We all have our ways of coping with stress. For me, it’s inane puzzle games, and I just started a new one: Threes. It’s an iPhone game, but a friend’s friend also ported a browser clone. The game is elegant. You slide tiles around a 4×4 board and combine tiles by shoving them against walls. Combine 1 and 2, combine matching numbers to get bigger numbers. Every swipe spawns a new number and you go until you lock up the board.
Apparently it’s a cute game because the tiles have faces that smile and look at their friends and stuff, but I don’t have the iPhone version and I don’t really care. For me, it’s about understanding the game. It’s about “beating” the game.
And so I trained. It took me a moment to figure out how the game worked, then my naturally strategic brain went to work. I quickly learned to sequester bigger numbers in corners. I learned when to time massive reorganizations, how to play well when stuck with two degrees of freedom, how to take advantage of the spawn order.
However, the web clone had some details incorrectly implemented (it’s fixed now though), and it bugged me. In particular, its tile generator was random, and the potential short-term imbalance of 1s and 2s wreaked havoc in the long game. Naturally, my solution was to program my own clone, so in about 4 hours and 200 lines of python, I coded up a text interface version of Threes. The other option was getting an iPhone. Or, you know, to stop playing.
And so I trained some more. Soon, however, I was playing not because I wanted to improve my score but because I was stressed.
My mind likes to explore the closed logical spaces of puzzle games. There, my mind takes comfort in the certainty and rigidity of the rules, where it can roam freely and understand and command every little detail. In this space, it can bounce around and the only incoming challenges are predictable 1s, 2s, and 3s. Sometimes there are surprise big numbers and sometimes they can end the game, but it takes but a click to start afresh. Yes, my mind likes to hide there.
And so I train even more. Playing the game becomes a compulsion because I don’t want to think about the enormous anxiety I’m experiencing in real life. The stress, the uncertainty, and the apprehension have been building for months now, and I don’t like it. Instead, I just escape into the simple and inconsequential world of sliding numbers of Threes.
That being said, the game is totally addictive! It’s fun watching the tiles slide around and consume each other, and every end game is so anticlimactic that I have to try just one more time. Currently my high score is 32277; I’ve yet to create a 1536…
Well, I have created a 1536 by cheating… Coding your own games lets you break the game in funny ways, like only spawning 192s or making every combining legal. My current version is so janky though, and I should learn to code browser-friendly games. Then, I could creat a proper UI and call the game something like “Fusion.” By the way, the whole theme of Threes doesn’t even seem to make sense. 1s and 2s are functionally identical, and the scoring has to take the bigger numbers and divide by 3 first. The multiples of 3 don’t matter at all! But bleh, what do I know about game design?
Nevertheless, it’s time to force myself to move on. This it yet another addition to my big collection of stress games: Settlers of Catan, Set, Scramble with Friends, Freecell. Tetris I was a top player on Facebook during freshman year. Nurikabe I am the top player on Facebook. Of course, Rubik’s Cubes… Too bad I don’t stress run or stress write or stress do-something-productive instead!