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We Now Rejoin Real Life, Already in Progress


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(The first post to this journal is actually in the Introduction forum, under the same title.)

So, I took a week off from gaming, ending last Wednesday, and seemed to find a little balance in my approach to electronic entertainment thereafter. That balance proved temporary, if not simply illusory, but I still think I learned something from it.

It's not just the games themselves that keep pulling me back, but all the various expressions and apparatuses of game culture. I'm not on any kind of social media, except that I do have an account on YouTube that generates recommendations based on what I've watched before . . . and my homepage there was generally always full of gaming-related videos: gaming news, tech news, endless (and pointless) lists, angry rants against developers, serious gameplay videos, goofy gameplay videos, and on and on.

Even during my short break, I realized that I would have to get rid of it all. The secret is to click the three-dot symbol next to the name of a video and select "do not recommend channel" from the drop-down menu. I've done that again and again: Goodbye WhatCulture Gaming! Goodbye Gameranx! Goodbye Let's Game It Out!

I thought of it then as a kind of electronic hygiene, clearing away everything that might draw my attention back to gaming so that, even if I were to start playing again, I could compartmentalize it more effectively. I thought I might be able to manage to play games without being so sucked in to the world of gaming.

Well, that didn't work very well, and I just had another lost weekend.

Now that I'm attempting to quit for a longer period of time - at least a year - I already have that hygiene protocol in place, which is to my advantage.

It also helps that I've already set up a more comfortable place to sit and read a book . . . though I have to vie with my cat for dibs on the best chair.

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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1938151192_MYchair!.thumb.jpeg.7893f71517103f6db5b591433f134953.jpeg

Luna says: This is my chair. Don't you have a game to be playing, or something?

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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The benefits of having a comfortable chair and a good light for reading in the evening got me thinking about the setup of my household and what I'll call the infrastructure of gaming.

Part of the difficulty I've had during the pandemic is that my home office is also my entertainment/hangout room for off-hours. The rest of my house has been a bit of a shambles since the divorce, a year and a half ago - my ex has yet to retrieve the last of her stuff - and my two young-adult kids have been sheltering here with me for the duration, so this really was the best place to be.

So, I've spent spent much of the last year sitting right here looking at this (very nice) monitor, which is connected to a very nice desktop PC. I recently rebuilt the thing, with a new motherboard, best-of-the-last-generation tech (2080Ti) a slick case with tasteful RGB lighting.

So, what do I do with the thing? It's completely overpowered for the work I do, even when I do a little bit of video rendering for online teaching.

I guess I'll know I'm all-in with quitting when I break the thing up, sell off the gear, and build myself a small, energy-efficient PC for work, maybe with an older, low-end graphics card in case I do need to do something with videos. I'm not sure I'm there yet, but the part of me that has enjoyed tinkering with gear is starting to think about taking up energy efficiency as a challenge . . .

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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This is day 3.

I keep finding myself switching back and forth between two ways of thinking about gaming. The switch is abrupt, like a sudden transition from one world to its dark twin; I imagine it accompanied by a flicker of light, or a video glitch, or something. You know, like in that one game . . .

Okay, as I was saying, I switch abruptly back and forth between imagining my life without games, full of possibilities and future accomplishments, and imagining my life still visiting and trying to dwell in artificial worlds toward which I already feel the pull of nostalgia.

There are game worlds and game experiences I'm going to miss. I was really into single-player open-world exploration games, in both "sandbox" and RPG versions, and sometimes in VR. I would sometimes be in awe of game designers for bringing together the elements to create such interesting, often gorgeous, and sometimes nearly sublime settings. There are also particular places that had become familiar, almost like an alternate home town.

(I won't mention any of them here, so as not to set off other people's nostalgia.)

And I think: Just one more visit. Just stop in once in a while. Don't give it all up, that would be silly.

But then I just remember how hollow and unsatisfying the actual gameplay was becoming, how I would grind pointlessly for hours, often restarting games again and again, to recapture some of the magic and the novelty of the first play-through, trying to recapture the sense of accomplishment of becoming established in the game world from a shaky beginning.

And I also think of how the game worlds are at best cheap imitations of the real world, which is full of wonders and terrors enough. Not to mention that the real world is already rendered in 3D with astonishing visual fidelity and total sensory immersion! And the ray tracing! O, ye gods, the ray tracing!

I also remember my life before gaming, even before my marriage, when my sole ambition was to be a scholar and a teacher, when I would read voraciously and sometimes just think for hours, trying to untangle some philosophical knot or other. I would think best when walking out in the wide world, or sitting quietly in the woods, or even just in the back yard.

I can have all that again.

And that's what pulls me forward, out of the mirror-universe and back into real life.

