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Feb. 16 2010 - 11:10 am | 58,106 views | 4 recommendations | 26 comments

Why My Life Filled with Video Games is Not a Waste

This is one of the most thought provoking videos I’ve seen this year, but also one of the most frustrating, as it chronicles just what it means to have a life shaped by video games, which some may argue mine has been. It tells the animated tale of a real-life guy who took a step back from video games and realized what it had gotten him, nothing. He reflects on all he missed out on while playing games, and all the IRL adventures he could have had instead of staring in front of a screen.

At this point the video, I was ready to argue that the guy seemed like a former World of Warcraft addict, which is a game notoriously known for destroying lives. He talks about building level 80 characters, and grinding, all things within that game, and I feel like he was leaving out “normal” games that aren’t life consuming.

Fortunately, by the end of the video, he realizes he’s being overly harsh, and admits that video games actually can bring people together, just like any other form of entertainment. Sure, I’ve played thousands of hours of video games in my life, but the vast majority of those were spent playing games with friends, and I have great memories growing up of watching my friend beat Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time, staying up until four in the morning playing Mortal Kombat the day it came out, or how in awe we were of the limitless freedom to cause chaos in Grand Theft Auto III.

And even now, my friends and I still play games. I’ll spend two weeks beating Mass Effect 2 and talking about all the various outcomes with my friends. I’ll have people over on the weekend, and we’ll play a few rounds of Smash Bros. and Halo before heading out to the bar. I even have a buddy in law school across the country who I used to see every other day, but now only twice a year. But a couple times a week, we put on our headsets and play Modern Warfare 2, it’s a way to stay in touch that isn’t as lame as Skyping because we’re killing things and making fun of 12 year-olds.

Sure, in all the time I’ve spent playing video games I could have driven across the country, learned a language, baked a cake, done volunteer work or gone on dates. But guess what? I HAVE done all that stuff. A balanced life is really not that hard to live, and I feel that this guy is overgeneralizing about the evils of games because of a life-destroying addiction to World of Warcraft, a game I stay away from purposefully because I know about its addictive properties. Just because I have a few beers from time to time doesn’t mean I’m going to end up homeless on the streets sucking down rubbing alcohol.

I don’t view “wasting my time” with video games any differently than people who “waste their time” watching sports. At the end of the day, we go to sleep at night with the game we’ve just consumed having no real effect on our lives, and adding no real benefit, but we had a great time playing/watching it with our friends, and it’s an interest we all share and talk about.

Sure, we’d probably all be better off skydiving or going on safari or painting a picture or something, but this is real life, we all can’t do that stuff, but we do need distractions. The multibillion dollar industries of movies, television and sports can all attest to that. Is it really fair to say these industries are “useless,” and if we partake we are wasting our lives?

Too much of anything is bad for you, and this is most definitely true with video games as well. If playing games actually intereferes with the leading of a normal life then yes, burning them all in a grill might be the right life choice for you. But for the rest of us, who have lived great lives growing up playing video games? Sorry, but you’re not going to be able to shame me into the thinking I gamed my life away.


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  1. collapse expand

    He’s not talking about you, he’s talking about him, and warning other people like him. I came to the same realization just a few months ago that he did, now I’ve patched things up with my fiancee, I’m back in college, and I’m losing weight.

    Also you should post somewhere that lets people comment anonymously, everyone hates being forced to register.

  2. collapse expand

    Every person enjoys different things, and for anyone to disparage someone else for what they enjoy is, in my opinion, illegitimate and a waste of time.

    To make fun of or criticize people enjoying videogames is nothing more than calling someone a “nerd” when you’re 5 years old. It’s bullying, all “grown up.”

    Enjoying sports is generally given more legitimacy, but aren’t there people that spend hours consumed with sports and fantasy leagues, and couldn’t many many of them be said to be unhealthy, fat, anti-social, etc.?

    Something having and effect on your life is separate from the activity itself; video gaming shouldn’t be discounted outright. If someone causes problems in your life and you refuse to change — THAT’S the problem.

  3. collapse expand

    I may not be a genius because of gaming but games that make you think are good for the brain. A good blend of indoor/outdoor activities is necessary in life.

