The Rubik’s Cube — Mastery or Fun?

Man pointing with his finger at the white square on a multi-colored Rubik's Cube.
Image Source: https://www.wired.com/video/watch/how-to-solve-a-rubik-s-cube (Wired)

Generally speaking, I’m older than I look, which means that I’m a child of the 1980s. Actually, I was born before the 80s, but much of my formative years were in the 80s in which many of the popular culture icons (nostalgia-based) that are in the news at the moment, were beginning or at the height of their popularity. One such cultural phenomenon was the Rubik’s Cube. My parents got me one (birthday, Christmas, or maybe just because), and I loved it. I set out to master it. Now, initially, Rubik’s Cube was a hot item, fairly expensive and prestigious, but as more and more people bought it, it became a fad, it became ubiquitous and more and more were on the shelves of stores and the prices dropped. I think we had 3 or 4 by the end of the “fad.”

Mastery

I enjoyed the Rubik’s Cube, but I was never able to “master” it. I would always only be able to get one side’s face color completely correct. My uncle and I tried, but could never figure out how, on our own, to correctly solve it so that we could get all of the side’s colors aligned. However, six months later (approx.), we found a solution manual to the cube on sale (K-Mart or Waldenbooks, or maybe even Hills Dept. Store–anyway, some store that is no longer in existence) and it had the solution. My uncle read it and spent many a night with the cube until he could get it down. And doing so, he memorized the pattern. I was much less enthused, however. While I enjoyed having a completely solved cube around the house, a part of me wanted the solution to be something that we could have figured out on our own. It wasn’t cheating, but it didn’t feel, what’s the word . . . satisfying. Sure, I could have memorized the solution too, but why couldn’t the designers of the puzzle have/create an intuitive way to show the solution on the cube rather than have people solve it, write about it in a book, and then we (my uncle and I) have to memorize said solution?

Fun

So, after that experience, I always disliked (not hated, just disliked) puzzles and puzzle based games. Again, I didn’t feel they were a “cheat,” but they always felt a little crappy because they always had unintuitive solutions that I found irritating at best. And then came Tomb Raider II and the “burner” puzzles. Basically, there was a level in the TRII game in which switches had to be thrown in order to stop burners that would incinerate Lara Croft, the heroine of the games. At first, the puzzles with the burners were easy and then they became progressively harder until I couldn’t solve the final one. I was stuck on it for several days, but then I realized that earlier burners had utilized timers and I made the intuitive leap that this was just one long, multi-stage timer puzzle. My intuitive guess turned out to be correct! It took several more tries to get the timing down correctly, but, in the end, I was able to figure it out and pass that level. And to this day, I remember what my late uncle said: “And I thought you didn’t like puzzles.” I remember both the rush from solving the game’s puzzle and the praise from my uncle. Tomb Raider (and adventure games like it) have always been a favorite since then and I work diligently to solve their puzzles, dungeons, missions and tombs. Do I get every one? No, rarely one small thing stumps me and I have to rely on the internet for help, but I really try as hard as possible (i.e., being stumped for several gaming sessions in a row) before I resort to solving it. This is the difference from the Rubik’s Cube–their are context clues that allow me to feel as if I have a chance of solving the puzzles, where the cube didn’t give me enough information to solve it on my own and I lost interest in “mastering” it.

For those who think “fun” is just for children, I would encourage you to think again. For some of us, myself included, fun is the “glue” that allows us to stick to hard tasks. In addition, context clues go a long way to making something both relevant and “fun.” Without context clues, you eliminate the enjoyment and the sense of “challenge” that some of us need to figure out solutions to problems. Just saying it is so is much less enjoyable than figuring it out on our own (again, with enough clues in place to do so).

So I guess my ultimate point is: don’t be so quick to dismiss the element of fun or the necessity of clues–they may allow people like me to truly shine and enjoy your creation (game, novel, story, movie, what have you) rather than abandon it and shirk one’s shoulders and say, “oh well, it’s only for the elitists, so I’m not missing much.”

For me, it’s fun and context clues all the way.

Sidney


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