I pulled a boneheaded move on Saturday afternoon when I bought the online version of Scrabble from Yahoo for $19.95. (I enjoy playing Scrabble though for some unfathomable reason, my teenage daughter doesn't want to play as much as I do.) I played a few games, then, after coming back from dinner, started playing again. I didn't stop till 3:30AM, around five hours after I usually go to sleep.
Each time I told myself that the next game (each of which took around fifteen minutes) would definitely be the last one, but after each I just kept pressing the "Play" button like one of those chimps in a B.F.Skinner box pressing the lever for more cocaine.
Why is this type of thing so addictive? (I'll sidestep the more relevant question of why I have so little self-discipline.) They say that people are never happier than when they're totally absorbed in something. This is why people like movies, why they like books, and why some people even love their jobs. Those things are "escapist," meaning, they allow you to escape from your everyday problems.
This isn't quite the glorious, glamorous way I'd envisioned spending my fifties back when I was in my twenties, but I suppose, according to this theory, I'm just as happy. Well, at least when I'm playing Scrabble.
Sure enough, for all those bleary-eyed hours early Sunday morning spent staring at my computer screen, I didn't think once about my dwindling stock portfolio or my aging body or my missed opportunities in life; I just concentrated on coming up with the highest-scoring combinations of letters. (The time constraints built into the game didn't allow me the luxury of pondering my miserable life.)
This may have something to do with why falling in love is supposed to be such a wonderful experience. You're so totally enraptured by your object of desire that it makes you forget everything else. (Of course, the hangover there comes when you find that eventually you have another actual human being to deal with. No such hangover with a good movie or book. Or Scrabble.)
In any case, I woke up at around 7:30AM on Sunday morning, turned on the computer to check email and the morning's news, then had the bright idea to play just one game to see if the previous night had just been a dream, and sure enough....ended up going down for breakfast at around 11AM. I confessed all to my family, and was met with some well-deserved (and much-enjoyed-by-them) razzing.
It gave me a little more sympathy for the lost souls I've seen in Vegas sitting with glazed eyes in front of the slot machines, and for my son for playing his video games.
I can still pull rank on those who let themselves succumb to physically destructive addictions. Just not by very much.