Right now, I'm thinking I'll just take the plunge, downgrade my desktop computer now and sell off my graphics card - at the current hyper-inflated price! I imagine my hand will shake as I place it in the box for shipping, and all the game-worlds I have loved will call out to me . . .

I may not be ready for that, yet. Maybe at the 90-day mark.

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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A quick bit of math. There are 720 hours in a 30-day month. That means I spent a total of 4.8 months playing one particular open-world sandbox/exploration game over the past 5 years. And that's only one of the games into which I've sunk my time.

I shouldn't go throwing away months like that. Someday, they may be scarce!

(I'm currently 52. If I live to be 92, I have about 480 months left in my life.)

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It's the morning of Day 4.

A few things fell into place, last night, as my attempts to rationalize slipping back into gaming ramped up. I had framed what I was experiencing in terms of nostalgia for places and characters and experiences in the games I've enjoyed most, but I think that's incorrect.

Real nostalgia for real places involves the painful realization (the 'algia' part) that you can never really go back, because the place you are longing for is no longer what it was: the people who were there have moved on or passed on, buildings may have risen or fallen, landscapes may be reshaped, and - increasingly - the climate is likely to have shifted noticeably.

But in-game places don't change, not really. Sure, there may be story-based reasons why a place changes, but you can always restart the game and experience it as it was. Only then you might become more aware of how hollow it all is. The characters never change because they were scripted that way: they go through the same movements, repeating the same inane things (i.e., "an arrow to the knee"). You can always bed your favorite companion-NPC by completing the same side-missions and passing the same speech checks. The places never change because they are only backdrops for whatever fetch quest you happen to be on.

There is a kind of comfort in that for someone trying to avoid dealing with upheaval in the real world, I suppose, but there's not a lot of meaning in it, and not an iota of progress toward anything actually worthwhile.

The funny thing is, I've long recognized that what I wanted from games was that kind of changelessness. That's why I adopted 'Zeno' as my user name on Steam, a couple of years ago. 

Zeno, you probably know, was an ancient Greek philosopher who offered four proofs that motion is impossible, known as "Zeno's paradoxes". This was in service to the Eleatic school of philosophy, the main figure of which was Parmenides, who argued that Being must be unitary and changeless, with the implication that any change you experience in the world must be an illusion.

So, calling myself 'Zeno' was kind of a joke at the expense of games: Nothing really changes here; the 'reality' is just a fixed code running on solid-state electronics with no moving parts; any 'change' or 'progress' you may be experiencing in the game is only an illusion.

I think I've had enough of that, now.

I've also realized more fully in the past year that change and loss and grief are unavoidable, and dealing with them directly is the only way to move forward and to learn or accomplish anything of real value. I've known this my whole adult life, but it came back to me forcefully as a member of my extended family lay dying last spring.

I thought: when you cannot avoid grief, you should walk out to meet it.

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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Postscript on Day 4.

I was also thinking of the chorus of an old Talking Heads song: "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens."

And this, too: What I've been experiencing is not nostalgia, but just ordinary jonesing for a fix . . . in this case, a fix of fixity!

A 'fixity fix'?

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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Hey @Zeno of Elea,

actually, never heard of Zeno, but interesting figure!

I used games not as a measure to stop change but to escape/don't have to deal with bad things in my life. I think it is often the case that gaming is a learned strategy (which works in the short run) to deal with emotions. Where we never learned how to deal with these emotions in a healthy way we just adopted the first thing which consistently worked.

It seems like you avoiding sadness. I recently read that sadness actually is necessary for acceptance. If you are sad that something is gone you accept that you can't change it and that it is okay this way. Without going through this emotional states feeling it on some level you can never accept and never move on.

For me, the bad emotion triggering gaming is guilt/shame. The feeling of being inadequate. Instead, I should take it as a warning that either my self expectations or other peoples expectations are twisted in some way. And exploring if I actually am wrong and changing it or if the other people judging me wrong. This would enable me to be sad and accepting it or to get angry and changing something. Escapism does neither. It only stops the bad feeling until it gets to much.

Best of luck at your detox 🙂

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Day 5 now dawns.

I know what needs to be done. It's only a matter of doing it.

That became my mantra through the day, yesterday. I may still think of what I'm doing now as a 90-day or a 1-year "detox", or whatever, but I really just need to take concrete steps to remove myself from the world of gaming. So, I ordered the components I'll need to downgrade my desktop PC. The money I can get from selling my graphics card should more than cover the expense of it, though it does leave a hole in my budget for a few weeks. I ordered a new, compact case with a low-wattage power supply, a small-format motherboard to fit the compact case, a CPU with integrated graphics, and memory modules to match.

I'll enjoy building it, and I'll enjoy moving my elder child's desktop PC into the tower case I'm using now. Tinkering like that can be rewarding.

