On the distractions of video games.

Though I have been doing better in recent years, sometimes I get sucked into a game and waste several dozen hours building a civilization or digging a hole or flying through space.


After one of these sessions, I always end up feeling a bit guilty. What more productive things could I have done with those hours? What could I have created instead of consumed? What I find interesting is that I hardly ever hear that little voice after watching several hours of a TV show, or spending an entire afternoon reading a book. Why should one form of entertainment be seen as more ‘wasteful’ than the others?


For myself, I think it is because the video games I tend to play are often not story driven. When I read a book or watch a show or movie, I feel as if I’m ‘researching’ for future stories of my own. Any ideas, characters or plot twists I can absorb is all the better for when I need to reach into my bag of tricks later.


But what do video games have to offer? Certainly for someone who wants to design them as a career, they have a lot to offer. But for me, not as much, unless I were to play the more story driven games (of which there are some brilliant ones), but those are never the ones I find myself addicted to.


It’s something else, however, that keeps me trapped inside a game. It’s the sense of accomplishment and excitement they offer. Finding a secret or solving a problem offers a real sense of reward, generated by those fancy chemicals in my brain. It’s only after I’m done playing for a while that I realize I have accomplished nothing that applies to anything in the real world. The problems I’ve solved were created specifically for me to solve, the secrets were put there for me to find. All so I would get that reward response, and play more.


TV and books trick your brain as well, making you feel scared, excited, in love or tickling your curiosity. But there is a subtle difference in that watching a TV show doesn’t give you a sense of accomplishment. Doing well at a game gives a feeling like you’ve done something, leaving you less in need of that reward from real life. Why go through the effort of writing a bestseller when I can get a feeling of accomplishment when sim-me does it? Watching a show or reading a book can inspire creativity and action, but what if I am satisfying that creative urge in a game instead of the real world?

Of course I’ll always have room for a couple hours of games here and there, but perhaps there is a reason one might feel more guilt related to them compared to other forms of entertainment. And possibly a reason they seem to be looked down on more than those other forms.


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