Chuck Carroll

Video Games and Spinning on the Hamster Wheel

Published: 2023-06-17
Last Updated: 2023-07-21, 2023-08-18

I've played video games since before I can remember. I look back with fondness and nostalgia at those many summers throughout childhood in my family basement playing Nintendo 64 or Pokemon on my Gameboy. As an adult though, my feelings toward them are mixed. Part of me still finds them enjoyable - hell I just wrapped up Cyberpunk 2077 a couple months ago, and just did another playthrough of Black Mesa. However, there's another part of me sees video games in general as nothing more than a waste of time, akin to spinning on a hamster wheel.

Video games can often get in the way of things, like my actual interests and goals, and what you do today is a vote for how you want your future self to turn out. Of course, with most things, moderation is crucial. When I get really into a game, I can easily sink about 20 hours or more in just a week (schedule permitting). Looking at that numbers played in the past two weeks on Steam, I sometimes feel like a piece of shit. I could have been doing something more constructive with my time like building a new skill, or pursued a higher quality hobby or interest that I find enjoyable. Steam, a PC gaming platform, shows you the total hours you've spent playing a game. I tallied up all the hours spent playing all the games in my library and the total came out to 1,413.4 hours (or 58.9 days). If we divide the total by 8 hours, a typical day spent working, that's 176 days. And this doesn't include the time spent gaming on mobile devices and periods of my life where I've owned a video game console. Now this value is far from what I'd consider a lot compared to heavier gamers, but can't help but imagine what my life would be like if I spent that time more constructively. The same thought comes to me when I think about all the TV shows I've watched.

Then there's the state of mobile gaming which is absolutely disgusting. Loot boxes, pay-to-win, and just the overall design of these games requires no strategy from the user, you just have to tap your screen enough times. They're always riddled with advertisements and dark patterns to keep you on the platform. Sometimes you even pay for a game just to have it removed from the platform by the developer (or even more annoying, removed and republished again). Even outside of mobile, a lot of modern games are intentionally designed to get you hooked and to sink the most amount of time on them.

This isn't to say that I think people should not play video games. But for me, in addition to the time suck, there is a plethora of issues with the gaming industry, and often they're no better than the advertising industry (often arising from the overlap). I don't want to judge other people's lifestyles, but I've seen people spend an exorbitant amount of their life gaming (and not just their time, but the amount of money they've spent as well) and they firmly believe that this is time well spent. Maybe it's observing the "gamer" lifestyle of others that I question my own habits. Again moderation is key. I've had times where I've avoided playing any video games for the first three months of the year, or taking a full month entirely. I can tell you that those months I've restricted myself from gaming have been the most fulfilling and productive I've had (productive in the sense that I spend more time pursuing higher quality interests and activities like jiu-jitsu, reading, and writing).

I've observed that usually the people that are heavy gamers are usually doing so in order to escape from some kind of problem in their life or have a general dissatisfaction with some part of their lives and don't know how to resolve it. It's part of the human condition to go through periods of feeling "stuck" in life and playing a video game is a quick and easy way to feel good about yourself because you feel like you've "accomplished" or "achieved" something. But the reality is that these feelings are artificial and you haven't really gotten anywhere. Some heavy gamers also turn to streaming their video gaming to Twitch or YouTube as an attempt to add some legitimacy, further enabling the behavior ("I aM a CoNtEnT cReAtOr").

At best, generally speaking, video games are a low quality activity. They can tell unique and interesting stories or (in some select cases) improve problem solving abilities that no other medium can do. And like film, they should be considered art. At worst, however, they're pretty close to masturbation. Porn is to sex as video games are to real life. They can be time sucks, facilitate addictive patterns, and impede personal growth and development.

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