I'm not yet at the point where I'd be willing to delete all my gaming accounts. That day may be coming, though.

Remembering something from my deep past helped spur me to action. When I was in my early teens, way back in the early 1980s, I really got in to tabletop RPGs. My cousin was a devilishly creative DM in D&D, and I started to set myself up for the comparable role in a science fiction RPG of the time called Traveller. I had all the books and all the dice and the other paraphernalia of the thing, which I kept in a big canvas duffel bag.

And it started to take over my life. It occupied my attention and my imagination day and night. It's not that I was especially good at it, but that I gained a lot of satisfaction from creating worlds and creating ships and creating characters, in a playing-in-the-sandbox sort of way.

I realized that if I wanted to become good at it, I would have to go all-in and any hope of moderation and balance would be lost. Even at the time, at that age, it felt like addiction, and it frightened me.

I knew what had to be done. It was only a matter of doing it.

On the day trash was collected in my neighborhood, I set the duffel bag out by the curb, next to the trash can one of us had placed there the night before.

And I walked away.

A little later, I was in the car. I think my mom was driving and, as we pulled out of the driveway, she spotted the duffel. She asked: Did you mean to leave that there?

I said: Yes. It's fine.

It really wasn't fine. I felt like all hell. But it was good, and I went on with my life.

Though, of course, it wasn't too many years later that my family got our first home computer, a TRS-80 Color Computer - our beloved "Trash-80 CoCo"! - with a cartridge for an early 3D dungeon-crawl game . . .

One step back into gaming for me as an adult was finding a PC port of that old game.

But I learned the possibility and the sometime liberating potential of renunciation early on, and now I can see it's time to put the duffel by the curb, again.

I know I can do it, even if I feel like all hell, sometimes.

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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The evening of day 5, and I suddenly feel like all hell.

I had a good afternoon: took a walk, did work tasks that needed doing, cleaned the stove, read a book, played fiddle, washed dishes.

And now, it's Friday evening, I'm stuck at home, alone during a pandemic, and an expanse of time stretches out ahead of me . . .

So, the bargaining begins, and the rationalization. Can't I play just one game? Just for an hour or two? Then I'll stop! I promise!

And if I did play, I might actually stop after an hour or two . . . this time. But then I would probably lose tomorrow and Sunday altogether, just like last week.

I'll write more about this tomorrow morning, but I've been thinking back on my experience with computer games since the early 1980s, and then on my relationship with the Internet since the later 1990s. Everything in my experience tells me that I will never have a healthy, moderate relationship with computer games, and I should not pretend that I ever will.

But, unlike in the past, it's not as though I can remove them physically from my life, like packing them in a duffel and taking them to the curb. I'm online a lot now, and games are online, too, always within reach.

It's as if I were an alcoholic with a beer tap built into my home office, one I can neither remove nor entirely disconnect.

Luckily for me, some help is at hand.

I've long been part of a music-and-dance community in my region - American contra dance, if you know it - and some local folk have been organizing a "dist-dance" on Friday evenings, with live music and prompting for those who want to dance a few steps at home, alone or as couple. (The dance usually involves a longways set of dancers, lined up down the hall, so even dancing as a couple is kind of odd.)

I tuned in for one or two of them, last year, but didn't stick with it because of the awkwardness of trying to socialize casually on Zoom. It starts shortly, though, so I'll sign into it. It will be good to see familiar faces and to listen to some music, even if it will be a pale shadow of a real evening of dance.

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Day 6

The Internet took my generation by surprise.

We came of age without it. We barely had what could be counted as computers, though the Commodore 64 and the TRS-80 had their virtues, and the first Macintosh was something of a breakthrough. We could use computers for playing games, but they could also be just tools for particular tasks, with early word-processors and spreadsheets and the like. In high school, we used Commodore Pets, with their 20 kB of RAM, to write programs in Basic to solve calculus problems.

Computers were not yet a source of constant connection and constant distraction. The first modem my family had, with our TRS-80, was a model with a cradle for a standard AT&T phone handset, capable of a blistering 800 baud (changes per second to the carrier signal), and we didn't really have much use for it.

Oh, and 'trolls' were something out of Scandinavian folklore; out in the real world, bullies had to operate out in the open, their names and faces known to everyone.

In my last two years of college, I had a stand-alone Brother word-processor, which was a daisy-wheel printer with an attached keyboard, a CRT screen, and a 3.5" floppy drive. I wrote my dissertation on an IBM PS2 running WordStar in DOS. Those were single-use tools, for me, and they were powered down most of the time.

I had my first email account in graduate school, but could only use it in a computer lab on campus. I didn't get an AOL account - don't judge, it was the gateway drug of choice, back then - until after I'd received my degree. By 2002, I was starting to slip into the always-online life we all know now. I held off getting a smart phone as long as I could, but gave in sometime around 2010.

