Weekly status update [0023/????]

I almost completely missed that yesterday was Friday the 13th.  Thanks, Reddit!

  • Finished reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  Like many Stephenson novels, it picks up a lot in the rear half, and I went from struggling to read more than twenty or so pages of it at a time to tearing through the last couple of hundred pages in a day.  It’s Stephenson Ending Ratio is only about a 0.3 or so as well, which is a pleasant surprise; it’s still too abrupt, but it actually answered most of my questions.  I suspect Nicole Gailland (the co-author) had something to do with that.
  • I also finally finished Minitel: Welcome to the Internet, which was a fascinating look into a bit of technology I knew nothing about.  The idea that France was effectively connected to its own private Internet in the mid-’80s is kind of amazing.  It was a very slow read due to the huge numbers of footnotes–I have to read them immediately, and flipping back and forth in the book is so slow–but Minitel was one of the better Platform Studies books.  Next up is the one on the Super Nintendo.  I expect to be at least mildly disappointed, as I am Error (the one for the NES) is maybe my favorite volume of the series, so I’m going in with too-high expectations.  Further news as events warrant.
  • Played way, way too much Diablo III.  I have all but one trophy for it now on the PS4, and that trophy requires a lot of boring grinding.  I’ve been doing said grinding while watching people on Twitch, so it’s not all a waste of my time, but it’s moments like this that I regret ever hunting down trophies and achievements.
  • Actually did some puzzles again for the first time in ages.  It was mostly multi-sudoku, but I also did two Trigons.  Fair warning: even “easy” Trigons are hard, and the really hard ones are damn-near impossible.  It’s not uncommon for single puzzles to take me upwards of two hours of continuous solving.  Said solution is all the sweeter for the result, though.
  • Went through another fairly lengthy fast (no zero-calorie days, thank goodness).  I think it helped with once again recalibrating my satiety.  I will say that the rotisserie chicken I had from Walmart today for breakfast-and-lunch was one of the tastiest things I’ve had… but I know it’s because as of this morning just about anything was going to be delicious.
  • Not a whole lot of social interaction outside of Twitch, unfortunately.  My semi-regular online gaming partner has been busy with other things, we haven’t had a board game night in ages… I should probably figure out something I can do to see actual humans on a semi-regular basis.  Probably.

I’m going to the dentist on Monday, which is the first big medical-y expense I’ll have had since I retired.  I didn’t keep my dental insurance, so I’m… apprehensive about how expensive it’ll be.  Guess we’ll find out!  Other than that, though, I feel like things are going well overall.  It’s as unexciting as always, but I’m still not bored, and won’t be for the foreseeable future.  23 weeks in: so far, so good.

Absence of thought

I realized that it’s Wednesday and I haven’t yet done my now-pretty-regular “post that isn’t a weekly update” this week.  The thing is: I don’t have anything particularly exciting to write about, at least not that fits the loose format that I’ve established here.  No one wants to read me rail about the current political situation here in the US; there are much more cogent thinkers out there who are doing that work better than I ever will, and “screaming into the void” has never been my favorite pastime.  (I will, however, leave this here.)

So instead you get a meta-post about the act of writing these things in the first place.  Exciting!

I have to admit that sometimes (often, really) I just don’t have it in me to post something.  I think it’d be easier if I were more willing to dash off thoughts, Twitter-style, on the regular, but I feel that the blog format almost always warrants something of more substance.  And I don’t always have that substance to give.  I mean, yes, I could start going through my book and video game collection, writing reviews for everything I’ve finished, but that’s not the core concept of this blog–at least, not in my mind–and that also sounds a lot like work.

I suspect that a lot of people would have no sympathy for that argument.  I’m retired, after all; what else do I have but time?  As much as I have, though, that time is still fundamentally limited, at least until the techno-Rapture that will make us immortal.  (Immortal slaves to the machines, mind you, but immortal nevertheless.)  And as vapid as it may seem, most of the time I’d rather just play more Diablo III or watch some more Twitch than come up with a slightly-cheeky take on something that happened in my life (spoiler: nothing really happens in my life) or banging out a review of a vaguely food-related product.  Each day is still a day closer to the end, and I want to spend them doing things I genuinely enjoy.

