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Video Games vs. The Game of Life

Why human beings need to involve themselves in games of strategy and adventure online, effectively playing games within a game I don’t understand.

Duke Nukem

What better game to play than the one you’re already playing – the game of life? Why sit in front of a computer and play Quake, SIM City or some other video game with limited choices, experiences and outcomes that you need to pay for with time, and mental effort that will lead you absolutely nowhere.  Playing such a game over the course of a couple hundred hours will give you a final screen that turns into a mediocre fireworks explosion or says simply, “Congratulations, you’ve conquered the game.  Don’t miss our next game, Quake II which will arrive in stores just before Christmas 20xx.”

Why do some people spend hundreds or even thousands of hours pitting themselves against fictional characters in a game with a meaningless outcome? The big picture is that there’s no real goal or good purpose to these games. They’re mind-candy designed to stimulate some basic human interest. In SIM City its creating functioning cities. In Quake its about exploring unknown places, conquering enemies and extreme violence that we couldn’t otherwise partake of in reality.

Duke Nukem screenshotIn 1995 I think it was, I became interested in adventure video games like Doom II and Duke Nukem. They were novel at the time. It was an amazing concept to be able to play people from across the USA in ‘death match’ tournaments.  It was glorious fun and I spent a couple hundred hours playing, sometimes all night until I had to drag myself away to attend graduate classes the next morning.

When I think of the couple hundred hours I wasted I can’t believe I took part in it.  Why did I play them?  What did I get as a result?

Maybe some relaxation in a schedule filled with school, work and relationships.

But hundreds of hours?  What if I’d meditated instead?  What if I’d written a book?  Learned something online that mattered?  What if I spent those couple hundred hours learning some programming languages that could have been applied toward the year 2000 scare? I knew guys making $150/ hour updating old code from 1998-2000.  What if I had tutored someone and saved up some money to buy a mountain bike and get a different type of fitness (I was running a lot at the time)?

What if I would have spent the time talking to friends?  Volunteering somewhere?  Starting a business?

There are thousands of choices in this, the most awesome game.  There are infinite choices available with infinite possible results. This is the real game. Real life – as real as it gets, and yet some people don’t want to play THIS game. They are afraid of this game. How sad is that?

This is the only REAL game worth playing. This is the only one that matters even a little bit. In the big, big picture this entire game of life might mean the outcome for our future for the next 30,000 millenia. Or it might mean nothing. Better to act like it means a lot, than the other way around since there is always this chance that this life is what all future experience will be based on. That’s a sobering thought.

Isn’t life on it’s own thrilling enough? The outcomes, the rewards are infinitely more compelling than reaching a screen that says, “Congratulations! You killed 78,667 fictional chunks of code designed to attack you weakly within a GUI 2-D interface.”

TV is the all-time greatest waste of time affecting more people in more cultures than computer games probably ever will. In a way, computer video games are even less purposeful than TV. That’s saying a hell of a lot. Computer games have less intrinsic value than TV.

I challenge you today to stop playing any kind of computer game or watching TV. These two meaningless time wasters are better replaced by… well, anything.

Instead do something like…

  • Learn a new sport or create one.
  • Take part in a sport or exercise you already love.
  • Start a stretching program.
  • Use the computer to research something you want to learn about.
  • Learn meditation, the ultimate relaxation and stress reliever. See my book here – Meditation For Beginners.
  • Question your religion… there must be something bugging you about it – see what others are saying about it.
  • Teach your child how to do something s/he is interested in – not that you’re interested in.
  • Read one of my favorite books Children, the Challenge; Think on These Things; or No Religion, by Buddhadhassa Bhikku; Hannibal, Thomas Harris.
  • Start writing a book!
  • Get a RSS Reader from Google and subscribe to some interesting blogs with it. It’s an amazing time saver. What’s a RSS reader?
  • Start researching how to position yourself for the Ultimate Job.
  • Every time you want to play a video game or watch TV get out a sheet of paper and write 10 things you could be doing instead.

Choose one or two and do them!

Best of Life!