This is not to say the Internet is altogether bad, and this isn't just another oldtimer's "back in my day!" rant. It's only to note how nothing in the upbringing or early experience of my generation prepared us for it, or helped us to develop the habits necessary to maintain the Internet as a tool we can use, rather than a tool that uses us.

The Internet was sold to us as giving us unlimited access, unprecedented power; it would draw people together, we were told; it would be the single most democratizing force the world has ever known. Well, we've seen how that last one worked out. Before too long, I had to have internet access just to do my job. Even before the pandemic, constant access to reliable, high-speed internet became a basic requirement; for the past five years, or so, a smart phone has also become a requirement, as my employer uses two-factor authentication for logging in to any account.

I am expected always to be online, always to be available and ready to respond.

Which means I'm only ever a few keystrokes or clicks away from YouTube, or Facebook, or Discord . . . or Steam.

And that's what I've been coming around to. What dawned on me, yesterday, as I thought about my current situation and my current resolution, is that my history with games is tangled up together in my history with the Internet, all of which comes down to becoming a distraction junkie.

As I've written already, I knew I had a problem with video games early on, even back in high school. Later, I would find myself in the presence of a computer with a game on it and, if the opportunity presented itself, I would disappear into it. Once, while staying at a beach house with friends, there was a laptop with Civilization 2 . . . and hours disappeared during which I could have been walking on the beach, or talking with friends, or helping with dinner, or . . .

I knew not to have games on my own computer, and it was easily avoided . . . until I had my first DSL service.

AOL had dumb but compulsive little games built into it, and I started to waste some time with those. Then I found some online sources of odd little games that were free, and I started to waste time with those.

Then I found Steam.

Meanwhile, my then-wife had discovered Facebook, and she was the first to get a smart phone. She disappeared into it for hours, so I would shrug and go play Portal for a while.

It was only after the marriage was already disintegrating that I decided to dive in to open-world games, the kind that could eat up 70 or 100 hours in a single play-through, and I played and played through the isolation and alienation and upheaval that followed. If I hadn't been playing, as I said in my introductory post, I probably would have filed for divorce years earlier than I did and gone on with my life.

And when I wasn't playing, I was cycling compulsively through a regular circuit of websites. I quit social media in 2015, but I would check the news sites for updates, and check some forum I was on, and check YouTube, and then check both my email accounts, and . . .

What I'm saying is that I don't just need to get rid of games. I need finally to come to terms with the Internet as a whole. I need somehow to shift the meaning of this big box on my desk, the one attached to the great fire-hose of distraction that is my Internet connection. I need to be able to leave the thing turned off more of the time, not to keep cycling back anxiously to site after site, jonesing for another hit of dopamine.

There are tools I use online, of course, especially during the pandemic. I've found a budgeting app that is even now saving me from ruin; I also have a to-do list app I've been using more; and then there are all the ways I still need my computer for work, especially in the pandemic: I teach online, and communicate with colleagues online, and find sources for research online. I also do get my news online, but from established newspapers, and I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every morning.

The trick will be to regard those things as simple tools for my use, to be set aside when I'm not actually using them.

 

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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The morning of Day 7!

Early evening is the most difficult time for me, and I think I've figured out why.

Without going into too much detail, as my marriage was falling apart, my then-wife would travel quite a lot and, when she was home, things were tense. Most evenings, when I didn't have a commitment outside the house, I would retreat to my home office as soon as I could after dinner to play games for an hour or two . . . or four . . .  or seven. For their part, the kids also scattered to their own refuges, for much the same reasons.

Even when I did have something outside the house - something music- and/or dance-related, usually - I would play a game right up until it was time to leave . . . and maybe just past that time.

There were even times when the kids would travel with my then-wife, in the summer, and I would be home alone for weeks on end. Then, I would eat dinner in front of the computer, watching videos - some about games, some about other things - until I had finished eating and could play again. It was during one of those long spells of solitude, by the way, that I downloaded my first open-world RPG.

But even after my then-wife moved out altogether, and even after the divorce, the after-dinner retreat remained a confirmed habit, and most especially during the pandemic. If I had something to do after dinner - you know, like washing dishes or making sourdough so it could rise overnight - I always felt as though I had to hurry so I could maximize my gaming time before it was time to go to bed.

Not that I would go to bed, then. As I say, I was perfectly capable of playing until 2am, or even later.

I figured this out yesterday, after a leisurely morning of grocery shopping and yard work, and a leisurely afternoon of more grocery shopping - had to go to another store - house work, reading, and making dinner.

(I enjoy the feeling of not hurrying through chores and other activities. I may have more to say about my experience of time without games in a future post.)

