27 December 2010

My Angry Birds Experiment


I've been playing Angry Birds relentlessly, ignoring the German novel I'm reading, the academic books I have that engross me, listening to the Deutsche Welle, or newly discovered French and Dutch internet radio stations. I've not picked up my sketch pad, or my art theory basics book either. I haven't looked to see what's in the museums and art galleries around town, or gone out to see a film. I mused a bit about AB last week and decided to muse some more.

The Study
I do little personal experiments all the time. I'm mostly interested in developing an understanding and theories about how my life works. Yeah, on MB-personality I'm an I-type, and on Gardner's MI, I'm Intra. But I think my self-experiments are useful to other people.

Findings
Playing AB I get into a kind of trance. It's about achieving the goals, leveling up to 3 stars on each of the scenarios. It's a hypnotic state of focus and repetitive movements that at some point after playing for an hour, two or more*, doesn't feel like enjoyment. The experiences of sensory and psychological engagement and enjoyment are replaced with the experiences of sensory numbness and a mental lethargy, the kind that comes with excess and with screen-based repetitive tasks. Casual games as a rule have a spending-time quality for me, which I'd translate with any of the following underlying thoughts and conditions: not-sure-what-I'd-rather-be-doing, procrastination, waiting, fearful, lazy. 

Killing and destruction are engaging
At one point early on I said to myself: I'm having fun slinging birds at pigs and destroying their forts and castles. I'd strategize how best to get at them, and at times found myself thinking: This is how they do it in the military. They know how each bomb and missile work; they know what their target consists of, and they systematically go about destroying it. Ethically, I'm outspoken against violence and militarization, but as a human being, I'm vulnerable to the attraction of violence-based games.

Discussion
As someone who's always sought out altered states, my trance experience is neither alarming nor problematic. While I don't buy addiction rhetoric, I see how easily "pleasurable" experiences lead to more-is-better thinking and behaviors. My self-experiments over the last 25 years have shown, like this experiment has, that more is not better. A threshold of enough exists. Psychological research on happiness has also evidenced the same thing.

My Enough-threshold Theory
My enough-threshold theory has the following principles:
  • Each pleasurable experience has an enough-threshold. It's the point at which what was engaging, enjoyable, exciting, etc, starts to not be.
  • All ETs have a value proposition. A VP is a mechanism that triggers the ET.
  • Some come with their own, others have to be constructed. Some combine both. VPs are context-driven.  
  • VPs are emotional, psychological, behavioral, spiritual. Examples are affirmations, removing yourself from a situation, doing something else, pretending.
Spending-time
That spending-time is so attractive to me right now has to do with many factors in my life, including big and small life-changes. Games seem to have a quality of being a substitute-for-something-more-meaningful for me and I equate them with TV-watching as a teenager.

Birds Killing Pigs and Destroying their Forts
Being ethically-divorced from act of killing (in this case) pigs and destroying their forts wasn't surprising. The military uses such tactics to train soldiers. Our society uses it to militarize the public sphere and desensitize us to how violent our society is. The ethical lens we use to assess our and others' actions is why we have disputes. Sure the pigs violated the birds, and being angry and wanting to get even makes sense. But let's face it, if the birds had been a smarter lot, like the pigs, they likely would have found a more intelligent, non-violent form of getting their due.** 

Conclusion
 I'll likely burn out on AB completely or moderate my play. I'm not a gamer, and am invested in that identity as well as maintaining control over the use of my leisure time (VPs of my ET). Games generally are fun to fill in life's empty spaces and even socialize around. More self-experiments are needed.

* I don't attend to time passing. The app doesn't have a clock, and I don't wear a watch or have clocks in my house. I know I've spent a couple of hours at a time playing, putting it down and then picking it up again.
** I didn't read the back story or follow fan pages, so I don't know how the whole things got started.