Why Humans (and Machines) Play Games

Seven Games book cover

Author Oliver Roeder in his book Seven Games uses those seven games (checkers, chess, go, backgammon, poker, Scrabble, and bridge) to explore both the human history of games in general as well as how the approach to creating artificial intelligence (AI) has changed as it has been applied to games. At first those developing AI tried to develop machines that think like humans do. But that direction was unfruitful due to the depth of the games. There was simply too much to these games to simply use brute force calculations. New approaches were attempted and the results were a completely different way to think about games, a machine way.

The book also highlights the best players of each of these games and how AI has affected them and game play in general. The author does an excellent job of showing the human side of playing games and their importance to human development. And he takes what could be a very dry topic (AI) and makes it extremely relatable. For anyone interested in games in general or the development of AI, I highly recommend this book.

Make Room for Fun!

The cover of the book The Power of Fun by author Catherine Price side by side with an author photo

I found the book The Power of Fun by Catherine Price eye-opening. It revealed to me the importance of making room for fun in my life as a well as the fact that I haven’t done that as much as I thought. The author defines True Fun as a combination of playfulness, connection, and flow. While any of these three is welcome and enjoyable, only when all three are present do we reap the rejuvenating benefits of True Fun.

The book is also a lighthearted manual for how to invite more True Fun into your life. And invite is the right work. You can’t “make” True Fun happen. In fact, if you try to force it, you drive it away. Kind of like happiness, it is the by product of other activities. She even cautions the reader not to make fun into work and tells the reader to be kind to yourself.

Once you learn about your fun factors and fun magnets, she uses the acronym SPARK to put into action what you learn about yourself.

  • Make Space
  • Pursue Passions
  • Attract Fun
  • Rebel
  • Keep at It

I’m not usually one who is eager to put into action the steps outlined in a book. I am more likely to catalog the information as something learned. But in this case, I am looking forward to my fun audit and keeping my fun times journal. I even expect it to be fun!

A Fun Series

The Murderbot diaries by Martha Wells is just flat out fun. It is about a cybernetic robot who gains consciousness and just wants to be let alone to watch his “stories”. But the universe and its humans have other ideas. Murderbot is snarky and despite avoiding humans comes to care about a few of them.

I’ve just started reading the sixth in the series, Fugitive Telemetry. Each book in the series is a short quick read. They are a combination of mystery and thriller. I thoroughly enjoy them and highly recommend them to others.

A Remedy for Loneliness

I continue to read The Power of Fun by Catherine Price. The book is about how to have fun more in our lives, showing how to do this. Before doing so, the author starts a little dark discussing in part how we all need to face our own mortality. Then she goes on to review the science behind how True Fun is actually a health benefit. One of the study results that she reviews is the devastating health consequences of loneliness. Some scientists compare the effects of loneliness to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day! And since True Fun is defined by the author as the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow, having more True Fun is an effective remedy for loneliness.

I’ve now finished the first part (Fun, Seriously) and am moving on to part two (How to Have Fun). I am looking forward to learning that. And since the book came out this year, I am hoping it will take into account the greater restrictions we have all felt to connecting brought on by the pandemic.

Meaning and Mortality

View of the Smoky Moutains in NC

I am noticing a recurring theme in the books I am reading and even some of the shows I stream. All of these explore very directly our human mortality. In other words, they all deal with the fact that we will all die. Not a cheery topic and one most of us spend a lot of time trying to avoid. But oddly, all of these authors have managed to turn this morbid focus into something that is actually uplifting.

In Four Thousand Weeks, Oliver Burkeman uses our mortality as a basis for time management. Instead of pretending like we can get everything done in our lives, we should use the finite nature of our existence to give ourselves permission to bring some sanity to our task lists. Since we only have about four thousand weeks in our lives, we should be much more discerning about how we spend them and what we do. And somehow this is very freeing. I no longer feel that I need to “do it all”. In fact, I know I can’t. So instead of trying, I focus on the things that are most meaningful to me.

