Tobold's Blog
Thursday, September 19, 2019
Are lifestyle games unhealthy?

I have had what I would call healthy relationships with many different games: I get interested in the game, I install it, I play it, I have fun, until at some point I lose interest, I stop playing, and I remember the game fondly. Depending on the game that might be as little as 10 hours of gameplay, or as much as 100 hours. Sometimes I only play a game half through, sometimes I play through several times. But all of these games just hold my attention for a limited time.

And then there are the games that don't work like that. The games like World of Warcraft, or a few other MMORPGs in the past, and World of Tanks now. These are the games that somehow turn into a lifestyle for months or even years. The games I end up playing nearly every day. The games that sometimes I feel I play way beyond the point where I am having fun. The games that become a lifestyle. While I don't think that "addiction" is the right word to describe it, "habit forming" probably is.

Now of course this is not by accident. It is a whole business concept, "games as a service". If you get in the habit of playing those games, you usually pay a subscription fee, or regularly shell out some money for other virtual goods. Much cheaper for a game company to keep you playing by feeding you some new content occasionally than developing a whole new game would be.

The big advantage for me as a player is the comfort of familiarity. I don't have to learn a new game with a new control scheme and new strategy every few weeks. I don't have to make a decision on what I'll play next. But sometimes I feel that this relationship with those lifestyle games is less healthy. The moments where I play, don't have fun, but continue playing for some reward, or finishing some event. Like me currently playing the M41 Walker Bulldog in World of Tanks for the Top of the Tree event, although I don't enjoy playing that particular tank and it takes rather long to get to the next one. Sometimes these games can feel more like a job than like a game. And that is reflected in our choice of words, when we talk of things like "grinding" or "farming".

What do you think? Are lifestyle games unhealthy? Or are they just a different mode of gaming which is an equally valid way to spend your time?

> Are lifestyle games unhealthy? Or are they just
> a different mode of gaming which is an equally valid
> way to spend your time?

As long as gaming (videogaming, in this case) isn't affecting your life in a bad way (health, social interaction, relationships, work, sleep, ...) there is absolutely nothing wrong and it's -indeed- just an equally way to spend your free/hobby time. If you feel compelled to play a tank that you don't like BUT there are other reasons behind that choice (completing the game, achievements, etc) then... Why not?

Problems arise when videogames become a core part of your daily routine and you start losing yourself in the virtual worlds, becoming someone who's in total denial and unaware of the real situation.

Comments like "My wife doesn't understand me, it's just a game" or "I am level 500 and I've got an ultra-hard achievement but I don't play that much!" are good symptoms of denial and addiction. Just like an obese person who claims to practice sports and eat (few) healthy meals here and there. That's simply not true.

By that measure I might be addicted by work. :) But that is probably a different subject.
Oh absolutely. As far as Rugus goes, I think just sitting for another 10+ hours a week at a computer has a bunch of empirically verified negative health effects, even if the other stuff is rather difficult to prove.

If it's a choice between 40 hours of WoW a week and 40 hours of TV, I guess it's a wash but that's not the real choice. Any lifestyle game is probably hoovering up gym time or wife/kid/IRL friend time or genuine intellectual/artistic time. When I decided to only play games that I was playing only for the fun of playing my play time collapsed to a month or two a year when I play a baseball game or two a day. And it's great. But for me video game playing is generally positively correlated with how miserable I am. More depressed=more game time. While I concede that isn't necessarily the case for everyone else it sure seemed to be true for the majority of the people I got to know during my WoW phase.

At the end of the day games are supposed to be fun. When you are grinding it out to get to X, that's ridiculous. None of it matters in the slightest. Tricking nerds into thinking the video game is a job with a fake sense of accomplishment is the MMO's most effective and nastiest trick.
Is knitting unhealthy? Are model railways unhealthy? Is golf unhealthy? Is birdwatching unhealthy? Etc Etc.

Hobbies are meant to take up most of your non-essential time and interest. That's what they're for. If your hobby is WoW or FFXIV or any other MMORPG then it should be the thing you like doing best when you don't have more important things to do and it's perfectly fine for it to be the only thing you want to spend that time on. It'll bore the backside off your friends and family unless they happen to share your interest but so do all hobbies.

Now, if it starts eating your essential time and hampers you from doing practical life stuff that you really have to do, like earning a living, looking after children, sleeping, feeding yourself... then it's unhealthy. Short of that, though, play all the hours you can fit in and enjoy every minute.
The interesting issue for me here is the opportunity cost of habits.

It's nice to have a default game to fall back to, but, with dozens of awesome games coming out each year, you have to carefully consider where you'd get more fun: playing an old familiar game, or exploring a new one.
New games require money, time and effort investments, but they might have higher enjoyment returns. Considering old familiar games come down to diminishing returns sooner or later, there's no question of IF it's wise to venture into new stuff, the question is When.
Bhag, I doubt people who knit/model railway/birdwatch for 20 hours a week are considered casual about their hobby. You're being disingenuous about how much play time people are putting in when it's a lifestyle game.

Nobody should have 40 hours where they have nothing to do but dick around in a game. And you may literally be the one actual exception to this, but nobody is actually having fun for 40 hours a week on WoW. It's a compulsion. (Almost) Nobody does it for the sheer joy of it.
Yes, with a but.

If you're logging in and sighing and feeling like it's work, then yeah, that's a problem. And a game that's sucked you into that behavior is doing bad things to you and you should try to stop.

