens to the protagonist . . . though the thought of relearning the game mechanics and getting caught up in the grind kind of leaves me cold. So, really, what do I want a new gaming PC for? Anyway, I'm breaking my electronic curfew - looking at a screen after 10:00pm - to write about this, just because it's an observation that may turn out to be important: I may in fact have made the turn toward losing interest in games, once and for all. It's not a certainty, and I imagine I'll continue to flip-flop for a while; it may also just be due to the fact that the games featured in today's presentations were mostly from genres that haven't appealed to me in the past. I'll see what happens as the Grand Bargain plays itself out . . . and as I watch presentations from developers whose work I have most enjoyed.
  3. This Is a Test I spent a week visiting family up north while my ex-wife was here working on clearing the last of her stuff out of my house. She brought with her the usual chaos and, when I returned home, she was still here working. She stayed in the house while I was away, but moved over to a friend's house after I returned home; she then stopped by every day to continue working and to spend time with our (adult) kids, who have been living here with me during the pandemic. The living room has been full of boxes, cutting off my good reading chair. She has spent evenings working on sorting and packing, while talking with the kids, trying to establish some kind of functional relationship with them despite the burning resentment elder child still feels toward her. I wanted nothing to do with those conversations, so I found myself confined to my office again. I resorted to watching YouTube again, and started also to obsess over building a new gaming PC for myself. I very nearly jumped at the chance when I "won" the Newegg Shuffle, which afforded me the opportunity to buy a graphics card and motherboard combo . . . with money I just don't have right now. I let that go: I removed the items from my shopping cart, and let the purchase window expire. Yesterday evening, I helped move boxes and other items out of the house into the storage "pod" my ex had reserved; she didn't make the reservation before she flew down here, so the pod arrived only yesterday. After she left for the night, I was able to restore my living room, mostly, and could sit down and read . . . though it was already 11pm, and I didn't read long before sleeping through the night. My gaming-rig obsession is waning, now, and I took a walk this morning before working a little on the cleanup. My ex will stop by one last time, today, to wrap up a few more things before she flies home. She lives in another state, several hundred miles away. I think I'll be all right, and that I'll be able to stick to the terms of the Grand Bargain. What was interesting about it, though, is that it confirms one aspect of the account I have given of my slide into being a distraction-junkie: the chaos of my household pushed me to take refuge in my office and, once there, it was too easy to just fire up the computer and sink into one electronic hole or another. Well, when my ex leaves today, the chaos will be at an all-time low. I'll spend much of the afternoon cleaning the living room and the side room in which my ex's stuff was stowed, then I'll be able to pass a pleasant evening by reading in my comfortable chair!
  4. If you've never developed habits of concentration in the past, it may take some time to establish them now. Be a little patient with yourself, and focus on making incremental improvements, day after day. Find a method of productivity that works for you, using timers or to-do lists, or whatever works. Think about where you try to do work that requires concentration as much as when you try to do so; experiment with different settings, different restrictions, and see what works. Anything worth doing is difficult; you just have to kind of roll with that. This could just be ordinary "impostor syndrome": I'd be willing to bet at least half of the people around you - and maybe many more than half! - think exactly the same way. Everyone is faking it, a little, even outside a school context; or, at least, everyone thinks they're faking it, that they're an impostor surrounded by supremely confident and capable people who effortlessly live up to an impossible standard. Well, they aren't. We're all just muddling along, doing the best we can with what we have. Compare yourself to yourself. You may not have done well on this exam, and you may not have done everything theoretically possible to prepare for it, but you did something, which is more than you would have done had you still been lost in gamer-world. Give yourself some credit for that; the effort counts toward the establishment of better habits. If you stick with it, acknowledge what is good in what you did to prepare for this exam, and build on that progress, you will do better with the next challenge you face, whether in school or outside of it, and the same with the next one, and the one after that.
