No, I’m not talking about creative justifications for billing your client for the time you spent surfing the web, or writing off your cruise to the Bahamas as a business expense.
I’m talking about video games.
And I’m going to try to convice you that you shouldn’t feel guilty for playing them during working hours — because, admit it, you do. Instead, I’m going to try to explain why game breaks are an essential component of the creative process.
And I’m also going to recommend some good games to play.
Image courtesy iBand.com
Since I first loaded AppleWriter and Crossfire on my Apple //e’s ProFile hard drive back in the early ’80s, word processors and video games have always shared disk space on my machines. I’m almost as finicky about my games as I am about my word processors.
Video games are an excellent quick break from writing. Getting up and walking around is also a great way to clear the buffer, but I find that leaving the desk can also disrupt my workflow. I tend to leave my desk only when I’ve reached a good stopping point and I’m about to turn my attention to something else — when I’ve finished writing a chapter, say, or when I put down work from one client and am about to pick up a project from another. If I’m on a roll and need to keep it moving, then a quick game is the only choice.
(Surfing the web or checking e-mail during a break can be dangerous because they will shunt your train of thought off to an abandoned siding and leave it there. When you need to concentrate on the writing or editing task in front of you, close the browser and turn off e-mail.)
The games I play actually help me with my writing. Like Schoolhouse Rock, they both entertain and inform. I choose the game based on the writing problem I’m trying to solve. Playing the right game for a little while seems to fire up the part of my brain that I need to call on for help. When I go back to the project, I see things a little differently.
Maybe it’s just positive reinforcement, and not actual brain exercise. Whatever it is, it works for me and I’m not about to mess with a good thing.
Try these game suggestions and see what you think (the links are for Mac versions; Windows users can find versions of all of these out there too):
- Have a lot of pieces that you’re trying to put together? Try Sloppydisk Software’s Descender, a variation of the classic Tetris. I find myself playing this when I’m starting to outline a big project and figuring out how to turn the five interviews, ten reference articles, and assorted websites into a coherent, readable article. (Somewhere along the way my copy of Descender lost its background graphics files. I actually like the words better — more writerly.)
- Trying to discern the pattern? Try Mah Jong. Pattern recognition is a big part of what writers do, and so is remembering where you saw that great quote that would work in this section. I use Bone Head Project’s Mah Jong Solitaire 2 to help me develop keen eyes for patterns.
- Need a quick burnout test? When I need an objective indicator of just how fried I am after writing for six hours straight, I fire up Rodesia’s MacIago, which is a nifty version of the classic Othello board game. Chess would work too, but I never learned how to play it. What you’re looking for here is a quick board game that you play often enough to know your baseline of skill. If you win handily, your brain is working fine. If the computer whips your heinie up one side of the monitor and down the other, it’s time to seriously consider taking that walk.
- Client really got you angry? Maybe they just changed the deadline without consulting you. Or they just changed the requirements — again. Or they just don’t appreciate all your hard work. Take it out on the aliens. A good shoot-em-up is a healthy release of that sudden burst of anger and frustration. For me, nothing beats arekkusu’s minimalist Shoot Things (“Outer space. Enemies. Shooting.”). It’s as basic as you get, just you vs. a jumble of classic arcade aliens (space invaders in an asteroid field, for example). The maximum play time is no more than five minutes. And just like real life, the odds are heavily stacked against you; it’s almost guaranteed that your little fighter plane is going to get smoked in the final round.
What’s in your game directory?