Solitaire 4/25/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

My friend told me that she never played Solitaire in her life.  She asked me (I believe jokingly) if I would teach her, to which I replied that the issue with Solitaire is that even when you win, you feel like a loser.

The concept of Solitaire is that you can play it alone.  There are actually many versions of the card game, but “Klondike” is the traditional one of which most people are aware.  It’s the game where you set up seven stacks (at regular but different depths) on the playing board, and the object is to get all of the cards in the deck into four complete piles above the playing space in order by suit.

I keep a deck of cards in my car glove box as I know a decent card trick that can amuse people in a variety of settings, and yes, I’ve used Solitaire as a teaching aid.  When, in the course of my chemistry class, we came up to the concept of entropy, before class began, I would begin to conspicuously start playing Solitaire in front of the class.  When the time to start class came and went, I just kept playing, waiting for somebody, anybody, to say “are we going to start class?” as they always did.  That was when I would launch into a discussion of entropy, and the greatest misunderstanding of it, namely, that entropy can never decrease.

I would explain that we increase disorder on the system, defined by the deck of cards, by shuffling it, but the goal of the game was to decrease entropy by getting those four stacks at the end.  The entropy on the system was decreasing because I was doing work on the system.  However, the entropy of the universe was increasing as my body burned sugar, converting it to energy and gases like carbon dioxide to work the muscles that are doing the work and expelling those gases to the room.

One of my earliest “I’m so old” moments came when a young woman asked me if it’s even possible to play Solitaire without a computer.  Well, yes, yes it is.  I can’t blame her, though.  She just never saw it played with an actual deck of cards.  But maybe this is a good thing.

Personally, I’m far more of an expert at Solitaire than I should ever admit.  Solitaire is the lonely person’s game.  In middle and high school, during the summer break, I would play Solitaire every day, all day, constantly.  I guess it’s the equivalent to computer games today, but when I should have been out doing things with friends, enjoying my freedom, I just sat at the dining room table in a house without air conditioning shuffling, dealing and playing.  And as extreme as you’re thinking, it was worse.  I would literally go weeks without even talking with anybody outside of family.

I don’t blame them, but my parents should have realized that there was something wrong.  Playing Solitaire as I did meant that I had no real life.  I had no real friends, and for all intents and purposes, I was living the life of a shut-in.  I had no interests, and never went anywhere.

Perhaps that student, and my friend, had better things to do with their days.  When my mother became concerned about spending so much time with it, she responded by giving me tasks around the house like polishing the cabinet doors.  Although I’m certain that she enjoyed the availability of her labor pool, it really didn’t address the core issues of why I was isolated, and isolating myself, from the world.  At a time that my parents should have been finding activities out of the home for me to do, clubs, participation in a day camp at the Y (either as a participant or volunteer), or even some kind of summer employment, keeping me around the house for labor just didn’t really help me to learn how to socialize, or about myself.

Today, it might be worse for society.  I was an isolated case, a kid with no life and no understanding of external opportunities to preoccupy my time.  Today, with gaming technology being what it is, I think a much larger swath of people are doing the same thing.  An argument can be made that with online gaming people are interacting, but it’s not reality.  They’re not really interacting so much as their avatars are.  They’re interacting the way drivers do as they get irritated with one another, screaming and yelling behind the safety of their enclosed spaces rather than just working the issues out.  I’m not really saying anything so very different than what many sociologists have been screaming about for the last couple of decades, but I do believe that my psychologist friend will have her work cut out for her in helping clients to understand why they’re so isolated today when they had a “normal” childhood of online gaming.