  5. Two Months! It's been two months since I emerged from the fog and began to get my bearings. I've experienced some turbulence and strong headwinds, for certain, but also some long, tranquil, sun-drenched days, long nights of sound sleep, and steady work toward my oldest and most important goals. I've become more and more ambitious with walking. On Saturday, I walked a loop of about 3.5 miles in the small city where I live; on Sunday, I extended that loop to about 4.5 miles. I took it easier, yesterday, with a walk around the block after dinner. I am, as of now, entirely agnostic on the question of whether I'll return to gaming when the conditions of the Grand Bargain are met. It is possible I will do so, and it is even possible I will be able to keep games in perspective and my life in balance. Given the changes in my outlook this first two-month stretch has brought, though, I don't know: How different will be my outlook in another ten or twelve months? Keeping this journal has certainly helped. My motivation to read a lot is deep and internal, but I've accelerated the pace a little just so I can show off my bookshelf as part of my monthly update. Here's what the bookshelf looked like a month ago: Here's what it looks like now: I've been wondering what will happen when the books I've read fill the entire top shelf. Will I level up? Will I enable Nerd Rage mode? At this rate, it seems I'll find out sometime in July. You'll notice the lineup of books waiting to be read - on the lower shelf - is also getting longer. Over the past decade or so I've accumulated a lot of books I really sincerely meant to read - honest! - but somehow - somehow! - never had the focus for. I still have a long shelf in my office on campus full of books waiting their turn, even though I've been bringing a few of them home every time I visit my office. I've also turned up some other books waiting to be read as I've been cleaning and organizing my house. My routine is going to be disrupted, this week and next, though not necessarily in a bad way. My ex is flying in to finish clearing her stuff out of my house, so I'm driving out tomorrow to go spend a week visiting my family up in the Great Lakes region (of the U.S.). With stops and with traffic it will be about a 12-hour drive, each way. I'll stop to visit a longtime friend on the way back. My mom distracts herself and fills time with television, so I'll have that to deal with, but it will be good to get out of town for the first time since the lock-downs started, last year.
  6. Welcome, @stalenstan! If you and your girlfriend both decide to quit gaming, you'll have a built-in support group. That could be good for both of you! Have you talked with her about it? Has she discovered this site, too?
  7. Have you joined the Parent Support forum? You can find it on the forum index page, at the bottom of the "Welcome" section. There you might get ideas and encouragement from others with similar concerns about their own children. I don't have much insight into your situation, as I'm the one who was a distraction-junkie. I do wonder whether your son has something going on in his life that is pushing him toward gaming, some conflict or other bad situation from which he is trying to escape. If that's it, then an indirect approach might work: don't make it about games, but about his own (other) goals for his life, where he'd like to be in five years or ten, and what other things in his life are making it difficult for him to get there. I would also say that, at 30, your son should be independent! He's going to make his own mistakes, and there's only so much his mother can do about it. Whether he listens to you, I suppose, depends on the kind of relationship you have with him now. (I write this as the father of two young people just now entering into adulthood.)
  8. I get that. For a while I thought games were my way of coping with what seemed an impossible situation in my home life. At some point, I realized that they were my way of not coping with it. Gaming was simple escapism, but what I was escaping from was my responsibility for my own life and, to too much of an extent, from my responsibility to my children. They're all right now - young adults both of them - and I have a solid relationship with each of them, but I didn't help them nearly as much as I should have in dealing with the situation we were all in. In other words, the only way to really cope with things is to face them directly and do something about them, not to run away into distraction. It does take courage, but that's sort of what adulthood - and parenthood especially - requires. Don't let your experience on day one shake you too much. It's the initial shock of loss. It does get easier. Your brain will recover from being hyped up on distraction all the time. What sort of gaming were you doing, and what hardware did it require? Removing that hardware, locking it away or - better - selling it off, may be a necessary early step, just to put the whole thing out of reach. If that won't work, finding other ways to block access to games and other distractions - social media can keep the buzz going, and can keep drawing you back toward games - can help a lot.
  9. Heh, yeah. I know whereof you speak. It's good that you've already ruled out early-onset dementia! (I'm 52, and I've had a close relative die of Alzheimer's at the age of 84, so that's why it occurred to me as a possibility.) Consider focusing on it as a problem of attention rather than one of memory as such. If your mind is elsewhere, caught up in gamer-world, you can easily miss a beat, here and there, including some beats that are important to people you love.
