Mind, Management, and Minecraft

Inventing a solvable problem.

 So when I came back to Twitter after having taken a hiatus to try to break out of some unhelpful habit cycles and form new ones, I joked that I was turning to Twitter to manage my Minecraft addiction.

It was a joke that had some truth in it: while I was on hiatus, I started playing Minecraft on a private shared server with my partner Jack. Managing a little workshop and then a sprawling estate and then a fairly large territory was an interesting diversion while I was going through seasonal holiday depression, but the siren song of a world that is perfectly mutable and perfectly manageable and all my goals are achievable through planning and repetition did lead to some time-consuming hyperfocus.

I didn't want to give up Minecraft, both because I enjoyed the shared activity and the world we were building and because I could identify ways in which it was a healthy outlet. There's something meditative about the way I mine in Minecraft, which is methodical and repetitive but requires keeping count and reacting to sudden unexpected lava flows. And the accomplishments may mean nothing in the real world, but they still feel nice. It's also a form of creative play I can engage in when the words aren't coming.

So I started to think about the things that make Minecraft appealing, and a lot of it is the ability to set a goal and then achieve it. Where it becomes addictive for me (and this is true for many video games) is that each goal unlocks something else.

Finding an ocean so I could bring back kelp samples for farming was an early goal. 

Once I had achieved that... well, got to plant some kelp. And then build a better kelp farm. And then build a vertical silo for more efficient growing. And then make it aesthetic. And then retrofit the silo to automate harvesting and processing. And then try to make the modifications aesthetic. And so on.

And kelp farming helped us achieve a measure of energy independence, which means less time mining and more possibilities for other projects.

So the key to keeping Minecraft manageable, for me, is to either decide what I'm logging in to do (a specific task) or block out a certain amount of time to do whatever strikes my fancy.

What I've discovered is that doing the former is a good way to help me get things done on this side of the screen, too. Not dangling some video game time in front of myself as a reward, but picking a task that I know I can complete in a reasonable amount of time and then doing it. 

Sure, the accomplishment doesn't translate to anything in real life, but it still lets me say, "There, I did something." It provides me with a clean little laboratory proof of the personal philosophy I try to live by, which is that problems are solvable and even intractable ones will yield when you break them down into smaller, less complicated problems and find the right angle to come at them from.

Minecraft might not work for everyone, for this purpose. Heck, the technique in general won't work for everyone. My main caveat for any advice, especially anything that falls under the heading of "self-help", is that it's all just tools in a toolkit (or trick arrows in a quiver, if you prefer) and you want to use the right tool for the right situation. Since we're all in different situations, we might well find there are great tools others swear by that we never personally find a use for.

And I really don't want to encourage the way of thinking that everything in your life has to have a utility beyond fun, creativity, or relaxation. We can argue that those things themselves have practical utility or even that they're necessity, but I think even that can risk spiraling into the kind of late capitalist dystopian thinking that makes people feel guilty for having hobbies they haven't monetized.

But whether it's Minecraft, or another game, or a real craft, or whatever... when everything feels like it's too big and there's nothing you can control and you're not getting anything done, I think it can be worthwhile to stop and find something you can do, even something "pointless" or imaginary, and just do it. When a Smash battle. Do a song on a rhythm game. Write a limerick. Sketch a dungeon map. Create and solve an engineering problem. Write a filk song or parody. 

Clear off enough space in your mind and your life to do the thing that you like to do, that you're good at doing, that gives you a quiet feeling of centered satisfaction.

Then get on with your day.

Thank you for reading!