Monday, July 15, 2013

Using Gaming Techniques for Spicing Up Life’s Flat Spots

Would you like a fun method for making some of life’s boring or trying aspects less so? Yes? Then consider applying gaming techniques to the boring activity. I’ll explain by giving two examples, one being the way I came across this approach while a grade-schooler. So go back with me to my sixth grade class, circa 1960, and my teacher, Mrs. Gullick, was a staunch anticommunist. She turned us all into little anticommunists by reading us published articles about the horrible things Communist regimes tended to do.

One was the first person account of a priest, an American, who was imprisoned by the Communists when they took control of the Chinese government. He was a credentialed diplomat for the Vatican, and he had been serving as an expert in Chinese language, history, and culture. His captors subjected him to intense interrogation techniques, including torture, for several weeks. And then they put him in solitary confinement in a relatively spacious, but bare prison cell. It was windowless except for a barred, square opening at eye level in the door, through which he could see a hallway and a guard who was apparently assigned to be his personal jailer.

Of course the priest was glad that the torture seemed over, but he found his confinement nearly as punishing. He was used to twelve hour workdays, plus reading that consumed every minute he was awake, even while he ate. Now he found himself with nothing to do except sit on the concrete floor. He tried conversing with his jailer, but the guard forbid it. When the priest persisted, the jailer punished him by depriving him of meals. Dismayed, and depressed by endless hours of solitude with absolutely nothing to do, the priest despaired for his sanity.

But then he got the idea of turning his frosty relationship with his guard into a game. After many days of trial and error, these are the rules he devised for the game he used to pass his waking hours. He would walk the three interior walls of the cell, touching each corner of the room; then he would go to the center of the cell and walk slowly, straight for the door. The object of the game was to reach the door and touch one of the bars on its window without being seen by the guard. Sometimes the guard would be pacing the hall, and the priest would have to time his approach so that the guard was not facing him. Other times, the guard would sit and read, in which case the priest would have to be stealthy enough to touch the bar without causing the guard to look up and notice him. If the guard did notice his approach to the door, apart from provoking a stern rebuke, the sighting would count as a negative point in the priest’s game. The object of the game was to score a minimum number of negative points in a day, defined as the time the guard spent on duty before leaving, presumably for the night. So the priest would execute his walk around the cell prior to his approach to the door, touch one of the bars, then repeat the procedure all through the day. He kept a mental tally of negative points for the day, trying each day for a new personal best. In the article read to us by Mrs. Gullick, the priest credited the game for keeping him sane for the months he was in solitary confinement before being deported by the Chinese Communists.

Now let me give you an example of how I’ve used this gaming technique. For many years, I commuted forty seven miles through Houston to work. During one of those years, a construction project forced me to take a six or seven mile stretch of State Highway 249 to IH-45. The speed limit was fifty mph, but that stretch of road also had fourteen—count ‘em—fourteen red lights. It was an aggravating and frustrating drive in a city known for its many freeways.

So I devised a game for turning the traffic gauntlet into something interesting. I got up earlier so that traffic on this stretch was light. Then I would try to see if I could adjust my speed—by downshifting on a manual transmission—so that I could get through the fourteen red lights without once touching the brake pedal. This was very challenging, so I had a secondary scoring system for the minimum times I could get through the gauntlet without touching the brake pedal until I had downshifted to a speed below twenty mph. Yes, I’m sure this sounds on paper like a very silly game. But trust me: it did succeed in turning this miserable drive into an interesting competition, one I actually looked forward to once I developed the driving skills to do it well. Plus it improved my gas mileage.

 So if you have something boring or aggravating in your life’s routine, you might want to see if you can turn it into some sort of game. It can make the difference between hating a boring routine and actually looking forward to doing it. Should be worth a try.

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