A couple of weeks ago I downloaded some new games to my iPad, looking for fun things to play with my nephew. One of them really caught my fancy, and for several days I was mildly obsessed. Whenever I had time I'd open up the game, trying to beat the next level, figuring out how to play better and advance my scores. I played before bed, before breakfast, off and on all day. I spent a lot of time tapping and swooshing little cartoon characters around their cartoon world.
There are 36 levels in this game, and it took about a week to make my way through all of them. Delighted with my success, I kept revisiting different sections for a couple of days, still working on better scores and just enjoying the game. After that, though, my interest dropped off fairly fast. I've picked at the game since, but it isn't nearly as appealing.
Why does it matter? Why should I spend time writing about a silly iPad game that I've beaten and moved on from? Because there's a lesson in it that I've just noticed, and if I learn a lesson from a time-wasting computer game then the time wasn't all wasted.
Here's my time-was-not-wasted lesson: I like projects.
For me, this sort of game is like a self-contained project with a pre-defined goal -- get to the end. Play the whole game and finish it. That's why I feel compelled to play when I'm in the middle stages of a game, and why my interest drops off fast once I've reached the end. I like finishing projects. I like having a plan. I like digging into work (and playing games is just another kind of work) with a clear goal and fixed endpoint. When I can see where I'm going, I feel drawn to get there. I can't stop working until I'm done. I'm motivated, challenged, and happy. I like projects.
So often I feel scattered and unmotivated about things I'd "sort of like to do," plan-less and purposeless, confused and defeated. What if I learned how to make my own projects -- and even better, what if I learned how to make my own games? Would it help me get more things done, and more important things than chasing cartoon characters around a cartoon world? It certainly couldn't hurt.