And yet.  I think I’ve gotten a lot out of writing these blog entries, even though I’m writing for an ever-shrinking audience.  That last part doesn’t surprise me, as the number of people likely to read this was at its largest the moment I retired and will only fall off as people figure out “huh, not much going on with that Phil guy’s life, is there?” and phase out their readership.  And that’s fine; while ostensibly this exists as a way for people to keep up with what I’m doing now, it’s just as much a way for me to exercise my writing muscles on a regular basis, something I’ve always meant to do and never actually got around to in my prior life.  Well, I finally got around to it, and got around to fixing my typing with Colemak, and got around to playing at least a few games and reading a few books that have been hanging shamefully over my head for years, so this retirement thing seems to be helping me make at least some headway on years of inaction.

And, hey, look, by rambling on about my lack of material to ramble on about, I’ve managed to gin up an entire blog post worth of content!  Thanks, meta-writing!

It’s something I can’t do too often, though, or it’ll get just as tired as anything.  And while I often find it hard to find something to write about–and often don’t want to write at all–I do think that it’s the right thing to do, at least now.  I think I will appreciate being able to look back at these posts in the months and years to come and see what I was thinking about, how I felt, how early retirement was going.  So: I’m gonna keep on keeping on.  But this week you’ll have to put up with this very meta post as your additional content.

Sorry.

Weekly status update [0022/????]

Just gonna jump right in.

  • My love affair with Planetside 2 is already over.  Turned out that I was really good at gunning and really bad at the actual first-person shoot-people-with-guns bits… and while the former is useful some of the time, the latter is useful pretty much all of the time.  After a bad night I realized that I just didn’t have it in me to “git gud” at the pew pews.  It’s a shame, too, because I had finally convinced some friends to play with me… just in time to stop playing.  Ah, well.
  • On the other hand, Dead Cells is really good, and actually runs fine on my ancient Linux desktop.  If you like Souls-style combat, platformers, and roguelikes, check it out.  It’s coming to consoles in a few months if you’d rather not futz with Steam.
  • I’m still slowly working my way through The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  It’s a bit of a slow read, like most Stephenson, although the story is captivating enough.  It just sometimes requires more energy than I have available to put into the book.  (It’s no Baroque Cycle, though; I remember being proud when I made it through more than 10 pages of those books in a single night.  So dense. So dense.)
  • I haven’t had to use my wrist braces in a couple of weeks, which has been very nice.  They’re still sitting next to my chair just in case.
  • I hadn’t tested my typing speed in ages, and I noticed that my mistake rate had dropped pretty significantly (of course, right now, I’m making tons of them… stupid observational effect), so I took another set of typing speed tests.  I nailed 80wpm on this not-so-great Chromebook keyboard I’m typing on right now and 81wpm on my fancy mechanical keyboard, so I think it’s safe to say that I’m around that now with Colemak.  That’s a ~10wpm difference from the last time I seriously tested myself, and it’s pretty much all down to error rate.  It feels good to be back in the top 10% or so of typists with a whole new method, not gonna lie.
  • Saw two back-to-back laser light shows last night (Friday) with friends, one for Rush’s 2112 and one that had a bunch of random famous Led Zeppelin songs.  The 2112 show was better, with tighter synchronization and (in my opinion) better music, but the Zep show was definitely more of a crowd-pleaser.  I had never been to a laser light show before; it was quite a treat.  Chad and I immediately started musing on what modern albums we would like to see given the laser treatment.  We both landed on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as a really strong candidate… as long as you cut out Kanye breathing into a mic for six minutes at the end of “Runaway.”
  • Keto still going strong; I haven’t had a single cheat day yet, which might be a record.  The losses are a little harder to see at the moment, but I can feel it in my shirts and see it on my face when I look in the mirror, and I have a good five more months before my first obligatory cheat period (going home for the holidays), so there’s plenty of time for more improvement.
  • I just watched it this morning, but Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette on Netflix is… amazing and powerful and tough.  Strong recommendation.  It’s basically the only TV I’ve watched in the last couple of weeks.

