Yesterday the server for the Internet Scrabble Club was down for most of the day. Although there are other Scrabble websites, this is my favourite and it meant I was denied my usual fix of this ubiquitous word game.
This made little difference to the total amount of time I’ve spent playing online Scrabble. In the last year I’ve completed around 2,000 games. That’s 5 or 6 games per day or, at an average of 15 minutes per game, about an hour and a half per day. Every day.
I’ve little doubt this is a side effect of my Parkinson’s medication, notably the dopamine agonist that I take, Pramipexole. This is a kind of artificial dopamine that triggers neurons to fire in the absence of the real neurotransmitter. This can have a dramatic effect on my movement. For example at the moment I am properly medicated, and my fingers are flying over the keyboard, smoothly touch typing this text, almost as if I didn’t have Parkinson’s at all. Once the medication wears off, I will revert to childish two finger typing as my hands start to seize up, and it will become uncomfortable, even painful to continue.
The problem with this type of medication is that it is a blunt instrument that stimulates all the dopamine receptors of a certain type in my brain, not just the ones that are under-serviced. So the “reward” pathways that make me feel good when I do certain activities, sometimes get over stimulated, resulting in addiction. In some people these addictions can be dangerous.
The most common addictions associated with Parkinson’s medication are gambling, shopping and sex. Taking gambling first, I did used to enjoy the occasional flutter and at one point in my life I did get a little carried away with online casinos. So when I started taking Pramipexole, I made a policy decision to never gamble again. No online casino. No sports betting. No lottery tickets. No short-term stock trading.
As for shopping, I do occasionally make an impulse purchase but it’s relatively rare and I tend to think twice these days before blowing my hard earnt savings frivolously. No particular problem there. My sex life is not for sharing in a public forum but I think it’s fair to say I don’t have any significant addiction issues.
So my weakness is online gaming. I play Scrabble when I’m on the exercise bike, when I’m in the bath and sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. Actually the Aussies I play against in the night are generally more friendly than the Brits and don’t take the game more seriously than it merits.
I’d prefer to play less and get back a chunk of the 500+ hours I spend each year staring at the 15x15 grid. But having said that, of all the things to be addicted to, it’s not that bad. For a start, it doesn’t cost anything. It’s actually pretty good for exercising the brain. And it’s sociable: I have online “buddies” in places as diverse as Nigeria, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada (noting that these countries share the same dictionary whereas Americans usually use a different dictionary).
Now then, having just finished this post, I have half an hour spare before dinner. I could read a book, check some emails, watch TV. But I can think of something much more “rewarding” to do with those thirty minutes…