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Words With Friends: Another Stupid Game — Or An Obsession?

Words With Friends: Another Stupid Game — Or An Obsession?


    (Editor’s note: The following is an article written by Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D., author of the book iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us. Rosen is past Chair and Professor of Psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is a research psychologist and computer educator, and is recognized as an international expert in the “Psychology of Technology.” Over the past 25 years, Dr. Rosen and his colleagues have examined reactions to technology among more than 30,000 children, teens, college students, and adults in the United States and in 23 other countries. He has been quoted in numerous media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, CNN, and Good Morning America and writes a regular blog for Psychology Today. You can learn more about Rosen’s new book here.)

    The New York Times Magazine ran a fascinating cover story on April 4, 2012 written with wisdom, humor and insight by Sam Anderson. Anderson’s basic premise is that the concept of gaming has changed. For decades, a special class of teen or young adult gamer would use specialized systems, to play complex multi-player, multi-level games that might last from a few hours to many days or even weeks. Now, however, anyone can play a quick game — what Anderson terms a “stupid game” — any time of the day or night right there on their smartphone that rests somewhere next to their body 24/7. And this, Anderson argues, has changed the world of gaming to ” . . . not just hard-core gamers, but their mothers, their mailmen and their college professors. Consumers who never would have put a quarter into an arcade or even set eyes on an XBOX 360 were now carrying a sophisticated game console with them, all the time, in their pockets or their purses.”

    For decades I scrupulously avoided video games even when my four children delighted in playing them. I think that I once played Pong and perhaps Donkey Kong in a bar somewhere but that was under duress and the influence of a few beers. I have never played a video game that resides on a console although I have watched, fascinated, as young children seem to understand intuitively what actions to take to make the next level or win the game. Just last night I watched my friend’s 9-year-old son sit down at a game console in a restaurant as we were waiting to be seated and without even glancing at the instructions, he popped in two quarters and played.

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    I have, however, always enjoyed card games and board games, particularly those that required thought or cunning to win the game. I consider myself a pretty good Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit player and delighted in winning nearly every Monopoly game with my children (I used a unique strategy that I refuse to divulge as I plan to use it with my grandchildren!). My iPhones (I have owned four of them) have always come with a hefty game center in the App Store, which, as you might guess, I have avoided like the plague. Until someone pointed out Words With Friends!

    Arghhhh! I shall mark that day on my calendar as the day that my life — and my brain — changed. And I am pretty sure that it changed for the worse.

    As soon as I downloaded WWF I was hooked. Now I am playing a dozen games with multiple players (all of my opponents are personal friends, as I think it is a bit bizarre to play with people you don’t know, although it is a good way to meet new people). In his NYT article Sam Anderson relayed a similar situation with his wife: “My wife, who had never been a serious gamer, got one and became addicted, almost immediately, to a form of off-brand digital Scrabble called Words With Friends. Before long she was playing 6 or 10 games at a time, against people all over the world. Sometimes I would lose her in the middle of a conversation: her phone would go brinnng or pwomp or dernalernadern-dern, and she would look away from me, midsentence, to see if her opponent had set her up for a triple word score.”

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    That is so true! Anderson’s wife sounds like me, and like everyone else that I play with. I am beginning to see patterns in my WWF friends (I call them that even though two are colleagues, one is my partner, one is a student in my lab and two are other people that I know very well). At first I said that I was going to “just play at night” after watching Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper but before The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Pretty soon I found myself pausing the news and jumping in and making a few plays, and then returning to the news. Then, I think I said “to heck with it” and left the news on and played WWF with the news as background. Now, who cares about the news. Who cares about anything. WWF RULES!

    I confess that I am now addicted. But is it truly an addiction or is there more to it? I don’t feel like an addict. I am not shirking my responsibilities at home (I still cook every night although one night I had to grab a cooked chicken because I got into a vicious back-and-forth WWF game with someone — and I WON!) nor is my work suffering. I still teach, still write, but something is happening and I think that I know what it is. What I am feeling, I believe, is a compulsion. Somewhat like Jack Nicholson in “As Good As It Gets,” I feel as though if I don’t do a certain behavior — i.e., play WWF — I will meet with some dire consequence. I am not washing my hands constantly or locking and unlocking my doors, nor am I avoiding cracks when I walk in the neighborhood. But I feel anxiety much as Jack did when I spot my smartphone. And the anxiety is “I wonder if so-and-so played a word and I better check and play one, too.”

    As I sit and stare at my phone wondering about WWF, I am not feeling the discomfort that someone feels when he or she has a true psychological addiction. I am not even hoping that playing will bring me pleasure. What I am feeling is an intense NEED to play or rather to check in to see who has played. And when I do play I don’t feel that rush of dopamine, which feels like pleasure. What I feel is . . . nothing. But then my phone beckons to me and I slide to the last page of apps (I made myself put the WWF app on the last page to make it more difficult to get to. What a fool! It must take me all of a second to flick a few times and it literally pops out at me when I get to that page) and press my finger on the icon and, voila, my games appear!

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    So, what do I think is happening? I had some time to think about this the other day. I was at public radio studio, waiting to go on a noontime radio broadcast followed by a TV taping. Since I always arrive early I had lots of time and only my phone to keep me busy. I knew that I was going to talk about this on the air so I spent some time with my phone in front of me trying to analyze what might be going on in my brain. Wow! After just a few minutes of “thinking” I somehow found myself looking at a WWF screen of 12 ongoing games. How did I get there? Well, partially I think it was a habit and partially I think I was compelled to do so in a way that resided just below the surface of conscious activity. Sure sounds like a compulsion to me.