Whew.  That sure looks like a lot, given how little it actually feels like happened this week.  That’s… good, I suppose?

Anyhow, just in case you were wondering or worried: still not bored!

The reality of irreality

I recently finished reading a very good book, The Moon and the Other.  This isn’t a review; instead, I wanted to point out something it did that I found both interesting and actually a little distracting due to its rarity in science fiction.  Fair warning: very, very mild spoilers ahead.

One of the main viewpoint characters in the novel is a man who was banished from the “Society of Cousins,” a matriarchal society that made me think (at first) that the book was going to be some sort of weird inverse of The Handmaid’s Tale.  The person–another man–who convinced him to do the deed that got them both banished?  He goes by the pseudonym “Tyler Durden.”  (For those of you that don’t immediately recognize that name, it’s a character from Fight Club, played memorably in the movie by Brad Pitt.)

Later, there’s a very minor plot involving a theoretical virus that would have done damage to that self-same society, proposed by Mr. Durden.  The name of the virus?  GROSS.  (If you don’t recognize that, get yourself to a copy of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, stat.)

Both of these references startled me when I came across them.  That’s because, for most science fiction, the authors work pretty hard at pretending that culture past, say, Mozart or Bach doesn’t really exist.  It’s very rare to see modern things referenced directly in a work.  Obviously I’m excluding borderline-fanfic stuff like Ernest Cline’s novels, which exist as an explicit love letter to ’80s pop culture; I’m talking about otherwise “normal” science fiction.  At most, they’ll occasionally do one of those sets-of-threes things where the first reference is classical, the second modern, and the third fictional, something like:

Genndy sat down at the ancient piano and plinked a few tentative notes, then launched into a whirlwind tour of the canon: Mozart, Joel, Oda-Wheeler.

That’s a made-up example, but you see such things littered across much of science fiction.  Usually the references end there, though.

When a work refers to a real-life thing, it’s often changed in some way; I’m currently in the middle of reading The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., where it’s not the Pentagon but the Trapezoid.  Sometimes that sort of thing works, but given the fact that D.O.D.O. is all about history–and a couple of sentences later it specifically refers to George Washington–this sort of off-brand filtering can be, in its own way, even more distracting than just using the real name.  (On the other hand, given the core conceit of the novel, it’s possible that the building is the Trapezoid for Reasons.  It’s a Neal Stephenson novel, so I might not find that out for another six thousand pages or so.)

Going back to The Moon and the Other, I can kind of get why this sort of thing is rare.  For one, you risk dating the novel; references to Lorena Bobbitt (as a random example I’d never actually use in a story) already risk falling off the comprehensibility cliff, so if you don’t pick your target well you risk making it completely opaque to the reader.  And given my reaction to seeing contemporary references in a modern novel, the smart money may be keeping it all the way back to Mozart.  But I actually think that “Tyler Durden” is the sort of reference that will stay relevant for a surprisingly long time, and while I sadly suspect “GROSS” will age poorly, as kids don’t grow up reading Calvin and Hobbes, it also wasn’t crucial to the plot.

Still, it makes me think how such things apply to my own writing.  In Rewind I explicitly explore a couple of close-to-our-own realities that turn out slightly different, so these types references are actually fairly important to the story, but I also carefully never placed the novel in a specific city or precise time to avoid some of those selfsame issues.  Having read The Moon and the Other, I’m going to be giving even more serious consideration to the real-world references in my own works.  A mild shock is good; pulling a reader out of the fictional world is not.

Weekly status update [0021/????]

