With Christmas now officially over and New Year on the horizon it’s a good opportunity to reflect. I’ve been on a strong gaming kick this year since getting the Switch – even more than usual, and it was already “on” as far as gaming goes. My history with games is full of ebbs and flows but the level of flow recently is starting to make me uncomfortable.
I’m reading a book, ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne (lead singer of the Talking Heads), and there’s a line that got me thinking. Byrne quotes the philosopher Theodor Adorno who described the experience of listening to music alone as an ‘opiate’. Byrne unpacks the idea: ‘like a drug, instead of bringing real happiness, the music heard on jukeboxes only creates more desire for itself’. As a music fan this reasonates with me to an extent. And If we apply that to games, it’s the idea that playing games doesn’t produce any tangible benefit – rather all it does is increase our desire to play more.
Reading this has gotten me a little paranoid. Of course gaming is the springboard for this blog – without gaming there would be no Very Very Gaming. That was a conscious decision to try and create something out of my hobby. (Arguably it’s generous to call it a hobby. Obsession might be more apt.)
I increasingly have to remind myself of the obvious: games – and more broadly any type of media, books, films etc – do not and cannot make me happy. No matter how well-constructed, crafted or lovingly made, these experiences are only fleeting. Playing a great game feels great, but that all goes away when you turn it off and come back to reality. It’s a constant challenge to live a fulfilling life, and sometimes gaming adds to that challenge by masquerading as a solution. And a big part of that has to do that with games’ addictive qualities, that opiate-like quality that makes you want to continue and play more.
When do games tip over from being positive distractions, an enjoyable way to spend leisure time, to a means of procrastination or avoidance? The answers are very dependent on a person’s individual circumstances, I know. In any case it can’t hurt to ask these questions of myself and reflect on priorities every once in a while. Am I running away from responsibilities, am I acting in my own best interests? Could I be making better use of my time? How do I strike a good balance?
I did something unusual today, and imposed a time limit on my play. One hour with Steamworld Dig 2 – no more. I went a few minutes over, but that’s OK.