December 25, 2011

Intelligent adults, contemplating why they play a mindless video game.

Lori Culwell sees the game "Angry Birds" as her "meditation tool" and thinks she's "picked up some sage wisdom from those self-sacrificing birds and their mortal pig enemies. Call it an Angry Birds satori, perhaps."
[T]he birds put my mind into a deeply Zen-like and hypnotic state, not unlike "flow" as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Maybe the people at Rovio have given us a game that is part meditation, part allegory for life. Maybe Freud would point out that my finding Zen in a game based on pig destruction signals latent anger issues.
("Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihaly is one of my very favorite books, as I've noted before.)

And here's William Ian Miller in "Losing It"  — a book I first talked about here — talking about solitaire:
Everything distracts me... I interrupted the writing of this paragraph to play a game of solitaire, and then when I lost I allowed myself to play until I won, and then one more in case I won two in a row, and then I kept on until I won two in a row. Says the ancient rabbinical Pirkei Avot: The Ethics of the Fathers, written some eighteen hundred years ago: “If a man is walking by the way and is studying and then interrupts his study and exclaims: ‘How beautiful is this tree? How beautiful is this plowed furrow?’ Scripture considers that it is to be regarded as if he has forfeited his life (or as if he bears guilt for his soul).” If the beauties of nature cannot justify distraction, what of solitaire? My offense is (as if) capital; if only I could remember which circle of hell awaits me. My will—an element of my name, no less—never strong to begin with, has become weaker. The “I am” that remains in Will -iam is thus a ghost of its former self. If William James is right, and I find that he usually is, then I am in trouble: “The essential achievement of the will, in short, when it is most ‘voluntary,’ is to attend to a difficult object and hold it fast before the mind" (italics in original).
Do you use video games in a way that makes you want to explain it — like Culwell — in terms of meditation and wisdom or — like Miller — to read it as a signpost that you are walking downhill toward the grave?

40 comments:

DADvocate said...

Don't use video games. They make me tense.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Angry Birds? Solitaire? I'd rather hear their philosophical musings on Plants vs. Zombies or maybe Minecraft. Games which are a little more open-ended and creative.

Intellectuals are so freaking dull.

Ann Althouse said...

"They make me tense."

And Miller explains why!

Ann Althouse said...

"Intellectuals are so freaking dull."

They are meditating.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Althouse: "Intellectuals are so freaking dull."

They are meditating.

No! They are dull. So dull that they play games for the specific purpose of not thinking. They want to escape from their thoughts because they can't stand them anymore.

Ann Althouse said...

"No! They are dull. So dull that they play games for the specific purpose of not thinking. They want to escape from their thoughts because they can't stand them anymore."

That's what meditation is!

edutcher said...

Kids zone out on them as much as anyone else.

If they think Solitaire can suck in someone, they ought to try Duke Nukem 3D or The 7th Guest.

Deekaman said...

Horsecrap..."zen-like", "meditation"...what a crock. It's escapism plain and simple. Admit it, embrace it. I do.

DADvocate said...

I don't consider solitaire a video game. It's a card game adapted to the computer. I played several thousand free cell games until I was winning 90-95% of the time. Theoretically you can beat free cell 100% of the time. I got bored and quit. Plus, when they got me a new computer at work, they didn't load the games on it.

I just played a free cell game to check my skills. I won.

Jason (the commenter) said...

edutcher: If they think Solitaire can suck in someone, they ought to try Duke Nukem 3D or The 7th Guest.

I think Althouse's intellectuals fear nothing more than being accused of having fun.

Chip S. said...

Who needs Angry Birds when there's Althouse?

caplight45 said...

Dopamine.

campy said...

Theoretically you can beat free cell 100% of the time. I got bored and quit.

Try games # 11,982; 146,692; 186,216; 455,889; 495,505; 512,118; 517,776 and 781,948 in Windows 7.

I bet those won't bore you.

Chip S. said...

Can't help lovin'

that dopamine

Writ Small said...

The smarter the person, the greater the capacity for self deception.

John Lynch said...

I like pwning noobs. It's sport. Sport can be more meaningful to some people than others.

MadisonMan said...

What's wrong with admitting that you just want to waste time?

traditionalguy said...

I prefer Crossword Puzzle Books.

And the 30 year old current pop culture clues make me as angry as a digital bird.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with intellectuals appealing to my stupidity. I just wish they put a little more effort into it.

John Lynch said...

Angry Birds is a simple flash game, the likes of which I was playing ten years ago while bored online. Everyone else just got around to it.

EMD said...

Or you could play a myriad of high-level games that require thought and puzzle-solving, like Oblivion or Rage or Fallout.

And there's shooting too!

Henry said...

I don't play video games. Perhaps reading blogs is "a signpost that [I am] walking downhill toward the grave."

I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's lament that he wasted time doing chemistry experiments instead of his real work: writing.

How many of us waste time by performing chemistry experiments? But what Johnson felt keenly was the difference between original work (his writing) and following a recipe (his chemistry).