It was a relatively uneventful week, other than a pair of delicious meals that effectively bookended the working chunk.  I was confused enough on Monday to think it was Saturday, though, so it goes to show you that days of the week start becoming a bit nebulous once they don’t actually affect your life very much.  Or I’m just very forgetful.

Or both.  Why not both?

  • The first meal, on Tuesday, was a going-away dinner for one of my old coworkers.  I was pleasantly surprised to be invited, and had a good time chatting with all of my old teammates.  The steak wasn’t bad either.  (It was delicious.)
  • The second meal, on Friday, was at the local Tex Mex place I frequent.  I got a platter full of meat with caramelized onions, avocado, and all the taste.  It was also delicious.
  • In the middle, along with last weekend?  So much Planetside 2.  So much.  According to this page, I started playing this past Sunday or Monday (the graph is a bit unclear) and have already put 61 hours into the game.  That’s… a lot of game.  It also doesn’t count the several hours I’ve spent on alternate characters.  I wrote about it here.  Yesterday I could feel the game starting to get a bit stale… but then I convinced one of my old coworkers to play Friday evening, and we both had a great time together, and that renewed my excitement.  We’ll see how long it lasts.
  • Alongside the videogames (well, mostly the one), I finished reading John Kessel’s The Moon and the Other.  I should write a “Here’s a Book Thing” about it, and I may, so I’ll just say that I enjoyed it quite a bit.  What on the surface looks in some ways like a reaction to The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t, really.  Also, those two books one after the other was a bit of a weird coincidence, given their exploration of gender roles… but I picked up the Kessel almost entirely based on the cover.
  • I suspect my back is just going to hurt me a bit every morning from here on out, but at least it’s not the acute pain I was experiencing the last few weeks any more.  Small blessings and all that.

Lastly, this is not really something specific that happened, but: every time I left the house, I realized how little I leave the house now.  I am definitely not an errand-a-day sort of guy; if anything, I bundle them up and do them all at once, then stay home for two or three days before venturing out again.  This was helped by the fact that I didn’t get a rotisserie chicken from Walmart even once this week, which usually puts me on the road for a couple of minutes every morning.  It seems a little strange, as someone who spent at least some time in the car every weekday since I was sixteen or so.  It’s a small but significant change to the rhythm of my life.

Here’s a videogame thing: Planetside 2

I’ve had more “oh, damn, it’s 6am and I haven’t gone to bed yet” nights in the last week than I’ve had in total since I retired, and it’s all because of Planetside 2.

For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Planetside 2 is a massively multiplayer online first-person strategic shooter.  That’s a whole lot of adjectives; put simply, you run around going “pew pew” with laser guns, there’s a lot of people playing at the same time, and there are goals and objectives beyond “pew pew a bunch of them before you get pew pewed back.”

In many ways, the game is a more complicated version of a game mode I was obsessed with many years ago, Unreal Tournament 2004‘s Onslaught mode.  At the depths of my addiction to that particular mode, I would come home from working at LSU at 1700 or so and not stop until 0200 or 0300, night after night, for weeks on end.  I stopped because it was utterly wrecking my wrists; as a keyboard-and-mouse game, I was doing a lot of repetitive strain on my right wrist in particular as I played.

Planetside 2 is basically Onslaught scaled up 64x or so.  There are three teams/factions; the goal is to be the team with the most territory.  You can’t just drop deep into your opponent’s land and capture there, because the only vulnerable territory is that connected to your own by the “Lattice,” which is generally (but not always) the stuff that’s right next to it on the map.  What this means in practice is that the “front” of the fight is constantly shifting but almost never crazily distant, as your faction either successfully claims a bit of territory and pushes further in, or loses territory and is pushed back.

Now, I’m playing on the PS4, which makes it a bit of a double whammy of a mess: I’m already not exactly good at first-person shooters, having lost my high level of coordination as I’ve gotten older, and using a controller rather than keyboard and mouse just makes it worse.  But that’s actually mostly okay, because the game has a bunch of “support” work that you can do.  I spend most of my time as an engineer, repairing vehicles and other things around the bases, and the game rewards me for doing so.

