PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Featured: Top of Home Page

Playing chess against a computer

I'm hesitant to write about this subject because I suspect I've written about it before, and I have no new insights into it, but perhaps that's appropriate -- indicative of the rut I feel I am in with playing chess against my computer. Every few months this happens: I begin playing chess as a way to procrastinate between various tasks I need to complete in front of my computer. But rather than take on a human opponent on Yahoo or something, I prefer to play the computer, which strikes me as more convenient, more suitable to the aim of taking a brief time out. The initial presumption is that my ego won't get invested since I am not really matching wits with anything. But then, naturally, because I am only half concentrating, the computer takes me apart in humiliating fashion, no matter how artificially dumb of a challenger I select (Chessmaster comes equipped with several hundred fake opponents who have names like Kricek and Lacey and who are designed to play poorly to give amateurs a chance to taste victory). This then infuriates me, and I need to continue to play until I win a few matches and elevate my rating, which the program tracks on a graph and which I spend an embarrassing amount of time looking at, as if it graphed something significant, as if I had some kind of public chess career that the chart has archived. In reality, it records the shocking amount of time I have wasted sheltering myself from other people and my work. It's pretty pathetic, but it becomes compulsive, and I play game after game in a subdued rage, learning nothing new about chess (despite the rationalization thay playing chess to unwind is somehow edifying, superior to solving sudoku puzzles or playing Minesweeper), barely even thinking, just trying to to win as fast as possible. Sometimes I'll even ask the computer for hints and then pretend to myself that I was able to beat it and try to revel in that.

What inevitably ends up bothering me is the way the computer opponent becomes anthropomorphized, becoming a kind of tormentor, yet I prefer this figment to a real human challenger, who will likely give me a game that resembles real chess and will reward my concentration. But I'm not looking to concentrate; I'm choosing the worst possible medium -- chess playing -- to avoid concentration. I should perhaps resume playing Freecell or something.

It seems inevitable that I will not only be able to avoid the "inconvenience" of a human opponent in chess but could avoid the trouble of a human partner for all forms of social activity, that I could exist in a pseudo-social universe with programmed frustrations that I can be assured of eventually overcoming (through persistence or hints or maybe cheat codes) replacing the real frustrations of understanding other people.

Worse than the failure to concentrate or relax, though, is this sense that I am becoming as machine like as my opponent, stuck in a repetitive cycle that Chessmaster seems to be programming me for: mechanically moving pieces around, deriving no real pleasure from the exercise but feeling compelled to do it anyway, wanting above all no interruption from human beings and all their spontaneity, which begins to seem supremely inconvenient. The convenience of the computer opponent, and my becoming an automaton-in-training, seems emblematic of the ultimate course of convenience as an ethic (and of mediating social behavior through computers) -- to program oneself with compulsive habits, killing time while avoiding human contact, basically draining life out of oneself. After all, the end goal of all convenience is a supreme thoughtlessness, a structuring of one's life where every next move is predicted, where there is no possiblity to contemplate meaningful or challenging choices, which are systematically nullified, where the institutional nature of existence becomes like a computer that's moving the pieces for you but you feel as though you can take credit for the victory nonetheless.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.