Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

24 February, 2012

The need to be “unproductive”
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 4:51 AM

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?

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  1. I guess the question really comes down to this: is the meaning of your life to be productive? Or something else?

    Once I read an article written by someone who works with the elderly. The article was about what people regret on their deathbeds. She didn’t remember a single person who had regrets about working too little. On the other had, plenty of people regretted working too much. Another thing many had regrets about was not spending more time on doing things they enjoyed, instead of doing something they thought they should be enjoying.

    Comment by Paula — 24 February, 2012 @ 5:56 AM

  2. It’s long been my belief that, when it comes to popular culture, value is input by the consumer not output by the producer. In other words, it’s the intellectual and emotional response that you make to any given work that matters, not the intellectual or emotional effort that went into its creation. cf the Intentional Fallacy.

    On the subject of Reality trumping RPGs, however, I have to say that’s really not going to happen until we have RPGs that engage all of the senses, not just sight and hearing. After I came back from my last holiday I posted about how Mrs Bhagpuss and I kept seeing MMO scenery out of the car window, and we certainly made plenty of jokes about how certain vistas would be improved by a dragon here or a dwarf mine there, but that imaginative gameplaying is a very, very far call from the intense physical experience of standing on an Atlantic beach in a strong wind watching the sun set or walking through ancient woodland in heavy rain. I have an excellent imagination but it’s not *that* excellent.

    Comment by bhagpuss — 24 February, 2012 @ 11:31 AM

  3. I think there’s an illusion that people can be productive 24/7. People can work on things for long, long hours, but fatigue breeds mistakes, which end up costing more than you gained by working all those extra hours.

    I think humans have a fixed amount of “willpower points” that they can use to move their lives off of the path of least resistance each day. So, when those are spent, about all that you’re good for is clearing gray quests. Or watching TV and sleeping.

    Comment by Toldain — 24 February, 2012 @ 12:58 PM

  4. I’ve had discussions several times with my wife about precisely this. I’m used to firing up a game of some sort to unwind after work, and she just feels guilty any time she tries to play something. I’ve noted that we really do need time to relax and let ourselves just have fun, or we’ll just keep stressing until we pop. Sure, that fun might take different forms, but I think it’s important that we not feel obligated to be productive all the time. If for no other reason than when we inevitably fail to do so, we feel guilty for the failure, as if we *could* be perfect little automatons. We need rest, mentally and physically. Sleep serves well enough for physical rest, but it’s often not really enough for mental rest.

    Comment by Tesh — 24 February, 2012 @ 2:24 PM

  5. I say that gaming is far better than watching TV (I no longer watch tv channels), and not better than a really good book. I did cut back on games to do more reading.

    Comment by Indy — 24 February, 2012 @ 3:35 PM

  6. True to Design: What I’m Reading

    [...] need to be “unproductive”: Share this:FacebookTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Categories: True to [...]

    Pingback by Managing the Game — 27 February, 2012 @ 6:47 AM

  7. I believe that we can even be productive when we’re idle. Different people have different goals, and I won’t tell anybody what to do with their free time, particularly when they show no interest in engaging in something that requires a lot of time and effort (like painting, writing a book, playing an instrument). In any case, to those that do want to do something productive for themselves (like the aforementioned), even being ‘idle’ can be worthwhile. For instance, I like to just sit and listen to music (classical, or OST from games ;)) to relax and receive ‘inspiration’; although just lying there thinking has been somewhat diminished as a meaningful activity these days. Also reading books can be productive, for just about anybody, but specially for writers. Games can also be productive, particularly certain genres: RPGs for their stories, and MMOs (or multiplayer games) for the community. I’d rather spend 100 hours in an MMO meeting new people and having fun than 20 hours in a lootfest, which only really addresses my achievement/loot greed (this I say now, but I’m going to play Diablo III for more than 20 hours for sure).

    Also, we have to take into account the psychology of gaming. Traditional games, those who were played with friends in a physical environment, were used to bond together. They were the expression of certain attitudes that perhaps couldn’t have been shown in real life as easily: like your desire to cooperate and help your team mates, your striving together for a goal, etc. Multiplayer games serve a similar function. Now, if only we would be less of a stranger to each other. This is productivity to an extent; everything that contributes for you to develop as a human being is productive.

    What I don’t think that is a good idea for your health is to watch TV, or most of the programmes that are being broadcast these days. That is just harmful for your braincells.

    Comment by Milady — 27 February, 2012 @ 8:07 AM

  8. I became an adult in the 80s, when it was the norm to work 60+ hours a week. And you still hear people talk about wanting to leave some kind of legacy, to make something of their lives. But I’ve always been a rebel so I’ve lived my life smelling the roses far more than not. This has made me somewhat of a black sheep – my family and many people I know think I don’t work hard enough. But I don’t believe in an afterlife and I don’t have children – so what’s the sense in “leaving a legacy”? When I’m dead I won’t care what people think of how I lived my life. The upshot of this is yes, I game a lot. And I go to conventions, watch TV, and read books. The only issue is getting enough money to support my hobbies :)

    I also think that gaming is undervalued for adults. It is seen as productive for children so why not adults also? It’s funny that this topic came up, last night I watched the movie “Darkon” and nodded my head the whole time. I could completely relate to these gamers trying to justify what they were doing.

    Comment by Djinn — 28 February, 2012 @ 12:56 PM

  9. I should have read the CRPG addict before I wrote my previous post. What he wrote made me laugh. I guess it’s being brought up in a society that thinks that gaming is not worthwhile that makes people think that their time would be better spent doing something like learning the piano. How is learning to play the piano or a new language inherently better than playing a game? I mean sure, if you were going to make money from them, and you needed more money, then I guess that would be more valuable. But if you are doing them purely for pleasure, then to me none of those choices is inherently more valuable.

    Comment by Djinn — 28 February, 2012 @ 1:11 PM

  10. Realistically the drive to be productive is recent phenom which started with the big, bad Industrial Revolution. Not to say people weren’t productive prior, but the way in which we lived, and thought about, our lives changed.

    That (reasonably) intelligent-sounding pre-face aside people can’t go-go-go 24hrs a day. I noticed a definite ‘tension’ when I lived in the UK that wasn’t present in Canada and people worked far too long (and hard) in my opinion. I know plenty of people who flop down in front of the tele when they aren’t ‘being productive’ so spending 1-3 hours a day gaming has never bothered me. Its what I do, it’s what I love. That’s all.

    Comment by Gank — 1 March, 2012 @ 9:19 AM

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