I'm also reminded of a statement by a video game designer to the effect that there are only two kinds of video games: boring and addictive.

And what is the addiction of a video game but the compulsion to memorize a series of recipes?

The Crack Emcee said...

Do you use video games in a way that makes you want to explain it — like Culwell — in terms of meditation and wisdom or — like Miller — to read it as a signpost that you are walking downhill toward the grave?

I don't play video games for the second reason. Who needs another way to waste their life? There is absolutely nothing productive occurring, which is why it's so much like Zen and all the rest.

The fact she presented Zen like it's useful is all I needed to hear,...

ironrailsironweights said...

I just gulped down a 24-ounce can of Four Loko, 12% alcohol, equivalent to a six pack of beer.

Peter

Jason (the commenter) said...

Here's an intellectual who did something interesting with video games.

Get out of your head and experiment people!

neomom said...

If you want truly mindless, try Fruit Ninja.

Christopher said...

Ah Minecraft, it's my current time waster of choice.

I'm afraid to even guess how many hours I spent building locations from The Simpsons and Ghostbuster or leading sheep thousands of blocks only to have them jump off a cliff and die.

I still suck at redstone circuitry though.

The Crack Emcee said...

I'm starting to get off on this claim that certain people are "intelligent adults," when evidence is presented that clearly says they're anything but.

Kind of as disconnect there,...if you ask me,> anyway.

Rick Lee said...

Crap... "Flow" is not available for Kindle.

Unknown said...

Ann, would you mind creating a "books i recommend and have read" tag or something of that nature? Looking up the Flow series was fascinating, and I plan to search them out. Thanks.

Joe said...

The problem with video games is that there aren't enough good ones. My second son just finished Crysis 2 so I'll give that a whirl. Son #1 endorsed the beta of Star Wars The Old Republic online. I'm very much looking forward to Far Cry 3. I'll give the upcoming expansion for WoW a try, but I doubt it will hold me more than two months. (Company of Heroes is fantastic; just wish there were more new good maps.)

James said...

"Mindless"? In the sense of being solved games? Or in the sense of not requiring a lot of intensive brain-computing to play?

I suspect having your brain solve problems like solitaire or angry birds is kind of like stretching or running a few warm-up laps. It might get your brain "in the mood" for solving other kinds of problems.

I don't think the cognition involved is as simple as "oh, it's a video game that you don't need a college degree to understand, so it's just pointless entertainment."

n.n said...

There is a practical value to games as with any activity, which exercises the mind, body, etc. The "Angry Birds" game develops perception of proportion and intuition of classical physical concepts. The only consideration is that this game explores a finite domain of knowledge and skill, therefore it has a threshold past which there are diminishing returns. This, however, is true for any and all endeavors. Eventually, the return on investment reaches a saturation point, and further investment is unproductive.

I wonder if a misconception or false expectations in this context is the premise for the majority divorces in this nation where the couple cites "irreconcilable differences".

A belated Merry Christmas, Ann and Meade!

fleetusa said...

AA, Do you even have time for Angry Birds or solitaire?

Revenant said...

All I know is that throwing birds at pigs is oddly soothing.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Unknown: [Althouse], would you mind creating a "books i recommend and have read" tag or something of that nature?

Just look in her Blogger user profile. All you have to do is click on her highlighted name in the comments.

And no using the other "A" word! Might as well hang your clothes on wire hangers.

Curious George said...

Hmmm, I'm not sure if Althouse offers the this or that because those are the only two choices, or because they are the only two she wants feed back on.

I don't play games like Angry Birds or solitaire. My entry into the video game world is just starting to play COD, and more recently online. I don't find the reason to be either of her choices...it's just fun. And with online play also competition. At my age of 54 I have little chance of being a threat to most players, but I look at it like golf...I play the course. When I first started I would hope to get 4- 5 kills in a game to thirty against eight players, and this was accomplished by "camping"...first person shooter players will know what that is...and how it's a noob thing. Now I'm a run and gunner and usually score i the mid-teens, occasional getting into the 20's.

Adding the element of playing friends on the web makes it even more fun.

Addiction? Hardly. I play in the evening to entertain myself. It has replaced TV. Zen like? No. It is engaging. Nothing passive about it.

Leland said...

Worms was much better than Angry Birds. If you understand that last sentence, you'll know artillery games have been a base video game from the beginning. The physics are simple to write.

It is probably the simplest way to waste a lot of people's time. I love it so.

DerTakhsit said...

Miller's misreads Pirke Avot, which is not, as he interprets it, about distraction. The quote refers to devotion or the particular kind of concentration that was asked for to apprehend God through study-- the place one would find God in this tradition. What those two writers describe is basic to many relaxation techniques.

caplight45 said...

Neurochemically you get the same high from surfing pr0n. Doesn't seem so Zen-like when you think of it that way. Which leaves an obvious double entendre that I will forego.