The Gassy Gnoll: Zen Gaming (Gaming Unplugged 2014)

What is gaming to you? How do you define that experience for yourself? How do you define it for others? Is it possible to share your experience? Or is it only possible to share in *THE* experience?

These are all questions that have come to mind after watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas Day, then playing a few games later in the evening with friends and family. The whole idea of “living in the moment” isn’t a new one, but I thought Mitty presented it to a broad audience very well. It certainly made me think a bit.

As gamers, I think we thrive on many different aspects of our hobby. Even so, whether playing a card game, a board game, a role-playing game, or whatever kind of game we can imagine, I think most of it boils down to being lost in the moment. It may be lost in the pursuit of a quest; the eruption of laughter among friends; an epiphany of a personal-, character-defining, or story-driven nature; or who knows what else. Each moment is unique. Being enveloped in one is also unique. A combination of events that may never happen again but that most of us strive to reproduce in some way for the rest of our lives.

liftarn_Plug_and_outletMindfulness is one of the keys to Zen Buddhism (all of Buddhism really) and something I think we all seek to find from that first moment we realize how much playing games can not only be fun, but worthwhile. In sports and other disciplines, sometimes this is known as “Flow” – an energized focus and full involvement in the activity before us. Being in the “zone” is something we all know when we achieve it yet sometimes struggle to reproduce. All these concepts can apply to gaming as much as any other endeavor.

In an age when we live in bubbles of connectivity with our devices, virtual networks, and a never-ending barrage of information, I’ve seen it become very difficult to focus at the game table at times. Whether it’s a phone or a tablet, texting, Facebook, Twitter, or the endless wasteland of the Internet, sometimes it’s hard to step away and focus on what’s right in front of us.

This coming year, I’m hopeful to not only “unplug” more often in my own life (perhaps a couple of hours a day at least), but entertain the notion of “unplugging” at the game table unless there’s some dire need for me to keep an eye on something (in which case I should probably not be AT gaming). So I’m going to be either turning off my phone at the table or finding some app to help me “disconnect” from the world and focus on the game for a few hours.

There will be some challenges to this approach.

Gaming Unplugged 2014First of all, after years of being “always on” I suspect I’ll feel more than a little discomfort at not being able to be reached by my family at a moment’s notice. Hopefully I can get past that. And letting my wife and daughters know that I’m doing this so they don’t freak out if they try to get a hold of me will be part of the solution. Being unreachable for 4 or 5 hours shouldn’t be an insurmountable problem.

Second, I will need to focus on the game at hand even if I find myself sometimes tuning out. I know from experience I will likely seek other ways to distract myself, whether I’m writing notes to myself or doodling. Perhaps doodling can become a part of keeping that restless portion in check without going too crazy.

Lastly, I may be the only person at the table disconnecting in this way. Seeing other folks checking cell phones, texting wives, reading e-mails, etc. will probably make me “itch” to do the same. I’ll have to develop some self-control to avoid scratching – perhaps through the art of doodling.

It’s not lost on me that this “always connected” fascination is a new problem. Once upon a time, there were only land lines. Then came the advent of the Internet and the flood of e-mail and the web. Then came the “Internet in your pocket” that is today’s cell phones. We are bombarded by information 24×7 unless we find ways to turn it off.

Life is short. Unplug and enjoy it. Especially when you’re at the game table.

Will you join me in an effort to try “Unplugged Gaming” in 2014? Leave your name in the comments below and let’s give it a shot together!

Gassy out.

The Gassy Gnoll Sign

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