I've always been a game player. When I was little it was pontoon on Sunday evenings with my grandparents, using a tin of old farthings as chips. Or Threes and Fives dominos with the set they had owned since the early twentieth century, made of ebony and ivory in the days when ivory was an acceptable material to use.
Our very first computer was won in a raffle at our church in Bristol. It was a now-unknow make, and came with just two game cartridges, and I was hooked immediately. We rapidly acquired a Sinclair Spectrum ZX in five amazing colours, where we made the acquaintance of Dizzy, that egg with boxing gloves because apparently they couldn't draw hands. Then various Amigas with their full-colour graphics and Lemmings.
The heyday was then, with Settlers, Civilisation, and Colonisation - the old man still plays Civ on an antique Amiga which continues by the grace of God and eBay to work. Playing those gave me the opportunity to be nasty - make treaties, build up my strength and then make a sneak attack, or send in a spy and steal technology or foment a rebellion. Things I would never do in real life because they are just plain wrong. Fun though, and playing against a computer opponent nobody is hurt.
Now of course there are scads of games, both online and offline, from simple solitaires to huge playing areas with zombies, pirates, aliens, and anything else you can think of. And I still, in my sixties, play. Just a kid at heart, you may say, but there's something more to it than that.
They say that reading fiction improves ones empathy. Playing games improves ones life skills as well. And for a writer it can perform the same function as taking a shower. Not in cleaning ones person, but have I ever mention shower inspiration to you? Writers will know what I mean. It's the moment when ones surface mind is occupied with something, leaving the subconscious to roam freely until like a pop-up toaster it produces an answer to ones problems with plot or character.
Games don't just give my mind the opportunity to freewheel though. There are lessons to be learned about life as well.
Sometimes you do everything right in the game. You plan the fall of the tiles (my particular weakness is those match three type games), you build up your stack of counters, and then wham. A freak sideways slide by one tile and the whole strategy unravels and you're left with Game Over and no lives left. And then at other times the tiles fall sweetly and the level that has kept you blocked for days just falls away in front of you with a record high score. In neither case have you actually done anything to deserve the result. It's just freaky luck.
I'm not going to belabour that point, but instead this: I'm not naturally a patient person. The worst thing in my life was when I was pregnant and had to wait a whole nine months to find out the sex of the babies (they didn't do that as routine in those days), who they looked like, and what their personalities were like. Honestly, it drove me nuts.
Playing games has begun to teach me to wait, in the knowledge that sooner or later it will come right. I don't say that it's easy, or that the process has anywhere near finished. There have been occasions when I've given up playing a particular game completely for several days at a time (looking at you, Gardenscapes) in frustration at not being able to get past a level which is supposed to be an easy one. But eventually I go back and have another try, and like I said above, the tiles just cascade away and I'm on a run again.
So in my writing life I just have to put up with the block, keep nibbling away at it in the knowledge that this too will end, there will be a flash of shower inspiration, or game inspiration, and I'll be off again, unshackled. Which is what I hope happens every November during NaNoWriMo. It hasn't failed me yet, though sometimes it's a bit of a slog at one point or another. And in life as in writing. Sometimes it's a slog and I doubt whether I will get through it, but sooner or later the tiles cascade down, the block is gone and I'm off again.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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