To reduce stress levels, just give up (gaming) #randomwednesday

I gave up on a computer game last year.  Just stopped playing.  I don’t know whether my fingers are losing their responsiveness now that I’m getting old, but I just could not get past the first boss fight.  And this was only about 5 minutes in to the game.  Fortunately, it was one I had borrowed so I could return it from whence it came and not worry about it any more.  If I’d stumped up cash for the damn thing, I might’ve tried a little harder.

Then I started playing Tomb Radier: Anniversary.  I’ve played the Tomb Raider games since the start, loved the thrill of exploration, the searching for secret areas, the wanton destruction of endangered species.  The series has had its high points – Tomb Raider itself, Tomb Raider 3 – and its low points – Tomb Raider 2 was too hard, the latest one too short on the PS2 – but I’ve stuck with it.  I’ve only missed out on playing one of the games, Angel of Darkness I think it was called, but I understand from reviews that I’ve not missed much.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary is a remake of the original game using the updated graphics of Tomb Raider: Legend.  Visually, it is a thing of beauty.  Puzzles that were simple “flick switches, run around and stomp pressure pads” became far more interesting.  And the environment?  Wow!  Gorgeous.  But they’d tweaked combat, introduced a bullet-time-esque special move that you could use to pull off a one-shot kill, and this is where my problems with the game started.  I could not, no matter what I tried, master this move.  Not an issue with the little beasties, the wolves and bears of the game, but when it came to the dinosaurs I started to find the combat a little tough even on the easiest difficulty.  I battled on, killed the dinos, progressed to the centaur mummy things with shields.

Back in the first few Tomb Raider games, before they started moving towards the unkillable monsters you just had to avoid, combat was simple:  Pump as many rounds of ammunition into the target as you could and it would die.  The bigger the bad, the more ammunition you needed.  You’d work your way through magnum, uze and shotgun rounds and end up running around whatever it was blasting away with your pistols – pistols that never, ever, needed reloading.  This bullet-time special move thing broke that.  I wouldn’t mind so much if it was a case of “pull off the special move and you’ll finish the combat much quicker”, but it wasn’t.  This move became required.  Somehow I managed to pull it off twice without dying and moved on to the aliens.  Then it was needed again and I’d lost my mojo.  Died many times in succession, got cross, nearly wrecked a controller.  And then I had a flashback to the previous year and just gave up.  I felt so much better.  I shelved the game, moved on to something far more fun, and haven’t gone back to it since.

There’s talk of another Tomb Raider game at the moment.  I don’t know if I’ll bother or not.  You changed too much last time, guys.  And if the “old” gamers don’t buy a game, the young gamers won’t because they don’t have the cash.

The take-home message from this post is this:  It’s your cash. You spent it on the game to have fun, not to raise your blood pressure and aim for that heart-attack. You could always trade it in for Lego Harry Potter.

Welcome to Random Wednesdays

Right.  I hope you’re all paying attention today because I’m going to have a few words with you about discipline.  750 of them, in fact.

I’m trying to write a book.  Have been for a while now.  Occasionally – last November during National Novel Writing Month (http://www.nanowrimo.org), for example – I manage to sit down and blast through a few thousand words but then it just sits there.  I promise myself I shall spend time working on it and then stuff just seems to happen.  If I didn’t know better, I’d believe that the Little Grey Men from Michael Ende’s “Momo” were stealing all of my spare time and smoking it.  Maybe they are and I’ve just not noticed.

So the key to writing is, apparently, to just do it.  Make the time, sit down, and just get on with it.  And that’s why I’ve started using a website called 750words.com.  You sit down, you write 750 words (more if you like) and it keeps a track of when you’ve written.  Across the top of the page is a tracker showing you how many times you’ve managed the 750 in a month.  You score points for days, points for streaks of continuous days, and it nags you if you’ve not written in a day.  But in a nice way.  I don’t know what happens if you manage to write for a complete month, I’ve not been using it long enough.For writing, it’s a beautiful, uncluttered workspace.  It looks like this:

750words.com screenshot
Just a blank space with a cursor and a word-counter in the bottom corner.  Nice, plain, simple, very conducive to getting your ideas down on the page.When you’ve completed your words, it does some analysis and tells you a bit about your writing.  How was the language? What you were feeling, are you in an “Us and Them” mood, a mostly “Us” mood, a “very negative and thinking mostly about the past and yourself” mood?  And it tells you not only how long you took to do your writing but charts up your words-per-minute.  I’ve thought about cheating on this one, typing everything into Notepad first and then pasting it into 750words, but that defeats the purpose and I’d only be depriving myself of the statistics.

One thing that does come out of using the site is the realisation that (a) 750 words is actually quite a few and (b) some days are better than others, Section Leader.

And it tracks breaks and distractions.  If you spend more than 3 minutes not writing, then you’ve taken a break.  And it will tell you at the end.  So this makes it all the more important to those vital writing statistics that you don’t take a break and get it done quickly.
As a first-draft, rough ideas, tool it’s superb.  I don’t have to worry about not having the file with me, about finding a computer with yWriter (www.spacejock.com – just wait for next Monday’s Application-of-the-Week post) or about whether the portable version of yWriter will work.  It’s all there on-line, safely protected behind the security of my username and password.

There are, of course, alternatives.  You could do this yourself with a personal wiki, a notepad file or take the retro approach and use a genuine pen and paper!  Actually, if I’m not typing I *do* use fountain pen and a lovely hand-crafted leather notebook I bought up here on Shetland and I’ve usually got at least one Moleskine notebook about my person if I’m properly dressed.  Somehow the connection to the paper is so much better, so much more *personal*.  I can’t imagine writing character notes on screen, for instance.  It’s just not done.

If 750 words is a little too much, then there’s the twice-Twitter site 280daily.com.  As any Twitter user will know, you’ve got 140 characters to express yourself in.  280daily lets you double that but it’s a personal log, not a public timeline, and you only need to do it once a day.  It, too, nags you but you don’t get any of the nice statistics.

Using these sites is a matter of discipline.  A matter of setting aside the time to let the words flow freely and without interruption.  During this post I’ve had to field queries about Excel references, the fact that a SharePoint site has been moved and that the new colours are a little eye-watering, and that yes, Internet Explorer 9 has been released and no you can’t have it as it doesn’t work on XP.

So there you go.  750 words, give or take, about writing 750 words a day.  Definitely worth a try.

In case you’re interested, the 750words.com statistics for this post were:

  • Weather while writing: Partly cloudy, 9C (No, definitely dreach and a lot colder)
  • Rating: PG with some violence.  (I managed a PG-13 the other day.  I think that might’ve been down to the swearing)
  • Feeling mostly… Upset (hmm, not sure)
  • Concerned mostly about… Success (yeah, I can see where that might have come from)
  • Mindset while writing…  Introvert / Positive / Uncertain / Thinking (Okay, yep)
  • Time orientation: The Present
  • Primary sense: Sight
  • Us and them: You