2048.

This number probably means little to most of my readers, but to those in the know, you are nodding mindlessly at your screen, wondering how you ended up reading a blog instead of staring at a sixteen-celled square filled with numbers that are all powers of the number two. For those who have not experienced 2048 (official site link), it is a deceptively simple, sliding-tile game created last month, and it is NOT like the plastic ones you used to get as a cheap prize in the days before apps and mobile devices. It is a computer game that can be played online or downloaded as an app for your mobile device, and every time you move a tile, a new one is added.

I first heard about it on Facebook. I did not heed the one warning implied by the conversation: DO NOT DOWNLOAD THIS GAME! Instead, I looked it up, saw how clever and easy it was to play, and thought, “This will satiate the puzzle-lover in me for a few minutes of my life.” (Those who know this game are now laughing at me.) It was also free to play online or free to download. What could be wrong with a game that required a little strategy and drilled in the powers of the lowly number two?

Approximately 7200 minutes (5 days) after discovering this game (and somewhere between 64-1024 minutes playing it), I have insights into the true answer to that question. I’ve determined it is either a game bent on demoralizing the world person by person or it is a lesson in persistence. Here is why:

Learning how to play is easy.

Achieving the goal takes experimenting, patience, and a dream.

Stage 1: Experimenting

The first few times you slide the tiles around it’s fun to see them add up. Then, you realize that if you don’t make enough matches, the board fills up and you lose. So you begin to think strategy. If you are strategy-challenged, you look up sage advice online. (Google it. You’ll find others have already been writing about this.) This is the first stage. It is fun and doesn’t require much commitment. If you can walk away at this point, do it. If not, move on to Stage 2.

Stage 2: Patience

When you realize just how long it takes to make the ideal number of matches, which Wikipedia states is 1023 (and is a lower number than the novice will ultimately need to make), you have to dig in and think about what it will take to win if you decide to continue toward your goal. The problem is, you could make 500+ matches and lose the game. There is no pause or going back a step. Each time the “You Lose!” pops up in the middle of the screen, you have to make the decision, “Will I try one more time?” Stage two is tough and not for the faint of heart (or those with a life outside of 2048).

Stage 3: Dream

Yes, I know this word is a bit over-sized for such a diminutive game, but unless you’re a math or gaming genius who blithely sees the magical path to 2048 in a single glance, you will need not only to have creating a 2048 tile as a goal, but as your dream. After being told “You Lose” for the umpteenth time last night, I mumbled loudly, “I will conquer you!” The fervor and passion behind my statement shocked me. And it was only in that moment, that I realized why I kept starting over—I dreamed of seeing “You Win!” flash up on the screen. I had not only accepted the challenge, but owned it as a dream (however infantile and insignificant that dream may be).

Fortunately, other insights resulted from my Napoleonic pronouncement that hopefully apply beyond an array of pixels on a screen:

  • If I put that much time, thought, and drive into other endeavors, I could learn to persist even when “You fail!” keeps popping up on my life’s screen over and over again.
  • If I can clearly envision what a “win” would look like, it could give me the focus I need to keep patiently experimenting even in the face of opposition and doubt.
  • If it takes that much experimenting and patience to move toward winning a simple game, bigger dreams will most likely require more.
  • If a dream detracts from more important ones, then perhaps it’s time to abandon that dream even if I haven’t won.

All of that insight came from a few hours of playing a tile game based on powers of two, and I ended up with a blog post as well. Perhaps, I have won at 2048 after all.

What about you? Where do you need to persist today?