If we're being honest that's a phrase we've all likely heard at some point in our lives. Though gaming in general is somewhat more socially acceptable now, living somewhere in the public mindset between 'Geek Chic' and moms addicted to Candy Crush. We haven’t, however, quite entirely dropped the negative stigma that surrounds the pastime. There’s still a whiff of the socially awkward nerd living in their basement, a hint of the FPS addicted psychopath at risk of cracking, and the more mundane wave of derision around the time ‘wasted’ on something useless.
It’s not the first medium to attract such attention, and not likely to be the last. Television was long known as the idiot box and novels in 18th century were arguably the first instance of moral panic in response to popular media. Today however it’s quite possible for those who read non-fiction to look down on those who do, and for them in turn to look down on those who own a television, and for those that don’t game to look down on gamers. Even within these subsets people can be stigmatised for example by preferring reality television over more thoughtful shows, or, in our own niche, ‘hard-core’ gamers looking down on ‘casuals’.
Really though, how one spends their leisure time is their own choice. The ‘value’ of each activity shifts depending on your perspective. If viewing it from an purely economic stance in terms of monetary value then all of this time is wasted, though if taken from a view of personal utility, or willingness to pay for leisure time, it can be a perfectly rational choice. If you take a view of time spent and what social or personal connections and capital has been built up, or the value of skills gained, then perspective shifts again.
So what brought on this thinking? After ten years on TA, the old chestnut of changing life priorities, starting a family and a joking comment from my wife as she gorged on the latest season of the Bachelorette, I turned my thoughts to the old ingrained ever present, but mild, guilt that gaming is ‘a waste of time’. With the data the site offers, I thought I would look at the quantity of my time I have spent gaming, and thus what the effective opportunity cost of that time was. This is only a light analysis out of interest; I’m not going to model my own utility function!
First let’s set aside all other pastimes. Gaming is certainly my main hobby, but it does not come close filling every waking moment outside of work. Let's assume all else remains fixed and look simply at gaming time.
So, of all the games I have played on TA, taking the upper bound of completion time estimates for prudence, the total is 6405 hours. Allowing for DLC not included in that figure, at an average of 10 hours each, takes it to 7435 hours. Allowing for reading gaming related websites and forums and other forms of gaming; let’s take 10,000 hours for sake of argument.
Now this is over the past decade. When I was a student and teenager this would have been higher, especially with cumulatively 6 years playing MMOs during the period. Let’s also set aside the childhood years that wouldn’t have been spent on anything other than ‘play’ anyway.
25,000 hours for the last 20 years feels about right. Close to 25 hours a week average, I game perhaps 10 hours a week average now but 8 years of being a student inflates the tail end, roughly seems plausible. Now, what could I have achieved with that time?
If I had worked every hour for around $20 AUD, and put that into an investment fund and allowed for moderate compounding, net of inflation, I would have close to $1M AUD today. So this is what I have effectively valued my leisure time at!
I could have completed around 5 undergraduate or Master degrees, or two PhDs. I could also have completed around 4 full post-grad industry specific qualifications related to my undergrad / MSc and career (boring).
It’s takes roughly 1500 hours to become fluent in a language. Allowing for the fact I still managed a base amount of German and Spanish outside those 25k hours, I could be speaking 18 languages now!
It’s also estimated to take around 10,000 hours to master a skill. Plenty of time to master multiple pastimes I spent time on at one point or another. I highly doubt I can consider myself a ‘master’ gamer! (Though I was Pokemon Champion of my home country in 2000….
I could have taken up a trade such as painting or carpentry rather than merely having a hobby shed. Or thrown myself into other pastimes and become a cellist, or a novelist, played with a lower handicap in golf, have a higher darts average, be a better shot, raced karts more competitively or even unicycled, juggled and played the bagpipes at the same time! (That’s worth a google).
You know what though, there’s a reason those did not attract the same volume of time. Some of them were ideals of what I thought I should be, not what I actually enjoyed. Some are simply not practical. Others I did enjoy, and still do in moderation, but not to the same extent. For those unrelated to leisure time and instead economic gain… I’m not a robot and cannot function on 16 hours a day focused solely on something that does not give me pleasure (at least not for longer than a few weeks), much as I would love to be one of the lucky few who can marry their passion with their profession, without souring either, and obtaining that laser focus and happiness / fulfilment.
Yes, there is much I could have achieved, and certainly a wealth of possibilities forgone. Perhaps there are even one to two concessions that are out of balance as one cannot pursue pleasure to the detriment of all else. The same can be said of anyone. Still, I look happily upon the life I have built around me. I also I look back and find I do not regret how I have spent my free time. With age comes the ability to filter out the noise from your life and drill down to what fulfils you, what you must put up with and what is for pure enjoyment and, put it simply, I enjoy gaming.
I may be wasting less as priorities shift, but I’ll continue to happily 'waste' my time with a smile for the foreseeable future.