Game of Life

Life up here never gets dull. There are so many problems to solve, one after the other, that it reminds me of playing a role playing game, or those adventure questing games. Take for example, last night when I got back from town after dark, and I was putting groceries into my fridge. What would be a completely ordinary task in the city, turned into a mini puzzle adventure game. Let’s imagine I were in a role playing game… (Note: For those of you unfamiliar with in-person (not computer-based) role playing games, the Game Master is the person who controls the flow of the game. In some cases, they will present a pre-existing game, but in others, they will make up a game, creating the setting, the plot, scenarios and rules along the way.)

Game Master (GM): You realize that the compressor sounds weird…
Me: Weird? How so?
GM: It’s really quiet.
Me: Huh. I take out my multimeter and check the battery voltages.
GM: They are both around 8 volts (note: these are 12 volt batteries)
Me: Yikes. WTF? I thought my solar panels were generating a surplus. At least this battery that’s been plugged into the panels for days should be nearly full!
GM: *shrug* They’re not.
Me: Well, 8 volts. That’s really low. Keeping the fridge plugged in over night could damage the batteries. But if I don’t have the fridge plugged in, my food will go bad. I have raw meat in there.
GM: *doodles absentmindedly*
Me: Ah hah! I have a generator. I’ll recharge one of my batteries using the generator!
GM: The generator won’t start.
Me: Why not?
GM: Low oil.
Me: Fine, I’ll add oil, and restart it.
GM: It starts, but dies.
Me: What?!
GM: *shrug* You haven’t used it since last year. What do you expect?
Me: I only got like 5 hours run time out of that piece of shit… Ok. What if I plug in my fridge into my car?
GM: I would like to remind you that if you deplete your car battery, you may not have the means to recharge it. There’s nobody around to jump it for you. Your AAA account just expired last week. Would you like to do it anyway?
Me: Hm. Good point. Let me think, here.
GM: *continues doodling*
Me: Ok, fine. I’ll ghetto charge my Costco battery. I’ll hook up the battery to my car battery in parallel and run the engine, and charge it that way.
GM: Cool. Half an hour later, your battery now has 12 volts.
Me: Phew! I’ll plug in my fridge into that battery, and figure out what’s wrong with the solar panels tomorrow.

And so I was able to keep my food chilled another night. Today, I checked my solar panels, and found that the charge controller was only sending 2 amps to the batteries, instead of the 4 amps it should be sending. I checked each of the 4 panels, and found that one of them wasn’t working (it’s only outputting 2 volts instead of 19). So, it seems like I have a number of issues. One is that only 75% of my panels are working, and, on top of that, they are outputting far less than they should. It’s also possible that the heat has been causing the fridge to run its compressor more often (or longer), and is therefore using up more power. Also, I’ve been somewhat negligent in keeping my solar panels oriented towards the sun, which also further decreases output. All these factors combined seems to have pushed me to an energy deficit, resulting in two nearly completely discharged batteries. I’d been planning on buying more solar panels anyway, but it looks like I should do that sooner rather than later.

You’d think life would be miserable if you didn’t have basic things like electricity or water. But, to me, it all seems like a really fun game. In the city, people have most of their basic needs fulfilled. Flip a switch, the light goes on. Turn the faucet, you get water. Talk into a phone, pizza comes to your door. Yet, somehow, people are still stressed. While people don’t have to worry about electricity or water, in exchange, they have plenty of other things to worry about. The boss, the client, the landlord, the upstairs neighbor who moves furniture around at 2am, your friend who’s inexplicably mad at you, the cable company who double charged you, the phone company and their shitty service, the waitress at that restaurant you went to for dinner who took too long to bring you your appetizers. A lot of these stresses are caused by the fact that, in the city, you’ve delegated so much of your life, that you’ve given control over your life to complete strangers. You no longer have agency over your destiny, and when something goes wrong, you’re at the mercy of other people; people who actually don’t really care about your problems, even if they’re in a position to do something about it. So, people escape to games. They play Farmville and World of Warcraft for hours and hours, because games give you back your sense of control, and you are rewarded (albeit in virtual points) for the effort you put in. It satisfies the basic human desire to solve problems, to be rewarded for doing so, and feel empowered. It satisfies a desire that, sadly, modern civilization has taken away, for the sake of comfort and convenience.

Arguably, what I’m doing out here is a game too. I’m here because I want to, not because I have to. And, it seems, anything that is fun these days, is dismissed as “entertainment”, a mere distraction, because life isn’t meant to be fun. But, when you think about it, humans, and all animals, are programmed to enjoy life functions that are truly necessary. Eating, drinking, solving problems, getting exercise. These are all fun. It’s everything else that’s not fun. Working in a cubicle. Paying the mortgage. Calling customer service. Dealing with the car mechanic. Waiting in line at the super market. The very things that we associate with modern life, turn out to be not-fun. Up here, all I did was to get rid of all that. And lo, all that remained was stuff that we naturally find pleasurable. Eating cake. Napping under an oak tree. Solving my own problems without getting put on hold by customer service. Seeing my own labor make an immediate tangible difference in my quality of life. So, yes. If that’s a game, then awesome, it’s a game I’d recommend to anyone; the graphics are amazing, it’s pretty damn addictive, and oh, you’ll lose weight and get in shape too.

4 thoughts on “Game of Life

  1. Hi Ryo, having a browse round your site as a result of you being mentioned over at tiny house design. It’s fun reading of your land purchase and the adventures you have had.

    One question about your power set-up – why is your fridge not in the shade of a tree? It would use less power and put less demand on your system. You probably know that anything that uses energy 24/7 is a big drain, even if it is a small load.

    We live off-grid in Ireland, using wind and pv and although we are doing really well for energy this summer we usually switch off our fridge for the winter. It’s a 40min round trip for us to town to get fresh meat so in the winter we don’t eat meat everyday, cheese and yoghurt last pretty well in the switched-off fridge which acts as a cool box.

    We are currently building our own place and will be placing the fridge against the northern wall and far away from the stove. The cooler the fridge is the less work it has to do.

    Best of luck with your up-coming hut-raising, I look forward to reading about the progress.

    • You raise a good point. The fridge is where it is because that’s where the solar panels get the most sun, and I wanted to minimize the amount of cabling the power had to go through (since it doesn’t take much for DC to lose power). I had some plywood boards to block most of the sun, and I’ve since wrapped up the fridge in foil and shade cloth to reflect/block most of the sun. I’ll be building a little enclosure soon, to give it even more shade. Though, I also just got a 100W solar panel, so that should help too.

  2. Ryo,

    Digging your blog, man!

    I stumbled over here from and am adding you to my bookmarks. I read ‘Game of Life’ and that clinched it for me.

    Keep up the good work!


  3. Pingback: Journal: October 1st, 2010 « Laptop and a Rifle

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