Beauty, Creating, Learning, Reflection, self realization

Pathways to Change

In the previous post I spoke of Rosamund Zander’s guidance for individual change. She also dealt with bringing change to families and organizations by recognizing that others, like ourselves are walking stories.  As the book progresses she focuses on energy.

She starts with a scientific analogy.  Energy becomes amplified, she says, when in proximity to waves of similar tone and length.  Visionary people use it that way too – though her she defines energy as commitment to something broader than our personal concerns.  And it’s not just about  getting one’s own way.  We enter relationships of collaboration and become catalysts to create a new story.

The physical world is dynamic – an ecosystem where things connect, react and change. The canopy of trees outside my window is awash with green where weeks ago there were naked limbs. Blossoms will turn to fruit, seeds will scatter, new growth will erupt and old growth with succumb to lightning or disease..

It’s a fractal universe too – in nature and in computer simulations and even in emotions when we share feelings and experiences that cross cultures and times.

When we want to change things, we traditionally  develop goals, objectives, strategies and tactics as though we are totally in charge – usually forgetting that there are other forces and energies operating around us – in a  playful universe of galaxies.

Zander suggests we try to think of ourselves less as actors and doers and more as conduits that interact with the energies of others – especially in bringing about change. That story is called possibility and it mirrors natural evolution.  Humans act and talk. How we do both has a marked effect on the bigger picture. She observes

We reconcile by acts and words; we restore through how we relate and how we grow; we inspire through what we build and the art we make; and we cure ourselves by how we care for others and what we give away. In those ways we bring our hearts into a collective resonance – and that is where the power lies.

Nations have child stories that often need a re-write. As we work on our personal maturing,  we change our habits and find new insights and truths that become more like the patterns of nature.  Rather than either/or we learn to live with ambiguity.  We lessen our need to always be right or to avoid the realities staring at us.

Our caring for the earth needs a rewrite even more.  Evolution has always favored invasive species – yet humans are the most invasive of the lot.   Urban living divorces us from the natural world. Nature embraces all systems, Zander says, while we have primarily looked after ourselves.

She has several prescriptions –  get out and walk in nature, question the child stories that place man at the center as the hero. Stop treating nature as a thing to exploit and re-frame it as an evolving system constantly becoming more complex and beautiful.  Take the same stance toward human relationships. “What would be a more compassionate or collaborative way of doing things?  Through the practice of what art may I expand my heart?”, she asks.  It’s an invitation to join an infinite story.

She closes with what she terms infinite games:

  • Take an infinite leap and find someone who has been lost to you
  • Get the love you want
  • Make a decision in a different way that you normally do – change a habit
  • Choose a guiding principle – some examples are wonder, service, courage and authenticity – and commit to making every decision based on it for a day or two.

The entire book is an entertaining reminder that I am not the center of the universe – and at the same time, there are plenty of new possibilities ahead.

games, Learning, Reflection

So Why Choose Games?


So why would a reasonably sensible aging person like the writer suddenly start to play computer games? I tried them out after watching grandchildren play them and after reading Jane McGonigal’s more recent book, SuperBetter – just to see what it felt like.  Many of things she talks about in Reality is Broken rang true.  I feel as though I am engaged in a productive sequence and improving as I go.  It’s nice to find success at the beginning – but pretty soon there is an increasing challenge.  I confess to going on line a couple of times to get help at certain levels – another benefit is that there can be collaboration – real or virtual.  Things get harder to solve the longer I am at it and I need the help.

Compared to work – paid or volunteer – there is real satisfaction in playing.  The goal is clear.  There are actionable steps to carry out.  In life, getting things started in the right way is often a mystery, but game developers sequences things properly.  Even when I am up against a brick wall, I still think I can scale it and there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I don’t fall for buying extra turns regularly offered when I fail but come close to success – because they come at a cost –  usually a small amount for a single player though I can also spend several dollars. But small amounts for millions of players add up to huge profits for the game company.  I sometimes wonder if success after a certain number of failures at a given level are built in –  say that success is automatic after 43 failures, for instance – just to make sure that I don’t drop out before becoming really addicted.  There are also free rewards constantly offered to keep me onside.

