Zen and the Art of Geometry Wars

There’s a small handful of games that I keep coming back to simply because their over the top action and difficulty. Geometry Wars is one of those games, and it’s not entirely just because of the addictive gameplay either.

I can only play the game seriously, or even semi-seriously for about half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes, but that’s stretching it. After that I’m spent. I can’t concentrate anymore. Because that’s the sort of game it is. Geometry Wars is made to play in short bursts, not long binges.

Some people who have seen me play get amazed at all the stuff that’s happening on the screen. The colorful enemies, explosions, cheerful music… The game is like literally playing drugs.

What I never hear anyone talking about it how fantastically disconnecting this is. Games like Geometry Wars swallow you whole. Things move fast, really fast, and there are so many elements on-screen that you have to pay attention to at the same time. It takes a serious amount of concentration to get anywhere.

It’s certainly not for everyone, I often get called insane for playing it the way I do. But I get called insane for how involved I get in fighting games, or my persistence in punishing action games. But they don’t come to that appeal that score-based shooters have for me.

When I play any fast-paced action game, my mind kicks into overdrive. My breathing gets slower, deeper. I become much more aware of everything happening. It’s almost like time is slowing down, except it’s not. At any moment where I can rest, be it a respawn timer, or the waiting time in between games, I sigh out of pure relief. It’s over. I can let go. Then I take a slow, deep breath, and dive back into it again.

A lot of people who notice this think the game is getting to me. That I’m getting frustrated. It couldn’t get any further from the truth. Nothing in the game will really get to me when my mind gets like this. Outside distractions breaking my thought? Yes. But the game itself? No.

In games like Team Fortress 2, this means I can pay more attention to the needs of the team and work together. I know what’s happening, where, and how to adapt to the situation. As a Scout I can think of several exit strategies while I make my way into a room with enemies.


Geometry Wars has a lot less for me to think or worry about. The object is pure and simple. Stay alive, beat your old score.  So my mind goes other places while I’m in that focused state.

A couple of years back I read that there’s a form of reflective meditation state where you let thoughts pass by you passively without commenting on them. Stepping outside of yourself, and not letting your initial emotional responses control your thought. This is the closest explanation for what my brain is doing while I’m playing Geometry Wars.

As my little space ship glides across the screen, shooting rectangles, triangles, black holes, and snakes, my mind goes from thought to thought, too distracted by what’s happening in front of it to judge, rate, or respond fully to them.

It’s a fulfilling experience. For a good 30 minutes, anything that’s been bothering me, everything that’s been angering me, confusing me, worries, or even saddens me, it all just pops up and fades away without having an effect. It’s surprisingly liberating. Here are all those things that keep getting in my way, demons that stalk me when I try to sleep, and now they can’t touch me. They’re just there, they’ll always be there, but now you can see them without the initial emotion or feeling and see them in a different light.

Who knew a video game could unlock this kind of thing? Why have I never heard anyone else on this? Or am I just generally my insane self again?

Also, this is a feeling that’s not entirely exclusive to Geometry Wars. Somehow that’s the one game I actively seek out for this purpose.

It might be interesting to note that the game mode where I have the highest score in my friends list is called “Pacifism” by the way.


One thought on “Zen and the Art of Geometry Wars

  1. Pingback: The Two Sides « Remy van Ruiten

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