That said, the game has some major issues.  It’s free-to-play, and while its monetization strategy is only mostly scummy, the real problem is that it’s a free-to-play game… on a console… in the dead of summer… where you shoot people.  If you don’t already know what that means, let me tell you: it is absolutely overrun with twelve year old boys who think cursing is the Coolest Thing Ever and constantly kill their own teammates because it’s funny.  There are moments of utter brilliance, when you get in with an organized group and manage to fend off a nasty assault or execute one of your own… and there are moments of utter frustration when the person whose vehicle you were keeping alive turns the turret and shoots you for no good reason.

And while the monetization is only mostly scummy, it is scummy.  The rate at which you get experience (“certifications”) in the game is low, so it strongly encourages you to drop real money on the game to unlock stuff.

But there are some clever things too.  For one, most of the weapons are “sidegrades;” better at some things but worse at others.  You actually really don’t ever need to buy a new weapon for most of the classes, and if you do it can come much later.  That’s surprisingly respectful for a F2P game, where often the person with the most money gets super-awesome ultra better versions of the standard weapons.

Now, I know that I’m not supposed to play massively multiplayer online games, because I know what a time-sink they can be.  But I suspect that I’m going to run Planetside 2 dry in a week or two; it’s fun, but ultimately pretty same-y, and unless I can convince some friends to play with me–it’d sure be nice to team up with actual adults rather than prepubescents–it’s going to end up too lonely to sustain.  But for the time being I’m having fun, and given that I haven’t paid a penny for the game (and don’t plan to), why not?

(If you’re interested in teaming up, drop me a note.  I know no one will, but I feel like I’ve gotta try.)

In conclusion: Planetside 2 is pretty neat.  It’s given me sleepless nights.  Would play again.

Weekly status update [0020/????]

It’s kind of amazing to me that I’m 20 weeks, 140 days, into retirement.  It both doesn’t feel that long at all–I can still remember driving into work and hunting for a parking spot, sometimes the most challenging thing I did all day–and impressively far in the past.  That second part excites me; I was a little worried that the days would quickly start disappearing into a blur of nothingness, but instead I feel like I actually get quite a bit out of most of my waking hours.  Sure, it’s reading, or playing games, but those are both things that I wanted to do more of in the past and didn’t have the time for.  Now that I do, it’s nice.  Really nice.

  • I’ve officially given up on the whole USPS situation.  Dealing with their international handling department is a special kind of hell.  I got replacements for all of the items, so I don’t really care that much now; I’m mostly just angry I wasted time contacting them in the first place.  More fool me for trying to do the right thing.
  • I fasted most of this week, and I think that was successful in recalibrating my hunger levels… but then I went and ate way too much today in a sort of rebound effect.  Sigh.  I still stuck with the keto side of things, so I’m not worried about that, but we’ll have to see in the days ahead if I screwed it up.
  • Still haven’t done much in the way of puzzles.  The dot-by-dot book I got in my last order from Japan is actually really disappointing; it has a bunch of cheater art in the background of most of the puzzles, so you almost always know what the picture is going to be before you start.  Boo.
  • Played a whole lot of videogames this week.  I finished Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction after putting it aside a couple of months ago, and tore through Ratchet & Clank Future: Quest for Booty in a single sitting the next day (it’s short, though).  I still haven’t made much more progress in Shining in the Darkness, though; I’m not sure why.  I was enjoying it when I was playing it.  Instead I picked up the original PlayStation version of Final Fantasy Tactics digitally and started playing it on my PS3… but I think I’m gonna force myself to set that aside and get back to the Shining series.
  • I’m a good chunk of the way into The Moon and the Other, which is an interesting sf novel by John Kessel.  In some ways its setting is an inversion of The Handmaid’s Tale, which makes for really interesting compare-and-contrast reading.  I didn’t do that intentionally… but it’s a neat result.
  • Watched a whole lot of Landail on Twitch, as he was playing a game I particularly like (Tactics Ogre) most of the week.  Actively spent less time in some of the other online communities I’m a part of due to frustration with some of them.
  • My back’s not in great shape again yet, but it’s better every day, I feel, and I’m taking an ibuprofen every morning to help reduce the inflammation.
  • On the other hand, I haven’t needed my wrist braces for days, which is very nice.

