Intentional Gaming

Upon reflection, I cannot help but come to the conclusion that much of my gaming time has been time spent poorly. The question driving this is, “Am I really enjoying this or just looking for something to do?” I find that much of my gaming time has been driven by habit, increasing numbers on a screen because that is what you do in this game, and working on arbitrary checklists. Like the epiphany about social media games, this is a realization of just how strongly our primate brains can provide a drive to continue without much in the way of value or enjoyment.

The metaphor that immediately comes to mind is sitting down in front of the television so see what is on. This is how you lose an entire evening without having the sense that you did or even watched much; there is always something on, or at least about to come on or just about done or hey let’s see if this is any good… It is similarly easy to sit down in front of the computer after work and check Facebook, your RSS feeds, follow a few links, check in on a few games, watch some YouTube videos, look through Amazon’s new recommendations for you…

I was considering limiting myself to X hours of gaming per week, but I have settled on a different metaphor: only eat when you are hungry. Don’t eat out of habit or boredom or just open the fridge to see what looks good; only open the fridge when you are hungry. Therefore: only sit down at the computer when you have something in mind to do. And then stand up and walk away from the computer, rather than doing the equivalent of flipping through channels. If I see something that looks like fun while I’m there, great, but if I am just looking for something to do, I can draw an experience point bar on a whiteboard and give myself points for housework. “1000 dishes washed: achievement!” And I’m going to watch Dr. Who. I hear good things.

I’ll let you know how this goes. I may be posting more or less; some of my most prolific posting sprees came from times when I was not gaming much, but that might have been because I was sitting at the computer and looking for something to do.

: Zubon

I could use more happiness and intention in my career, too. I don’t suppose any of you work on the business side of Disney Parks or Resorts? I’m thinking of jumping industries but my professional network is in my current industry.

10 thoughts on “Intentional Gaming

  1. Jeromai

    This is why I like to play games without mandatory upkeep mechanics. Every so often, once I feel boredom incoming and logging into a game turning into a habit, I consciously switch it up and ask myself “What game, out of the hundreds (dang Steam and bundles) at my disposal, do I really -feel- like playing?”

    And I need to be able to ignore a game I normally play faithfully and daily for a week or two without feeling like I can never come back.

    This week has been super slack in GW2, and I’ve been spending more time revisiting Don’t Starve and pondering if I have the time to run a solo Mythic/Sorcerer RPG adventure (probably not, but doesn’t stop me reading the rules and creating a world/setting), as a personal example.

  2. SynCaine

    :Insert joke about you working in an actual themepark here:

    What has always worked for me, and what I’ve gotten worse at, is committing to finishing a single player game before looking around for another. Almost all games have low points along with high ones, and ‘pushing through’ those low points has almost always been rewarding. Rare is the game that I buy that is outright ‘bad’, where stopping was the right choice.

    That’s my current ‘problem’ with Shadowrun. I’ve really, really enjoyed it, but I’ve kinda fallen out of it due to MMOs, and now the icon on the desktop taunts me but I can’t seem to slot some time to double-click it and get going again.

  3. Kaluu

    I couldn’t help but smile reading your post because I do the same thing watching TV. I keep flipping thru the channels, thinking there should be something on, only to find I have spent a lot of time ultimately watching nothing at all.

    I assumed you played lots of games to give you content to write about in here. I have assumed you get pleasure from following industry trends and evaluating individual games. Then there is the joy of writing itself, formulating thoughts, insights, and projecting arguments or conclusions. Something like that anyway.

    Perhaps because I am older, have played for so long, or just because I get tired, I don’t know, but I only play games for the enjoyment and company of the people I play with or the pleasure of the game itself. I don’t respond well to carrots or rewards for doing something the devs want players to do.

    For what it is worth, sometimes stepping back a few steps gives a different perspective and time to contemplate, for me anyway. Perhaps that is why you write more when you play less.

    Whatever form or frequency your writings take, I can assure you I will enjoy them to the fullest. I enjoy your insights and simply just the way you write.

  4. bhagpuss

    This is the same process I went through when I stopped watching tv back in 1999 and moved to using all the time I gained to playing MMOs instead. Never regretted it for a second and fifteen years later I find that if anything I’m getting more out of the experience than ever.

    If its any consolation, I find that the older I get, the less of a toss I give about whether I’m “wasting” my time or not. More and more things just get more and more interesting and eventually you realize there’s no need to put them in any kind of hierarchy of significance. Just do the ones you like when you feel like doing them and forget about the ones you’re not doing.

    1. The Guilty Party

      I think wastefulness is orthogonal to games. It can be true or not even in a single game.

      For example, I don’t feel it’s a waste to level my third Imperial Agent in SWTOR. It’s something I want to do, it’s enjoyable, even though it provides me nothing new and could be argued to be pointless.

      I do feel it’s a waste to grind dungeons to upgrade my gear on my level-maxed characters. I’m here for the story and the experience, and the experience of ‘do the same thing 20 times so you can be more efficient at doing it’ is not compelling.

      This is why I generally don’t last in MMOs; they’re usually purely the second case. Advancement for the sake of advancement. I need to enjoy the journey, even if it’s a trip I’ve taken before.

  5. Curuniel

    GW2 is the first thing I’ve played with daily achievements/quests (at least, that I’ve been into enough to consider them), and they make this quite insidious. If you’re looking for something to do there’s always dailies, and that’s not too much of a commitment, so I sit down to that – but then when I finish and once again ask myself what I feel like doing, I’m already in the game and it’s easy to make the question “what else do I feel like doing *in Guild Wars*?”

    That said, there are nights when I do dailies and then realise that I don’t want to play any more than that because I have nothing in particular to do. But… I usually still do at least dailies out of habit.

  6. moondog548

    The “Only eat when you’re hungry.” perspective is genius. I’m serious, that’s an illumination to me.

    My meager attempt to reciprocate: Calling it “instant gratification” never really explained what was really going on to me. Then I realized there is an actual physiological phenomenon gets me acting like an addict, playing games/surfing in the skinner-box-style just as you’ve described. And that phenomenon is *synthetic achievement*.

    Like you seriously really do get a brain chemical reaction from achievement, and the virtual ones may be small but the time and effort it takes to get them is infintessimal compared to the “real thing”. Especially for someone ADD like myself the “real thing” is almost a myth to begin with (seriously that’s part of what drives ADD, we don’t get the same spurt of happy chemicals from mundane accomplishments that most folks do).

    Thus, we binge on mental junk food.

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