Stealing Zoo Terminology To Talk About Pandemic Isolation

One of my favorite things about having friends in various industries is that most of them introduce new terms and ideas to me that have very specific meanings in their industry. One of my friends is a chef, so I’ve learned a lot of super specific words related to food preparation and the various utensils found in a kitchen. Another friend is zookeeper, so I’ve learned a great deal of terms from that industry and how they’re used for specific purposes. Like “enrichment.” In the context of zookeeping, it is the stuff zookeepers provide for the animals to ensure they live interesting, varied lives so that the animals can stay intellectually and physically stimulated. It has been a wonderful word to have over the past 1.75 years of the pandemic, since it has helped draw my attention to the shortfalls of my life that need to be addressed.

Like any creature confined to a limited space by circumstances, I found myself unhappy, pacing my space, restless, and with a series of ailments results from inactivity and a lack of stimulation. Initially, I fixed this by spending some time investing in entertainment, building new exercise routines, going grocery shopping more frequently so I could vary the food I prepare for myself, and making sure I had stuff to do that was actually interesting, not just time consuming. It worked very well for a long time, though lately I’ve had some problems feeling invested or interested in the stuff I have around, despite purchasing myself more games and watcheing more shows as my personal finances and time allows.

I just recently took a step back to examine my habits and realized that while I might have a variety of things to enjoy and plenty of stuff to do, none of it has significantly changed in a while. Though running or playing Dungeons and Dragons has frequently provided me with all the variety I’ve needed, I have not had much lately with actually running the games i’ve been preparing. Lots of time has gotten lost as my players got stuck in the weeds or failed to latch onto any of the adventure or story hooks I provided them. And this isn’t just confined to tabletop RPGs. Even one of my new video games isn’t really new. It is a re-release of an old Pokemon game, with some minor updates.

So while there is plenty of “enrichment” in my life, most of it feels pretty stale and old at this point. It is the same stuff I’ve had all this time and there’s only so much I can play the same game over and over again. Even I get bored of repition eventually, and there’s nothing particularly novel about this pokemon game. It’s pretty much the exact same game but with chibi-style models, which I’m personally not a fan of. I understand the appeal, but do not feel it, so this game lands squarely in the “alright, I guess” zone, but I still find myself restlessly looking for something else to do before eventually settling in to play it. Same for my alternate game, Fallout 4, since the game gets pretty repititious quickly. It doesn’t even have great visuals to distract from that, either. Despite my initial enthusiasm to play the game again, I’m frequently reminded why I’ve never played it as deeply as I think I would have if it wasn’t so repetitive, even if I have still spent a lot of hours bouncing off it time and again.

To combat this restlessness, I’m reminding mysel to do the same thing I do with my bird every few weeks. I already changed my apartment’s layout about two months ago already, so I’m swapping out some of my go-to entertainments. I’m replacing my sudoku game on my phone with a tower defense game that I bought in 2013 (and that still sorta holds up because all I want is the basics, no fancy features or massive numbers or clicker elements). While I’m going to stick to the Pokemon game for now (I need a game to fall asleep to), I might switch to something else for my alternate. Maybe finally play the Witcher 3. Or watch something from my to-watch list. Maybe mix in a few books, you know? Vary it up a little more often. Books might cut into my podcast time, though. I gotta keep up my daily 7.2 Spotify hours.

Regardless, it is important to remember that while we like to ascribe a higher degree of sentience to humans than animals, we’re still animals. We need variety, enriching activities, and proper stimulation to stay healthy. Also sunlight and water. And outside time, even during the winter. Just a panoply of things first-time pet owners will be reminded to give to their new pet. Also, I might get another pet since my bird still hates everybody (she was traumatized by two years in a Petsmart and hates every but me, who she deigns to endure) and I need something that will actually want to interact with me.

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