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"Doing" Vs. "Having Done"

Johannes cum Grano Salis
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Finger Lakes
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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Microbadge: "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." -- Ralph Waldo EmersonMicrobadge: Swimming fanMicrobadge: Parent of Two Girls and One BoyMicrobadge: Innovation fanMicrobadge: "Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify." -- Henry David Thoreau
Believe it or not, it's very easy to misunderstand your own motivations for doing something. Incredibly easy, in fact. And one of the things that I did for a long time was confuse "doing" with "having done." I'll bet you've done it too.

Sometimes an activity is appealing and I think "oh, I'd like to do that," but what I'm really saying is "oh, it'd be nice to have done that already." Consider a method of creating case furniture that I was (briefly) obsessed with for a while. It required me getting a decent push-stroke saw (I typically work with Japanese saws that cut on the pull stroke). That saw is still sitting downstairs and I have never cut a single dado or dovetail with it other than the Godawful ones I cut the night the saw arrived. So in this case, when I learned of the method and decided to buy the saw, I misread my own desire. What I was saying was not "I'd like to learn how to do that and eventually be able to use it this way" but rather "it'd be pretty great if I already knew how to do that," and I bought the tool despite the fact that the purchase cannot possibly address the need I was having. With just a few seconds of pause to really hone in on the need, it's a purchase that could have been avoided. I wasn't interested in learning how to do it; I was drawn to a fantasy of already being able to do it.

It obviously makes no sense to buy something if it's to service an irrational need like that. But I was misunderstanding myself and instead expressing the irrational need (that could never be met, notice) as a purely rational one that seemed quite reasonable.

I did this with books all the time, and occasionally still do it. While I'd often tell myself "I'm looking forward to reading this book, so I'll buy it," what I was actually saying was "this topic seems fascinating; it'd be wonderful to already have the knowledge contained in this book." That is a very, very different thing than looking forward to enjoying the time spent actually reading the book, in teasing out connections, in enjoying the word choices the author made, in creating a coherent whole out of what's contained inside. So I now have a few books by H.L. Mencken sitting on my shelf, unread. Ditto a biography of Thomas Jefferson. There are others; I'll get to those Shakespeare plays eventually! I was looking forward, most of all, to having them read; the actual reading of the books was not something I ever made time for. Because I didn't want to read them at all; I wanted to have read them already.

That's a common misunderstanding in gaming, as well, particularly when you read someone's glowing endorsement of a series, or a designer, or a game family, or a system that's unfamiliar to you. It's incredibly easy to be inspired by their enthusiasm and say "I'd like to experience that; just look how rich their enjoyment is," but that enthusiasm often does not mean "I'd like to slowly gain the experience in this area, like BGG User X has," but rather "it'd be fantastic if I already had that experience." Again, related statements, but not synonymous.

Gaming for me completely opened up when I realized which games I actually wanted to gain experience in (i.e., which book I enjoyed myself the most during the ten hours I would spend reading it) and which games I was simply dreaming about having experience with (i.e., which book I would like to have already read). This might sound simple, but it was decidedly not simple for me to spot this. Like with many other things, "one-click shopping" and "buy it now" and "storing your account information for faster service" all make it less likely that you stop and pause and try and define what your need truly is; the faster the transaction is encouraged to happen, the fewer opportunities you have to self-audit.

The truth for me was that it was rarely possible to discover my Actual Need in the mindless 30 seconds it took to watch my shopping cart go from Finalize to Confirm to Purchase to Receipt. So I stopped trying. Understanding your real motivation takes longer. Several minutes, or several days even. It took a few text or email conversations with people in my gaming group to see if they were interested. It took a few days of thinking about what I'd have to play less in order to make room for this new purchase. It took a few days for me to finally accept that, no, I really do not have the time to study this new piece of music, or that I won't have time to read this book for a long, long time. It also took realizing that spending $24 to save $8 on shipping would get me laughed out of the room during an economic game, and rightly so.

The most important additions to my purchasing decisions have been time and distance. Calculus, basically. Easy Shopping is wonderful this time of year because you can have an "oh crap, forgot about Sally!" moment fairly late in the year and still get a gift shipped in time for Christmas, but Easy Shopping is dreadful on a hot, bored August evening (internet shopping out of boredom strikes me as being like grocery shopping while hungry; it never ends well). I stopped allowing internet merchants to save my credit card information, I stopped allowing my browser to save my password, and I have made all of my commerce-related passwords between 15 and 30 characters long; these are then stored in a notebook on a bookshelf. If I want to buy something, I don't have to just go to the site and click "Buy." I have to go to the site, go get my notebook, find my password, log in using long & arbitrary passwords, enter my item in the shopping cart, go get my credit card, enter that number, and click Buy.

I do trust myself more than this would imply. But smart purchasing (read: purchasing where I was matching my need with my realistic ability to meet that need) required me to have distance between my impulse and when I handed currency over to a merchant in exchange for what I wanted. Internet stores don't come built-in with that distance, so I needed to create it myself. Overall, it helps ensure that when I buy something, I'm interested in actually doing it, not just buying a prop to help me feel like I'd like to have done it already.
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