    How do I plan to break this compulsion? I have started giving myself “WWF Time” where I grant myself the option to play for 15 minutes and no more and then put my phone away, out of sight, and do something else for 45 minutes. I set a timer (on my phone, of course) and when it rings I play and when it rings again I stop. Not sure if it will work as I have only been doing this for a week but I am finding that the 45 minutes is going by pretty quickly now compared to the crawling seconds and minutes that appeared to barely move the first few times I waited for my WWF Time.

    Do you feel compelled by your technology? Do certain games or activities that you do on the phone beckon to you? This is one of the main points of my new book, iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology and Overcoming its Hold on Us, where I devote two chapters to obsessions and compulsions surrounding technology. Let me know what you think.

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    (Photo credit: The Sandwich Lady)

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    11 Brain Training Apps to Train Your Mind and Improve Memory

    11 Brain Training Apps to Train Your Mind and Improve Memory

    Whether at work or at school, people these days are under tremendous pressure to perform, perform and perform! Stress and pressure can have adverse affects on the well-being of a person, and need to be controlled.

    Now, this doesn’t mean you make a dash to your nearest therapist. There are a number of wonderful and smart apps that you can use on your phone. These brain training apps have been scientifically designed to target specific areas of the human mind and control harmful emotions such as anxiety, as well as to improve memory and sharpness of the brain.

    Here are 11 iPhone apps that you will not only enjoy but also find useful in keeping your mental health balanced at all times.

    1. Lumosity

    This app consists of games that focus on improving the user’s memory, problem-solving capability, attention span, and thinking. There are three games in each session, and they challenge the brain by changing every time. The user has to complete the games while playing against a clock.

    Free of trial. $15 per month for the full version.

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    Luminosity Mind training apps-Lifehack

      2. Fit Brains Trainer

      This brain training app has 10 sets of games that work on different areas of the brain and improve memory as well as concentration. A user is required to finish a particular task from each category on a daily basis and the app tracks the progress by a color coded graph.

      Free.

      Fit Brains Trainer Mind training apps-Lifehack

        3. CogniFit Brain Fitness

        Developed with the help of neuroscientists, this fun app improves a person’s cognitive abilities, which includes memory and concentration. The progress made by the user over a period of time can be tracked. Users can also play challenge rounds with their friends. The app also modifies the difficulty level to suit the profile of the user and provide recommendations based on the results. Spending 20–30 minutes a few times every week can give measurable improvement in the performance of a user.

        First four games free, then $13 a month.

        cognifit-Mind Training Apps-Lifehack

          4. Brain Fitness Pro

          The makers of this app claim that it can improve the IQ of a user, and improve intelligence and memory. The app is fun and is user friendly, and 30 minutes a day can fetch you results in less than three weeks.

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          Buy for $3.99.

          5. Happify

          If nothing else makes you happy in life, this app will. Well, this is what the developers claim at least. This app comes loaded with lots of quizzes, polls and gratitude journals, which work on the fundamentals of positive psychology. The app also helps to control stress and emotions to make you feel better.

          Free to use.

          Happify-Mind Training Apps-Lifehack

            6. Clockwork Brain

            You will like the little gold robot that comes in every time to explain the next game you are going to play. While the games are not much different to those offered in apps such as Luminosity, the look and feel reminds me of a workshop from old times.

            Free.

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            Clockwork Trsin-Mind Training Apps-Lifehack

              7. ReliefLink

              Initially created as an app for suicide prevention, it has found its use as a great app for tracking the mood of the user by taking measure of all things relevant to the user’s mental health. In case the user experiences high emotional stress, the app has a coping mechanism that includes voice-recorded mindfulness, exercises and music for relaxation. There is also a map that informs the user of the nearest therapist and medical facilities for mental health treatment.

              Relief Link - Mind Training Apps - Lifehack

                8. Eidetic

                Eidetic is a memory enhancement app and uses a ‘spaced repetition’ technique to help users memorize information such as important phone numbers, words, credit card details or passwords. It also notifies you when it’s time to take a test to see what you remember, so that you retain information in your long-term memory.

                Eidetic - Mind Training Apps - Lifehack

                  9. Braingle

                  Braingle helps to maintain the sharpness of the brain and improve the reasoning ability of a person through riddles and optical illusions. It is different from other brain training apps that employ memory and reaction based tests. You can also compete with your friends and family members in figuring out the fun riddles.

                  Free.

                  Briangle- Mind Training Apps-LIfehack

                    10. Not The Hole Story

                    If you have a penchant for solving hard riddles, then this app is a must-have for you. Filled with exclusive riddles along with a simple-to-use interface, the app gives you riddles that you have to solve through a book. You will be given hints along the way, and when you give up, the answers will be revealed. This app will encourage you to broaden your thinking and put your mind to a challenging test.

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                    Free.

                    Not the hole story - Mind Training Apps - Lifehack

                      11. Personal Zen

                      This fun brain training app follows the journey of two animated characters who travel through a field of grass. Personal Zen is a nice app meant for reducing anxiety and trains the brain to focus on the positive aspects. The developer’s advice is to use the app for 10 minutes a day to see the best results.

                      Free.

                      personal zen- mind training apps - lifehack

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                        Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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