All in all, despite the frustrations I had earlier in the week, I feel pretty good about how it ended.  Even the tiniest dent in my gaming backlog’s a good thing, and I’ve really been enjoying my recent reading level.  Hopefully next week will continue the up and to the right trend.

Tiny bits, late June edition

My lower back’s been killing me since last Thursday, and I exacerbated it by sitting in front of my computer for several hours last night playing through most of the original Creeper World again.  I woke up this morning with a realization that I had better move very, very carefully today, or I will be laid up for days.

I’ve been on hold with the USPS for an hour now.  They destroyed a package sent from Germany and are supposedly sending me paperwork to file a claim for insurance… but it’s been two weeks and they haven’t yet.  Their website is horribly broken, too.  Putting in my claim number causes it to have a server error.  Confidence level of me actually getting my insurance claim: near zero.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a great book, but I can only read it a chapter or so at a time.  What was meant to read as a dark parable at the time of publication comes off much more dire in today’s political clime.  I haven’t even touched the second season of the show on Hulu, partly because I want it to finish airing, partly because I’m not sure I can handle it right now.

I’m on my second day of a fast.  I had two Atkins shakes this morning (along with a multivitamin and an Advil), and I don’t plan on having calories again until Thursday.  I’m not happy with how much my appetite has grown over the last couple of months, and fasting is the best way I know to reset that… but while it’s happening I find myself occasionally thinking longingly of the taste of paper towels.

Reading back over this, it sure seems like a big bucket of negativity, but that’s just a consequence of the moment.  A positive: I placed another order for Japanese puzzle books yesterday, and it’s coming in tomorrow, because Japan has their stuff seriously together when it comes to international shipping.  I even got a dot-to-dot magazine, because apparently those are okay for adults to do now, and I’ve always secretly loved them.  My lines aren’t very straight, but there’s something deeply satisfying about connecting things in numerical order.  A tiny ordering of the universe, a pushing back of entropy.  And you get a pretty picture as a side bonus.

Weekly status update [0019/????]

A pretty quiet week, overall.

  • Still very light on the TV (I watched maybe two episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and no puzzles at all.
  • Video games, though, I played a lot.  I spent an entire day playing Let It Die, and played a lot of it in the gaps throughout the week too.  I also made a lot of progress in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood; I’ve set aside Horizon: Zero Dawn for the moment.  I made some more progress in Shining in the Darkness as well, but didn’t play it a whole lot.
  • I also read quite a bit.  I tore through Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the first time; I feel that writing up an article on it is a little too much whistling past the graveyard, given his recent passing, but it’s an excellent autobiography and excoriation of the restaurant business.  I never really watched any of Bourdain’s shows, but having read the book I’m actually more interested in them now.
  • We had an extended game night Tuesday.  It gave me something of an epiphany.
  • I was more social than I usually am; along with the board games on Tuesday, I went to A Thing Saturday night, had a friend hang out most of the day Sunday, and had dinner with an old coworker just a few hours ago this Friday evening.  It was nice seeing everyone.
  • I spent a lot of time working on my music collection.  I’m still way, way behind on having it all nice and tidy, but every little bit counts.
  • Down a size on my pants: keto, woo!

Yeah; nothing terribly exciting, that’s for sure.  But I’m still very content with the slow rhythms of my retirement nineteen weeks in.  This bodes very well for the future.

