Sunday, March 13, 2011

Life Lessons from Minesweeper

It is "all quiet on the Western front" here. My husband took the two little boys to visit Grandma yesterday. Bryce asked to have four friends spend the night. Last night the house was a vibrant buzz of activity. They devoured pizza, played multiple x-boxes simultaneously, played Rock Band, watched Bryce jam on the drums and watched a movie. With the time change, I requested that they go to sleep by 2 a.m. (this morning they can sleep in as long as they need, but their bodies will feel it on Monday morning). I gave in to sleep earlier than that.

Now, they are still sleeping and I have had my coffee. I settled myself down in front of the computer and read my mail (nothing of interest), and visited Facebook (again, nothing of interest). The quiet begged for work on my novel, but oh, refining is such hard work. So, instead I opted for a few games of Minesweeper.

Here are some life (and/or writing) lessons that stand out to me this morning:

1) You just have to jump in.

When I first played Minesweeper many years ago, I would click numerous squares in the hopes of a good start. If I hit a bomb, well I would just start over and hope for better results.

I actually hadn't played Minesweeper in many years, but I recently discovered that our new computer has some wonderful features for the Minesweeper game. I no longer click a bunch of spaces. I usually start with a spot somewhere in the middle and if I'm lucky, it will open up enough clues for me to begin to clear away a path.

So, in Minesweeper, as in life, you never know what results you will reap, but you have to make that first stab and hope for the best. And sometimes, life is good and one step forward brings clues for lots more steps to come.

This morning, I'm recognizing that I've been stalling on the novel revision because I'm paralyzed by the desire for a good start. After failing to win the contest I entered in November with the first 500 words of my novel, I decided that my first 500 words need to be more powerful. But, that desire for an outstanding opening is holding me back from my revision.

It is the same lesson I learned when I first took up the Nanowrimo challenge. Sometimes, it is far better to plunge ahead - not giving in to the concern for perfection - than to stall the engine by waiting for inspiration for the perfect introduction. Indeed, the rest of my novel can be refined while I wait for a better beginning to present itself into my psyche.

2) You can learn from your mistakes.

Again, this new computer offers an option that I have never seen on the Minesweeper game before. If I do, in fact, hit a bomb, the screen lights up with the whole advanced level playing field (16 x 30 squares) and all of the bombs (99) and spaces revealed. However, there are two options provided. You can select "Play again," which will merely enter you into a whole new game and a whole new playing field. Or you can select, "Replay this game."

Oh what fun, when I figured out this was available. Now, I can memorize the playing field and try again. I learn from my mistakes. If I hit a bomb in the lower right corner, I study this section and plant it in my brain. The next time, I start with that very troublesome corner and I mark off those three bombs - two spaces - two bombs - one space - one bomb. It may not mean that I win the game entirely. I mean, when you're searching for 99 bombs, even memorizing one corner of the field doesn't guarantee success. But, it sure gets me closer to success than I was before!

3) Focus on the game at hand.

I'm sure I'm not the best Minesweeper player there ever was. This new game offers a feature that keeps track of your percentage. Right now, I'm at 13%. That means, I only win 13 out of 100 games played. I won't tell you how many games I've played. Let's just say, more than I should have.

My husband can't understand why I waste so much time playing this game the appeal of this game. I don't ever come close to mastering it. I cannot possibly achieve a perfect 100 percent. But, I can strive to win the game at hand. So, I don't worry about the percentage. I just open the game and try to figure out the challenges and puzzles that single game presents. To me, forcing my brain to quickly process the clues and say, "Oh, this must not be a bomb, because this square tells me there is only one bomb and I've already located the one, so the rest of these can be cleared out, leading to new clues," well that's fun.

4) Don't expect to jump to the advanced level on your first introduction to the game. They offer the beginner level for a reason!

My oldest son watched me playing one day and decided to try his hand at the game. He couldn't figure out how I could solve it so quickly (my fastest time on the advanced level is 118 seconds). I explained some of the strategies, but it was still important for him to change to the beginner level. In that level, there are only ten bombs hidden and your chances of solving the puzzle become greater.

My middle son discovered that there is a custom option. He loves to change the dynamics of the game. He will create a playing field that is similar in size to the advanced level, but only place ten bombs in it. Thus, he is practically assured success with the first click.

I guess, if you have to, in life, you could alter your goals to make success more likely. Instead of trying to complete and submit my novel for publishers, I could make my goal to edit two pages of the novel at a time. That would make my efforts almost certain to reap rewards. Two pages! I mean, that's like trying to find ten bombs in a playing field of 999 squares. And, I'm guessing, I might end up pushing myself beyond that simpler goal. I'm guessing, the desire for greater challenge will kick in, and I will actually work harder on more significant goals.

5) Sometimes success or failure reflects more than your efforts alone.

At this point, I'm remembering that my 13% also reflects the number of times my sons may have brought up the game on our computer and made an attempt. I'm not necessarily the only one playing the game in the statistic shown. So perhaps my percentage doesn't accurately reflect my efforts.

I suppose that is a life lesson, too. I mean, when we look at our success or failure, it often is influenced by others around us who are contributing or detracting from our efforts. In the writing world, sometimes our failures are merely the result of bad timing or a glut in the market.

6) Minesweeper can both make you more productive and can ruin your productivity. Balance is the key!

Trevor is really frustrated with my Minesweeper addiction right now. He keeps asking me to go back to playing Spider Solitaire. Ha!

Really, I think what he's trying to tell me is that my mind-numbing-avoidance-of-life-by-playing-computer-games needs to stop. I'm sure I'm not the only one in the world who practices dissociation. I think my struggle with depression makes me especially vulnerable to such dissociation games. I enjoy having my mind numbed into the driven focus of finding bombs, even if it doesn't save the world and it leaves my house messier than some find acceptable.

Therapist Cynthia Henrie says that "dissociation is a wonderful aspect of creativity and imagination." (There! I do it because I am a CREATIVE and IMAGINATIVE individual!) She goes on: "Sometimes creative folks need to enter into the 'twilight zone,' of dissociative states to really set their imagination going." Indeed, I read once of a writer who began every writing session with five games of Free Cell.

The key, of course, is to limit yourself to five games, then plunge into the work before you. Because, as Cynthia admits, "too much of a good thing isn't healthy!" If I spend too long playing Minesweeper, I will reach the end of my life with a low percentage of Minesweeper wins. But, if I can teach myself to limit the games to five or let's say ten (after all, I AM ADDICTED!) then I might actually end up with the low percentage in Minesweeper and a novel ready to send out to possible publishers!

Now, I'm off to play some more Minesweeper apply these life lessons.

Of course, now the boys are up and have been fed breakfast (have you ever fed five teenage boys? Sheesh, they can go through a ton of food!). My next life lesson will be to learn to write over distractions and noise (although, with both the door to the hallway and to the guest room closed, I probably won't hear them at all and the absence of the little boys makes this a prime opportunity for writing)! Hmm - I wonder what computer game could teach that life lesson?

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