24 February, 2012
First, the great news: The CRPG addict is back! That's a great blog and if you like RPGs you absolutely should go read it to understand the history of the computer RPG genre. He plays the old games you don't have time to play in full.
But, I wanted to touch on an issue he touches on in his post: the value of games to a productive adult in today's society.
Reality can't beat a good RPG
What struck me in that blog post is how true it is. I don't know exactly what Chet, the RPG Addict, does for a living, but I assume it's something on the creative end of the spectrum. I know in my own life (both as a kid and an adult), reality has rarely lived up to my imagination.
So, when he posts about how disappointing an otherwise rather neat scene is because it can't live up to his imagination (as colored by RPGS), I understood that completely. Even when seeing something that would blow someone else's mind, I can come up with a few ways where it would be even cooler. Those colorful jellyfish in the aquarium? What if they were space organisms floating past a space ship? That lovely sunset? What if we were someplace exotic rather than looking out the widow of our rented place?
I think for some of us with strong imaginations, we need something to stimulate it. We need something fantastical to provoke thought. But, now I wonder if we have a chicken-and-egg situation here: do we like RPGs because we are imaginative, or are we creative because we like RPGs? Or is it a combination of both?
I'm not an expert, but I could play one on the internet
I've not done a ton of research on this, so I'm absolutely not an expert. I'm just sharing some of my own thoughts and personal philosophies here. Take this with as big of a grain of salt as you need.
There are some experts who make claims that Everything Bad is Good For You. (I'll admit I haven't read that book, although I've read a lot of information bout it.) The main point is that our modern entertainment makes us better able to handle the complexities of modern life. So, I think I'm not leading anyone astray here. At least not intentionally.
All work and no play....
I think the problem here is that Chet fell into a fallacy of modern life: that we can be 100% productive. As I commented in his post about taking a break, I can certainly understand his position. I've felt the crushing pressure of deadlines, and the guilt of playing maybe a bit too much of an MMO when I should have been working. I have the added excuse that I make these things for a living, but that rings hollow when I'm simply wandering around clearing grey quests from my quest log when I should be looking at something for work. (Note to the team: I'm totally not referring to Storybricks work. You can trust me! ;)
In addition, there's a large cultural assumption that games are a waste of time, simple time-wasters or something that's suitable mostly for children. Thankfully, this attitude is (slowly) changing, but it's something that some of us have to deal with when we engage in our preferred pastime. I'm sure this weighs further on Chet as he ponders how to spend his time.
But, it's pretty obvious that we need our "down time" away from serious work. As much as it would be awesome if we could be 110% productive all the time, our brains don't work like that. A lot of research into learning and memory shows that we need sleep in order to better form memories. Introverts (which make up a sizable portion of creative types and programmers) get re-energized when we're off on our own; so, if you do something that requires a lot of interaction with others, you might need to get away for a bit.
Also, our brains don't automatically shut off if we are doing something else; I'm sure many people here have had the experience of our minds solving a difficult problem when we've moved on to something else. Sometimes doing something else that simulates the mind gets you unconsciously thinking about a problem in a different way. Games like RPGs tend to encourage problem solving and exploration, so it can put us in the right frame of mind.
Life in balance
Of course, a proper balance is vital. As much as games are awesome, you need to keep things in balance. Playing games too much can be problematic, obviously.
The first issue is how they make you feel. Some gamers feel like they get hooked on "fake" things like achievements. People spend too much time playing games (particularly MMOs) and feel like they've "wasted" their time. This can be troublesome, and lead people to lashing out at games. If you feel bad about playing games, you should definitely stop. Taking a break can help you get perspective. I think the CRPG addict did the right thing in taking a month off, because I think it helped to show him the value of his "addiction". As he points out, he was just filling that time with other activities, not working harder or spending more time with friends and family. I suspect that despite his feelings, he does need this downtime to be productive.
The other issue is seeing how gaming affects the rest of your life. It's obviously very possible to spend too much time playing games and ignoring other important parts of your life. Perspective is important, and knowing the difference between taking a break to play a game vs. using gaming to ignore the rest of the world is vital to your long-term health.
There's another depth to this that is the topic du jour. There is, unfortunately, a vocal group of rather angry and hateful people out there. I don't believe that it's purely motivated by misogyny, as I've been the target of such vitriol for decisions I made while working on Meridian 59. It's usually best to avoid cesspools of hatred and anger, and I try to make sure the communities I hang out with are worthwhile.
Duh, gaming is great!
Okay, so I have my obvious biases given that I make games for a living. But, I think you can make a strong case for gaming being a worthwhile activity, at least as good as watching TV, although I would argue it's better than watching a movie and even reading a book. The interactivity engages you on a different level than traditional media, which makes games more exciting as a medium.
I figure most people who read this blog won't find reasons to disagree too strenuously. But, I'll ask: what do you think? Do you find gaming to help you be productive? Does it have other positive influences on your life?