How can I do something I hate while maintaining perfect composure?
July 26, 2019 2:54 PM   Subscribe

This summer I find myself in the position of tutoring an 11-year-old boy in math once a week. He's a sweet person and a good worker, but what makes him twice as productive is the prospect of trading Pokémon (Ultra Sun / Ultra Moon) with me during the breaks he earns after each lesson. I'm a reformed gamer and was originally thrilled at the prospect of sharing the experience of this game with him, but I have come to hate the game and the process of collecting the endgame characters he's stoked on. Stoics, swamis, patient parents and teachers of AskMe, I'm looking for your help! How do you share an activity you dislike with a young person you like? Or, what are some techniques to use for doing something you find maddening without punching a wall (while maybe even gleaning some enjoyment)? Thanks!

Some points of elaboration:

- 99 percent of the time I'm playing this game--Pokémon Ultra Moon on the Nintendo 3DS handheld system--it's not with my mentee, it's during the week in between tutoring sessions, in order to collect "Legendaries" from the "Ultra Wormhole", a.k.a. my personal hell. This is when I frequently get so frustrated I want to throw the damn thing through a window. I never get frustrated in front of my mentee.

- I like video games, I like other so-called "JRPGs" like early Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest titles, and I even enjoyed the first Pokémon game okay on the original gameboy when I was 16 and played through my little brother's copy. What has become of the series is dismaying and very sad to me for several reasons, but my biggest complaint is that it massively disrespects and wastes my time--and this is what gets me so het up. I sit there watching loading animations, or performing the same task for the 20th time and failing for the 20th time, and that's when I want to break stuff.

- I'm not even necessarily looking for a game- or gamer-specific solution here; really what I need is a mental strategy for doing something I find acutely infuriating while maintaining total composure. I figure my best bet is to see this as a mind-strengthening exercise, but I haven't found a trick yet for keeping myself from periodically shouting at the piece of plastic in my hands, alone in my house, like a petulant fool.

- I definitely plan to talk to my mentee about my experience with the game in an age-appropriate way at the end of the summer. (Something like: you know, to be honest, I found this game frustrating at times, and I feel much better doing other hobbies like playing music, writing creatively, and have you ever thought about etc etc. Because I wish someone had had that conversation with me at 11.) But please assume that I'd like to keep playing and trading with him until then.
posted by The Minotaur to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Clarifying question: why do you care about maintaining composure if he's not around?

(In your shoes, I would outsource the collecting, but obviously that's not your question!)
posted by metasarah at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2019

Why do you care about maintaining composure if he's not around?

- I don't like feeling like shit while I'm playing the game. I'd rather finish a session (I'm doing about an hour a day) feeling good for having incrementally mastered myself and my emotions rather than bad for acting like a fool and embarrassing myself, even if it's just to myself. (My current best strategy is to smoke a little weed beforehand, which really kills the frustration, but this isn't a sustainable daily approach for me.)

- If possible I would like to "get" this game, which is the latest game in a series that's probably the number one most popular game series for kids the generation after my own. By the end of this summer I would like to feel like I capitalized on the opportunity to bond with a young person and see the world through their eyes a bit, rather than that I burned myself out on a supposedly-fun thing meant for children.

I realize these are somewhat esoteric justifications! Thanks for humoring me.
posted by The Minotaur at 3:06 PM on July 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not what you're asking, but in your shoes I would just cheat to get all the legendary pokemon. The 3DS has been hacked backwards and forwards for years now.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:10 PM on July 26, 2019 [23 favorites]

I know you said to just assume you're going to keep doing this, but I have to say: you could be missing an opportunity to share something you LOVE. Opportunities to show that kind of possibility to another person are kind of rare. Your enthusiasm could make something new just as awesome for him -- what people often mention when talking about the adults that changed their lives was that person's love for what they were talking about. And one-on-one in-person time is becoming scarce -- that's the best time to transmit that kind of love.

I don't necessarily mean you're going to convert him to true love for your kind of music, but that seeing that kind of enthusiasm in another person can be a real revelation.
posted by amtho at 3:12 PM on July 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

I might see if I could ride off his enthusiasm. When you're playing imagine it's him exploring the game the first time and learning everything new. Perhaps the game is not so onerous from his perspective.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:47 PM on July 26, 2019

You say you like video games. Are you good at them? Because as a person who is bad at video games but also likes them, I have found myself far more patient with shitty mechanics and gotchas and loading screens compared to my fellow elite gamers who are used to winning, or steadily getting better and then winning. With me it's almost never going to happen that I'll actually improve at a game, so when a game essentially punishes players randomly I don't mind much since it all sort of ends up the same anyway. This is never more clear than when I beg my best friend to play Mario Kart and he refuses. He claims the blue shells are bullshit. I feel that they are justice. He also won't play Mario Party - you see a theme here?

Anyway I think what might have gone wrong here is that, because you are playing this to win something specific that you can use outside of the game you've soured the experience entirely. It is no longer about cool pokemon or being the best that ever was, it's just about ticking boxes and rolling dice so you can have a carrot on a stick for this kid. And yet you still care about it as a game - it should be a pleasant but challenging interactive experience, but it isn't and that infuriates you. My suggestion is to try to think of it as not a game. Maybe it's more like gambling? But if you don't have expectations of success, you stop being mad when you don't get it. Ideally you can mentally shift it to experiencing the journey, which is how I like to enjoy good games, but this sounds like more of a matter of accepting monotony than mindfulness.

