Prioritizing Gaming

PrioritiesOn 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.

Regret

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.

Kid Gaming

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 

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16 thoughts on “Prioritizing Gaming

  1. Fredelas August 19, 2015 / 8:30 am

    I wonder what diversions tempted earlier generations of humans and how people dealt with them. What were we doing hundreds or thousands of years ago to avoid responsibility?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fredelas August 19, 2015 / 10:19 am

      My biggest distractions in my teens and early twenties were books. I had a terrible time putting them down, and I’d sometimes read into the early morning hours. If my high school and college classes had required more effort, I’m sure my grades would have suffered. When I got my first “real” job I got rid of almost all my books and tore up my library card. Even today, I’d rather read the worst novel imaginable than scrub the toilet.

      For my parents’ generation, the popular diversions in their towns were bars and pool halls. Now that’s a PvP game with replayability! I can’t imagine either of my parents spending time in a bar or pool hall, though. They’re ridiculously responsible people who I can only recall having fun one week a year on our family vacations.

      One set of grandparents became adults in the 1920s, but they were a farmer and a schoolteacher in very rural Kansas, and didn’t have the leisure opportunities that were so conspicuous in urban areas at the time. My other grandparents came of age near the end of the Depression era. My grandmother was the daughter of a poor farming couple with far more children than they could afford. She married my grandfather, the son of a wealthy socialite, at the earliest opportunity when she was 16. Neither of them worked a single day for a decade until World War II. Stories say they whiled away those years travelling the world, spending the entire family fortune (and going heavily into debt at the same time).

      I’m not convinced that online gaming or even all online social interactions are really that different from time-wasting activities of the past. We might have more time to waste in today’s society, but I don’t think managing it is any different.

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      • Braxwolf August 19, 2015 / 10:24 am

        So, if culture isn’t different, but my personal experiences are different, does that mean that I’m different? 🙂

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      • Fredelas August 19, 2015 / 10:49 am

        Yes, I think we all have different leisure activities we’d rather be doing. It could be online games, going shopping, taking drugs, watching television, using pornography, or a million other things we find relaxing or rewarding. It doesn’t seem to me that establishing habits of personal discipline should be any different than it was in the past.

        I could be wrong, though. Humans are adaptable creatures. Our brains are our most adaptable body part, and maybe they really are wired differently in our western culture today than they were just a few generations ago. Perhaps we’ll need new tactics to remain disciplined, or perhaps society will just adjust its expectations of productivity to match the current reality.

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      • Braxwolf August 19, 2015 / 10:54 am

        It’s a very interesting discussion. I do think that some of the differences between us and previous generations (especially with regards to chronological superiority) are overblown. Some things we think of as new struggles are actually old struggles, rebranded. But there’s no denying that some external factors are different. The rate of change and speed of information exchange being chief among those, and i wonder how those things are shaping is as people.

        Some challenges my kids face seem somehow more amplified and serious compared to my own experiences. But perhaps that’s just selective memory on my part.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Syl August 19, 2015 / 12:35 pm

    The answer is yes and yes. There’s is always something to learn in nature and it so happens that in nature too, substances that can heal you very often can harm/kill you too (aka ‘the dose makes the poison’). Games or rather escapism through games, has the potential to do a lot of good in a person’s life; it can get them through a time of hardship and tragedy, it can cure them of loneliness and insecurity. For a time. Until it stops doing these things and becomes the opposite.

    The keyword is balance. Sometimes you know when to stop and re-balance, sometimes you’ll learn the hard way. That said, I would be careful with the type of gamer remorse that tells you about all the great things you ‘may have achieved if not for games’ – maybe. More likely, you wouldn’t have achieved those things anyway. It can be nice to use gaming as an excuse for under-achiever complex. It’s never too late to look at your life and change things if you really want to, especially if you’re still young and capable.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Izlain August 19, 2015 / 7:12 pm

    Great post Brax. Admittedly, there were bits I left out of the conversation, but during the time when my MMO love affair bordered on unhealthy addiction, I was in my early-mid twenties, and honestly I would have probably been drinking myself to death (I already was anyway) if I wouldn’t have taken the time to play EQ2.

    I was also in a relationship with a non-gamer, and that’s where the real problem was. Had she been a bit more understanding, or perhaps a gamer herself, I don’t think the problem would have been the same. Still, I own my actions and know that I was partially to blame, but I would retreat to Norrath each time we would fight, which would in turn cause more fights.

    I have changed my goals and habits in the years since, so I don’t think this is an issue anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The Iron Dagger August 19, 2015 / 7:38 pm

    I’ve been there. Gaming dragged down my grades in school, the season before the big life-defining exam at that – and it was a mere browser game at that! Teachers flipped out, parents got involved – it was traumatic for the horribly introverted young aspie I was.

    After that, it may have been very easy to dismiss gaming as nothing but a source of detriment. But instead, over the years, I learned to set boundaries, and recently those boundaries became useful when I re-evaluated my life situation. I might even say that my gaming hobby, and the way it was prioritized, played a part in my latest career decision – which is promising to be for the better.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Rowan August 20, 2015 / 8:49 am

    People make all sorts of economic decisions (jobs and purchases) and increase or decrease their wealth and happiness. One might “get ahead” by knuckling down in school and snagging a higher paying job, but will that actually lead to more happiness?

    Izlain brings up a good point about how his gaming affected his relationship. And I think that’s really the key. I feel a blog post of my own coming on.

    Like

    • Braxwolf August 20, 2015 / 9:36 am

      Yeah, to me this is a really fascinating and sometimes maddening subject to think about. We all have different tastes and life goals, so putting things on a “happy scale” isn’t really possible. The only reason I even wrote the post is because these were self-professed regrets, and I think it’s important to consider others life experiences when making choices of our own.

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      • Rowan August 20, 2015 / 2:04 pm

        Oh to be sure. I was just pointing out that the grass isn’t always greener on the rich side of town. 😉

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  6. j3w3l August 22, 2015 / 9:34 pm

    with careers and life goals i think part of it comes down to personality as well. Yes gaming takes that time away but then, with the way I am I don’t think It would have made much of a difference without. It’s a question of motivation and that’s a pretty steady factor for people.

    Personally I also have a sleep disorder which makes certain aspects of attention, especially study focused things much harder as well. You need something rather big to get your undivided attention.
    Personally I’m not sure how you can change such a thing – it’s a question of will when your lacking willpower lol

    Like

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