After dinner, I started again to feel like all hell. The rationalizations began. ("Just one . . .  just an hour . . . you can do it . . .")

I can be very persuasive, when I'm rationalizing.

I figured I'd better establish some new habits, so I grabbed my jacket and went out for a walk. The weather here in the southeastern US was very fine, yesterday: sunny and dry and unseasonably cool. The day started with light frost on the ground, but a light jacket was more than enough to be comfortable by mid-day and into the evening. It's rare to have the humidity so low, here, so I made sure to open up the house.

After the walk, I read a bit, wrote a letter to someone - an actual, paper letter, to go in the mail! - had a Zoom chat with an old friend, read some more, and was asleep by 11pm.

An after-dinner walk should be my new habit, whenever the weather is anything but truly foul, at least as long as the pandemic keeps me from other evening activities. It will help me to recover from a year of sitting around too much and eating too much sourdough bread . . .

Edited by Zeno of Elea
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Quick update on the evening of Day 7:

I've had my after-dinner walk - a quick turn around the block - and I've made sourdough and set it to rise overnight. I'm just checking in here quickly before I remove the cat from my chair and sit down for the evening to read.

Even though it's the wrong holiday for it, I've had something of an epiphany today. I'll write more about that in tomorrow morning's update.

This is just to report that, looking through a closet in my home office, I discovered an ancient relic: a GTX 750ti graphics card! It's probably the first serious graphics card I bought, but it's so stripped down, it doesn't even require any extra power beyond that provided by the PCIe slot!

Long story short, it has a DisplayPort output, which is what I'm currently using, so I was able to swap out my 2080ti and prepare it for shipping to a buyer. It will likely be a couple of weeks before I have all the parts for my PC downgrade, but selling off the graphics card now will close the hole in my budget.

1937759954_GoodRiddance.thumb.jpg.8ae33d8eb0460bb78e372a3a16a1df4d.jpg

Goodbye, old thing! We had some fun, I guess, but now it's time to part ways.

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Day Whatever of my reinvention.

I'm going to stop counting days. If I need to memorialize the clean break I'm trying to make, now, I'll date it to April 1, but otherwise the number of days really doesn't matter.

You see, quitting gaming has changed my relationship with time, which is no longer just to be passed or filled or simply skipped, but inhabited. I should live the kind of life in which every moment is sufficient to itself, and whatever I am doing in that moment is the most important thing for me to be doing just then.

Yeah, that sounds like some mystical crap. But what I mean is something absolutely ordinary, something mundane.

Let me come at this another way. All day yesterday, and much of the day before, I felt a growing sense of calm or contentment; by yesterday evening it was almost a kind of elation. It's as if all the anxiety and urgency that has been typical of my days, of late, had fallen away, and I could immerse myself in whatever I was doing - or not doing - at the time.

I also find myself being more patient with everything. If I have a tedious task to do in the house or the yard, I sink into the task without concern for what I might be doing otherwise (gaming), or what I'm in a hurry to get to next (gaming). Washing dishes? A pleasure! Mowing the law? Delightful!

That may be especially easy on a day in early spring, here were I live, when the weather is almost unspeakably fine. But, hey, I like a good rainy day, too. I'll even stop and listen to the rain for a while.

In this way of being I'm rediscovering, I don't feel driven to cycle through sites on the Internet, or try one more time for the perfect startup in that one survival/exploration game. I can just be where I am.

Yesterday evening, right about when I would have started to feel the urge to flee to my office and disappear into a game - obliterating some otherwise perfectly good hours - I found myself calmly anticipating a walk, and the process of making bread ('panification'!), followed by sitting for a while to read.

I'd like to hold on to that. I'd like to make that my default state, so that even financial worries (which I have), or pandemic worries (which we all should have), or concerns for the future of democracy (let's not go there), are no match for just being present in the moment in which I find myself.

So, this is the epiphany I had yesterday. My task is not only to give up gaming, nor is it only to rework my relationship to the Internet and to computer technology generally, nor is it even just to come to terms with the long history of my failed marriage. No, my task is to come around at last to learning how to live in the world, to do good work, and be an active member of my community.

So, it is whatever day it is of my reinvention.

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Mid-day update:

I just took a stroll down the the post office - a round-trip of around 1000 steps - where I dropped off my lovely/insidious RTX 2080Ti.

A week ago, I thought it would be an emotional thing, that all the game worlds I have loved would cry out to me as one before they were silenced.

None of that happened though. It was just another package going out in the mail, just another tracking receipt . . . and the anticipation of the money landing in my bank account.

In the mean time, the memory modules for my PC downgrade have arrived. Next should be the motherboard and the case, sometime in the next few days, followed by the processor, likely sometime next week.

