Deep calming games

After receiving an alarming medical diagnosis mid-month in January*, I've been very actively using computer games to help manage my situation. This autoimmune disease manifests itself in scores of itchy bumps. The initial treatment is prednisone, the main side effects of which have been insomnia and mood alteration (primarily an increase in anxiety). Games have been enormously helpful in managing both, and in lowering my stress levels overall as I deal with this.

While many games can appear soothing in early stages, they are often designed to increase in intensity, which is counter to my goal of calming my system. Below are a few which I've found which do work, and which have interesting side benefits. There are three key patterns I leverage as I (and my meds) work to reduce inflammation.

 

1. Stillness as a Constant Option

The one absolutely vital quality of a deep calming game is that at any moment you can stop the game without penalty to take a deep breath, let your eyes focus on the other side of the room, or otherwise pause not only your hands but your mind. This can take the form of simply stopping doing anything—as in turn-based games where there is no ticking clock—or changing out of the game screen—as in games which pause and retain your exact position when you switch applications. Some games are mostly turn-based with brief sections that don't allow pausing; Another Case Solved is a good example of that non-ideal mix, but it is just calming enough to remain on my list.

 

2. Impulse Interference

It turns out when you're trying not to scratch, it's possible to divert the physical world pattern you shouldn't act on into a virtual pattern where relief is easily available. The game element you want here is a random or semi-random resource which appears and needs to be 'harvested' or otherwise responded to individually. Collecting the magic fountain energy in Sunken Secrets or the tax revenue in Townsmen are ideal examples. I found that my brain slipped pretty easily from "argh! itchy spot I want to scratch!" to "aha! another coin to collect!" and that, amazingly, the act of touching the resource on my iPad screen with my finger took away the urgency of a specific physical itch on my body. This trick was probably the key ingredient to my getting through the initial awful weeks while I waited for the corticosteroids to begin reducing my symptoms. It's highly likely I would have scarring if I hadn't been able to divert that scratching urge.

 

3. Sense of Positive Action

Maintaining an optimistic attitude during very gradual change is a challenge. When my body is less able and my mind is less focused that becomes even harder, especially in those grim grey hours of the night when prednisone wakes you all the way up after three hours sleep. Games offer a space where I can act toward both short- and long-term goals and feel less powerless. The difference with deep calming games is that this needs to take place within a low-conflict (or at least very low-consequences) mood. When managing anxiety and using mental imagery to reduce bodily inflammation are the goals, tough battles against powerful foes are definitely not my friends. Enter, therefore, games of constructive, peaceful acts which build upon each other. These can range from the very simple—growing my fish and expanding my pond in Zen Koi—to the more ongoing and epic—building my farm and improving things for my imaginary neighbors in Stardew Valley. The tough part here is finding a game with the expansiveness that makes it maximally calming and yet which doesn't require fighting off attackers. (I've got enough of that going on with my autoimmune system, thankyouverymuch.) I am a long-time fan of simulation games, particularly old Windows city-builders and economy-simulators like Pharaoh and Cleopatra, but there are very few around which don't involve (or allow you the option of turning off) combat as a major part of the game. Farming and house-building games are the dominant form now, but many of them are tainted by in-app purchase models which render the games less fun as you progress in an effort to make you spend money to make it easier again. That flaw is what led to my abandoning Gardenscapes and Homescapes, neither of which I can recommend anymore despite their fun aesthetic and sense of humor. For the moment, Stardew Valley, and to a lesser extent Townsmen, is best to fully engage my mind in creating and achieving goals.

*Thanks to corticosteroids this diagnosis is not life-threatening, but it is life-altering.

media I’ve enjoyed recently

Advertising and Selling

Morgan Spurlock: The greatest TED Talk ever sold (TEDtalks)

Full Price Beats Penny Saved for Selling Some Items (60-second Science)

Candidates Affect Viewer Reactions to Ads in Debates (60-second Science)

Creativity

Michael Pawlyn: Using nature's genius in architecture (TEDtalks)

Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion (TEDtalks)

100,000-Year-Old Art Studio Discovered (60-second Science)

Education

Bill Gates: How state budgets are breaking US schools (TEDtalks)

Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies (TEDtalks)

Science Grad Students Who Teach Write Better Proposals (60-second Science)

Doodles and Drawings Help Cement Concepts (60-second Science)

Food and Drink

Student Researchers Find Secret Tea Ingredients (60-second Science)

Molars Say Cooking Is Almost 2 Million Years Old (60-second Science)