The real difference between the game and real life is a surprising one –  failure in the game is actually fun. Getting it wrong in school brings a reprimand or a failing grade.  Getting the wrong note while practising the piano hurts both the ears and the ego..  But failing in a game has little negative feeling in comparison – in fact, failing becomes a way of life in the game. It’s designed right into it. Sometimes the graphics make you laugh when you fail. Success is nice too though and it is recognized.  In the game illustrated above you hear Beethoven’s Ode to Joy when you get a level right.

So what keeps us going?  McGonigal cites Martin Seligman’s notion of flexible optimism and also talks about “emotional stamina” – a concept developed by Raph Koster.  As an aside, its nice to know what liberal arts degrees lead to in the 21st century – Koster’s majors were creative writing and poetry leading to his becoming a game designer and theorist. He says its not the not monetary rewards of real world achievement that we enjoy in a game.  It’s learning. When we succeed – even after a period of considerable failure – the immediate euphoria fades rather quickly and we even find the game boring.

McGonigal also notes that Seligman’s idea of flexible optimism relates to the notion that a feeling of constant optimism almost becomes manic – followed by depression.  By combining success and failure in a game we attain the benefits of both.  It’s a virtuous circle that allows us to remain realistic but open to new adventures and possibility.

games, Learning, Reflection

Games and Gamers

13770436_10154203541395519_6900191871956837954_nI come from three generations of gamers and have produced another two.  Among my own memories as a child were games played in the homes of both the matriarchal and patriarchal grandparents.  The first was known as “the fool game” – probably a pretty simple variant of gin rummy with several combinations of hands.  The children started by watching and listening and were eventually allowed to play along side the grandparents, great aunts and uncles and parents.  The other household probably started with a similar game but graduated to Canasta – and the kids shared in the excitement then as the players assembled when the sun went down and we were allowed to stay up late.  I’ve totally forgotten the rules of either card game.

Anyone with a new version of Microsoft has probably succumbed to the add-ons ever since the 90s. Even in the  DOS days some early commercial software added a game or two – usually some kind of battle – as a purchase incentive. Anyone with  kids has played Monopoly in the summer and tried to trade the best cards.  But those same kids are now into a totally different world of gaming that is fascinating to watch but difficult to fathom -except by trial and error.  A four year old grandchild did compliment me once when I struggled with the PlayStation controller  by saying,  “Good, Grandma, you’re almost getting it”.

After reading Jane McGonigal’s Superbetter I did change my attitude of mild hostility to digital games and decided to become acquainted with some tame solo ones so as not to show my lack of skills –  some of the attraction to games started to make sense. According to the writer and philosopher, Bernard Suits, I have now acquired a lusory attitude.  In his 1978 book, The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia and recently reissued, Suits defined a game as follows:

“To play a game is to attempt to achieve a specific state of affairs [prelusory goal], using only means permitted by rules [lusory means], where the rules prohibit use of more efficient in favour of less efficient means [constitutive rules], and where the rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity [lusory attitude].

And I thought I was either having fun or wasting time or both.  Let’s parse this.

  • I have a goal in playing the game
  • I accept the rules of the game
  • The rules present obstacles
  • Without the obstacles there would really be no point of the game

I’ll apply these to my current games – Words with Friends – (in my case Scrabble with a Robot) – and Bejeweled – a set of matching games where one can explore several options.

Once I have agreed to play the game (fun and/or distraction) my goal is to win – either over my robot opponent or to surpass my previous achievement.  I accept the rules with the game envelopes.  For Words with Friends, I know I’ll have a maximum of seven letters at a time.  (Trying to do a re-write of what I have written thus far with that rule might be a challenge). In Bejeweled I am willing to collect butterflies knowing the I am competing against an insect who will grab any that I let go too high – not exactly a real life activity of a typical day.  The seven letters and spidery creature create the challenge or the whole thing would be pointless – but funnily enough, it isn’t.

We need challenges.  Sometimes are lives are so bland and predictable that we need to excape from them. Sometimes our work gives us few real challenges and we can’t see the point. Sometimes we just need a change.  That’s what McGonigal means when she says that Reality is Broken.  But there is much more to it than that.  Stay tuned.