>”To fall into a habit is to begin to cease to be.”
> — Miguel de Unamuno, _The Tragic Sense of Life_
An hour is generally best considered in retrospect: a motley but compact collection of forgettable tasks, fleeting sensory experiences, and unremarkable observations, with maybe one or two patches of brilliance shining through. Seconds, on the other hand, pass far too quickly to really contemplate. Pause and there are several more, gone forever. Months? Nanoseconds? Forget about it. Forget your resolutions for the new year, too.
Minutes are what we spend our lives filling. Try holding your breath for sixty seconds and the pounding of your heart will remind you what a minute truly is. I like to think of every one within reach as a crystalline reliquary waiting to receive some sort of precious matter: music notes and love letters and little handmade trinkets.
Yes, that’s a nice thought.
Rarely, however, do I treat time with the reverence it deserves. Too many of those sacred vessels are packed with dust instead of treasure, themselves gathering dust on the same psychic shelf where our dreams go to die. Meanwhile, out of a fog, a familiar pattern of glowing phosphor dots arranges itself before my eyes. I have just summoned up my zillionth game of Internet Reversi on the computer screen and another tiny part of me withers away.
With a sigh of resignation, I select where to place the first disc. Some people are addicted to methadone and others to buying shoes. I myself have long been susceptible to the mind-numbing charms of strategy and puzzle games like Tetris, Minesweeper, Jewelbox, and [Snood][snood] — games that require little thought but consume our beloved minutes with an astounding voracity. Just a few plays and their signature shapes dance behind your eyelids like those storied sugar plums as you’re drifting off to sleep.
For me, [QIX][qix] was the granddaddy of them all, an ultra-simplistic Atari game that required you to draw Etch-a-Sketch-style boxes around your whirling and weaving enemy. Flash forward to the ’90s and a preteen version of myself could be found playing arcade Tetris at the local rink, shifting back and forth on my roller skates as the blocks came tumbling down. Back then, I didn’t stop for the limbo, the hokey pokey, or even flashlight tag. Once I got my [Game Boy][gameboy], I wasn’t good for much else.
High school marked a lull in my game-playing history, but by college the habit was back in full force. Snood, for example, was the reason why I got barely any sleep during my freshman year. Simple study sessions were stretched out to entire evenings as I took numerous breaks on our dorm’s shared computer to launch goofy-looking gremlin heads at other goofy-looking gremlin heads, hoping to link three together and knock them off the screen. Apparently, many people can relate: googling ["Snood addiction"][googling] returns more than 7,000 hits.
[Reversi][reversi] has now become my drug of choice. The object of the game is to end up with the most discs of your color (either black or white, with each piece being double-sided) on a board composed of 64 squares. Game play begins with two discs of each color forming diagonals in the center, and moves are made by “outflanking” and flipping enemy pieces. It’s quite a popular game worldwide; playing the online version, I’ve gone head-to-head against people from Thailand, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, China, Korea, and Holland.
If it still doesn’t sound familiar, Reversi is also commonly known as Othello. Indeed, I can imagine a pint-sized [Iago][iago] sitting on my shoulder, whispering that one more game won’t kill anyone. He’s a crafty fellow, championing my sloth as a well-deserved spot of recreation, but one must remember that he once demonstrated the power to turn “virtue into pitch.” This notion resonates every time one of my opponents pounces on a weakness — my penchant for lining up pieces along the edges of the game board, for instance — and delivers a coup de grace via a simple wedge move.
At this point, I’m just good enough at Reversi to give a newbie a sound thrashing. I know that the corners are important, as well as the squares adjacent to them. But I still get beaten. A lot. The thing is, I don’t see myself getting any better at it, and I don’t really love it enough to do any extensive research on the strategies and tricks that people have developed over the years.
Mostly I just want to quit playing it. I want to reclaim my minutes (the average game of Reversi takes about four) and devote them to something more productive. Something I’ll remember months from now, in 2006 even. I’m certainly not going to close out of this word processing application and click on the game icon. I just have to remember to take it one minute at a time.
One Mississippi, two Mississippi…