Patience (or: what I learned from President Uchtdorf and Google's Pac-Man)

On Sunday, I prepared my home teaching lesson, drawing from President Uchtdorf’s talk at the priesthood session from the April conference.  Quote:

There is an important concept here: patience is not passive resignation, nor is it failing to act because of our fears. Patience means active waiting and enduring. It means staying with something and doing all that we can—working, hoping, and exercising faith; bearing hardship with fortitude, even when the desires of our hearts are delayed. Patience is not simply enduring; it is enduring well!

Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role.

How different this is, my dear brethren, from the standard the Lord has set for us as priesthood holders.

I am surprised, and a bit embarrassed, that I found this principle clearly illustrated through, of all things, Google’s recent homage to Pac-Man.

When I was playing the game at work, I found that I could only rarely get past the third or fourth level.  However, this evening I found where Google has stashed it, and resumed play.  As with last week, and as I am sure many players have done, I continued to apply different tactics, alternate repetitive routes, and tried to determine where I might find a degree of advantage. This evening, I learned a few things:

  • As you have probably already discovered, in higher levels of play, the ghosts get increasingly faster, and are able to overtake you in a chase.  However – and this is counterintuitive, or at least it was for me – if you’re being chased, take turns wherever possible.  Apparently Pac-Man can corner faster than the ghosts, so in this way you can put a bit of distance between you and your pursuers, and that bit of distance can in some cases make the difference.
  • The opening moves of the ghosts – which ones get out of the pen at certain times, which routes they take – are pretty much preset, so the opening moves are a bit predictable.  As a result, there’s no meaningful advantage to taking a completely different route at the beginning of each level.
  • Generally, when you eat a ghost, his first item of business once he’s gotten a new suit is to come looking for you.  Almost an aggression/revenge thing – “Okay, sucka, time for a rematch.”

It’s that last discovery that led to a rather surprising realization: While it seems like going after the ghosts to eat them when you eat one of the power pellets is the obvious thing to do – go on offense, get the bad guys out of the way, earn bonus points – it doesn’t offer nearly the advantage you might think, due to various factors:

  • It’s four on one, and the bad guys only go away temporarily, so whatever advantage is fairly brief.
  • As noted above, the very first thing the ghosts usually do when they regenerate is come back for seconds.  If you don’t have another power pellet nearby, or if you don’t have any left, you have a problem.
  • Depending on where you happen to be, eating one of the ghosts can in fact be detrimental to winning a level.  If you’re in the upper portion of the maze, you’re very close to the opening to the box.  That ghost will be near you again very quickly, and very aggressively.
  • If you give chase to attack the ghosts, you may end up going some distance before you finally catch them.  Go far enough, and you end up so far from uneaten pellets that it takes some degree of time before you can pick up where you left off, meaning you lose valuable time.

And that’s really the big thing that I picked up on while playing: Don’t lose focus of the main objective: to clear the maze of all pellets as quickly as possible. Anything that gets in the way of that is a potentially lethal distraction.

In addition, there were a few important things I realized about the power pellets:

  • When the time was running on the power pellets, the ghosts became a bit more helpful: they moved slower, and more importantly, they tended to move away from me.  Very helpful, especially if I’m just trying to clear the maze ASAP.
  • Eat power pellets back to back, and the time seemed to extend a bit.

So I shifted tactics to focus as exclusively as possible on the main objective: clear the maze, ASAP.  Not only did I not stop to eat monsters, I avoided it where possible.  In some cases it couldn’t be helped, but usually I found I was able to avoid them after eating a power pellet.  I would only try to eat one, maybe two, if the maze were nearly cleared and only a few pellets remained.  But if I felt it would be a distraction, or would put me at a disadvantage in finishing off the maze, I’d continue to try to avoid it.

Any concern I had about the potential loss in points was quickly overcome when I found I got the bonus fruit much more regularly.  And with the bonus fruit rapidly increasing in value – 200, 400, 700, 1000 points – one of those suckers would more than make up for any loss in bonus points from eating monsters.

And the result of this new approach?

Oh yes.  :D

Yes, I’m aware the full arcade version is radically different.  And life isn’t a video game (sorry, World of Warcraft fanboys).  But if patience, focus, exclusion of distractions can make such a difference in a silly little video game, what about life?

UPDATE: New high score!

Now, to apply these principles to areas of my life that, you know, actually matter…

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