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Yesterday seemed long, probably because I didn't try to tune any of it out. I didn't obliterate any hours along the way. I think this is a good thing.

I mean, I'm not exactly young, and I have no idea how many days I have left on this Earth - maybe 15,000, maybe 1 - so I should be sure to make the most of each one. So, bring on the long days!

I accomplished every one of my goals, and even got a head start on goals I hadn't written down, yet. I wrote for nearly two hours in the morning, as planned, moved along on some other work-related projects, went for a walk, and liberated myself from a certain graphics card.

Update on that last point: The game worlds I have loved did not all cry out as one, but a few of them whimpered a little, much later in the day. I will think back wistfully on some of them, I think, for a long time.

One day at a time, though. Isn't that one of the mantras of 12-step programs?

After I write this, I'm going to do the NYT crossword puzzle - my current streak now stands at 173 days in a row - get cleaned up, eat breakfast, then settle down to write. I don't have a lot of work-related meetings on my schedule, so I should also be able to get some serious reading done, today.

I'm currently juggling three books at once: during the day I've been reading Nel Noddings, Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education, for a paper I'm working on with a colleague; after hours, I've been reading John Rawls, Political Liberalism, to extend my understanding of the conditions under which democracy is possible, and then I wind down with Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars.

Just before I turned out the last night, I was looking ahead to weeks and months on end of writing every day, and wondered: what am I going to write about, all those long days, one after another? Then I remembered all the unfinished or half-begun projects I'd left lying around when I was in the throes of distraction-addiction, and I made a list.

Another thing occurred to me: I'm now starting to live the life I'd imagined for myself, back when I was in graduate school. I can trace the steps that drew me away from that vision of myself, and I can't say I don't regret the lost time, but somehow it's all come back around: I'm more or less exactly where I want to be.

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Take It or Leave It

There's a sociologist of technology, Wieber Bijker, who has written about what he calls the technological frame. Basically, we come to understand certain technological artifacts in a certain way, and those artifacts are connected to other meaningful systems and relationships such that, if you start using the artifact, you enter into a world entirely shaped by that artifact.

Bijker writes, for example, that those who buy a car "become included in a semiotic structure of automobiling: cars-roads-rules-traffic-jams-gas prices-taxes" to the point that they may not be able to imagine the world any other way. For those who do not choose to buy a car, "jams and oil prices simply do not matter."

The automobile itself is a "boundary object" that presents a take-it-or-leave-it choice: “They cannot modify the artifact if they ‘take’ it, but life can go on quite well if they ‘leave it.’”

I bring this up because it has helped me to make sense of the weird kind of duality I described a week ago, when I felt like I was flashing between the world as it was after I took up gaming, and the world as it may become now that I've left. Games are, in my experience at least, a kind of boundary object, and I was slipping back and forth across the boundary from the real world to gamer-world and back, from a world in which gaming as much as I had been seems weird and self-destructive to a frame in which gaming all weekend seems perfectly normal.

To say that I sometimes have the "urge" to play a game is not a very helpful way to think about it. It's not an emotion, not a raw impulse about which I can do nothing. If what is happening is that I'm not yet well established in the real-world frame, such that I slip occasionally in to gamer-world frame, then there is something I can do: engage with a person or an activity in the real world, pursue a project that more firmly establishes me outside the frame.

The 'frame' idea also clarifies for me why I likely should never try to take up gaming again.

It's all or nothing, take it or leave it.

Edited by Zeno
just being picky aboug grammar and stuff
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1 hour ago, Zeno said:

Take It or Leave It

There's a sociologist of technology, Wieber Bijker, who has written about what he calls the technological frame. Basically, we come to understand certain technological artifacts in a certain way, and those artifacts are connected to other meaningful systems and relationships such that, if you start using the artifact, you enter into a world entirely shaped by that artifact.

Bijker writes, for example, that those who buy a car "become included in a semiotic structure of automobiling: cars-roads-rules-traffic-jams-gas prices-taxes" to the point that they may not be able to imagine the world any other way. For those who do not choose to buy a car, "jams and oil prices simply do not matter."

The automobile itself is a "boundary object" that presents a take-it-or-leave-it choice: “They cannot modify the artifact if they ‘take’ it, but life can go on quite well if they ‘leave it.’”

I bring this up because it has helped me to make sense of the weird kind of duality I described a week ago, when I felt like I was flashing between the world as it was after I took up gaming, and the world as it may become now that I've left. Games are, in my experience at least, a kind of boundary object, and I was slipping back and forth across the boundary from the real world to gamer-world and back, from a world in which gaming as much as I had been seems weird and self-destructive to a frame in which gaming all weekend seems perfectly normal.

