Catnip

“They don’t have movies where you come from, do they?”
“We had something similar a few hundred years ago, but they lost their appeal when people discovered their real lives were more interesting.”
“Still, it’s nice to take a break from your life now and then, don’t you think?”
Crewman Cutler and Dr. Phlox in “Enterprise”

I had five days of vacation last week, from the first of May (Wednesday) to yesterday (Sunday). Originally, I wanted to work on one of my main creative projects, a task manager that really deserves this name. I started collecting ideas a while ago and it turned out to be … a very interesting project. Some things are already realized by other programs, e.g., Google Now, but I still think it has some pretty useful features no other task manager has — and full privacy control — once I realize it. And I really ache to work on that one, although I am not a programmer. There are other creative projects that are central projects at the moment (including two non-fiction books), but the task manager really is the core project I focus on.

But not enough. Last week was also the time when I noticed that “XCOM – Enemy Unknown” was released for the Mac (it was released the week before). There are a couple of things that are like catnip for me — and some computer games, like “Elite”, “Neverwinter Nights”, and “XCOM” (or rather it’s predecessor) are definitely in that category. Here is a short impression, although it only shows the general mood, while the actual play is very much planning, thinking, and crossing your fingers that an 80% shot hits because otherwise one of your operatives is history:

I spend Wednesday in a spa (luckily, I had a booking for a message, which was really, really relaxing, so I was ‘forced’ to go), but the rest of the time? Except for a couple of hours sleep, I spend it playing XCOM. Up to 24+ hours without sleep at one time, and I have absolutely no idea where Friday or Saturday did go …

team
The team I “created” during the game … turned out to be pretty impressive.

And yes, it was really nice to escape life for a few days (and I am currently in the situation that I can do this without offending a partner). Having the time to play a game in-depth twice, from start to finish. But despite the escapism, it was also a huge ‘waste’ of time.

I guess the only advantage here is that I can see pretty clearly how much time I have ‘invested’ in playing games — it’s not something I did every day for one or two hours, not seeing how it adds up (unless you use a program like “Rescue Time” which tracks how you spend your time one your computer; make sure you check whether you agree to sending them your data if you want to try it out). It’s often hard to see just how much time you waste each day (but there is this great table from xkcd). But spending four to five days ‘en bloc’ — yup, it was sobering on Sunday when I noticed that the free time was up, work was again on Monday, and I didn’t do a thing I originally wanted to do.

So, yup, it was an inspirational experience, a good story to explore (unfortunately, the ending was a slight downer), a nice way to try some strategic and tactical thinking, have some … rather impressive in-game experiences (seriously, one of my operatives has balls of steel) … but I’m glad that my taste is satisfied for now. I hope.

And I guess that’s what I want to say with this posting (still adjusting to reality) — there are some things that are just so attracting that you lose track of time, and it can be fun to do it for a while. But there are also things where “self-control” is really hard, where the craving is just overwhelming, and it’s best to stay away from it — which can mean ditching the TV, never buying a gaming console, and avoiding being in the situation where you are confronted by it (if I could only convince the Mac “App Store” app not to show me the games category).

And use the time to create something beyond fictional worlds instead.

Note: Updated on 7th of May, 2013 to include the trailer video.

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