March 20, 2014

FISCHER | Twos, 1024s, Motivation and You

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Lately, I have spent a great deal of time playing the internet puzzle game “2048.” In fact, I just spent around 45 minutes playing the game before writing this column, and probably would have continued playing had I not abruptly closed the tab on my internet browser so I could focus on writing this column.

For those of you who haven’t played this life-sucking game yet — well, first thing, don’t — it has a fairly simple concept. I’m sure that even those of you who haven’t played it have seen it being played by distracted classmates in large lecture halls. Essentially, the object of the game is to combine blocks with a base of two in order to reach the number 2048. Basically, a two combines with another two to make a four. Then that four combines with another two and two to make a four. And so on, and so on, until you reach that halcyon milestone of 1024. And then you have to make another 1024 and combine it to make the near-unattainable 2048. Does that simple to you? It did to me too, but it has actually taken me quite a bit of time.

After sinking a good amount of time, during which I should have been doing other things (writing this column, socializing with human beings, accounting homework, to name a few), I still haven’t been able to reach the goal of 2048. Around the second hour of sliding numbered blocks around a four by four grid, I stopped feeling any semblance of pleasure from the repetitive activity. However, I have been unable to cease my attempts to achieve 2048.

Wednesday afternoon, I talked to a few of my friends who were embroiled in similar battles against 2048 about why they were still playing the game. It seemed that a common thread between all of their thought processes was that they were not even interested in the action of playing the game, but rather that they desired to reach 2048 so they could simply stop playing. I feel the same way. I would really, really like to be able to beat this game so that I can have my life back.

The thoughtless, mind-numbing experience of moving block after block has given me a lot of time to wonder about where my motivation comes from when accomplishing various tasks. When I study for a prelim, am I studying because I want to learn the material or simply because I want a good grade? I like to believe that I’m at Cornell to learn, but sometimes I find myself doing things just for the grade — and 2048 reinforces a little bit of that.

In an effort to make this possibly over-stretched theme a little less depressing, instead of wondering about the things you are doing in life just so that you can say that you’ve completed them, challenge yourself to think of the things you do in life that you actually care about completing: the things that are worth more than just a certificate of completion.

For me, writing is one of them. Even as I wrote this column, I struggled with whether I was writing it just to get it done, or because it was something I cared about. Writing is hard. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to assign words to how I think or how I feel in a way that actually portrays it, so the act itself can feel like a 2048-like chore. However, unlike 2048, writing is something I do to express my opinions and order my thoughts, and that sort of experience is what makes it an act worth doing, rather than just an outcome.

Because of my experience with 2048 over the past few days, I encourage you, reader who could be playing 2048 right now, to find activities that you value for more than the end associated with it. One of my friends recently hit 4096 in 2048 (yes, it’s an option to continue playing after you hit the game’s eponymous number). He really enjoys the repetitive nature of the game for more than just succeeding once so more power to him. As for me, I’ll sporadically continue my quest to attain my ultimate goal of 2048. After that, I have some more writing to do.