    I have never got into World of Warcraft but I have spent hours upon hours playing video games. And now I enjoy them with my 7 year old son. Nothing beats the time spent playing the new Super Mario bros. and him thinking he has to tell me how to play as if I didnt grow up with it.

    Of course we still go hiking and play outside.

  4. collapse expand

    Gaming as part of a balanced life … bravo! And on the other side of this dichotomy, compulsive gaming that interferes with a well-lived life, feh!

    But good vs. bad is too easy for something like gaming which is so powerfully engaging. Even saying that the value of the technology depends on what the gamer is doing with it (balanced connecting vs. pathological withdrawal) avoids the complexity. The really interesting questions are all about how the design conventions for gaming that are getting locked-in (like warfare and crime) have consequences beyond the fun any one gamer’s experience.

    All this is a long way to asking, did you see the Frontline piece about the Army Experience Center? The AEC attracts kids as young as 13 to experience “soldier tasks” by giving them unlimited free access to selected video games. They are “re-branding” being a soldier using video games. Link is below and I would really like to hear your thoughts about it either here or in a subsequent post:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/waging-war/a-new-generation/the-army-experience-center.html

  5. collapse expand

    I play World of Warcraft, and it’s not any more “addicting” than any other game; it’s just that, unlike a game like Mass Effect, you don’t hit a point where the game ends and the credits roll.

    But it really is a lot of fun. My wife and I play, we raid end-game stuff with our guild, and when there’s something more important to do, we do it. I’m taking the week off from raiding to study for tests; I’m not crawling up the wall from boredom or something.

  6. collapse expand

    The question I really have for this guy is this: why is creating a level 80 character in WOW less valuable than reading the great novels he listed?

    Don’t get me wrong, those are important works that define the western literary tradition (and Harry Potter which, while less important, is fun) and any person who wants to label themselves educated in matters of American and European Lit should have read them… but aren’t those experiences just as “unreal” as creating a WOW character?

    Indeed, aren’t they more passive?

    Is there a spot on my resume where I can list that I’ve read Moby Dick? Isn’t thumbing through War and Peace likewise a solitary pursuit?

    It’s not politic to suggest that reading is no more valuable (or valueless) than video gaming but in point of fact – and at least from a social standpoint – that’s exactly what it is.

    Video games are media, just like television, movies, books, magazines, music and a host of others. There will always be people in the world who can’t responsibly manage the involvement of media, drugs, food, or almost any other aspect of their lives. Hell, there are folks who can’t responsibly manage the influence of socialization in their lives. If you know someone who had to drop out of college after joining a fraternity then you know someone like that.

    I’m glad Brian Schmoyer was able to identify something he couldn’t responsibly manage in his life and it’s good that he’s moved on from it. But just as an alcoholic shouldn’t spend their lives championing prohibition, there’s little good to be found in becoming suddenly morally self righteous about the evils of video gaming.

    Life is full of choices and if you’re happy – really truly happy with the choices you’ve made – it’s not really up to anyone else to pass judgment on those choices.

    After all, in the time I spent drafting this comment I probably could have cooked a small meal or developed some photographs. That doesn’t mean writing this was a waste of time.

    • collapse expand

      Oh, now I feel bad about being a worse compulsive reader than I am a compulsive gamer! But, you make good points.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      How can you compare wasting thousands of hours playing WOW with reading great literature? You argue that they are both simply forms of entertainment? Spending thousands of hours wrestling with the ideas and stories in books, in particular these great classics makes your brain sharper and more informed. Some forms of entertainment can be beneficial, but if your counting game time in thousands of hours its a wasted life. The mind like the body turns to jello if it goes unchallenged.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    I listened to War and Peace twice while playing video games… I also did Homer. It is possible become a expert in classical culture while mindlessly hacking zombies to death.

  8. collapse expand

    What I don’t understand about Mr. Schmoyer is why he assumes that video games made him depressed…

    Why couldn’t he make the connection that he was playing a ton of video games (escaping) BECAUSE he was depressed. Video games didn’t stop him from being a better husband, or being artistic, he stopped himself.

    People don’t lock themselves away in a room for hours if they are normal, happy people, no matter how addicting the game might be.

    (And if you have severe social anxiety, maybe MMOs are the safest way for you to communicate with others…? )

    It’s as if he is using video games as a scape-goat to excuse his own lack of motivation.

