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Playing the Game Called Life

One of the more enjoyable talks at SXSW Interactive was Jane McGonigal ‘s keynote address about reality-based games(download the mp3) . She contended that the happiness  industry (i.e., gaming & entertainment) is  likely to increase as a proportion of the American economy. A key part of this was adding game-like qualities to everyday living and even the world of work.  It’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. It’s already common to use business simulations to teach management and marketing skills. Jane wants to bring it one step further: how can games enhance quality of life and break down social barriers?  She gave an example of a crazy game where she had to wait at an intersection until something crazy happened there.  After several hours of waiting, a group of teenagers got off a schoolbus and started dancing the Soulja dance, and she happily submitted a photo to the website to advance to the next level. (Here’s Daniel Terdiman’s reporting from this  amazing talk).

Here’s a list of personal games I use to spice up my own life.

  • Is there a Diet Coke in the fridge? Part of my morning routine is drinking a can of Diet Coke while I surf the web. Once in a while, I forget to leave a Diet Coke in the fridge, so when I awake, I discover –horror of horrors– I must  put another Diet Coke in the freezer and wait 45 minutes for it to chill. Sure, I could put in a 12 pack all at once in the fridge, but that would defeat the purpose.  I enjoy living on the edge. Normally I only fill the fridge with one or two cans at a time. It requires a minor amount of mental energy to remember.  When I awake and I find a coke, I am delighted (and win). If I don’t, I lose. During the evening, when I am relaxing,  will I remember to put the extra Diet Coke in the fridge? Sometimes I’ll be laying in bed, and suddenly the notion will hit me that I forgot to put the Diet Coke in the fridge?  The fun lies in the uncertainty. Will I remember or won’t I?
  • Count the Words you kill. I am always writing stories and try to write as tightly as I can (even for first drafts). But after I finish a first draft, I do a word count and put it on the top of the file. That is the number I have to beat. Every day when I revise this story I run a wordcount at the end of the session and record the number on the top so I can see my progress.  I try my best to squeeze out words and phrases and sometimes even whole paragraphs. During the first revision, it’s easy to shave words left and right, but near the final revision, every single deleted word becomes a minor triumph. On a recent story (which was fairly tight to begin with), I started out with 8640 words and had it down to about 8300 by last Wednesday. On Sunday I brought it down to  8198 (which to me is nothing short of miraculous). I’m still hoping I can squeeze another 100 words out of it, but frankly I would feel lucky if I axed another 25 (update on the next day: revising actually increased the word count by 3!). Writers can go overboard with the delete button;  Killing words provides such a delicious thrill that you have to restrain yourself.  Once the paragraphs start to bleed, that’s the time to stop.  (Update: this article went from 2200 words to 2025 in my latest revision. Can I get down to 2000?)
  • Exercise! How many times per week can I exercise? Fight against TV shows, general grogginess, household chores and web addiction to actually complete a  25 minute  exercise video. (also fun if you play Find the Remote–see below). If you do it 5x a week, you win. 3x a week or less, and you’re a loser.
  • Browser Tab Insanity. When web surfing, I usually load up all these extraneous browser tabs while I read the print view of the main tab. Deep down, I know I should close everything and restart the browser, but I like tempting with fate (it helps that I have 4 gigs of RAM). My record for Firefox 2x is 195 tabs open simultaneously. I am going to try to beat my record on Firefox 3.x
  • Count the Vomiting Scenes. I don’t watch much television except when  eating. I have my basa fish or frozen pizza on my TV table next to me while I am watching TV. That is why I never want to see vomiting depicted in any TV show or movie I am watching. You’d be surprised how often vomiting appears on prime time TV. First, for comic effect (South Park, Bernie Mac Shoe, etc), cute clue to being pregnant (Sex and the City), gritty realism (any cop show), human transformation to alien species (Buffy, mostly bad sci fi movies), funny postscript to a night of drinking (How I met your mother, etc). You think I exaggerate. But if I  can watch TV for a week vomit-free, that is a minor victory. See my article about this grass roots campaign.
  • Find the Remote! Like most people, I have 3 remote controls (7 if you include various electronic appliances I rarely use). How do I turn the channel? Well, it depends on if I am in HDTV mode or VCR mode. But often I lose the remote control or leave it somewhere. Can Robert find the right remote control before the McLaughlin Group comes on? (More).
  • Bug Juggling Do you know that there is a right way and wrong way to get rid of a roach? Regardless of how you dispose of a roach, the hardest part is catching it. To do that, the only way is to push the roach to a flat surface (like a piece of paper). It’s easy getting the roach onto the paper. It’s hard moving that paper to dispose of the roach without the roach flying off. The trick is to hold the roach on the paper with one hand and another piece of paper underneath the first piece of paper. When the roach crawls off the paper, instead of falling to the ground, it merely falls onto the second sheet. Then, if you’re fast enough, you can move the first paper underneath the second paper, and so on. The secret is that you need to keep the piece of paper as still as possible to fool the roach into thinking that at least it has reached safety (This has turned out to be an unexpected source of fun.
