Thursday, December 31, 2009

Cold Turkey

I've been thinking of deleting the Games folder and all its contents off my computer.

Ever since my first computer, acquired in my second year of theological college in the autumn of 1993, I've given up computer games for Lent. I don't say this to brag on myself; rather, it shows how addictive I've found them. I needed to wrench myself away for a time each year, and I definitely needed Outside Help to do it.

Back then, it was Tetris. I'd get so engrossed in playing it (instead of working on my essays) that during chapel services, while kneeling for the Intercessions, I'd see tetraminos floating down the screen of my closed eyes.

Later, it was Freecell and Spider Solitaire. I came to understand that seven weeks of abstinance was not enough to give me mastery over my obsession, so four or five years ago I began to fast from playing computer games during the four weeks of Advent as well.

But I've been attending a very reformed Presbyterian church this past year (when I'm not preaching, myself), and they're very big on not being bound by purely man-made rules, like the idea one should give things up for Advent and Lent. So this Advent immediately past, I played Spider Solitaire all I jolly well pleased. And sometimes when I didn't really please. I'd get on and start dealing and redealing and keep going and going . . .

And I'm thinking, this has got to stop. I have too much to do to waste whole half hours two or three or four times a day placing one virtual card on another. Which means radical action: Delete!

But why don't I just make a New Year's resolution to control myself and just play a game a day? Or save the fun for Saturday evenings or whenever?

Because if I had any resolve I wouldn't be frying my brain with these toys the way I do now. I need to go cold turkey and get rid of them.

True, if I do that I would miss the enjoyment I get out of playing them. I'd lose the pleasure of knowing that here, at least, something is going where it belongs and staying there. And how else will I while away the minutes while waiting for files to download? And what will I do to allay the truly visceral desire that seizes me to click on the Spider Solitaire icon and play and play? I know that if I delete that file it's going to drive me crazy.

Which is why I gotta stop. That's physical addiction, and it just ain't right.

Then there's the weird state of mind I get into when I play computer games. Some psychologist should study the phenomenon. I could claim they put me into a very creative state, but nothing ever comes of it.

One part of my consciousness will be focussed on playing the game. But in another part of my mind, I often begin to see . . . scenes. Scenes from a play, or maybe a movie. Nothing I've ever seen or heard or read; something original and new. But always seeming to take place in the past, and always with the exchanges in some sort of dialect. Brooklynese or Yiddish or Irish. Trouble is, even though I can make out the drift of the dialog, I can never make out what the characters are actually saying.

A typical episode: Three people, two men and a woman, in the disorderly kitchen of a cheap apartment, probably somewhere in the Bronx. I see it in black and white. The men, both in shirtsleeves, one with a hat on, sit at the kitchen table, intently discussing something. The woman, a bleached blonde, hovers between the table and the stove, bringing coffee when demanded and putting in her 2 cents whether asked for it or no. She is the wife, I think, of the man without the hat. The men seem to be plotting something, I can't tell what. A bank robbery or a hijacking or whatever. At one point, they nearly come to blows. Not over whether to do the job; rather, over how to pull it off. The woman intervenes. She seems to be saying they're both wrong and should listen to her. She's as deep in it as they are, she simply has a more level head. Her advice may well guarantee the success of their plan. Will they listen to her? Do I want them to listen to her and be successful? Who is the hero of this little play? One of these guys, or a detective somewhere? How can I know? That's all I get!

But more often, the effect of a strong dose of computer games isn't so dramatic. More often, the unoccupied part of my brain sends up . . . old songs. I mean, really old songs. From the first part of the 20th century, or before. Songs I haven't thought of for months or years, songs I have no reason to think of.

Songs like "Hello, Ma Baby" (1899). Yesterday, it was "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" (1934). Today, I channelled "I'll Take Romance" (1937).

Where do they come from? Why do they come when I'm trying to decide whether to use the free space to free up that black four to move it to the five, or to shift that red king? Is this some wondrous facility I'll lose if I delete that file?

Yes, maybe. But what about all those other things I'm losing out on now, like balancing my accounts and writing my novel and stripping the hallway floor?

(I'm thinking . . . I'm thinking . . . )

(Excuse me a minute.)

I . . . I . . . did it. At least, I dumped the folder with the shortcuts in it. Which means those games may still be someplace on the machine, but I can't get to them.


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