Both my body and my brain are not very good at sitting still. I was a difficult infant; I'd wake my mother up all the time just to be entertained. Back then, entertaining me was easy (I was a pretty big fan of sitting in front of the dishwasher), but keeping my adult brain busy is a much more difficult problem. I've dealt with this in an assortment of way; my major boredom medication of choice is a constant influx of projects. Most of these projects are inversions on the same couple themes (science, music, cooking, plants), with occasional aberrations making an appearance and fading away (yoga, arthouse movies, roller skating). My general pattern is to obsessively focus on a project for several months (usually 3-6, sometimes up to a year). I acquire skills and tools; I learn and acquire some level of mastery. Over time the novelty fades and boredom develops. So, I “fuck fish,” as Chris Cooper's character in Adaptation says
; I drop the project, move on, and generally don't look back. My “pantheon” of interests has not expanded very much in recent years. However, this past April I had a major addition: gaming.
I discovered the wonders of board gaming through a local Meetup group that theoofthewired
found. I've never been a big gamer, but I've played with it a bit in the past. Being a student at Georgia Tech basically required me to have some gaming, especially video gaming, experience. I've spent some lovely weekends in college feeding a Diablo addiction; I disappeared off to the wilds of Stockbridge to be surrounded by cats, libertarianism, and Soul Caliber; I stayed up late into the night engrossed in watching Jet Set Radio. Part of the reason video gaming did not excite me was that I'm an average video gamer player at best; my dexterity definitely limits me. But, I could have developed those skills with times. My real issue with gaming is that it seemed so escapist. This was a narrow view.
I've had a major about-face. Once I stated playing I found gaming was deliciously fun. When I am playing a good game, I feel incredibly alive. My brain feels like it is on fire; I'm in bliss. I'm hardly in new territory here; I was experiencing a well known psychological phenomenon called Flow. My interest in Flow lead me to read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's seminal work on the subject: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
Reading this book really changed my mind about games. Instead of escaping reality, games were about creating an optimal experience, where my ability were beautifully matched with a challenge. Playing games felt like some of the best moments I've had doing research; it was the “Aha!” moment without the annoying parts. To overstate their importance, games gave me a a surefire pipeline into happiness.
But as with most of my hobbies, I've gained enough mastery to bored me now; the shine of novelty has worn off. I expect I am not done with gaming. I've got a beautiful collection of board games now, and I'd certainly like to play casually from time to time. I wouldn't even be surprised if I go through another gaming phase in the future. But for now, I'm done with this fish.