Life lessons from a strange mobile game

Photo by Casey Gomez

Last week, I downloaded a mobile game called Ballz to my phone. I cannot remember exactly why. I think one of my friends recommended it, or perhaps I had seen it being played somewhere, or maybe I just wanted to see my iPhone scream, “Storage is Almost Full” just one more time. Regardless, I was immediately hooked.

The premise of Ballz is simple. There is no plot, no twists and no unnecessary elements (save for the pesky pop-ups that appear every so often.)

At the bottom of the screen is a ball. Towards the top are a set of boxes with numerical values. Drag the ball down and a trajectory path appears. Release and the ball springs into motion, with each contact with a box decreasing its value by one. After each release, the boxes move down slightly. Let the boxes hit the bottom and the game is over.

The first few rounds saw me play with strategic forethought reminiscent of a cocaine-fueled zebra. I moved about willy-nilly, quixotically chasing after risky opportunities while blithely ignoring impending dangers. My scores were poor.

But a friend of mine, perhaps taking pity on me, offered me some advice. Position the ball so that it might hit a row of blocks at once. Angle each shot in a way that might attack multiple clusters. Slowly, my scores increased. I am not the best Ballz player (can I call myself an athlete?) that I have ever met, but it would now be reasonable to describe me as competent.

What has the time I have devoted towards Ballz done for me? It has not built my relationships with others. It is not going to make the difference when it comes to graduate school admissions. It’s certainly not going on my resume. It has not made me a more popular or insightful or caring or, frankly, interesting person.

What it has done is provide enjoyment for enjoyment’s sake. And that is the real reason I am writing this editorial. Too often, I have seen friends and classmates give up pursuits they enjoy because they cannot gauge an immediate return.

Why should a prospective mechanical engineer learn tap dancing? How will playing pickup basketball open doors for an internship? But especially at a school like Tech where academics often seem all-consuming and even extracurriculars are chosen with a wary eye on what might pique the interest of an admissions committee, it is important that we all strive to take time to do things that we genuinely find enjoyable.

In fact, making enough mistakes in Ballz has shown me the danger of myopia. Look only at the nearest point of interest and you will inevitably miss the bigger picture. Maybe you will discover a valuable connection while swing dancing. Or maybe you’ll discover the topic for your next editorial while playing a meaningless game on your phone.

I am not saying that you should spend the rest of your Tech career searching for the most hedonistic path. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but all play and no work makes Jack unemployed. The point of college is to position yourself well for the next step, whatever that might be. Just don’t lose sight of enjoying yourself in that process.