  • Dishwasher Juggling. I’ve been losing this game a lot recently. The secret to a clean kitchen is preventing bottlenecks. That means loading and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning pots and pans and putting things away. Unfortunately when my schedule doesn’t permit this, I get backed up quickly.  (I think of Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory when the supervisor accelerates the conveyor belt).  I don’t like falling behind, but I like the momentary sensation of catching up.
  • Wacky Feeds at Wacky Times. Gosh, wouldn’t you love to catch up on all those RSS feeds you put on Google Reader/Bloglines? Fortunately, it’s possible to use a feed reader on a PDA (and probably on your iphone). It’s always glorious to catch up on the latest poems by your fave literary genius or some python geek’s ingenious thoughts on coding while waiting in line at Walmart or at your car repair shop. I often plow through 20 or so posts that way.  When I do this, I feel like I’ve unearthed new leisure time.
  • Remember what you forget. Frequently I have to perform a technical task once a year, and the next time I need to do it, I totally forget what I did. So I have to relearn something almost from scratch. (Updating my wordpress template is the first example to come to mind. Not impossibly hard, but I have to remember what I learned last  time and see if anything has changed). Another example: playing PS2 games with my nephew. Can I remember how to use the controls? I must embark on a rapid march to ramp up my skills. Frustrating yes, but it can provide positive feedback when lo and behold, you actually remember most of the stuff you thought was buried in the back of your mind.
  • Chocolate Deficit. I consume  fair-trade chocolate and only buy three bars at a time. So I’m constantly needing to replenish my supply and keep track of my current status. True, I can survive a morning without chocolate, but I become very nervous. Can I plan my life successfully around the availability of chocolate? (This means planning my chocolate hunts at regular intervals). Will Wright could never have anticipated this.
  • Buy the Cheapest Gas! Given the increasing gas prices, it becomes a challenge to figure out which gas station has the cheapest gas. The main problem is price fluctuations and lack of Internet access on the Road.  (You can find where the cheap gas in Houston is on this website but that’s cheating). You learn tricks. Anything on major intersections or with giant parking lots have higher prices. Valero Gas in Houston has been the cheapest. Still, when you need gas, you need gas! You can’t spent 20 minutes driving around to find something 2 cents cheaper. So I always keep an eye out. Two weeks ago I found a place in my neighborhood with gas at $3.16. I thought I found the best price only to find another place 2 blocks away which cost $3.14. These miscalculations don’t happen too often.
  • How long can it stay clean? (Another household chore game). Once in a blue moon, I clean my entire apartment up and try keeping it clean.  It’s inevitable that it will go downhill, but how long can it stay relatively habitable? My record so far is 10 days.  So far I am a mere amateur.
  • Writer’s Block. I often get writer’s block. It doesn’t scare me, but it annoys me.  So every day I sit down and try to extricate myself from a bad situation. But not too much. Just sitting at the computer is unproductive, but you have to try a bit each day.  How do you do it so you are pushing against the block but not wasting too much time on it?
  • Random TV movie . I love turning on the TV Sunday afternoon and watching a random TV movie on WB. Nowadays lazy Sunday afternoon movies are higher quality than they used to be (but still middlebrow). It’s like a roll of the dice. Most of the movies are minor movies I’ve never heard of but are funny for some reason.
  • Don’t Watch People’s Court! I like reality court TV shows. They are funny, absorbing and generally slice-of-life looks at real people who normally never make it on TV. That is their moment in the sun. What I don’t like are the commercial breaks. One 30 minute segment is likely to have 7 different segments separated by annoying commercials. Each time they return from the commercial break, they do a quick review of the previous segment; conversely, before going to commercial, they show a quick preview of what’s coming up.  That means in a typical 30 minute show you might have 8 minutes of actual content. The challenge comes when you come across the show while channel flipping. When they break for commercial, are you able to resist the urge to endure  the commercials to find out what happens next?
  • Be the clock! I have a special ability to predict the current time without glancing at a clock.  I just love waking up and making a guess about the time–and finding I was only off by about 10 minutes.  But sometimes I am just way off. Like the time I go back to sleep in the morning…and it’s 1:20 PM! Or the time I go to bed at 10:00 PM and awake at 3:30 when I thought it was 6:00 (or vice versa).

Word count for this post: 2207 (Wed), 2025, (Thur),  1972 (Yippee, I win!)

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Jim Moore 4/28/2008, 9:33 am

    Re: count the words you kill. Why on earth have we developed, and continue to do so at an alacritous pace, this Brobdingnagian storehouse of words that we are not permitted to use? I rather like to play with words. I often click on my trusty thesaurus just looking for words that I have never used. When I use words that the reader deems excessive or misapplied, skimming seems to work rather well and it requires very little energy. For more on my word fetish, check out http://sezme.net/page44.html


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