I’m an addict.
I don’t drink or do drugs. I don’t smoke or touch caffeine. My addiction is satisfaction and I will mainline anything that can produce it. That chemical feeling of being satisfied. Those little hits of dopamine in my brain.
This week it’s been games. Boring, pointless, meaningless internet games literally in a category called “idle” to indicate that they’re purely engineered for running in the background and wasting your time.
(Think Sim City when you used to leave it running overnight to gather mucho dollars and hopefully avoid an earthquake, only instead of sleeping you are watching raptly as the numbers tick ever higher.)
The urge came on Saturday night. Weekends after bedtime are usually my big opportunity to knock out huge chunks of writing on CK – and, especially for finishing new comic guides! This past Saturday I couldn’t get in the mood. Words were coming in fits and starts. Nothing satisfying.
And so, for reasons I can’t entirely explain, I loaded up Kongregate for the first time in years and started poking around for simple games to play. My drug of choice is usually tower defense, but I stumbled into idlers and my night was gone.
The games were at once awful and great for satisfaction. The numbers tick up constantly! You get to click things! If there is enough ticking and clicking, sometimes new things light up! It’s the adult equivalent of an infant playmat that lights up and makes sounds. The best of the bunch was surely Swarm Simulator, a plain text game all about exponential growth and ratios, with dozens of different numbers ticking up constantly. At least it’s math, I told myself.
Even as I was playing the games I hated myself for it. I’ve had them running all week and I keep hating it. I know they’re a crutch for getting my satisfaction elsewhere by doing things like working out or hitting the “Publish” button.
I just needed those little hits.
Really, it’s because of sugar. Or, the lack thereof. Sugar is a substance that creates that visceral, chemical satisfaction of dopamine being released into the nucleus accumbens inside our brains. After the holidays I noticed I was consuming way more than my normal share of granola bars, dried fruit, and pudding. I tried to back off slightly only to be consumed with great pangs of desire at regular intervals during the day.
I knew the feeling well. I had it in the first month I was at home with EV last year. I had grown so used to raiding the kitchen cabinets at the start-up every two hours for a few grams of sugar that even at home I would walk, zombie-like, into our kitchen to begin shuffling around in the cabinets for something sweet.
At home I resisted for months the best way I knew how – by not bringing home anything sweet from the grocery store! It helped that I was also getting a daily satisfaction fix from another game, Marvel Avengers Alliance, which I played daily for four years until it was cancelled in September.
Sans both sugar and game, I repurposed my craving for satisfaction into all of the big moves for CK in November. In December, with the colder weather and tons of family members passing through for the holidays, we were stocked up on convenient hand-held sweets. My addiction had redeveloped. I frequently found myself sitting amidst a little of discarded granola bar wrappers, not quite remembering how I managed to eat two or three in one sitting.
I’ve been trying to beat it back for the past two weeks. Like any good game of whack-a-mole, any time you tamp down those little cravings in one way they pop up in other places. Luckily, I have some positive outlets for them. I launched more new comic guides for Patrons than I’ve launched in any other month of CK’s history! I decided, quite suddenly, to add jogging back into my gym routine! I read more single issues of comics, rating them and writing little capsule reviews for GoodReads.
On Saturday I was all tuckered out, both physically and mentally. There was not going to be exercise, or a comic guide, or reading. Thus: the games.
The thing about these sorts of games – solo games who prioritize time over any kind of skill – is that they’re almost always a solved problem. There is a single best route to take with their math to create the perfectly humming ecosystem that generates the most dollars or damage or tangerines. All you are is the caretaker of a complex equation.
I get a lot of satisfaction from that. I love mathing things out, reverse-engineering their inner-workings via a complex spreadsheet. So, I spent the night doing just that, and much of this week.
I feel awful about it. It’s wasted time I could have been spending writing or playing guitar, or at least doing my own math. It goes nowhere. The achievements don’t matter. I’m playing in someone else’s sandbox, and it’s usually a sandbox that someone else has already discovered the optimal equation to keep humming.
So, if you’re wondering where this sudden burst of posts came from, please understand – blogging is just another form of substance abuse for me. If I’m going to crave those little hits of dopamine, the least I can do is get them by