  10. I'm not sure anyone here can really give you the help you need, not least because it really won't do for complete strangers to second-guess your mother's judgment. I'm writing this as the father of two young adults, who well remembers the challenges of trying to set ground rules for teenagers! I can only imagine how I would have reacted if one of my kids had said: "Yeah, but these people on this one forum said . . . " I would not have been persuaded. As for your question at the end, it really depends on a lot of things. There are some people - maybe many people - for whom any time playing games is too much, and others who might be able to play for an hour or two, now and again, and then stop. You might be one or the other but, again, it's really not the place of anyone here to make that call. If your mother is not to be persuaded to let you try to play games in moderation, perhaps with boundaries she can enforce, then your best course is to accept it, and find other things to do in the world. There are many, many activities and projects that might engage your imagination and develop your skills, lots of other ways to have fun.
  11. I can't honestly say I know the answer to your question about memory issues caused by gaming, but it does mesh with my experience, somewhat. I've spent much of the last two months actually reconstructing the history of the past ten years, including the prolonged death-throes of my own marriage. There's much that was . . . blurry. (Cause and effect is complicated here, though I think it's fair to say I retreated into games largely to escape the tension and pain of the disintegrating marriage; the causes of its failure lay elsewhere.) So, yeah, I guess it's possible that constantly chasing after distraction made me unfocused in all other aspects of my life, such that a lot of what I experienced didn't "take" in the form of readily retrievable memory. I just wasn't really paying attention. I do have to ask: How old are you? I hate to even suggest that something else might be at issue, but if the memory issues don't start to clear up within a month or two after quitting gaming, and if they are making it difficult to function, you might do well to visit a neurologist. Do give it time, though. Too much gaming really can do a number on the human brain, it seems!
  12. Welcome! I would say this is a forum is about as good and as safe as the Internet can be, for people seeking either to get away from games altogether or to find some better balance with them. You'll get lots of good advice, some interesting insights, and a group of people cheering you on. I would encourage you to go ahead and start a journal, start writing out the day-by-day experience of the change you're working to make. You can learn a lot about yourself by doing that, and it gives others on the forum a chance to help you. One question off the top, because it's something I've thought about since I emerged from the distraction-fog nearly two months ago: What is it that frightens you about a life without games? If you can figure that out, and figure out how to face that fear and move past it, you'll already be a long way toward where you want to be going.
  13. Zeno


    It's good that you're waking up, and it's good that you're back. THEY certainly are insidious, aren't they? Hooking into those ancient parts of our brains that are primed for distraction. Devilish, I'd almost say. Well, however long it takes to wrest control of your life from THEM, however many times you have to restart, it will be worth it.
  14. TURBULENCE I've been experiencing a weird sort of agitation, for the past few days, spinning around the question of how quickly I can pay off that debt and get back into gaming, and around the question of whether I even want to get back into gaming any more. The answer to the latter question is, as always, "Yes-No" . . . though it may be shifting toward "No-Yes". I think the issue is continued disorientation in the face of all the time I now have. I have been quite productive every weekday, checking off a lot of tasks. That really draining administrative thing I was doing last week is now finished and submitted, and I'm developing a new project to collaborate on a book with a colleague. I'm also planning for my road trip, next week, and getting things in order before I go. Even so, I end up quite tired in the evening, and would enjoy an hour or two of relatively passive entertainment. I no longer enjoy movies, and I don't want to get into a TV show; I don't always feel like spending the entire evening reading. Also, my social life is a shambles. The end stages of my marriage left me isolated, and somewhat sour toward people in general, and the pandemic only confirmed the temporary wisdom of avoiding social situations. The main activities that would get me out and about have not yet started up again, and may not do so for months. (The kind of dance I enjoy is almost the ideal setting for the efficient spread a droplet-borne pathogen.) So . . . what? I've revisited Dumb Space Game, a couple of times, though I've been saved from it by persistent server troubles on the developers' side. The game, as noted, is old and somewhat neglected and, while they still manage to part fools from their money, they don't seem overeager to fix the problems people are having logging into the game. Works for me. The delay is just long enough for me finally to lose interest. But then, yesterday, I violated my own ban on YouTube to check out a couple of feeds that report when graphics cards are (briefly, fleetingly) in stock at various retailers. I started spinning around that axis, keeping open the Best Buy site for the card I would eventually get, were I to return to gaming, to see if it comes in stock within the expected time window. Another close look at my budget has sobered me up, again. I mean, I'm all right, but my household budget is riding a knife-edge . . . especially since I am devoting as much as I can get away with to paying down that debt. My summer financial situation is weird, in that all my salary from summer teaching (May-August) is being paid before the end of the fiscal year (June 30), so I basically received a double paycheck this morning, but have to use it to budget for June and July . . . and it's just enough. My end-of-June paycheck will cover August. Oddly, a hard look at my finances seems to have stabilized me. I'm feeling more calm, all of a sudden, and more committed to the Grand Bargain. But here's the thing: after I emerge from each round of agitation, it seems to me I'm farther removed from gamer-world, and its pull on my attention and my imagination becomes weaker. This gives me a weird kind of hope. I have no doubt I'll go through rough patches, now and again, in the coming months, but the cumulative effect may be that I'll end up being content that gaming is something that I used to do.
