On the most recent edition of the Couch Podtatoes podcast, Izlain and Eri discussed several questions that have been floating around the blogosphere recently. Two of them that were chosen for discussion interested me quite a bit, and I feel that they’re somewhat related. One question was: What is your longest continuous gaming session. The other, do you have any regrets related to gaming.
As far as the longest gaming session question goes, I’m going to throw out the outlier, Extra Life, when I played the entire 24 hour marathon. Beyond that, I don’t really know what my longest play session is. I usually play 2-3 hours a night, but when I go longer than that I begin to feel guilty about neglecting other things, such as house projects and family interaction.
Even before the additional responsibilities of adult life, I don’t think I ever played much longer than a 3-4 hour session. But things were different back then. Easier, in a way. Most games had a beginning (pressing the start button) and an end (when you ran out of lives, or time). There were more stopping points. Minus the occasional sim, the worlds didn’t persist forever, continuing to tempt you beyond the next dangling carrot. You competed against yourself, so there was less pressure to be the best or to “keep up with” top-tier players. Gaming had its place, and that place was below family, church, school, and even athletics for me. While I enjoyed it immensely, I don’t remember it ever having tempted me to the point of wanting to forsake another important aspect of my life.
As for the question regarding regrets, I was somewhat saddened to hear Izzy and Eri rattle off a list that included such things as neglecting relationships and under-performing in school, and possibly even “settling for” a lesser career due to being so preoccupied with gaming. Many of these regrets were directly tied to the amount of time required for the gaming hobby and the inability, or unwillingness, to re-prioritize its place in one’s life.
In my circle of blogging/podcasting/twittering friends, there are folks from all walks of life. Many of them have different views and priorities than I do, so I try very hard not to project my own values onto them. But when I hear these kinds of trade-offs being professed by a pair of young folks with so much life ahead of them, I can’t help but wonder if some long-term happiness and security has been sacrificed for the afore-mentioned carrot-on-a-stick gratification. But if so, how does one measure the value of short-term versus long-term happiness? Isn’t happiness just happiness? Is it easier to make this trade-off today than when I was in school, some *muffled sounds* years ago? Could the very thing that we use to escape the difficulties of life be simultaneously making life more difficult? While I don’t have any concrete answers, I do have some – what some folks would consider successful – life experience in the areas of guidance and prioritization, two things that I’ve observed friends struggle with.
I think that the immersive, constant gratification game design of today may be partially to blame for the difficulties people experience prioritizing gaming. The rise of PvP and infinite replayability might also be a culprit. Perhaps the more recent acceptability of gaming as a form of entertainment plays a part. Maybe adults are still trying to learn how to be parents in the ever-distracting “age of gaming”.
Parenting – now there’s something that I can speak to with at least some level of credibility. As a father who grew up playing games, I completely understand the draw. I’m pretty lenient when my kids tell me they need to “get to a safe spot” before they can log off. Even so, we are pretty strict with the amount of time spent playing games, especially during the school year. I’ve got technical controls in place to allow only 1 hour of playtime per child per day – and am very clear that this hour is a privilege and not a right. Not every kid may get to play every day. We might be busy, or one of their siblings may need to do some research for school, or there may be an athletic event to attend, or chores to complete, or perhaps we just want to do something as a family. These things are all prioritized above the privilege of gaming. Why do we go to such lengths? Our hope is that it teaches the kids to be able to prioritize. Or, at the very least to convey how we prioritize things. We’re reigning in the short-term gratification a bit in order to invest in long-term happiness.
I don’t recall my parents being quite as strict with my video game time, but perhaps they didn’t need to be. Like I said, things were different. We weren’t bombarded with a twitter feed reminding us of how much fun we weren’t having. We weren’t constantly getting texts from friends requesting our presence for a raid. Pressing a controller button would actually pause the whole game, and nothing would advance until you returned! It was….easier. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. I do mess up my prioritization, even now (that bathroom I’m remodeling in the basement is still torn apart, and I could probably stand to burn off a few pounds), but hopefully not on anything that will have life altering consequences to me or my family. Hopefully not on something that I will later regret.
This post is not meant as a judgment on Izzy or Eri. While the ultimate choice on where to spend our time does fall on the individual, I do think that many cultural and environmental aspects have changed in the last 20 years that feed directly into our cerebral “pleasure centers” and confuse our ability to prioritize things that we should do, but prefer not to. Being that one of my children is diagnosed ADHD, I see this struggle daily. Instant gratification + do what makes you feel good + everybody else is (or seems to be) doing it + emphasis on individual rights & freedoms (vs community) + expectation of entitlement + reinforcement by online bubble communities + fear of offending + information overload can all lead to an overall environment that convinces us that what we want to do is what we should be doing. The hard lesson for my impulsive ADHD child (and, perhaps, for many gamers today) has been that sometimes you have to do what you don’t want to be doing, either for the greater good or to put yourself in a better position in the future. In other words, it’s getting tougher to see what’s really important because culture tells us that the only thing that matters is our immediate happiness. Combine this message with the addicting, ever-replayable, ever-expanding nature of today’s video game designs and it’s no wonder that we have a tough time getting motivated to get out of that comfy office chair!
Gaming is important, but so is awareness. Awareness of the choices we make, and how they affect both other people and the future us. Awareness of a changing culture, one that is more enabling, where even our closest friends might be telling us what we want to hear instead of what we really need to hear. Awareness of the people around us. God willing, they’re going to be around long after the server shuts down. Awareness of our decreased physical activity. Awareness that sometimes we just have to put down the controller and pick up the tax forms. Prioritize. Live without regrets.
Changed priorities ahead by Peter Reed on Flickr Creative Commons
The Regret. by Syed Nabil Aljunid on Flickr Creative Commons
Juegos tradicionales by Bea Represa on Flickr Creative Commons