BUT ... there's a valid style of Fun usually called Abnegation or Submission. Where you're not there for a challenge or anything new, you just want to do something comfortable and be lazy and switch off (or downshift) for a while. That's often easily satisfied by a lifestyle game and that's a great use of them.

For example, starting your 7th alt in WOW and churning through quests you've done 6 times before isn't necessarily a bad thing. If that's how you have fun, there's absolutely nothing wrong with it. I certainly like things like that sometimes. The problem part of it is when you start your 7th alt because Deathlocks were just release and you have max levels of all the other characters so you'll just grind out those 200 levels while complaining in general chat about how everything used to be better.
Bah, there's no edit. I didn't mean to come across like I'm giving life advice, because I know you're not asking for it. I think I was trying to say lifestyle games aren't inherently bad, but there's a fine line for users to walk between doing something comfortable and relaxing and doing something because they feel obligated.

Maybe it's like alcohol? There's a safe, fun way to use it but also a real risk of doing it wrong. And young people tend to do it very wrong until they learn. And it's not bad in and of itself but you need to have your eyes open or you'll get hurt.
You say lifestyle game, and my mind immediately goes to some Pokemon Go or Harry Potter Wizards Unite players here who wake up, go to work, and right after work, ensconce themselves in a park or shopping mall to catch their critters or socially meet up to raid. 4 hours a night, 5 days every weekday, like clockwork, and lord only knows how many hours on the weekends. They’re getting physical exercise, they’re having social needs met by face to face cooperative meetups... their entire life also revolves around the one game. They seem to be enjoying it. Healthy, unhealthy?

What about a sports athlete whose entire life and social community also revolves around one sport? Or an entire extended family who bonds and has outings revolving around Pokemon?

Seems like it’s entirely about opportunity costs and individual values and priorities. For some it’s giving up entirely too much to be super dedicated to doing one thing, while for others, it works well for them. I’m definitely more of a variety needed, the whole world is too awesome to limit oneself player, but the opportunity cost of that is the inability to get to depths/heights/mastery levels reached by players with more focus.
> What about a sports athlete whose entire life
> and social community also revolves around
> one sport?

The thing is... "Sports" are always seen as an extremely positive thing, as opposite to "videogames". My son is 12 years old and he stopped playing soccer at 10 due to a broken knee. I can tell you that even at a VERY basic level... The required commitment is insane. They treat every kid like a little pro-players ready for the world cup. It's insane. And you -as a family- are asked to tailor your life around soccer. Which means you're left out of (almost) any other social event because every-single-weekend is taken by soccer.
Tobold, so long as your work does not only pay you in gems that you can use to upgrade your desk, you are probably okay!

I think some games do have an addictive quality that causes people to play them to excess when they would objectively be much better off doing other things. In the case of games, it is no less true that you can generally find much *worse* things to sink large chunks of time into, since for most people even time-addictive games are cheap, and do not destroy your health except from sitting around. But that does not really make them very good.

And many modern games are built around addiction of this kind. Not only is there the drip feed of small random rewards, there is the social reward of helping out your guild or clan. And that reward becomes cheaper and weaker over time. Nowadays it is not like when you formed a team to do hard raids in WoW which is at least a somewhat psychologically healthy way to spend a few hours. It is log on, maybe do x fights, no actual contact with fellow members needed.

[Personally I have an addiction to puzzle games, but I think the older style games of this kind are more like crosswords etc. - it is at least more of a personal obsession than a technology designed to manipulate large groups of people...]
As to sports, while a kid living soccer is probably not great on a variety of fronts at least the kid is in good shape. He's getting something out of it. In any case, the fact that some people inject heroin into their eyeballs doesn't make eating Pizza Hut for every meal a wise health decision.

When it comes to WoW I run the Staples Get It Done Button test. If I had a red button I could press and get whatever task in WoW done instantly, would I do it? When I was playing all the time, that button would have whittled my 40 hour a week WoW time into about 1/3rd of the PVP you had to do to be reasonably elite, and goofing off getting into stupid fights in Nagrand. Most people would cheat through most WoW activities, which tells me that almost nobody is really having fun. The psychologists at WoW have figured out how to activate nerd's OCD tendencies, nothing more.

Once again, it's all a matter of scale. I knew a guy who played WoW only on Saturday evenings, when they'd show up and do a dungeon or two with some RL friends. That's totally fine. If everyone was like him the WoW servers would have shutdown in 2005 but he's doing fine. But WoW culture is 20 hours or less makes you a dirty casual. Those examples of healthy WoW playing aren't terribly useful for the overall picture.
There are very, very few people that can work at maximum productivity for 16 hours, spend 1 hour doing things like eating, and then sleep for 7 hours before popping out of bed and doing it again.

And those people probably have some serious psychological problems.

Unless someone, is, for example... snorting blow off a hooker's butt or gambling at "Two Bit Tony's" card game, you really can't judge them for how they spend their down time. Nor can you chastise them for having "more" down time than you do.

There are no "True Scottsman."

Smokeman, there's so much space between those two things you could drive a cruise ship through it. To reverse it, what is someone who spends every spare minute not dedicated to surviving and sleeping playing WoW? Bet they have psychological problems. I did when I was like that.

All the defenses of of a wow addiction basically amount to pointing at other people who aren't as bad and mendaciously minimizing what really goes on, like there's no difference between a glass of wine for dinner and slamming a fifth of rum an evening. You do what you have to do I guess but at least admit what you're doing to yourself.
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