  15. TRADING AWARENESS FOR THINGS OF LESSER WORTH A quick thought on a Sunday morning, before I go out for a long walk. In preparation for teaching one of my classes, this week, I have been rereading - for about the thirtieth time - Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. Leopold is the forester-writer I quoted earlier in my journal, in the entry on the "key log". Part I of the book is the Almanac proper, a month-by-month collection of observations and stories centered on the property Leopold and his family owned in Adams County, Wisconsin, a derelict farm on which they would spend weekends and other breaks from Leopold's job in Madison. In one of the entries for March, Leopold writes: In the question toward the end, substitute "entertainment" for "education", and the impact is the same. (By the way, the phrase "banded by Phi Beta Kappa" is a bit of word-play on Leopold's part, a reference to the practice of placing metal bands on the legs of birds in order to be able to record their movements and life-history.)
  16. Blaster III: The Revenge So, I did keep thinking about Dumb Space Game, and decided to try playing it for another hour, after dinner. Well, the universe mocked me: the game servers were down for a couple of hours, yesterday evening. So, I went to do other things. When I came back, the servers were up again, so I logged in and set to it. By the end of the hour, I was crushingly bored with the game, wondering how it ever seemed interesting to me in the past. So, I logged off again, uninstalled the client again, and blocked the site again. I can't imagine I'll be going back to it and, if I'm ever tempted, I'll just remember the pointless grind and the general clunky ugliness of the thing. I still don't know what I learned from this experiment. I don't think it's a fair test of my ability to play games in moderation, because the game itself is so lame. I think the only reason I played it at all, years ago, was to have something to do so I could avoid awareness of just how bad my home situation was becoming. I wonder how many other games will now strike me that way, even ones that are far more engaging and far more competently constructed. Will they all just seem like an empty grind, once I've had more time off from them and more time to reflect? Maybe. In any case, my year (or more) without games resumes. I'd had another productive day, yesterday, starting with developing the outline of a new book I've been thinking of writing, related to my ongoing research project. I worked through to the afternoon, ending with another hour or so on that really draining task for which I'm responsible, something I need to do for the degree programs I'm involved in at the university. I also went for a long walk, continued teaching one of my kids how to drive, and made a very good soup for dinner. After I'd bid farewell to Dumb Space Game, I genuinely enjoyed sitting and reading for an hour or so before bedtime. I don't think I mentioned that I'm reading Albert Camus, The Plague. I read it a couple of decades ago, but this time around the events of the novel - an outbreak of plague in the city of Oran, Algeria - have had a much greater impact on me. It's all so familiar!