To say that I sometimes have the "urge" to play a game is not a very helpful way to think about it. It's not an emotion, not a raw impulse about which I can do nothing. If what is happening is that I'm not yet well established in the real-world frame, such that I slip occasionally in to gamer-world frame, then there is something I can do: engage with a person or an activity in the real world, pursue a project that more firmly establishes me outside the frame.

The 'frame' idea also clarifies for me why I likely should never try to take up gaming again.

It's all or nothing, take it or leave it.

That is such a cool point about “boundary objects” and gaming. Literally when you participate in a certain fictional realm you are so restricted because you have to play by those linear rules determined by that artifact; while engaging with real people and living in and sensing the actual world you have the freedom to make your own choices in reality. And yes that we ALWAYS can make a choice!  Thank you for sharing and all the best with everything.

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Thanks, @Theresa. It's not just a single fictional gaming world that acts as a frame - though I certainly know what you mean, and have experienced that - but the whole world of gaming.

Until a couple of years ago, I had barely heard of E3, but last year I was almost devastated that it wasn't going to be happening because of the pandemic. Until last year, I had never thought about the supply chain for the production of graphics cards, or the rise of cryptocurrency "mining", but the fact that it is currently impossible to buy an RTX 3000-series graphics card was seriously annoying to me, and actually occupied my attention for quite a while.

Then there was the endless cycle through news video feeds and news sites. Would CDPR redeem itself after a bad launch? Will BioWare return to form with their next game? Are single-player games a thing of the past? What clever list will those cute humans on that one channel come up with next?

Outside the gaming frame, none of that really matters at all.

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The week is going well, so far. I've kept to the plan of writing for two hours every morning and taking care of other business through the day before making dinner. I've been working steadily and, when I run out of the tasks I've written down for the day, I take the time to start meddling in other tasks that need doing or might need doing down the line.

Basically, I am currently reinventing my professional life, which involves undoing habits and patterns which are bigger and older than my dalliance with games. I'm also rediscovering useful older habits, like going for a short, brisk walk to clear my head when I get stuck on something I'm writing. I used to do that in college, and it worked again yesterday morning.

After dinner, last night, I went for another, longer walk, took care of a couple of things around the house, then sat down to read, as usual.

The motherboard arrived for my PC downgrade, and I'm expecting the case sometime today. The CPU, alas, seems to be on a slow boat from China.

It's before dawn, where I am, and the birdsong outside my window is something crazy.

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Take It or Leave It, postscript

It's my kids' turn to make dinner, tonight, so I'm stealing a moment to write one more addition to yesterday's bit on gaming as a technological frame.

If games really function as a kind of boundary object, offering a take-it-or-leave-it-choice, then any attempt at a 1-week "break" or a 90-day "detox" or "A Year Without Gaming" will be futile, because all the while you will still be in the frame, still thinking of yourself as a gamer who is on a break rather than as a former gamer, or as something else in development. Gamer-world is still your world, still your frame of reference; you still make sense of your life in reference to gaming.

No, the only thing to do may be to achieve escape velocity or, to switch metaphors back the other way, to leave the boundary object by the wayside, once and for all. Sell your console. Sell your graphics card. Delete your Steam/EA/Ubisoft/Epic/XBox/PS/GoG/whatever account.

Blow it all up and walk away without looking back.

Edited by Zeno
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I agree that your actions are bound by your perceived identity. But it also works the other way around. If you do something else then gaming for awhile it changes your identity towards the other thing. 

For some people 90days are enough to Go through that Change. Others need more time. It is key to find a desirable version of yourself and work towards that version. One little action after another

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Drift

Another idea I've come across helps me to make sense of my experience over the last decade or so. This one comes from one of the pioneers of systems modeling, Donella Meadows, from her posthumous book, Thinking in Systems.

(If any of you are looking for something interesting to read, I have to recommend this book. It's an accessible, nontechnical introduction to systems analysis in general, with lots of interesting and provocative examples.)

The thing about systems is that they exhibit emergent behaviors (they are more than the sum of their parts), and if you want to change the way a system behaves, you may be in for a surprise: the way the system responds to an intervention is nonlinear, and sometimes dramatically so. Taking an example from farming, she writes: "If I put 100 pounds of fertilizer on, my yield will go up by 10 bushels; if I put on 200, my yield will not go up at all; if I put on 300, my yield will go down. Why? I've damaged my soil with 'too much of a good thing'". (p.91)

Systems are everywhere around us and inside us. Our minds are the emergent behavior of complex, self-organizing systems nested together.

Which brings me to systems traps, including the one relevant here: the drift to low performance.

