Sunday, December 7, 2014

Lessons from 2048

I smeared some almond butter on a piece of apple,  and munched, alone in early morning quiet of my kitchen,  looking at my progress in the game 2048 on my phone screen.  As I studied the tiles, I realized that I might be in a position to get to 2048.  I could win!   Then, I could tell my colleague, with whom I had shared the game and who, of course, had already reached 2048.  Three times. 

I read about the game 2048 in Educational Leadership (“Uncovering the Math Curriculum” by Marilyn Burns, in “Instruction That Works”, October, 2014), the last place I ever thought I would find remarks about an addictive phone app.  Curious, I downloaded it. 

The article insert was right—the game captured my fancy from the outset.  Even better, I could always rationalize that this mathematical contest was good for my computational skills, and my mind!  The object of the game is  to double tiles, some with the number two on them, some with the number four, to arrive at 2048.  You play on a grid of four by four tiles.  Tiles numbered 2 and 4 appear as you play, randomly,  like Tetris, but co-ordinated to your moves.   Nothing is timed.  Gradually, you accumulate doubled tiles—4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, and finally, 2048.  At the same time, your score increases.  The article used the game 2048 to underline the pleasure of learning to do something on your own—to develop the strategy yourself, as you play.  It’s more fun, and more engaging, the author maintains, than if someone shows you how to play.

At breakfast that day, I did have the satisfaction of seeing the 2048 tile pop up.   I took a few minutes to savour the moment.  During that time, I realized that the game 2048 holds some life lessons.

1.        Have patience.  Yes, my pride took a hit when my colleague reached the goal before me.  In my defense, he’s a math whiz and I have never been intuitive in math.  Still, what difference does the speed with which each of us arrived at the goal have to do with anything?  Both of us succeeded. 

2.         Slow down.  There’s no rush.  I remember my dictum:  To speed up, you have to slow down.  I found that I was sliding the tiles quickly, not pausing to reflect on my move for more than a nanosecond.  What might be the consequences?  What impact might that move have on the next few?  Which of the possible moves might be the best one?  I forced myself to slow down, to take my time.  In music, slow practice is the key to good playing.  You have to be thoughtful as you learn a piece, and you can’t be thoughtful at high speed.

3.          Establish a solid base.  I realized I had to keep the large tile on the bottom, easily accessible.  For that, I needed a solid base.  I decided to keep the bottom row filled with tiles, so that it would never move.  Then, I would have some flexibility with the other three rows.  As Scott Adams, Dilbert cartoonist, mentioned in the book I referenced in my last post, a good diet, exercise, and a system provide a solid base for success.  One could add relationships, the ability to communicate, a positive outlook, among others.  Once I had a solid base, my success was assured.

4.           To establish a solid base, install a placeholder.  In 2048, one move to double tiles will double all the adjacent numbers in all rows in the same direction.  Sometimes, then, I might have a space or two open up in the bottom row. To keep that row from moving, I have to be conscious of moving a new tile into those spaces to anchor the row.  Those tiles serve as placeholders.  Any new tile will do.  Its value will reveal itself as the game progresses.  In my own life, especially when I have a lot on my plate, it’s easy to neglect the components of my solid base.   My success depends on paying attention to those details that keep my base strong, no matter the time constraints.

5.           Success comes from compounding elements.   I need to use all of the competencies I have as a set to reach my destination.

6.           The score is irrelevant until I reach 2048.  At first, I derived some satisfaction from reaching a new high score, a personal best.  The score, though, distracted me from my goal—reaching 2048.  In fact, the increasing score lulled me into a complacency, as if attaining 2048 wasn’t possible, so why keep trying?  I could just focus on the score.  To counter that, I stopped looking at the score. Now that I have reached 2048, the score matters, because I can drive it up.  I have already won the game, after all.

7.            Help is even more valuable when you’ve explored yourself first.  When my own strategy wasn’t having the desired results, I decided to Google some advice.  Because I had played a lot already, and had some strategy in place, I could use the tricks I found online more effectively.  I already had some constructs in place that allowed me to process the information.  The filing cabinet of my brain already had drawers into which I could place the information.

The 2048 experience, that originated in a professional magazine and culminated on a dark winter morning, has grown into a metaphor for life. 

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