  17. Blaster II One more follow-up to last evening's experiment. I feel a slight pull toward that dumb online game, wondering if I could repeat the exploit of getting to more advanced areas of it with only the most basic of ships. But it's only a slight pull, and I have a lot of real-world things needing my attention, so it's all right. When I was playing, though, I noticed something: the only factor in whether and for how long I played was whether I was enjoying it; I did not have anything in my household or in my wider circumstances pushing me into it. I no longer need the game as a refuge from an unhappy lot, only as a mild diversion for an hour. I debriefed from the experiment with my two kids; younger child returned from work, and we sat down to a desert of crepes (left over from Sunday's brunch) with Nutella and banana. That turned into a two hour "carb therapy" session, as we call it, in which the three of us worked to reconstruct and come to terms with more of our shared history, and in which the kids were able to express their consternation with the destructive spiral of social-media "activism", drawing on the theme of attention as a scarce and valuable resource. What occurred to me is that I was driven to seek comforting distraction in games because, given the state of my marriage and my household, paying attention was increasingly painful. I was trapped in a failing marriage, in a household full of stuff over which I had no say - the basement was filled with all the junk my wife had inherited from her mother, who was something of a hoarder - and with a wife who was and remains highly skilled at emotional manipulation. (Whatever was bothering me always somehow turned out to be my fault. How about that!) So, yeah, paying attention was painful, and I gained nothing by trying. I couldn't even find a comfortable place to sit and read a book that wasn't in my home office, the one room I really had to myself. And if I'm in the office, I may as well be on the computer . . . So, regardless of how meager the pull of a game might be, the push from my circumstances was quite powerful. I would endure hours of numbing tedium if it meant not having to pay attention to the precise dimensions of the trap into which I had fallen. Last night, that push was gone. The thought of sitting in the living room for a while, reading a novel and sipping tea, was actually far more appealing, making it easy for me to log off after precisely one hour, turn off my computer, and go about my evening. I'm going to stick with the Grand Bargain, though, as I'm not sure how durable that balance is, just now. That dumb old online game has been blocked, and I'll bury the account if I have to, but I'll see whether it still pulls at my attention after a few days.
  18. Blaster from the Past I tried an experiment, this evening. I'd had a very busy and productive day, ending with a couple of hours immersed in a complex task that required intense focus. I'll be returning to that task again, every day for the rest of this week. It left me kind of tired, and I wasn't really feeling like reading right away. I'd already taken a good walk today, too, and the weather was kind of iffy in any case. I thought, once again, this might be the kind moment at which I could see myself sitting down to play a game for an hour or two. So, I thought, why don't I sit down and play a game for an hour, and see how I do? Since I no longer have a computer capable of running the kinds of games I'd been playing in recent years, I reverted to an old online game I used to play, back in the days before I opened my Steam account. In doing so, I was able to reconstruct more of my history with gaming. Here's the story: I played this online, multiplayer, sort-of-isometric (top-down view, 2.5D) space combat and resource exploitation game on and off for a few years, I think from about 2011 until 2013; I may have returned to it for a month or two more recently than that, though I'm not sure when that would have been. Maybe 2016? It was kind of dumb, kind of repetitive, and the competitive posturing of the other players ranged from inadvertently amusing to downright annoying. Still, there was something compelling about it. It's one of those "free to play" games, which means you either grind forever or pull out your credit card to buy in-game currency and even specialized starships and gear. I did spend a little money in the game, back then, but I also spent a long period trying to see how far I could get with only the smallest and most basic of ships and whatever in-game currency and resources I could scrounge. If other players destroyed my ship, I could resurrect and repair it at no cost! That's probably the most fun I ever had with the game. I actually quit several times, burying my account under unmemorable passwords linked to disposable email addresses, because I recognized I was getting carried away with it, to the point of distraction if not addiction. So, I knew I was playing with fire when I opened a new account, this evening, downloaded the now-required client, and played the game for an hour. It is, as I remembered, kind of a grind, with lots of repetition, uninteresting combat against NPC aliens, endless resource collection and refining, and the usual fetch and go-kill-em quests; it has, also as I remembered, something weirdly compelling about it anyway, including the amusingly annoying way in which the few remaining players swan around in their bought-and-paid-for specialized ships. By the time the hour was up, I was starting to look forward to reading. I logged out, uninstalled the client, and blocked the website. I thought I should chronicle the experience here, though, before I go sink into the book I've been reading in the evening. I'm not sure what the experiment proved. I may think about the game again tonight, and maybe tomorrow, but a reminder of the tedium of it should be enough to dissuade me from playing any more. It does suggest that, once I've been away from games for more than a year, I may be able to find some balance, if I'm even still interested in games by that point. The model of reserving most of my attention for important projects, with a little set aside for goofing around, may be viable in the long run, but I'll need to be very careful in deciding how and when to goof around, and I should almost certainly stay away from never-ending free-to-play grind-fests. It also reminded me of an odd, ambiguous handful of years, after my marriage started down its path to eventual extinction, but before I got a Steam account and started playing games - and investing money and time and attention into gaming - in earnest. In the long process of reconstructing my own recent history, it's another piece that has fallen into place.