High-Pressure Food Treatment Can Kill Microbes And Up Nutrients (60-second Science)

Health and Growth

Charity Tilleman-Dick: Singing after a double lung transplant (TEDtalks)

Molly Stevens: A new way to grow bone (TEDtalks)

Gamekeeper's Thumb Condition Outlives the Occupation (60-second Science)

Test Tells Viral and Bacterial Infections Apart (60-second Science)

Poultry Farms That Stop Antibiotics See Resistance Fall (60-second Science)

Endurance Exercise Has Stem Cells Make Bone Over Fat (60-second Science)

Carbon Nanotubes Impale Compulsive Cells (60-second Science)

Online Gamers Help Solve Protein Structure (60-second Science)

Health Data Could Spot Genocide Risk (60-second Science)

City Cyclists Suck In Soot (60-second Science)

Rapid PCR Could Bring Quick Diagnoses (60-second Science)

Pathogen Genomics Has Become Dirt Cheap (60-second Science)

Kid Scientists Show Medicines Can Be Mistaken For Candy (60-second Science)

Fever Increases Numbers of Immune Cells (60-second Science)

Nature and Sexuality

Christopher Ryan: Are we designed to be sexual omnivores? (TEDtalks)

Mole's Extra Finger Is Wrist Bone-us (60-second Science)

Full Moon May Signal Rise in Lion Attacks (60-second Science)

Send Ants to College (60-second Science)

Sea Lampreys Flee Death Smells (60-second Science)

Toxoplasma Infected Rats Love Their Enemies (60-second Science)

Modern Rivers Shaped By Trees (60-second Science)

Upright and Hairless Make Better Long-Distance Hunters (60-second Science)

Electrolyte Balancers Set Stage for Multicellularity (60-second Science)

Flesh-Tearing Piranhas Communicate with Sound (60-second Science)

Politics and Philosophy

Jody Williams: A realistic vision for world peace (TEDtalks)

Martin Jacques: Understanding the rise of China (TEDtalks)

El Nino Ups Conflict Odds (TEDtalks)

David Puttnam: What happens when the media's priority is profit? (TEDtalks)

Steven Pinker: Violence Is Lower Than Ever (60-second Science)

Technology and Physics

Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender (TEDtalks)

Leyla Acaroglu: Paper beats plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore (TEDtalks)

Dan Berkenstock: The world is one big dataset. Now, how to photograph it… (TEDtalks)

Medieval Armor: Was It Worth the Weight? (60-second Science)

Traffic Cameras Save Millions in Canceled Crashes (60-second Science)

Juno Mission Gets Goes for Launch (60-second Science)

Channeled Chips Can Spot Substances (60-second Science)

Smartphone System Saves Gas (60-second Science)

Sound Sends Electron to Specific Location (60-second Science)

Moon Not Made of Cheese, Physicist Explains (60-second Science)

A link, via Clay Shirky, serves as a reminder to me to explore poetry more often

 

Reading an Anthology of Chinese Poems of the Sung Dynasty, I Pause To Admire the Length and Clarity of Their Titles

by Billy Collins

It seems these poets have nothing
up their ample sleeves
they turn over so many cards so early,
telling us before the first line
whether it is wet or dry,
night or day, the season the man is standing in,
even how much he has had to drink.

Maybe it is autumn and he is looking at a sparrow.
Maybe it is snowing on a town with a beautiful name.

"Viewing Peonies at the Temple of Good Fortune
on a Cloudy Afternoon" is one of Sun Tung Po's.
"Dipping Water from the River and Simmering Tea"
is another one, or just
"On a Boat, Awake at Night."

And Lu Yu takes the simple rice cake with
"In a Boat on a Summer Evening
I Heard the Cry of a Waterbird.
It Was Very Sad and Seemed To Be Saying
My Woman Is Cruel—Moved, I Wrote This Poem."

There is no iron turnstile to push against here
as with headings like "Vortex on a String,"
"The Horn of Neurosis," or whatever.
No confusingly inscribed welcome mat to puzzle over.

Instead, "I Walk Out on a Summer Morning
to the Sound of Birds and a Waterfall"
is a beaded curtain brushing over my shoulders.

And "Ten Days of Spring Rain Have Kept Me Indoors"
is a servant who shows me into the room
where a poet with a thin beard
is sitting on a mat with a jug of wine
whispering something about clouds and cold wind,
about sickness and the loss of friends.

How easy he has made it for me to enter here,
to sit down in a corner,
cross my legs like his, and listen.

