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Paying Attention

I suck at this. Maybe you do too. However, there's a lot more to it than I once thought.

Try counting from 0 to 10 to 0 again, slowly, with each count happening each time you breath out naturally. I'll wait.

It's a simple test, but if you're like me, chances are you're going to hit 11-25 a few times and realize that in the time it took you to reach 10 your mind wandered elsewhere. If you're good, you might manage it on the first try, but at the very least you're probably going to become aware of the difficulty keeping focused.

Focus is hard, and perhaps the most difficult truth for anyone to deal with is that it's damn hard to truly pay attention to life. I bring this up only because paying attention is an inherent difficulty extending to everything, and this includes gaming.

I'm getting frustrated that I can sit down to a good game and suddenly notice it's 5 hours later. Where did those five hours go, really? We say, "Time flies when you're having fun", but it's really just because the mind is well occupied with what's going on so we don't pay attention to the passage of time.

Am I cheating myself out of the true game experience by spacing out? Am I really living during those 5 hours I spent in the game? I wish I'd paid better attention.

A major pillar of the assertion made in Raph Koster's Theory of Fun was this: The mind, like the body (or perhaps as an extension of the body) simply doesn't want to work. It's in energy conservation mode all the time, preserving those precious calories it assumes are in short supply. The mind has "fun" so long as it's learning something about the game, and then develop resistance to further study by exuding boredom.

The book is a good read, and I can appreciate that I found an accidental parallel between this and observations as to how hard paying attention really is. However, this leads me to wonder... if you're bored of a game, are you really done with it or have you simply stopped paying attention?

Consider this: the creators of the game probably dumped hundreds of thousands of paid hours into this game. There was a lot of work put into the textures, the gameplay mechanics, the animation, the musical score, and so on. Why is our ever-foraging ego, hungry for something new, largely breaks down and ignores these factors?

In terms of evolution, one has to wonder why we play games at all. Practice of useful skills is the usual reason for play, but you won't find any good survival skills in Pac Man. What do our roving egos expect to find in games? At what point did they cease finding it, and thus flipped the switch to stop finding the game interesting?

Food for thought.


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