  19. Following up, I decided to do an online search for "attention budget", and discover it's been a thing since at least 2010, when a chap named Chris Brogan described attention as a kind of currency. Huh. I found a useful article about it here.
  20. How to Beat the High Cost of Thinking I seem to be using this journal to ruminate on general matters related to the interaction of human brains with electronic media at least as much as I'm using it to come to terms with my own recent past and to move beyond it. That's just sort of how I do things. First, an update: I had a really productive day today. I rode public transit for the first time since March 2020; it's my best option for getting between home and the campus where I work, and I've decided to spend at least part of one day each week in my office there, organizing it and then taking care of things on my to-do list. I've been a transit commuter since 2002, so the train was both very strange and very familiar at once. I knocked a bunch of things off my list, taking regular breaks to walk down stairs - from the third floor to the basement - and back up, just for the exercise. Around mid-day, I walked back to the train, then walked from the station to my house. With a round-trip commute, I estimate that I walk about 2 miles (3.2km) and, in the time before, I would do that three or four times a week; I would typically work from home on one weekday . . . or, rather, I would be distracted at home. Once home, I settled down to more tasks from my list, knocking the last of the work-related items from the list by around 4:30 in the afternoon. Then I ordered a pizza for dinner, after negotiating toppings with the kids. The whole time, I was starting to compose this post, even as I was practicing the very thing I've been planning to write about. So, here it is: Thinking is costly: to focus on something, to work through its implications, to connect it with other things, all of that takes time and energy, and it exacts an opportunity cost in that time and energy spent thinking about X is no longer available for thinking about Y. Perhaps more to the point here, attention is costly, and each of us has a limited "attention budget" for any given day, which may vary a lot with differences in neurology, developmental stage, and emotional stability, as well as differences in living situations and other outside factors. What we're up against is the fact that so-called "Big Tech" is an extractive industry, and what it extracts and exploits is attention. It seizes on the mechanism whereby we may be distracted even from vital life projects by the intrusion of some new stimulus, and then manipulates us to the point that all we can do is to keep clicking while their revenue grows and grows. (That mechanism is part of our heritage from our remote ancestors, as any who could never be distracted from the project at hand by a new stimulus - say the roar of a lion - were somewhat less likely to survive and reproduce. That mechanism is the "reward pathway" in which dopamine is involved, though my understanding is that dopamine is not itself the "reward".) So, I figure, what I need is to budget my attention much as I have learned to budget my money. Given the limits of time and energy, I must consider carefully where to bestow my attention, so that I bestow most of it on things that are genuinely worthwhile for me, things that advance important life projects. If something tries to grab my attention, I must assess whether it's actually a lion's roar, or just some more damned click-bait. I should turn my attention to those things that seem really to be important, not the fake-urgency of the latest social-media fad or social-media outrage. Today was very good in that I avoided distraction. I looked at my phone only once during my commute, and that just to see what time it was. I did not web-surf or cyber-putter when I was at the office, nor when I was back home. I instead gave my attention - paid attention - to tasks that advanced real projects in the real world. To hook into yesterday's post, this doesn't mean I always have to be on duty, always engaged in important projects. It's just that, when I do goof off, it should be in a way and at a time that suits me, and that doesn't "spend down" attention that has already been allocated to other projects in my attention budget. In that way, it's just like budgeting my money, with a certain amount set aside as "walkin'-around money", to be spent on any random thing that appeals to me . . . leaving all the rest of my budget alone. Coming back around to games, it seems to me that not all games are created equal. Some of them are set up to appeal to attention and to reward attention with a rich and interesting experience; others seem to be set up to seize on and extract attention - and, often enough, money - in a endless loot-box grind-loop. Or maybe it's a continuum, with "rewarding attention" on one end and "exploiting attention" on the other. I suppose if any sort of moderation in gaming is possible for people with my background and my tendencies, it will lie in keeping a strict attention budget, and in being very selective in the games on which I bestow my attention.