The mechanism is a couple of feedbacks. The person acting has a performance goal, like writing for two hours every morning, or keeping the kitchen clean. If there is a discrepancy between the goal and the actual state of things, the person takes action, which Meadows describes as "an ordinary balancing feedback loop that should keep performance at the desired level." (p.122)

But sometimes people more readily believe bad news than good news. "As actual performance varies, the best results are dismissed as aberrations, the worst results stay in the memory." And then - here's the kicker - "the desired state of the system is influenced by the perceived state," (p. 122) so my own performance goal is ratcheted down.

Is my room a little messier than I want it? Sigh. I guess that's the best I can hope for . . .

This becomes a reinforcing feedback loop in the wrong direction, toward lower and lower performance. Here is Meadows' summary of the trap:

Quote

Allowing performance standards to be influenced by past performance, especially if there is a negative bias in perceiving past performance, sets up a reinforcing feedback loop of eroding goals that sets the system drifting toward low performance. (p123)

The thing that gets me about this is that I first read this book five years ago, or so, and fully recognized that I was caught in that downward drift myself. I tried to break out of it, but without ever fully committing to the one big step that would help me: getting rid of games and holding the Internet as a whole at a greater distance. My image of myself crumbled along with it: sigh. I guess this is the best I can hope for.

So here's how Meadows describes the way out:

Quote

Keep performance standards absolute. Even better, let standards be enhanced by the best actual performances instead of being discouraged by the worst. Use the same structure to set up a drift toward high performance! (p.123)

I think I'm actually doing that last bit, this week. Every day this week has been productive; I've held to my plan, stayed focused, completed my tasks, and largely avoided the Internet. That is now the minimum acceptable standard for a weekday. When I have an even better day, I'll set that as the new standard, and so on, ratcheting the whole thing upward.

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A post elsewhere on the forum got me curious about my own recent history of gaming. So, I downloaded the Steam app to my phone, logged in, and checked out my store history. On that basis, I think I can reconstruct a timeline of my descent.

~2007-2013 - dabbled in games here and there, nothing very serious or engrossing; just little diversions I would turn to now and again to pass some time. I gave a lot more of my time over to learning to play fiddle; I'd stopped playing violin sometime around 1991.

2013 - Opened a Steam account. Marriage already getting . . . tense . . . for reasons not related to gaming.

2013-2015 - Still restricted myself - somewhat intentionally - to smaller games, oriented toward puzzles or interactive narrative. At some point I did pick up one of the Civilization games, which I described at the time as being like "candy-coated crack" to my brain. Marriage getting shakier.

2016 - bought an FPS game for the first time, one of the classics of the genre. I also bought a classic trilogy of semi-linear RPGs of the space-opera variety. Oh, and bought in early to an exploration/survival game/experience that would, in the years that followed, suck up about 3500 hours of my life. (I mean, it was delightful, and I'll remember it fondly, but 3500 hours?) By this point, the marriage was in what ended up being its death-spiral; games were my way of not coping with the fact that I was actually trapped in it, alone a lot of the time while my wife found excuses to travel.

2017 - bought my first open-world RPG during a summer in which my wife and kids were away for 5 weeks. It would not be my last. My engagement with social activities - many of them related to music and dance - began to suffer, by this point, though I made halfhearted efforts to boost my enthusiasm for them and try new things. Being a dopamine-junkie made it difficult to focus on actual people, though.

2018-2019 - More RPGs. More adventures. More! More! On the treadmill of hype and gear upgrades and lost weekends. I started caring what happened at E3. It's no surprise that my productivity in my career took a nose-dive during this period: I did the defined tasks required by my job, didn't miss meetings (mostly), taught all my classes, but the creative/productive side of my career withered on the vine. By the spring of 2018, the marriage was basically dead: my wife was living elsewhere . . . with someone else. I finally summoned the will to talk to a lawyer about filing for divorce in the Spring of 2019; I filed later in the summer, and the divorce was finalized in October of that year - just a few months before the pandemic hit. I kept the house . . . and upgraded my computer. I also got a VR headset during the summer of 2019.

2020 - I used games to not deal with the stress of the pandemic, post-divorce stress, grief at the loss of family members and one of my cats, and political upheaval. I upgraded my computer, again, for Christmas, and spent the equivalent of half a month in a shiny new RPG over the holiday break.

Then, I kind of hit a wall. Games became dull, but I found myself endlessly starting and restarting one or another of them to try to recapture some of the magic I'd experienced in 2016 or 2017. I would cycle through gaming news sites and video channels for word of the next big thrill. My career called out for help, as it was about to go under. My house called out to be organized and cleaned. It suddenly became urgent for me to figure out who I would become, now that I'm single after a quarter-century of marriage.

And here I am.

On the whole, the history is shorter than I remembered, and the period during which it became really corrosive is confined to a handful of years. The damage is bad enough, though, and I'm glad I stopped and reconsidered what I was doing.

Edited by Zeno
clarity, accuracy; added a few more details
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