    But I shouldn’t be too hard on him… I can relate on many levels…..

  9. collapse expand

    “Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family.
    Choose a fucking big television, choose washing machines, cars,
    compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good
    health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed
    interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your
    friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a
    three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics.
    Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning.
    Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing
    game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose
    rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable
    home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up
    brats you spawned to replace yourself.”

    • collapse expand

      “Now I’ve justified this to myself in all sorts of ways. It wasn’t a big deal, just a minor betrayal. Or we’d outgrown each other, you know, that sort of thing. But let’s face it, I ripped them off – my so called mates. …. So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers – all false. The truth is that I’m a bad person. But, that’s gonna change – I’m going to change. This is the last of that sort of thing. Now I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m gonna be just like you. The job, the family, the fucking big television. The washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electric tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisure wear, luggage, three piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing gutters, getting by, looking ahead, the day you die.”
      I love the end of that movie

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  10. collapse expand

    Ahh WoW. This generations EQ. First, full disclosure, if there is a major MMO you can think of, I have probably played it. If you make a list of minor or failed MMOs I probably played most of them too. I even played MUDs before that (I am not your generation). I fired up my first game on a HP mainframe. PCs didn’t exist yet. I play offline games too, but this post will deal with online. In all those on-line games, I’ve only had a max level character 3 times. The first one was in my first big MUD.

    WoW is actually less addicting and time demanding than EQ was before it. I remember the screams of horror from purists at how easy WoW would be, and the elation of people that thought 2-week long raids and month long round the clock spawn camping were not compatible with RL. I think for people that will be sucked into the games, WoW just made that addiction more accessible. I’m not sure how many gamers are really addicted though.

    For those not addicted, it is definitely about the community, the people you play them with. I will only pull two things from my gaming past.

    Do they have a place on your resume for game achievements? depends. I have been asked for my resume in games. I have accepted resumes from gamers to pass on. In many tech areas, it may not be a negative, and like any social venue, it can be a source of networking.

    What can a community do? I home schooled an autistic spectrum child with many coordination and learning problems. The public school felt key boarding was his best bet for a solid communication tool, but had made no progress there. He joined a gaming guild I was in with several other parents and children that played casually together in evenings in a casual MMO (CoH). Despite many liking the convenience of voice chat, I asked if people grouping with him would stick to just typing. Under the circumstances, everyone agreed. My son loved the game, and had to type to play it. It took a couple of months of evenings and the help of a good two-dozen other people and their children who I have never met face to face but my son types quite well now. We could talk about his replies, so his social skills improved. My son realizes I was tricky! I realize I also have to thank many people who willingly volunteered to be part of the “carrot” to get him to find a way to reach others, and to get the tool he needed to finish his education. No max level characters existed, or were harmed, in the making of this story.

    I thought of that when my son comfortably sat down and started typing for the ESL-student friend he made, then brought home for me to tutor. There are many other stories I know from my decades wasted on that hobby of people helping people. Sure, people being what they are I have stories of people hurting people too. All from the loneliness of their basements.

    The large social games are interesting social experiments. A couple of people that have been looking at them that way for many years are here:

    Raph Koster: http://www.raphkoster.com/
    Nick Yee: http://www.nickyee.com/eqt/home.html

  11. collapse expand

    Let’s switch things up:

    And even now, my friends and I still watch TV. I’ll spend two weeks watching American Idol and talking about all the various outcomes with my friends. I’ll have people over on the weekend, and we’ll watch a few episodes of Friends and Jersey Shore before heading out to the bar. I even have a buddy in law school across the country who I used to see every other day, but now only twice a year. But a couple times a week, we put on our headsets and watch Glee, it’s a way to stay in touch that isn’t as lame as Skyping because we’re making fun of 12 year-olds.

    Video games are interactive TV. It’s a mind-numbing hobby. Roping it in with sports doesn’t make them better. No one’s going to rake you over the coals for not being in two places at once, but it’s impossible to disagree with me saying that there are better things to do than video games. They bring people together in about the same way that prostitution brings people together.

