Friday, December 30, 2011

Play It Again

When I was a kid, going to a video game arcade was a big deal. I mean a big deal. Everyone ends up catching (and missing) the peak of various fads, trends, cultural icons, etc. through their formative years. I think it's fair to say that the peak of the video game arcade fell right smack dab in the middle of mine. Heck, right about the time I hit double digits in age a movie was made about a boy being chosen to help fight an interstellar war based on his prowess at one of the stand-up games like those in arcades across the country.

When I'd go to an arcade, typically with my father, my recollection is that I'd typically get one roll of tokens. Like a roll of quarters, there would be 40 tokens in the roll. For the unfamiliar, they would look something like this...

Photo by Benimoto/Benny Mazur

So I'd have a roll of those tokens and there would be dozens of different games in the arcade which I could choose to play. And, at least as I recall it, choosing how to use each one was very important to me. I didn't want to waste a token because that meant I'd be a little bit closer to being done playing at the arcade for that day. Though each was only nominally worth a quarter, they had an outsized value in my young mind.

But time marches on and everyone grows up. The closest I've been to a video game arcade in years is probably a kids' birthday party at a multiple-entertainment place with mini golf and mini race cars. And when was the last time that I parceled something out with quite as much care and consideration as I did those tokens in a roll when I was a child.

I was thinking about this recently, and it struck me that forty is an especially meaningful number right now. Yes, it's close to my age. It's also, if you ask an actuary, very close to the average number of future years someone my age is likely to live.

And I asked myself -- am I valuing each of those years the same way I would value each of those tokens back then? That's a hard question to answer, of course. "Spending" a token is a very discrete act, you either do or you don't and it happens all at once. "Spending" a year happens a week, a day, an hour at a time. (And, yes, I confess... I'm breaking out into "Seasons of Love" in my mind now...)

What can be transferred and compared is the mindfulness of choices being made. Time is a finite quality for each of us and there's an opportunity cost to how we use any of it. Half an hour spent playing Angry Bird" is a half hour spent not writing, not watching a great movie, not getting to bed early so you're ready to get up and face the next day. Now of course that doesn't mean that I'm going to stop playing Angry Birds. There's time for play in all of our lives. (And, for me at least, I find that particular game mentally stimulating. Pardon me while I try to kill this one last pig...)

Where was I? Oh, yes, there's time for play in all of our lives just like there's time for work, time to spend with family and loved ones, time to spend on our creative pursuits, etc. The trick, as I seem to end up always coming back to, no matter what I'm talking about, is balance. Making sure that you're not overdoing one thing and neglecting other things. That's the mindfulness I talked about above at work. (And, let it be said, don't spend so much time in analyzing and scheduling that you've used too much energy on it and/or sapped any sense of spontaneity out of your life. Be... you know... balanced in your approach.)

When the last days of 2012 roll around, I hope that I'm feeling like it's been a year well spent and that I'm left thinking "Hey, that one was cool. Let's play that one again!"


  1. I'm feeling sentimental here, thinking back over the year, wondering if there's anything I could have done differently to "spend" time more wisely.
    Thinking on this makes me realize that balance for 2012 is possible...I hope :-)

    Here's to hoping your New Year is even more productive than you could ever dream.

  2. It's that time of year, isn't it, Angela? And, yes, I think that balance is always possible and change is always possible. I hope that 2012 is phenomenal for you, as well!

  3. I hope you are thinking that too. It's a great way to look at the passing years, which seem to get greater and greater. Have a great New Year!

  4. Aw, great sentiment. I miss the old arcades. My husband worked in one when we first got together. I would play pinball for free for hours while he worked. I don't regret it one bit.

    Happy New Year! :)

  5. Thanks, Miranda and Christine! Happy New Year wishes to both of you!

  6. Hi Michael, Nicel said. I think that finding balance is quite often a daunting task. Life is so busy, and the older we get (I have a good decade on you) there is almost a sense of urgency nipping at our much to little time. But I agree that it is so important to establish balance. It is humbling how it can throw things out of whack when you allow an imbalance to become static in your world. Great post. Happy New Year :-)

  7. "..."nicely" said..." :-) Dang keyboard!

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Teresa. What you say about so little time... There are times I look around my bookshelves and think to myself "You know, there's a good chance that I could stop buying books TODAY and still not get through all of these." But I still keep getting books. And these are here when and if I want them... :)

  9. Wow, this really hits home for me right now. Even though 2011 was a good year for me, I didn't spend it doing what I felt like I should be doing to get myself closer to my dream of publishing a novel. Lots to think about here as I plan for 2012.