On Problem Solving

I caught myself today acting a bit strange. [Ed: you finally noticed?]

Ok ok I mean stranger than usual. [Ed: how could you tell?]

Conversations with imaginary editors [Ed: oi] aside, I found myself sitting in my car, having returned from a busy day at work, playing a game I found yesterday called Really Bad Chess. It’s an interesting little game where, in order to level the playing field for people who kinda know enough to play chess but are – frankly – really bad at it, the playing pieces are mixed up. You still play by the same rules, but instead of having an AI that plays dumb – because a grandmaster-beating AI is easily available in your pocket these days – you get different proportions of pieces to make the game interesting.

It’s a fascinating game, and especially so for me, because I’m… pretty bad at chess. I tend to think far too reactively or tactically, or I recklessly lose patience and try to slam home an advantage that usually quickly evaporates.

So here I was, on my way home, a hundred little things to do, and instead I’m sitting in my car, trying to solve this particular iteration of the game. I’m solving this game dammit before I go home.

And that’s when it hit me: I spent the whole day solving problems at work, and then during my zone-out time on the train home, I chose to spend my time solving a problem – a virtual one, entirely of my own making and inconsequential as I chose to make it – because I’m addicted to the hit of solving an intellectual problem.

It’s not just this particular game – I’ve done it with games like Threes or Alto’s Oddessey recently. These are defined problem spaces where I can largely figure out the rules and get to the solution in a reasonable amount of time, and it fascinates me and holds my attention way longer than you’d expect.

I wonder if there’s more productive ways to spend my time than getting dopamine hits from solving games. Anyone else experience the same?

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