Video games and I have an interesting relationship.
When I was a kid, my parents limited the amount of time I could play video games to two 30-minute sessions a day. Later I was given the option of playing for one 45 minute period instead of two half hours, but for many years I experienced the worlds of Mario, Link, and others in short spurts. I don’t begrudge my parents this restriction; it made sure I kept up with my other hobbies (like LEGO) and got outside every once in a while (even if it was merely to go read under a tree).
But as I grew older, these restrictions lifted. I think it was some time in high school, although there was never a formal discussion about it. I just gradually began to control my own timing, playing as much (or as little) as I wanted. But my previous restrictions did at least instill in me the importance of limitation, of not binging to the point of excess. I still had responsibilities, after all: homework to do, chores to complete, a part time job to keep up with.
And I think the way I approach video games even to this day is still informed by the habits I learned then. Obviously, I’m now the sole master of my schedule. I’m free of the tyranny of homework that always seemed to threaten my “free” time as a student, and I often spend my days off either on the couch or in front of my computer, chipping away at the fairly enormous backlog I’ve managed to accrue over the years. And while those days are fun, I still feel slightly guilty indulging in them.
Why, I wonder? After all, shouldn’t I be able to freely choose what to do with my free time as long as the necessities are taken care of and accounted for? Isn’t that one of the privileges of being an adult?
Growing up, video games were a treat, a novelty. Something that was purely leisure time, but not some worthy cultural pursuit like reading or going to a museum. But is this view still valid? One need only do a quick Google search to see that the “Are video games art?” discussion is alive and well. Is the time invested consuming one type of creative work (e.g., a novel) inherently better than another type (e.g., video games)? I think that I’ve internalized a sense that video games are “worth less,” somehow or other. And I’m not sure if I still agree with those implications.
I look at my backlog, and realize there’s no way I’m going to work my way through it if I continue to view video games as a way of postponing “real” work (whatever that means), or if I continue to feel guilty about my enjoyment. After all, most of the games in my collection are ones that I was interested in playing for some reason or other. Why shouldn’t I enjoy my time with them?
And that’s the crux of the matter, I think: I’ve been viewing gaming as a way of avoiding doing something else, of procrastinating. When I game it’s often because I don’t want to do the dishes or look for a job (to use completely random examples), not because I want to enjoy the artfully crafted experience of the game itself.
So maybe that’s the solution. Maybe a way I can feel less guilty about playing video games is if I’m more conscious about it. Playing video games because I want to play, not because I don’t want to [something]. It’s an interesting thought, and one I’ll have to investigate further. And what better way to do that than trying to do so on my day off tomorrow!