When Angry Birds first appeared, I soared with the best of them. When Candy Crush Saga crushed the competition, I gladly got under the steamroller. When The Simpsons Tapped Out infiltrated my screens, I tapped, tapped, and tapped some more. I sliced things up in Fruit Ninja and Cut the Rope, ran for my life in Temple Run, and I got lots of stuff in Family Guy: The Quest for Stuff.
And then one day not long ago, I quit. I quit it all. Because I came to the dreadful realization that I was playing these games – these time sucks, time wasters, and freemium monsters – more than actual games that I actually valued. So I purged my devices of any and all “games.” No more birds, no more candy, no more virtual familiar faces.
And I was happy. I felt like my convictions had won out over fleeting temptations. I was going to focus on the important stuff, the games that tested my skills, possessed true meaning, and pushed me further. That was what I needed, what I thought I needed: to get rid of all the extraneous, drivel-ridden, tap here, match three “games” that were keeping me from being the gamer I knew I could be. For a time, life was grand. I didn’t think about what I was missing out by not defeating the 263rd level of Candy Crush. I didn’t worry about what chaos the Simpsons were getting into. I didn’t care about flipping tiles, running dramatically, or blasting bubbles, because I had other things to worry about, big things like saving virtual worlds and souls using strength, virtue, cunning, and a veritable host of strategic methods. None of these traits were required for the time wasters, the games of chance, random number generators, and fixed “stories.”
Perhaps backsliding from such a lofty goal was inevitable, but it certainly wasn’t planned. Last month, in real life, we began remodeling our kitchen. The process was self-motivated and homemade from the start – no outside contractors or help was involved. As such, planning the whole thing produced more than a few headaches and sleepless nights. And when the stress got to be too much, I found myself desperately wanting to game. Not game for hours upon hours (though I felt those inklings from my subconscious), but rather game for just a few minutes, just long enough to live for a moment in another place, relieve the stress, and get my head back in the remodeling game. Knowing that “a few minutes of gaming” was nearly impossible on a console, as any one takes well more than a few minutes to simply get going, that’s when I turned to the Google Play store and its “free games” section. If I could just find a game that was quick but mindful, something that allowed me to momentarily and purposely focus my attention elsewhere, that’d be just the ticket. And that’s when I found AlphaBetty Saga.
Understand here that I’m not endorsing this game or speaking to the usefulness of time-wasting games generally, because AlphaBetty is, at its core, a true time suck, especially once you really start to get your pattern recognition neurons firing. (The game is all about recognizing and making words while meeting certain goals in each level.) But for me, it became something with which I could, and can, waste time with purpose.
Some time ago, I read an interesting article about Facebook usage at work. Rather than panning the site, the article praised it for playing a role in increasing worker productivity. It purported that one might be able to overcome difficult problems at work by using Facebook as a momentary distraction. So if you hit a severe roadblock in some sort of problem-solving activity, spending 10 minutes on Facebook allowed your brain to hone in on something completely unrelated. Then, when you went back to the problem it was like facing it with a fresh set of eyes, allowing you to see things differently, and maybe figuring out a solution. It’s the same notion as taking a walk or getting some air during difficult projects – accepting and following through with a brief distraction — except that you don’t have to go anywhere.
This is how AlphaBetty helped me through the anxieties of our kitchen remodel. It provided me with little but necessary respites when the pressure was high. It helped me refocus my attention when planning made my eyes cross and my head hurt. And it’s changed my opinion of time wasting games somewhat. When there’s a sense of purpose behind playing them, your Angry Birds and Candy Crushes, can be quite useful in helping one deal with stress, protracted problems, and seemingly unknowable solutions. Of course, self-control plays a huge key in all this, because it doesn’t take much for a purposeful time waster to become a purposeless time suck. Moderation in all things, right?
What do you think about time wasting games? Do you have any particular favorites that you’ve found useful for one reason or another?