  12. collapse expand

    I’m just going to leave here the same comment I posted on the guys video:

    “As someone said, I learned english by playing VGs, also I got to get along with the people who are now my best friends. Lately I’ve been remarkably improving my skills on the guitar and keyboard thanks to VGs music. VGs has been both the doom and the start of relationships. They inspire and calm me in stressful times. VGs influenced me in studying 3d art.
    It might depend on the person, so I guess this video can be quite harmful, as it states that they just wast time and have no real value.”

    And I’ll only add that by no means will I ever stop playing VGs, nor will I feel as that guy because, as stated in the article and proved by my life, videogames are NOT a waste of time or life.

    • collapse expand

      I would like to point out that in this article, James Swan hurts people. Correlating bad behavior with video games does not prove that video games cause bad behavior.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Nick, I think you missed the key portion of that article:

      Swan was playing the game in a bedroom shared by several children, and was drinking alcohol

      I don’t think we need anyone’s expert opinion on how drinking alcohol can cause bad behavior in some people, regardless of what they were doing when they were drinking.

      This article could have easily read that he was drinking and watching Monday night football. After that you could just paste the rest of the article and it would fit perfectly in context. This has nothing to do with video games, and all about an unstable individual being intoxicated.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  13. collapse expand

    Agree with the writer, disagree with the movie maker. Escapism isn’t a lack of character. They told Shakespeare that Poetry was a waste of time and a frivolous hobby. Whining little b*tch

  14. collapse expand

    What people need to understand is this: everything in moderation. Videogames are perfectly fine, just as long as they aren’t the only thing you ever do. They can help relieve stress or tension, but you shouldn’t allow them to control you.

  15. collapse expand

    The innaccuracy with the perception that video games are a problem stems from:
    A. a generational gap that doesn’t understand what’s actually going on
    B. a lack of recognition that the people who become ‘addicted’ would simply be addicted to something else…addictive personality is addictive personailty…the game itself holds no power.
    C. a vestigial frame of reference that treats ‘games’ in general as of little consequence, frivolous or ‘useless’ when in fact that’s not true…ask any sociologist or psychologist about the power and value of play in our society.
    D. the tendancy to erroneously associate ‘violent’ games with violent behavior.

    so here’s the reality:
    A. Harvard business review writes up an article on the value/benefit of games such as WoW as “online learning labs”….hmmm I guess they’re all idiots at Harvard?
    B. The military and airlines use simulations and games as training mechanisms…hmmm I guess they don’t know what they’re doing either?
    C. Just because YOU as a parent didn’t play them it doesn’t mean they have no value, it just means you don’t have a frickin clue as to what the experience really is and how ’social’ this alleged ’solo’ experience is.
    D. YOU as an objector/parent also don’t know what people are learning as a consequence of engaging with the games but you probably won’t believe anything a gamer tells you about it.
    E. People seem to be okay with shopping addictions, exercise addictions, HGTV addictions but online gaming is a “waste of time”…Pot calling the kettle black much? Look in your own glass house before you judge on this one..
    F. As a father to a son who spent a lot of his time on the games from Mario Bros to WoW..It’s very clear my son has not gotten violent due to games in any way shape or form AND he knows the difference between the game and realty.
    G. Road runner cartoons and others of their ilk are equally as “violent” as any game just not as graphic in the damage display…AND we watch exhibitions of violence all year long in sports like football, MMA, hockey, basketball etc. but no one blames Columbine on them.

    Lastly, my son is physically healthy, plays WoW. works out at a dojo, reads ’spiritual’ books along with quantum physics and others, and works for his own living paying his own bills while going out with his friends regularly. Gaming doesn’t do ANYTHING that wouldn’t be substituted with something else if gaming didn’t exist, and those something else’s might look just as “bad” as gaming to the uninformed.

    BTW…I’m 59, never played the games at all and as an executive performance coach, marvel at the new models of leadership and teamwork that are being subliminally taught by the experience of playing the online games like WoW.

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    About Me

    After rising to blogging fame as the University of Michigan's answer to Gossip Girl, I took the EIC job at a student blog network spreading my wealth of college experience across the nation. My passion project is a movie/tv/gaming site called Unreality and I'm a movie news editor at JoBlo.com. I'm new to this business, and I think I'm a part of the first generation of journalists to skip print media entirely. When I started out, I had zero idea blogging could be a career, but I've learned more in the last ten months than I did in four years of college. What exactly did I major in again?

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