Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm Going to Be Bored This Summer

I'm an English teacher, and for English teachers, new years resolutions don't happen in December. They happen in June. And they go about as well as other resolutions go.

For me, every summer, it's going to be different. I'm going to do the things that I find fulfilling, and I'm going to stop wasting my time with things that don't advance my development as a human being - either intellectually or morally. I'm going to write some college recs before they pile up for the year. And I'm going to focus on designing games, not playing them on my phone or XBox. One summer it was Fallout 3. The next summer it was Fallout 3 - again. This summer it was Marvel's Future Fight, a freemium game about tapping your thumb on your phone to kill bad guys so that you can earn credits to upgrade your hero to kill harder-to-kill bad guys. I played for almost a month (I know because you unlock stuff each day you play!) During that time, I got Captain America to Level 40!

Good work, soldier!

In order to do that, I spent about 3 to 4 hours a day playing. That means I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 hours tapping my thumb on a screen to make Steve Rogers punch bad guys. Those 100 hours were time that I wasn't reading, watching something worth watching on TV (sup, The Wire?), designing games, or writing wonderful articles for you, my sweet internet. Hell, it isn't even time spent playing great games that could teach me about great, streamlined game design (sup, Lanterns and Seven 7s?). I wasted 100 hours of my summer.

I started the summer by reading articles about how to maximize productivity and/or break out of bad habits. No screen time until you've done 45 minutes of reading, done half an hour of chores, etc. If it works for kids, it would work for me, right? I didn't bother implementing it - because, ultimately, I'm not big on setting up rules. I've used checklists before, but those wind up making me feel scattered. And so, I've played 100 hours of a game on my phone. That's at least six books I didn't read - at least one game I didn't design.

My problem is that as soon as I get bored, I tend to reach for my phone - or pop on Facebook - or something that I can just do for "a few minutes" (that then turns into a few hours). But, boredom actually makes you more creative and more likely to engage in "more meaningful behavior". And, a few days after I read those articles and thought about the hours that I wasted on Marvel Future Fight, I deleted the game. And the following day, I came up with good ideas for two games, one of which is already a playable prototype that I'll be pitching at GenCon.

I've also been watching The Wire this summer, which is eye-opening given the state of affairs in Baltimore over the past year (but that's another story completely), and in the second season, one of the characters is bemoaning the loss of jobs in the area and says, talking about the American people as a whole, "We used to make [things] in this country, build [things]."

And just to be clear, this isn't a diatribe about how our culture is going to die because games on your phone, you darn kids. This isn't some Puritan-influenced rant about the value of productivity, some Jeb Bush nonsense about how we all just need to work harder. I'm talking about making time to read books and create boardgames, people. If I had ancestors who came over on the Mayflower, they'd be rolling in their graves right now. Luckily, I don't.

"YES!! This one doesn't say 'Levandowski' either!"

What I'm trying to say is that we have become a culture of consumers, not creators on the whole. Creating something is hard. You work on something for ten hours, fifty hours, two hundred hours, and maybe you have a product at the end, maybe you don't. I've put hours and hours into games that didn't go anywhere. When it comes to consuming things, though, they're made to give you a feeling of satisfaction. When Cap levels up, the screen flashes, "LEVEL UP!" pops up in the corner of the screen, and I get a little rush of dopamine. Good for me.

But for all of the time that I've spent on a creative project that didn't pan out - the unlistenable electronic music I made early in high school, the unreadable novel I wrote at the end of high school - I don't feel like I wasted that time. I have nothing to show for it, but it developed me as a creative person.

So, to wrap up this rambling rant of a post in some sort of helpful fashion, if you want to be a better [insert noun phrase associated with whatever you want do], here are my suggestions:
  • Get rid of anything you're obsessed with consuming. If you're like me, anything you tell yourself about limits that you'll be able to impose on yourself or stories you tell yourself about how you're different from what research says - that's all just a lie.
  • Give yourself permission to be bored. Those times when your brain is telling you to find something to do are the best times to tell your brain to just wander and think.
  • Start creating something. Right now.
Speaking of which, I just had an idea for a Jekyll and Hyde game, so I'm going to go prototype that. If you'll be at GenCon, come find me. We'll probably be able to play it.