Monday, June 09, 2008

Justifiable Exercise

Back in the early days of personal computing I spent no few hours engrossed in the game of Zork, an adventure game where you prowled around the bowels of an underground world, killing troll-like beings and gathering treasures. No graphics. Just text. It was great fun. After that came the game Myst, which was very similar but your prowling was done visually. Imagine, if you have never played it, an enviroment very similar to the TV world of Lost, except you are alone and discovering abandoned machinery and ancient texts that hint at a lost civilization of some sort. You move settings on the machinery and your reality shifts. Again, great fun and very time consuming.

I eventually tired of the games and left them behind me. I also was somewhat concerned at the amount of time that was eaten away while I sat and puzzled my next move. I fully understand how addictive personalities can lose themselves in such an activity.

Awhile back I discovered some free arcade style games on and would stop in and play a few minutes here and there when I needed to take a break from the genealogy or work arenas. The nice thing about the games at MSN is that unless you pay for the full version, you can only play so far until you've maxed out the levels available to you, so it would not take long for me to reach the top and get bored replaying the same level of difficulty. And I would move on.

Then I found some of those old favorites at Half-Price Books, publisher's closeout copies, for a fraction of the download price. I bought a copy of Luxor, a copy of Diner Dash, and a copy of Pirate Poppers. Each of these took about a month or so of advancing slowly to the top level, with each level becoming more and more difficult to master, before I would hit that last level. That last level could take weeks to finally master, but with every loss I would be more determined that no computer was going to get the best of me. To win the top levels called for quick reflexes and strategy to beat the clock. Over and over I would tackle that last level until that magic day when I could chortle with victory.

I have now worked my way through three different editions of Diner Dash (I can't help it, I love that game). Currently I am embattled with Atlantis and Super Granny 3. I find I can sit down "for a few minutes" after supper and the next thing I know the evening news is coming on.

But, speaking of the news, as of today I no longer feel too guilty about the time spent on computer games. This morning I watched a segment on how mental exercises can help stave off dementia and Alzheimer's. They recommend activities that cause your brain to react in new ways, such as brushing your teeth with your less-dominant hand and trying to do normal routine activities with your eyes closed so that your brain has to deal with sensory loss.

I have become aware that during the months I have been playing these games, my reflexes are getting sharper and I'm spotting patterns in the playing field that escaped me in the beginning. Now when I go back and repeat some of the lower levels that once gave me trouble, I breeze through them without effort.

When I was going through and disposing of my father's papers, I found a crossword puzzle book that had been virtually untouched. As soon as I tried to do one of the puzzles, I knew why. The clues were bizarre and the answers were sometimes so weird as to be unfathomable. I'm a long-time crossword puzzle solver and I was at a loss how they came up with some of the words. I kept at it, though, through sheer cussedness. And a weird thing happened. I started getting more and more of the puzzle blanks filled in before I would have to resort to checking the answers. I was learning to think in the same bass-ackwards way the editors of the puzzles thought.

I believe there's a lot to this mental exercise thing. I'm going to stop feeling guilty for playing my computer games and for cussing that crossword book. Both have helped me keep my brain sharpened. Time spent exercising the brain is not time wasted.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


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