Would you believe that playing games – like my current favorite, Cake Mania 3 – makes me a better writer?
I used to feel guilty and ashamed about my gaming time. I had decided, after all, to be a Serious Writer. I’d told my family that this was my work, and so I’d better work at it – and hard! – to justify the time I spent writing rather than doing the things I was “supposed to”.
But then an all-night gaming marathon unraveled the plot tangles I had been “avoiding”. I was excited to write, the words flowed, and they were better than good!
Gaming isn’t an escape, but a space for my mind to play with something else, so that the ideas wandering around in my mind have time and space to coalesce and connect to one another in new ways. The more attention I pay to what’s happening when I take the time to engage in game play, the more benefits I see for my writing.
Awareness of Patterns:
Cake Mania is a game of patterns. It’s essential to learn to predict them. This is handy, because it gets my mind trained on patterns and themes in my writing projects, too – and that helps to untangle the knotty places.
Visible Improvements through Practice:
Sitting alone writing can lead to crippling self-doubt. The inner editor takes over, and I start wondering what business I have picking up a pen, or opening my word processing program. Even when it takes me a week to get through a round of game play, I can see the slow gaining of skills, in plain numbers. I see that writing works in similar ways. It may take time, but I am getting better.
The value of mindfulness and intention:
In the upper levels of the game, things move very quickly, with lots of variables. It’s easy to make mistakes, and mistakes tend to cascade into disaster if I don’t catch them quickly enough to correct them. Knowing what I’m trying to accomplish, when gaming or writing, helps tremendously. It’s helped me shift from pantsing randomly to an open form of plotting. Now I know where I’m headed, in something other than a vague way. That keeps me focused on my destination, the same way that I’m focused on reaching my monetary goal for each level of play.
Gaming and writing can be stressful. With so many variables and things to keep track of, so many choices and possibilities, can have me stabbing at my screen or keyboard, clenching my teeth, and breathing too fast as my whole body tenses. That’s when I make the most mistakes. When dealing with a complex level of play or a long-term writing project, I’m learning to immerse myself gently, rather than with a cannonball. When I do this, my gaming and writing time are pleasant, engaging, and fun – and I play and write better as a result.
Experimentation and variation:
There are many choices in CakeMania, and in writing. I love experimenting with various arrangements and systems. I want to know what works, and what doesn’t. I want to see if I can get better results if I tweak this or do that a little differently. I’ve recently starting revising my WIPS, and this willingness to explore the possibilities while gaming carries over, making me more willing and less afraid to make even sweeping changes, when I feel they might improve the story.
Sometimes, I just get stuck. I’m the persistent type; I will keep trying new things as long as I can think of new things to try…then, often, I’ll wait until I think of more things to try. But, eventually, if I can’t figure it out, and I’m not having fun trying…I go back to the very first, most basic levels, and make another attempt. Once in a while, I delete something that just isn’t working at all, and move on to something else, without regret.
I keep Cake Mania pinned to my task bar, and play a round or two between other projects and activities. It’s amusing, and a pleasant break or transition that helps me clear the palette of my thoughts as I move through an array of projects. As I climb through the levels, I’m making incremental progress toward my writerly goals. The two are connected and complementary. The gaming breaks show me clearly how far I’ve come since last time, which helps me stay above water with my long-term, series-length goals.
Rhythm, variations, and adaptability:
Cake Mania flows to varying rhythms that shift quickly. Being able to adapt is key, here. There would be little fun or challenge in the game, if things didn’t shift. It’s the same with writing. There are various rhythms in a story, and sometimes things shift without warning. That’s when I need to be the most adaptable; to decide when to keep to my plan, and when to go along with the shifting flow…
The next time you feel guilty about gaming or some other “distraction”, maybe take a moment to look for the benefits you’re reaping by indulging yourself. You might just discover that the alleged “distraction” is actually a vital and unnoticed part of your writing process – something to pursue without shame, knowing that it’s making you a better writer!
Wouldn’t that feel better than guilt?