Last July, I made a snap decision one evening. I am a man of many hobbies and interests and my mind typically runs at 100 miles an hour, sometimes in the wrong direction. I decided that afternoon that my Xbox 360 had dominated far too much of my time. Sure, in July of 2016 it wasn’t the newest gaming system around. But I found myself constantly roaming the digital landscape of sandbox games like GTA IV, GTA V, Red Dead Redemption, and others. This is not a knock against video games, my God they are fun! But they are also, and I believe this, addicting and dulling to the senses. If you are under a certain age, that last sentence made me sound like Grandpa knocking any form of entertainment more advance than the Nickelodeon, and if you are over a certain age, you’re wondering why a grown man with a wife, career, and mortgage even plays video games.
I decided that video games were taking up too much of my time. It wasn’t the fact that I was spending too many hours a day on video games. What I realized was how much I was missing out on other things while mindlessly playing. Like I said, I have a ton of interests and hobbies and more productive ones were being neglected.
What made it truly click for me on why I should give up playing videogames was how little I got out of playing them. When I play guitar, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I’ve either improved my playing, written a new riff, figured out a song, etc. When I spend my time reading, I’m either engrossed in a piece of fiction, learning about a historical figure, or learning something in general. Even the simple act of writing a blog post such as this improves my writing and allows me to share my thoughts with the world.
Video games have a bad give-to-take ratio. For me, working on music is a good ratio. I put in a lot of work on a song and I am rewarded by the satisfaction of having figured out a song or written a new one. Watching movies (one of my favorite activities) is similar. I watch a movie and appreciate art direction, characters, plot, etc. Even better, maybe a film makes me think about something in a new way.
In a video game, what did I truly get out of it? Even if you play the mission in say an open world game, what did completing missions actually bring? Honestly, absolutely nothing. I decided the only thing to do would be to unplug the Xbox and see what would happen. This was July 2016 and I didn’t hold an Xbox controller until February 2017 (this was a momentary lapse back into addiction that, thankfully, only lasted a week. The Xbox is resting comfortably again in the closet).
What did I learn? Simply put, I learned how to better spend my downtime. I was reading a lot more, which is saying something because I consider myself a fairly avid reader. I began picking up the guitar more regularly and found myself working on new material. Overall, my entire creativity improved, my movie viewings increased, and even my dreams became more vivid. I was actively engaged in the creative process and entertainment, not passively playing a game.
I’m not saying this approach is for everyone. If you are an introvert, this is not a call to go out and mingle with all kinds of people. If group activities are not your thing, then do not seek out group activities. Find something you can do in solitude that will expand your mind and fill your sense of accomplishment more than an electronic medium. Take up cooking, drawing, or art. Pick up a musical instrument. Start a new TV show or watch some classic movies. Read a book, take up walking, gardening, coffee brewing, beer making, or even bootlegging. One of the goals I wanted to accomplish this year was to listen to two new albums every week. Give that a try! My point is that I found I wasn’t getting out of video games what I was putting into it, and I have been able to think of plenty of other things to do.
I’ll end with the following. Without sounding too televangelist-y, what takes up time in your life that leaves you feeling empty? Are you like me and it is the video games that do you in? If you don’t want to give up a counterproductive activity, then might I suggest setting it aside for three days and doing something else instead? If it works and you feel great, then keep going! If not, well, at least it was an experiment. Game over.