  21. Standby Mode I had a very good day today. The weather was ideal: around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (about 27 degrees Celsius, for those of you who use a rational measurement system), dry and breezy, with fleecy clouds in a blue sky. I went for a long walk in the morning, took care of some things around the house, made brunch, read a bit, then went off to a park to play music with some folks. When I got back, I had a light meal, then went out and did a couple of hours of yard work. I was on the computer briefly this morning to do the Sunday crossword puzzle, but then turned the computer off and left it off until now. In all of this, I was thinking about yesterday's post, about electronic media, and time, and habits, and expectations. And then, after I'd finished the yard work and taken a shower, I thought: Now might have been a good moment to sit down and play a game for an hour or two. And I think it really would have been. I had done all the other things that were important to me, today, and had a couple of hours of beween that moment and my electronic curfew at 10:00pm, after which I would read for a while before sleep. But then I wondered: Once the Grand Bargain has been fulfilled and my debt has been paid off, on what will I base the judgment as to whether to return to computer games of any kind? To what conditions would it be subject? What habits would I have to have acquired that would keep me from sliding back into the destructive spirals of the past? I have an idea about that, and it has to do with "down time", or moments of permissible idleness, or "standby mode", or puttering, or whatever you may want to call it. The problem I've had with the Internet in general has been that, whenever I have a spare moment in which some particular task is not awaiting my attention, turning to my computer or to my phone has been the default, a way of filling an idle moment . . . or hour . . . or day. I even used to call this "cyber-puttering", just wasting time kicking around online or in some game world. What drove me at last to give up games, at least for a time, and brought me to this site, is that I was catching on to the emptiness of cyber-puttering; I was spinning in smaller and smaller circles, chasing after some elusive bit of satisfying distraction. I've mentioned how I would restart the same game over and over again, sometimes several times in a single weekend, but wouldn't have the motivation to continue beyond a certain point. What I haven't mentioned is that, even in the last month, I would watch the same YouTube videos over and over again, just for something reliably funny or interesting to fill some empty time. But putting it in these terms - 'spinning' and 'chasing' - suggests intention, but what strikes me now is the complete lack of intention involved. It was the default state. It was standby mode. One thing that has changed most markedly in the past month and a half has been that I am now much more intentional about how I use my time, and even about how I pass idle moments. This morning, after my walk, I made another cup of tea and sat out on my front porch to enjoy the weather and to listen to the antics of a mockingbird announcing its dominion over the yard of my neighbor across the street. That was a good way to pass an idle moment! Blocking YouTube was an important step toward this realization. I think of it now as a kind of cognitive hygiene, being much more intentional and selective in what is allowed to claim my attention. So, I think this helps me to set one of the conditions for any possible return to gaming: if I sit down to play a game, it should be intentional, it should be something I want to do and something I am in that moment genuinely interested in doing, balanced against all the other things that need and deserve my attention. It should never be the default state, it should never be a waste of an idle moment. And neither should any electronic media . . . even this site. Will I get to that point? I have at least a year to find out!