Cardboard pushing down on me

Tonight was an extended game night, the first we’ve had in a while.  We played The Princes of Florence, one of my favorite games of all time.  And I was so stressed out the entire game that I’m a little surprised I didn’t have an actual panic attack.

I consider Android: Netrunner to be one of the finest game designs I’ve ever experienced.  I also just flat-out can’t play the game with any seriousness; the act of play stresses me out so much that I feel completely exhausted, wrung out, useless after even a single match with someone.  I enjoy teaching the game, but playing competitively?  I just can’t do it.

What do these two games have in common?

They’re both driven by knife’s edge decisions.  Winning or losing often hinges on bidding just once more–or not–in Princes, on making that daredevil run against an unknown server–or not–in ANR.  And they both have many of these kinds of decisions over the course of a single game.  Any one of them could secretly be the one that costs you the game, and both games make you painfully aware of this fact; it tends to be in the final accounting in Princes, but you often just flat-out lose ANR if you make the wrong choice.

This sort of super-tight decision-making process does not go well with my demeanor.  Anyone who has played more than a couple of board games with me learns two things pretty quickly:

  • I’m delighted to teach you a game and help you in your first couple of plays, and
  • I am really, really competitive once you know how to play.

I manage to hide a third thing most of the time in my adulthood, but sometimes it becomes obvious too:

  • I’m a sore loser.

This is a holdover from a childhood spent for the most part as the only kid in the family, a childhood where people made the crucial mistake of letting me win games that I shouldn’t have won just to keep me happy.  I have worked hard over the years to get over this particular problem, and I’d say I’m about 60% there at best.

It doesn’t help the situation that I’m pretty damn good at most board games, even when I’ve never played them before, and so have a high winning percentage; that just makes the voice in the back of my mind think that I deserve to win more, and makes it petulant when I don’t.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if part of why I love teaching games so much is that it is an inherently imbalanced situation: I’m more familiar with the game than the people I’m teaching, by definition, and so am all the more likely to win.  Ugh.  (Fortunately, I also enjoy teaching other things that aren’t about winning or losing, and love learning from people who know more than me, so I think I’m only somewhat horrible here, not completely so.  Still: ugh.)

So: tonight’s game of The Princes of Florence was with four other players.  Two were new to the game and two had played before.  One of the returning players got into a very good position by the second turn (of seven) in the game, and I didn’t like how the future looked from that point on until the absolute last moment of the game.  I was actually rocking on the bench where I sat the entire, a giant ball of stress-wires firing constantly in my head.  Said returning player commented that he had never seen me so freaked out at a game.  (It’s true; he and I never played competitive Android: Netrunner, or he would have seen it before.)

I ended up winning by a small handful of points, so the little voice in the back of my head says, hey, all that stress was worth it.  You won, right?  But that’s definitely wrong.  Like I told another of the players–one of the two who had never seen the game before, but who came in a strong third–I probably play at somewhere around 90% of my hypothetical “peak skill level” when I’m not stressed out and hyper-focused on the game, rather than the 99-100% when I am.   But the experience is at least ten times more enjoyable for me when I’m not buzzing in semi-terror at every move of the game.  Is performing 10% better at the cost of feeling like I need to take a two-hour cold shower afterwards worth it?  If lives were on the line, perhaps.  For an evening out with friends?  Absolutely not.

A game I love and play a lot is Dominion.  It has a large strategic depth as well, but also a lot of randomness, brought on by the shuffle of the cards.  I stopped playing Dominion at that 99% level ages ago, because the luck of the draw had a much larger effect on my wins and losses than that 10% improvement.  And because of that I can play Dominion back to back for hours, winning and losing and having a great time the whole way through.

I need to be able to play like that with every game.  And maybe, hopefully, spelling it out like this will help; the first step is admitting you have a problem, after all.

As it is, if I don’t play Princes again for another six months or so, I’m fine.  I’ve had enough of its knife’s edge for now… at least until I figure out how to blunt that blade.