Things I’ve Done: Tested the Bad-Mood/Bad-Score Theory (Planet Puzzle League)

Have you ever wanted to do your own scientific study about video games? No, right? Humor me anyway, because I just tried -- and failed, I think -- to conduct one of my own.

First, a few words on scientific studies about video games: Sometimes they state that video games can be bad for you. Actually, they state that often. Sometimes they don't state it convincingly enough. That was the case with the Council on Science and Public Health's report about video game addiction that failed this week to convince the American Medical Association to classify said addiction as an official mental disorder.

What about my study? I got the idea to conduct one about two weeks ago. Mine differs from the above-mentioned ones in that I am not a scientist and also that I did not attempt to discover if video games were bad for me. Rather, I decided to find out if I was bad for me.

Specifically: Does my mood affect how well I can play a video game? Does a bad day guarantee me a bad score, and vice versa?

This is something I never even considered until June 15, 2007, when I put the "Tetris"-esque "Planet Puzzle League" in my Nintendo DS. "Planet Puzzle League" has a Daily Play mode, which limits a player's access to the game to three two-minute matches a day (one timed match each of the Score Attack, Lift Attack and Garbage modes). I guess Nintendo believes in the strength of the daily-play structure, since it's the bedrock of the hugely successful "Brain Age" games. You don't have to play "PPL" that way, but I thought I'd give it a try. In fact, I decided that would be the only way I play the game. Six minutes a day. That's it. An easy habit to keep. What was that about video games being addictive?

The game constructs graphs that mark how well you perform in each daily mode. Initially -- and this was before I thought of the mood-based experiment -- I assumed that my score would rise steadily, because each day's session would improve my skills.
I expected to produce a trio of charts showing rising success.

Then disaster struck. On Sunday, June 17, my landlord decided that the wonderful apartment I had lived in for five years would no longer be mine to rent as of July 31. I was crushed. But I saw a small positive there. I could observe whether this bad news affected my play. Maybe my mood would affect my scores. Maybe "Planet Puzzle League"'s daily score charts could provide a Seismic reading of my mood swings.

On the day of the bad news, two of the three charts included with this post marked a decline. Those are the third dots on the charts. And the next day, when I was still miserable, I dropped on all three.

As much as I wanted to land a new apartment as soon as possible, I held out perverse hope that my search would be a rocky one, full of near-triumphs and defeats, all leading into the eventual euphoria of finding a place. If that happened -- and in the wild New York apartment renters' market, how could it not? -- then the charts of "Planet Puzzle League" would be full of interesting climbs and dives that prove my mood theory.

The problem is that I found an apartment just a few days later, last Wednesday. The next time I played -- represented by the seventh dot -- all the scores went up. Yes, I was happier that day, but surely I did not have enough data. Who ever heard of such a shallow experiment?

I kept playing: sometimes in the morning, sometimes at night; sometimes in public, sometimes at home. I never cheated and played more than my six minutes, but who can say which factors actually affected my score? Did my bad mood from yesterday's overbearing heat on the subway knock my score down on two of three charts? Or was the problem that I forgot my headphones and was playing my first session without audio cues?

So what really affects the quality my ability to get a good score? This morning offered another set of inconclusive dots and a brand-new factor. At one point during my subway ride today I gave up my seat to a little girl. I stood up from the bucket seat. She sat down. Then her mom handed her a pink DS to play. That made me laugh. Then I played Lift Attack. Look at the chart to the left see what happened.

Overall, how did my experiment go? As well as such a poorly-conceived joke of an experiment could go, I guess.

I do think, however, that all you "Planet Puzzle League" owners out there are capable of trying it yourself. Give it a shot. Ride an emotional rollercoaster, and see how you score.

Tested the Bad-Mood/Bad-Score Theory. That's a Thing I've Done.

(Recent Thing I've Also Done: Fighting While Gardening)