I am currently reading The Power of Fun by Catherine Price. For a book about how to learn to have more fun, it starts off in a somewhat dark manner. She also points out that we are all going to die. And because of that fact, we all need to learn to prioritize adding to our lives some True Fun. The author defines True Fun as the confluence of playfulness, connection, and flow. Rather than spending all our time on serious pursuits and putting off fun until later, we need to mix it up and find a place for True Fun in our lives while we still can.

The third and final season of After Life came out on Netflix this month. The series stars Ricky Gervais (who also wrote it) as a man who is struggling to find a reason to live after losing his wife to cancer. Doesn’t sound very funny, though it is a comedy and quite funny. The main character feels like his life is meaningless without the love of his life and in season one he seeks to end it. By the end of season three (spoiler alert!), he decides to live despite the fact that life has no meaning. But he finds that uplifting as it means he is free to give his life any meaning he chooses.

So due to each of these exposures, I am finding myself happy to consider my own mortality and the fact that life has no inherent meaning. And I no longer find these thoughts morbid or depressing. Rather, I find them freeing. I get to choose my own meaning and what I will do with the precious little time I have, that we all have.

Snow (Reading) Day!

It is currently snowing, and we have a winter storm warning active where I live until early Monday morning. We are expected to get up to a foot of snow mixed with ice and rain. Yuck! But it reminds me of a snow day when I was going to school. It makes me want to curl up on the couch with some hot tea or cocoa and read a book. In fact, I think I’ll go do that now.

A Short Review

Cover of book Archenemies

I finished reading Archenemies, and I loved it! It reminded me of how I felt when I watched The Empire Strikes Back. The story was full of action and twists. I was at the edge of my seat in anticipation; I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. The end was a cliff hanger that left me wanting the next in the series right away. Fortunately, the next book has already been published so I don’t have to wait three year for the sequel like I did with Star Wars.


You Can’t Break It, So Play With It!

Kids play with tablet

I’m referring to your smartphone. Or your tablet. Or your laptop. Or that latest program or app you installed or updated. You can’t break it simply by using it. In fact, modern software is designed for you to learn by using it. And it is pretty easy to do. Don’t believe me? Give whatever you are struggling with to anyone between the ages of two and twelve. They won’t ask you how to use it or look for a help file or video. They will just dive in and start using it. And you can, too. You may feel like you can’t or that it is simply too difficult. And that may in fact be part of why you can’t. You’ve “psyched” yourself out and frozen your natural playfulness. Here is a story from my family to illustrate my point (sorry, Dad!).

My dad is an incredible mechanic. The smell of oil and gasoline surrounded him when he came home from work. Every time I get my car serviced is a trip down memory lane. The last place my dad worked before he retired, he completely rebuilt a service truck. I mean he stripped it down to the frame and rebuilt it, improving each system on it. It was an incredible achievement of engineering. This brilliant man tells me that he just can’t get the computer. I lovingly tease him that it isn’t an inability but rather a lack of desire. You see, my dad loves to tinker with and build stuff – in the physical world, anything he can put his hands on, figure out how it works, and then make it better. Because computer software is a black box that he can’t see into or wrap his hands around, he has convinced himself that he can’t learn it. But we can all find a way out of our struggle struggle to learn if we decide to bring a sense of play to the experience.

Children have this innate desire to play and have fun. When kids are most focused on something they are enjoying, adults often mistake this for “getting serious” about something. For the child, they are just immersed in their world of play. As a toddler, I bet my dad sat on the floor playing with Tinker Toys/Lincoln Logs/Legos. His work as a mechanic was just an extension of what for him was play. And that childlike sense of play is the approach we all need in learning how to use our electronic doodads.

Here are some tips for turning that phone in your pocket (or other gadget) into a source of fun instead of frustration.

  • Treat your technology like a toy or a puzzle. Find something about it that you enjoy and play with it. Feel free to ask your family or friends for help.
  • Be patient with yourself. Few of us are very good at something the first time we do it. It takes time to learn. So be kind to yourself.
  • Share your victories. When you figure something out or discover something new, share it with someone close to you. Play is for enjoying and sharing with others.

Let me know how implementing these ideas helps you by leaving a note in the comments. And have fun!