Game Pile: Klotski

If you’re the right age, you might remember this old Windows 3.1 game, Klotski. Hypothetically, it’s based on an ancient genre of sliding block puzzles that may or may not date back to ‘Ancient China,’ which is typically a sign that the people writing the textbook have given up. I don’t know it by its supposedly more original name and turns out that a lot of the resources referring to it as Huorong Dao are in languages I don’t read.

It’s a block-sliding puzzle game that looks impossible at first, but you get it presented to you as if you can get the big central block out. It’s funny how, as a kid, I genuinely wasn’t sure if it was possible to solve. Think about that, there was a time when I thought it was very reasonable that someone would distribute a software package that literally could not do anything but let you play around and get frustrated with it a lot. I figured, because I couldn’t solve it, that the game was a program made to make people like me feel stupid and waste our time.

Don’t wanna talk to you about the mysterious origin of this game, though, want to talk to you about a table.

I’ve talked about how the Pandemic restructured our lives, even those of us here in this house with a surprisingly small footprint. I could pivot to online teaching, for example, I could travel alone to do shopping, the entire potential risk surface for this household has been very small. At the same time, one thing I mentioned was that it did, however, force a lot of things into a new holding pattern; some things that were to be dealt with in one way just had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Tonight, a few weeks ago to you, we successfully cleared the kitchen room table. And in the clearing, we found things that have been sitting on that spot for three years. Some things we just realised we could throw out. Some things were being hung onto ‘in case’ something during the three years since then needed it as contingency. I found receipts for a thing that had been bought, waited on, used, and discarded.

Through all this, it was cleared.

The tabletop was cleared, and I reflected on things that were involved, and the places things needed to go. One thing had to go into the garage, into an e-waste basket for future recycling. I didn’t know we had that. I knew we had some boxes in the garage, mostly full of other boxes, but I didn’t appreciate that on the side was written ‘E-WASTE’ because at some point a while back, a plan to get organised had started.

The actual process of clearing the table, tonight, was fast. We were able to find the energy to move a dozen small things away and around, we threw some things out… and I kept thinking about how clearing the table isn’t fixing things. It’s not! There are now some things in other buckets in the other rooms, and now we need to deal with those. Those things are waiting on other moments, other sudden surges of agency, as we pull down the scaffolding that we have built up over at least three years.

This thing is going to leave the house because someone’s moving. This thing needs to be put on the kerb for the scrap dealer. This thing needs to be broken down over weeks and put into our recycling bin, one piece at a time.

There’s a hope on the far side, of course. We want to turn out garage into a workshop, where we can build things and prototype things and print things and where we can have bench space set aside for stuff we can work on. Maybe even a 3d printer, or something fun like that.

One of the weirdest things about it is after we cleared the table, and we played a board game, I went to sit down at the computer and … it was almost 4 AM. I didn’t fix everything wrong with me, either. I’m still up late, trying to write something, and this is the thing that I keep coming back to.

I keep coming back to the game of klotski, which I searched up and played a bit and still didn’t finish, because I got frustrated. It had a counter in the corner, showing me how many moves I’d made, and I kept resetting it to keep that number low but also without ever feeling like I was confident that I’d made progress. Maybe I wanted a physical toy to play with to make myself feel like I knew what I was doing, that I couldn’t just toss the blocks aside and give up on them.


In the thinking about this game, and the thinking about my brain, and thinking about doing things efficiently and speedily in this game, to try and speed-run my way through a game that’s maybe? centuries old, and maybe? about deep truths of life and death, I came back to thinking about how this little game that has defied me for years, with its simple pieces, simple system and simple operations, is still made up of finding ways to make the smallest gains. Find the way to move the little things around the big things, recognise the ways you’re flexible, and the ways you’re not.

The tension of doing well at it is what makes it hard. You can fritter away a thousand moves on it, and I think if that was the case I’d probably have solved it, if only because I wouldn’t have closed the tab or reset it. Just leave it open and move on it little by little over time, until a thousand or so moves later I finally putter a way through to the end. Much like other ‘simple’ games I’ve looked at on this blog, Klotski is a game which exists to resist you more than it exists to project a fiction with you participating.

And I thought about this after clearing a table and getting to play a game with Fox.

A little celebration for a little task done, and my brain went racing off to a memory lost for thirty years.

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