Source: Poetry (June 1999). [Via Poetryfoundation.org]

Cool poem

Throwdown
by Jena Strong

give me the drag queens, dolled up and delicious
the two moms bickering over the dishes
the orphans, adopted, the chosen, the trannies
the witches, the protestors, tattooed laughing grannies
the boys wearing tutus and all the shirtless
daughters of the revolution playing basketball
on the broken courts of lost fathers
the failures, the forgotten, the throwdown, the freak show
the hurts and the heartbreaks, the hassles and headaches
the beggar, the baron, the shelter, the clambake
trade in the cynical, the stubborn, the splintering showdown
because it's time to unite now, yes it's time to ignite now
it's time to pick up the phone to say, It's me and I love you

This appeared in the Goodreads newsletter as the winner of their May poetry contest. It's tidbits like this that keep me subscribed.

Looks like there are a couple of her books of poetry on Amazon, but at least one of them is available through her site (linked above) and she probably gets better compensation if you order through there.

Media I’ve enjoyed recently

History and Biography

I have not yet begun to rot (The Memory Palace)

The Sisters Fox (The Memory Palace)

Babysitting (The Memory Palace)
One of my favorite storytelling pieces in recent memory.

OMG!!! JKP!!! (The Memory Palace)

Nee Weinberg (The Memory Palace)

Looking Up (The Memory Palace)

Distance (The Memory Palace)

 

Health

Anna Deavere Smith: Let Me Down Easy (SciAm Science Talk)

Paul Davies: Physics Could Help Fight Cancer (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Malaria Mosquitoes Follow Foot Smells (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Rain And Temperature Predict Cholera Risks (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Fat Substitutes May Make You Fatter (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Gamekeeper's Thumb Condition Outlives the Occupation  (SciAm 60-Second Science)

 

Gender

Tony Porter: A call to men (TEDTalks)

 

Psychology

Wisdom of Crowds Withers with Peeks (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Threats Drive Cultural Norms (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Debt Boosts Young People's Morale (SciAm 60-Second Science)

 

Biology

Snake Venom Viscosity Properties Help It Flow into Prey (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Most Interesting Discovered Species of 2010 Announced (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Multiple Mutations May Be Common (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Time to Stop Worrying about Invasive Species? (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Tiny Insect Makes Biggest Noise (SciAm 60-Second Science)

 

Technology

Single Laser Optical Approach Transmits 700 DVDs of Data per Second (SciAm 60-Second Science)

 

Sociology

Small Group of People Dominate Some Internet Discussions (SciAm 60-Second Science)

Media I’ve enjoyed recently

Technology:

(these words, forever) – The Memory Palace

The art of the eco-mindshift – Natalie Jeremijenko (2009) – TEDtalks

Single Device Captures Sun's Light and Heat – 60-Second Science

(high above lake michigan) – The Memory Palace

E-voting without fraud – David Bismark (2010) – TEDtalks

(the moon in the sun) – The Memory Palace

Eythor Bender demos human exoskeletons (2011) – TEDtalks

(a brief eulogy for a consumer electronics product)  – The Memory Palace

404, the story of a page not found – Renny Gleeson (2012) – TEDtalks

 

History & Politics:

(the messrs. craft) – The Memory Palace

Global power shifts – Joseph Nye (2010) – TEDtalks

(presidente walker) – The Memory Palace

(this ungainly fowl) – The Memory Palace

 

Health:

(you know you're sick) – The Memory Palace

 

Music:

Thomas Dolby: Never Never Land – The Moth Podcast

 

Clothing:

Eccentric Style – Put This On

 

Biology & Food:

Tagging tuna in the deep ocean – Barbara Block (2010) – TEDtalks

Salamanders Provide Room and Board to Algae – 60-Second Science

The roots of plant intelligence – Stefano Mancuso (2010) – TEDtalks

Sustainable seafood? Let's get smart – Barton Seaver (2010) – TEDtalks

A vision for sustainable restaurants – Arthur Potts Dawson (2010) – TEDtalks

 

Business:

What nonprofits can learn from Coca-Cola – Melinda French Gates (2010) – TEDtalks

Making global labor fair – Auret van Heerden (2010) – TEDtalks

A feminine response to Iceland's financial crash – Halla Tomasdottir (2010) – TEDtalks

 

Education:

Teaching kids real math with computers – Conrad Wolfram (2010) – TEDtalks

Lawrence Krauss: Students Need to Learn Effective Failure – 60-Second Science