  22. It was a slow day . . . I've written here before about changes in my experience of time: without the numbing fog of distraction, time seems to move slowly. Not sluggishly, really, but more just at its own, leisurely pace. And there's so much of it! Really, I had forgotten how long a day could be, and how much it is possible to do with all that time! Reinforcing The Grand Bargain, yesterday evening, left me with a strong sense of the immensity of a year, and the very slow pace at which things relevant to particular projects actually happen. I also felt a surge of impatience, which highlighted for me just how twisted my sense of time had become, over the past few decades. I want to pay off a significant debt, but I get my paycheck only once a month. In between, nothing much really happens. I have a budget, with money set aside every month for fixed expenses and for essentials, and the plan sort of takes care of itself as long as I keep the account of my spending up to date. Really, though, I could do that if I checked the online budgeting app I use once a day at most. I could probably get away with checking it every other day, or even every third day, and everything would be fine. So, why do I check my budget compulsively, sometimes several times in an hour? I submitted a paper to a prominent journal in my field, last week. There is an internal review process before a paper goes out for peer review, including two points at which the paper might be rejected by an editor without comment. That might happen in days, or it might be a matter of weeks; in any case, no news is good news: my paper hasn't been rejected, yet! (The journal accepts only 4% of the manuscripts it receives.) So why do I keep checking email and the online editorial management system every few hours? Because my primate brain has been conditioned by mass media and by social media and by games to hover and fuss and click and refresh and cycle through site after site until something happens. It doesn't matter what, as long as it's something. It has been like this with almost everything that matters to me, and it has been the source of tremendous anxiety. Leaving social media helped, a little, as at least I was not compulsively waiting for "likes" on random things I posted, or entering into the cycle of posting more and more provocative things until I get some response. But there's also the news, which has worked on an ever-accelerating "news cycle" since the 1980s. For much of the last five years, the news has been a whirlwind of dread, for me. I would compulsively check the major newspapers online, or other news sites, waiting for something to happen. (As an American, I can't tell you what a relief it is to have a boring president. Love him or hate him, he at least does not try to force himself on our attention every waking minute of every day!) Then there are games, in which I can accomplish great works in a few minutes, craft elaborate and sophisticated pieces of technology at the click of a button, and even sit my avatar down on a chair and press a button to skip 8 or 12 or 24 hours in a day-night cycle that is already compressed to an hour or so. Leaving that behind, I find myself having to take the long way around. If I want to accomplish anything worthwhile, I'll have to take the time to work on it, the long, slow hours of long, slow days, over the immensity of one year after another. Learning to bake sourdough bread, this past year, has been a good reminder of that. With the method I use, the process takes about 24 hours from "feeding" the starter to taking a loaf out of the oven, and the process cannot be rushed at any point. It has taken me almost a full year of refining my technique and tweaking the recipe to produce consistent results. Aside from the deeper and more lasting satisfaction of actually accomplishing worthwhile things in the real world, here's what motivates me: when I get into in the appropriate mindset for taking the long way around, when I sink into the living present, anxiety falls away. Imagine that. Living without anxiety! This clarifies my task for the coming year, while I pay down the debt and continue to wean myself from distraction: learn to love a slow day, learn to let things happen in their own time.
  23. The Grand Bargain Saves the Day! This was a day I was kind of dreading: the eve of the release of a much-anticipated game. Or, rather, the release of a much-anticipated remaster of a classic trilogy of games. You probably know the trilogy I mean. I read a review of the remaster in one of the major papers, and started wishing I could dive in, tomorrow. I mean, I adore that trilogy! I started bargaining hard: What if I set aside a little every month until I can afford a new gaming PC? What if I camp out on one of the retail sites for my chance at actually buying a graphics card? What if . . . So, instead, I took a walk, and celebrated the Grand Bargain that remains in effect: pay off the debt first - all of it - and then and only then start to think about the possibility of saving what I'd need to build a new gaming PC. That will be at least a year from now. It was a nice walk. It's a lovely evening, here, though already the air is starting to carry some of that summer humidity that will become stifling by July.
  24. Make Computers Boring Again! Taking a short break from an online workshop, and taking a moment for a quick update. I have been watching a lot of YouTube videos, in the past few weeks, and have finally recognized that this makes me something of a hypocrite where social media are concerned: I claim to have quit all social media in 2015, but somehow excluded YouTube from that category. Well, no longer. I have added an extension to my web browser that blocks any sites I list for any period of time I specify. I have blocked YouTube, a particular gaming news site, and a few others, all day, every day, for the indefinite future. When I try to access one of those sites, I now get a message that ends: The page will be unblocked at: the end of time Works for me!
  25. I think you're doing well to block social media, and you've inspired me at last to block YouTube, and to remove the YouTube app from my phone. Congratulations on getting away from games altogether!