Do what you can to make the time you spend on this otherwise pleasant. Put on really good music. Wear comfy clothes and surround yourself with pillows. Have good snacks with variety. Maybe even engage in some pampering spa stuff that you let sit like deep conditioning hair treatments or face masks or painting your toenails and play pokemon in between. For me, video games are about pleasure - since this one isn't pleasurable for you, make the time you spend on it pleasurable in other ways.
posted by Mizu at 3:48 PM on July 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

YMMV, but I've found that the easiest way to maintain my composure when I'm having difficult feelings is really soaking in my emotions and accepting them for what they are. Once I've done that, I'm able to be more objective and less ego-driven, which makes it possible for me to respond calmly and make the situation less of a big deal in my mind. This sets me up to train myself to recognize that whatever's happening is not actually a big deal that's worth being so upset about. This does take practice, so it's lucky that you have such a safe and repeatable environment to train in.

Functionally, it would look a bit like this:

- You curse at the game for being a piece of shit
- You pause and soak in how righteously, incandescently, unbelievably pissed you are that you have to do this
- You give yourself a little sympathy. Seriously, try it. Think about how you feel when you complain about something and a friend is sympathetic -- you feel better almost immediately. You can do this for yourself, too.
- Having done the friendly thing for youself, you are now free to laugh at yourself because your rage is actually hilariously out of proportion. You can also get real with yourself. You can remind yourself that you put yourself in this stupid situation, and laugh again. He'd do the work even if you didn't trade cards with him. You chose to be here, in this angry place. You could stop if you really wanted to, and nothing really terrible would happen.
- You remind yourself of why you're doing this-- how much better tutoring goes whenever you trade with him. You obviously care a lot about him, which is great. He's lucky to have someone like you around.
- You tell yourself you'll keep doing this because you want him to succeed and it's worth being a little pissed now and then.
- Rinse and repeat every time you get mad and you'll likely find yourself being a little less angry every time.
posted by rhythm and booze at 4:25 PM on July 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

I am a mom to two elementary-aged kids (11 and 8) who are, unfortunately, rabid fans of LITERALLY THE WORST books, movies, and games - all clearly invented by the very dregs of humanity and calibrated to torture parents and adults.

Both my offspring, traitors to their exemplary genetic heritage though they are in their entertainment tastes, are sweet and lovely and overflowing with enthusiasm to share their loves with their mom. Me. I don't have it in me to quash their childish effervescence. So I:

1. Have successfully proposed and adopted a system where the kids (as a unit) and I take turns picking the book to read, movie to watch, or game to play together. True fairness would give me 1/3rd of the turns. I have bamboozled them into accepting that 1/2 the turns belong to Mommy. Highly recommend this. My misery is cut in half.

2. Have purchased a dental guard to use the other half of the time.

Good luck and godspeed.
posted by MiraK at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2019 [17 favorites]

I teach for a living, and have had a wide range of frustrating experiences with students over the last two decades. The thing that saves me is reframing the interaction to make myself the learner. That is, instead of approaching the interaction as "How am I doing at teaching this student some extremely basic thing?" to "What can I learn about the student in this interaction?" From this perspective, the Pokemon break isn't actually gaming time for you. It's an opportunity to learn about your student thinks, responds to stress, sees the world, and so on(which ultimately can make your teaching more effective).
posted by Nerdy Spice at 5:12 PM on July 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

Put on a podcast. Then, while the game is loading and you are legit not doing anything, you will be doing something, and the rest of the time you get to improve your multitasking capabilities, which is extremely useful in all sorts of ways.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 5:14 PM on July 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would outsource the gaming to another 11 year old. Lend him the Nintendo and then get it back before your sessions with your student.
posted by Jubey at 5:21 PM on July 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

answering your actual question:

consider all the horrible things that humans have had to do or endure throughout history and still have to do or endure in many parts of the world just to survive

or even just consider backbreaking drudgery like lugging containers of water for miles because you have no plumbing

personally, i find that contemplating what 99% of human existence has been like quickly puts first world problems like "ugh i have to play pokemon AGAIN?!" into perspective

answering the question you should have asked:

just get someone else who actually enjoys playing pokemon to play for you between sessions

like pay another kid a few bucks to do it for you
posted by Jacqueline at 9:31 PM on July 26, 2019

Teach him the Pokémon card game. You can transition it into another thing based on what he loves and can learn.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:36 PM on July 26, 2019

Here's the thing: grinding for legendaries and shinies is very possibly the worst possible thing you could do in Pokemon in terms of like, actual experience and fun. It's boring and monotonous and feels just arbitrary enough to fill you with tilted gamer rage. The kid you're tutoring probably likes it because children love repetition and hyperfixate on odd things. You are not going to love it because objectively it's not that fun.

My recommendation is to only play it while also watching something on TV/chatting with a friend/listening to a podcast. Then it can become kind of a zen thing to zone out to instead of an incredibly frustrating thing you have to pay attention to. That, or: outsource gameplay to a younger relative, a friend who likes Pokemon or a bot. (Seriously, just get a hacked version. Other parts of Pokemon are fun. Grinding is not.)
posted by storytam at 3:32 AM on July 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Have you seen this in Wired?

Depression and the Solace of 'Grinding' in Online Games
posted by mccxxiii at 10:03 AM on July 27, 2019

Thanks everyone! Lots of good answers here.

This dialogue has helped me see that I've brought a busy adult's anxiety over "wasting time" to what is more naturally a child's--or a depressive's--activity. It seems clear now that this is the main source of the tension I feel when I'm "grinding for legendaries". (And the depression detail rings true for me too, because at times when I've been depressed, grinding in RPGs has actually been more soothing than irritating. I guess the silver lining to my recent impatience is that I'm evidently not feeling depressed lately!)

My solution this week has been to only play while I'm also doing something else that I can safely classify as productive, which in my case has mostly been catching up with new music releases and podcasts. And it's working! So thanks again.
posted by The Minotaur at 4:31 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

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