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6 thoughts on “Video Games vs. The Game of Life

  • at 1:45 am

    I recently came to the same conclusion. At the age of 28, I have literally wasted accumulated years of gaming with little to show for it. Eventually the guilt and regret was too much for me, and I decided to work on being a better husband/parent and my career instead. Hence the blog:

  • at 10:33 am

    Without games, there’d be a great deal more social unrest. More social unrest would probably be good. There’d also be less learning and creativity. Less learning and creativity would be bad. It shouldn’t be astonishing to claim that there’d be less learning and creativity, though.

    Maybe I’m wrong in the context of Duke Nukem, yeah. Action games can go away as far as I’m concerned. I don’t play them very often, and even less often for just action. They probably have their defenders. I’m not one of them. I don’t want them banned, mind. May we all be saved from well-meaning governments! Just that they’re not much value.

    In the context of other game types though there’s a lot of value. Simcity and other simulations of its type encourages people to think about issues of construction, building, economics, cooperation. Roleplaying or adventure games generally encourage empathy and consideration of long-term consequences. (The law of unintended consequences is practically a cliche within those genres.) Science fiction games – even action oriented ones – feed technologist impulses and even more reliably turn the mind toward the future. It’s not just “basic human needs” that are addressed by games. (What are those “basic human needs”?)

    Let me make a few suggestions in particular.
    Planescape: Torment is a very philosophical and social RPG. Very few combat encounters are ‘required’ (possibly none?), the endings are very thoughtful, and the conversations along the way mean that the game is frankly more valuable to the mind than your average book.
    The Deus Ex series are action RPGs set in a near and believable future; they have a conspiratorial tone and manage to be both active and thoughtful. One of the hallmarks of the series is presenting choices to the player, that they should consider between ambiguous alternatives which is better.
    Katamari Damacy is pure entertainment – and I hold it up as an example to show that pure entertainment has value. It’s made my life more cheerful to have played it, and I say this with months having passed since I last picked it up. Human happiness has value, especially in lasting form, and people do sometimes derive happiness from games.

    Most games don’t hit very high standards. Most games are inferior to most books! (Even bad books are better at presenting information and story.) There are some games that have tremendous value though. Games like the three above, I would actually recommend playing.

    If only it were possible to figure out which games are worthy before playing them! The hobby holds a sad similarity to gambling, since most games are dreck. Fortunately, even inferior games can present situations which can’t happen in life. To that extent at least they aid me in my writing. I consider my games to be a useful adjunct to my efforts at writing.

    • at 8:30 pm

      Hi Nathan… thanks for writing! I never thought of Sim City as worthwhile before this – but, ya – you made a case for it. I loved your comment here – still thinking about it. Thanks for commenting!

  • at 8:16 pm

    In my opinion it’s because people can be who they wish they were with out having anything to worry about. It’s all because people are scared to be who they really are. I find my self playing computer games a fair amount of the time but i have learnt i cannot live a life like that and to have to pursue in outdoor activities. great post

    • at 8:26 pm

      Hi again Noah… I think you’re right on with this. I played Duke Nukem and Doom II and things like that for a couple hundred hours during grad school. It’s a fun way to do something mindless and yet feel good – however fake, about what you’re accomplishing. A fun way to pass time.

      Then I asked myself… what am I passing time for? I’m afraid of more life… that was unacceptable. I launched into a phase of “more life”, less escape by music, tv, video games and other pasttimes. I still exercised QUITE a bit though… with exercise comes a certain peace of mind for me – like meditation in a way.

      Go and experience life Noah – anything you can get that keeps you out of trouble and keeps you free to do as you wish for a while. There’s a lot to experience. I’ve done a LOT – and yet, there is so much I haven’t done yet… you could do more than me if you tried…

  • at 9:45 am

    Vern, What you played were more FPS than anything else. Not adventure games. Why do I play EverQuest Seeds of Destruction (a MMORPG) 3 or 4 hours a day? Because it allows me to spend time with my #1 Son and makes us feel closer than the 11,000 clicks we are apart. I play other computer games because I enjoy them and I’m retired ! The Monks at the Pagoda told me not to meditate because of my Type 1 Bi-Polar mental health problem..Best wishes to everyone,gamer & non gamer alike.


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