By Kevin Meyer
A few years ago when I was a young lad, a friend of mine introduced me to a newfangled gizmo called "Pong." We temporarily disconnected his Betamax from his 27" big screen TV (a new color model!) and connected up the game. I was hooked. I couldn't get enough of moving a white rectangle up and down the screen to intercept a moving white dot. Perhaps realizing I perversely enjoy estimating angles and trajectories is one reason I eventually went to engineering school.
I didn't realize that this was a real addiction until a couple years later when I poured a small fortune of quarters into a Defender machine I discovered in a local fast food joint. Luckily the financial limitation, coupled with sufficient sanity to recognize and accept that limitation instead of resorting to, uh, unorthodox measures, helped me move on.
Since then I have purposely and deliberately stayed away from video games. No Xbox, no Nintendo, nothing. I am self aware.
Until two weeks ago when a friend of mine insisted I try Words with Friends – basically a repackaged online version of Scrabble. I was leery, but thought what the heck I'm now all grown up and should be able to handle it, and within hours completely understood how a certain actor could get kicked off a plane for refusing to stop playing.
Dammit Edwilda! (Name changed to protect the guilty.) I proceeded to get sucked into game after game after game… and basically lost three days of my life before my evening hansei made me realize I had seriously diminished my productivity and that simply couldn't continue. Funny, only one game was with Edwilda. The evil game finds you other random anonymous opponents while you wait for others to play. Talk about feeding addiction, sneaky bastards.
And so I stopped, cold turkey. Ok, after just one last game. Seriously. And that's where I finally get around to the point of this post.
Yes it really was just one last game, but my anonymous opponent proposed something different: instead of the traditional goal of achieving the high score, how about saying the winner is the person with the lowest score after all tiles are played? Wow. Interesting way to play.
Suddenly I'm looking at a Scrabble (ok, Words with Friends) board and trying to figure out how to use the lowest value letters, the least letters, and strategically use my one swap to push "X" and "Q" to my opponent. The game lasted much, much longer than a traditional game, and the screen was eventually filled with "do" and "it" and "no" type words. Think about how much harder that gets when you can't build off of letters in long words, you work avoid the dreaded double and triple letters and words, and so forth.
Less is more valuable. More is a waste. The creativity required to be simple and short, again and again, is far greater than what it takes to be wordy and superfluous.
There's a lesson in that. A life lesson, and perhaps even a lean lesson.