I was listening to an episode of the podcast Akimbo titled Time keeps on slipping thanks to a recommendation from Ethan Banks. Give it a listen for at least the first 12 minutes or so. Seth Godin, the host, does a marvelous job at describing the tradeoffs we’ve made in the evergreen pursuit of more and more convenience. It’s something for which we as a society thirst. There’s never enough convenience to be had, by golly, and we’re willing to give up a dangerously holistic amount of money and freedom to get it.
I self reflected on this episode by thinking about my own sacrifices made in the name of convenience. While I was happy that the list has grown smaller over the past year (thanks to the pursuit of deep work), the list was still longer than I wanted it to be. Chief among the list was video games, an exchange of money to get instant gratification and digital entertainment. My Steam library, for example, is overflowing with hundreds of purchased games from the past 17 years, all available at the click of a button and a short wait during the download. And while I think Steam is a very, very convenient way to be entertained, am I getting something valuable out of the deal? Do the thousands upon thousands of hours invested bring joy and meaning to my life, or am I simply deferring boredom by staring at a glowing screen that delivers a steady drip of dopamine?
I’m not sure, to be honest.
I look at some of my friend’s recent gaming activities. Many of them have surrendered over 80% of their daily freetime to the game New World, having spent 200-300 hours playing the game in less than a month. That’s anywhere from 12 – 16 hours per day spent doing virtual work in a virtual world. I am sad to see this and sort of shocked that anyone can carve out such vast amounts of free time. This amount of time investment is an escape, not a distraction. It is horribly unhealthy for both mind and body. But enough people do it to make the behavior normalized.
A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.Joshua/WOPR
I am no stranger to such addiction; I used to spend 40 to 60 hours a week playing games like Ultima Online, Asheron’s Call, and World of Warcraft during my early adult years. It’s why I don’t play massively multiplayer online (MMO) games anymore. I know that they are powerfully and hopelessly addictive, and I struggle to fight it. MMOs are very methodical in their approach to owning as much customer attention as possible. It’s something I’ve seen first hand with the introduction of daily tasks, weekly tasks, achievements that require real money, and other pretty gross tactics. It’s a vile and corporate version of the Dungeons and Dragons role playing we did as kids, and it requires zero imagination to play. Anyway, this isn’t a rant on MMOs. Seeing my friends caught in the snare has been heavily on my mind since the game’s announcement and the change with my gaming friend group.
Thanks to Steam’s robust set of metrics and recent activity feeds, I know that I spend about 15 – 20 hours a week playing games like Oxygen Not Included, Hollow Knight, and Deep Rock Galactic. These are fun games, for sure, but I’ve noticed that what used to be an enjoyable escape from the weekly work grind has turned “boring” and fails to hold my attention.
Sometimes I jump on Steam, look at the gaming options, and just log back off. I don’t think these games are suddenly becoming boring per se, but rather that my perspective on time investments has shifted enough to make me cognizant of the opportunities available for time normally spent gaming. Once I heard the Akimbo podcast episode, the lightbulb went off.
Why not try something different and see how that goes?
For the first time since I’ve been a kid, I’m just going to step away from video games for a while. I’ve deleted all of the installed games and signed out of Steam. I’m no longer a member of gaming Discord channels. I want to better explore other ways to achieve joy and entertainment without being saddled with the yoke of convenience.
It’s nice to know that I now have up to 20 additional hours per week to “spend” on whatever else comes to mind. I want to write more on this blog and now – POOF – I have that time available. I also want to develop stronger opinions on aspects of technical design and now – POOF – that time is there for me. I’m trying to align this extra time towards my strategic objectives, which gets me excited for the future and energetic to see results.
I’m curious to see how this experiment plays out.