Thursday, September 04, 2014

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bejeweled

Computer game ads tout the game's addictive qualities -- as if addiction is a good thing. During the Bejeweled Blitz game I am hooked on, you drag together and destroy groups of three or more bright jewels of the same color, as many as you can in one minute. It's a rush of color, and light, and noise, a far cry from the early Tetris game with the repetitive background music that got a lot of us started. Never thought of that before, Tetris was a gateway drug …
Explosions and lightening flashes on the screen accompany the destruction of jewels. Destroyed jewels are replaced with new ones that cascade down as fast as you can explode the old ones. It's a heart thumping race with thrills, a mini drama with an adreline rush, and it is all over in a minute.  
The action stops and your score is totaled as a loud ticking adding machine sound accompanies the counting.
If you exceed your prevous  high score in the "Weekly Tournament." a throaty male voice whispers excitedly, "New. High. Score." The screen then lies quiescent, with the big PLAY AGAIN button waiting for you to push it and launch the thrill ride again.
Trying to reach higher and higher scores, you can get drawn into repeating that same minute of play over and over for hours. I've even in my worst days played twelve hours straight.

At first I set myself a goal of 100,000 points, and it took me months to get there, and  I thought then that at last I could stop. But no, as could have been predicted, my goals have risen. A friend of mine routinely gets scores in the 600,000s or higher, and I wonder, a bit enviously, "How does she do it?" Maybe she pays for extra "Boosts" and "Rare Gems"?

As I found out in the first couple of months to my frustration, skill can only get you so far.  Even though the game is free, the highest score ceiling you can reach without buying the extra helps is low.  You get a Free Spin every day that gives you some points you can use to buy some extra helps, but those soon run out. The boosts and rare gems seem to act like a Las Vegas controller behind the scenes. Only when they "loosen up the slots" do the higher scores come within your reach.

Even though I refuse to pay anything to play this or other computer games, there are lots of incentives to start. And I'm sure there are many thousands of people playing these games every day shelling out good money to try to reach  ever higher scores. How to get rich: Program a hit computer game, get a big following, and sit back and collect  the bonanza. The Bejeweled Blitz Facebook page has over 6,000,000 Likes. If only 2/3rds, maybe 4,000,000, play the game regularly, and maybe 10% of the regulars buy extra Spins, Rare Jewels, and other boosts, let's see, that's 400,000 people regularly paying for points.

Can that repetition of a minute's intense pursuit of a high score, with only your mouse hand and your eyes moving for long stretches of time be good for a person's brain or body? Of cours not.

For one thing, the repetition leads to  a kind of meditative state during which you empty your mind. We all know the devil loves an empty mind.  He'll do his best to fill  it with his imaginings and broodings and worse.

The repetition  is also physically damaging. Remember that repetiton is behind RSI, repetitive stress injury, where nerves get injured and people get carpal tunnel syndrome?

Besides all this, I truly believe that playing computer games are a type of sloth, and I confess it that way.  All the hours that could have been used to do my duty, lost.

When I try to pray or go to sleep, the bright images of the jewels falling down the screen float before my eyes, and when I'm dreaming my mind is often frustratedly trying to match the combinations, to solve the puzzle of how they all fit together. I am only too well aware of the weakening of my body and my will …  After a long siege of playing, my attention span is pretty shot. I can only do any one thing for a minute at a time. After all those hundred and maybe thousands of hours, I've been programmed that way.

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