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My mother played solitaire. She had four children, a husband, and a part time job, but whenever she had what is laughingly called a “spare moment” she would sit at the dining room table with a deck of cards. Klondike, Free Cell, Pyramid—she played them all.
I often wondered why she used her free time like that, playing with cards. As I grew older, I found myself doing the same. There’s something calming about laying out a specific sequence of cards, determining which one to play where, choosing cards with care. And when the game is done, a quick shuffle and it begins again. I can’t say it’s hypnotic, but I find hours can pass while I’m lost in red and black.
I got my first computer in the 1980s. I was going to write and do research. I never considered gaming, but it had solitaire games already loaded. I was surprised, but also a little disappointed. What was the point of clicking on a card to move it? It lacked the hand motions I had always found so soothing. And it seemed to go really fast, which I thought would ruin my concentration. However, the lure of the game quickly had me under its spell. I spent many hours playing my favorite games instead of doing the work I was supposed to be doing.
And I found other games that were just as intriguing. Tri Peaks and Spider. And then I branched out to games that don’t use cards. First it was Mahjong. Then hidden pictures. And simulation stories. They were just as relaxing as solitaire. And then I discovered Candy Crush.
Oh. My. God. I don’t know what is more addicting than a Match 3 game. I have played many in the past several years. They’re basically all the same thing, just different shapes and characters. Some have stories. Some are mini games within larger story games. I must have tried dozens.
They are still my favorite genre of computer games. I have several on my phone as well as on my laptop. I download them to play when internet access isn’t available. I play them while waiting in lines. I play them on my phone while I’m watching a show on my laptop! Can you say obsessed?
There’s a lot of talk these days about computer addiction. In many cases, it’s the games that people are addicted to. Not just simple platform ones, but complex story games, first-person shooter games, virtual world games. But just what is it that keeps us going one more level, finding one more zombie, finishing one more scene? The people who created these so-called pastimes knew exactly what they were doing. They found a formula that causes a desire to play for hours on end even when there is no reward for doing so.
There are various ways that the game developers accomplish this. They build things into the games that make us eager to keep playing. A major implementation is adding levels continuously, sometimes several every week, making the game non-ending. They create an environment within the game that requires players to get help from friends who are also playing, giving each other lives or power-ups, which can cause a feeling of guilt if they don’t reciprocate. And the levels become increasingly difficult as the game progresses, which gives the player a sense of accomplishment when they finally beat one. And creates a desire to go higher, further.
I know I spend way too much time staring at colorful cookies, historical landmarks, and monster-filled dungeons. And yet, there are socially acceptable reasons for gaming. Playing is a great form of relaxation. It can reduce stress, provide comfort from a personal trauma, or be a way of socializing for those who are severely introverted. So yes, we game to feel good about ourselves, to be a part of a group, and to learn new skills.
But I still play solitaire on my computer. Because even with all the amazingly realistic graphics, the wonderful musical scores, the cute characters, and the sense of achievement that comes with defeating the bad guys, I find myself craving a simple game of cards. It’s the best way I know to concentrate when I need to solve a problem.