I used to “play” EverQuest.
For those who don’t know what EverQuest is, think of it like the 1998 – 2002ish equivalent of World of Warcraft. It was the first 3D Massively Multiplayer game out there, taking the elements that made MUDs and Ultima Online and making them into polygons, thus sucking you in in a way you’ve never been sucked in before.
Now, for those of you who might get that these are “games”, but don’t understand what “playing EverQuest” actually entails, and you don’t play WoW or know anyone who does, let me enlighten you:
To play EverQuest was to spend 8-10 hours a day sitting on your ass, pressing arrow keys and clicking a mouse as you steer a virtual you around a world filled with bad guys who cough up gold and items. As you acquire new items (say, a pretty stick), you show other people who run around this virtual world your new pretty stick, and they get jealous and go out in search of a new pretty stick like yours (or better). Meanwhile, someone else will show you their pretty stick, and you get jealous and go out trying to find one like theirs (or better). You get one, and show your friends, and their cycle starts all over again; meanwhile someone else gets a better stick and shows you and your cycle starts all over again.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. Sometimes, it’s a pretty earring; sometimes a shiny robe or new shield. But essentially, that’s all the fuck it is. For 8-10 hours. A day.
Nothing’s changed with World of Warcraft. At least, that’s what I understand, as I have never played it. I quit EverQuest for good in 2002, shortly after I spent a full two-week vacation from work in front of my computer hunting for the biggest, shiniest stick in the game with a few other people who were equally pathetic as committed as I was to the game. My wife basically gave me a choice – continue to be her husband and ditch the game, or continue my marriage to the game and lose her.
I chose her. (Being honest, it wasn’t as point blank as that, but she did sit me down and explain to me that what I was doing was not only unhealthy for me, but for our marriage, and I agreed).
Now, those of you who have been following my silly career will note that I began writing on the web in 2002. This is because I diverted my attention from spending hours upon hours in EverQuest (and other games), and turned a long-time goal of mine into my new game. I decided to write a book, and put as many hours as I did the game into that goal.
The book got written. People actually read it. It was a fantastic moment in Joe’s life.
It was also the moment I’d realized just how much time I’d spent “doing shit” in my life instead of “getting shit done.”
I still play video games. I enjoy the hell out of them… in small chunks. There are times, such as when Fallout 3 or Oblivion came out, that I may have actually spent an entire 8 -10 hours in a single day playing one game. But usually, at the end of that session, I begin feeling so guilty for putting off all the other crap on my list of things to do that I spend another three days after getting as much as I can done. Then I’ll go back to my 2 – 3 hours of playing at a time.
Which brings me to my point, and it’s one that could be controversial if anyone else cared:
I don’t see anything inherently wrong with spending 8 hours a day playing a video game, so long as nothing else important in your life suffers as a result. If you’re single and childless and that’s how you choose to spend your time, so be it. If you are in a relationship, and you are able to manage that while playing the game, so be it. If you have children and are able to raise them — CORRECTLY (i.e., so they don’t talk in the fucking theater while I’m trying to watch Star Trek) — so be it.
Just, please… don’t talk to me about how you wish you could be in shape, write a book, film a video series, build a boat, or anything else you could be doing with that time. Please don’t. Because I’ll hit you in the face with my fist and/or elbow. And I hit kinda hard, and I don’t want to do that, because I really do want to like you. So don’t fucking tell me about all your hopes and dreams you’ll never fulfill because you choose not to.
That’s precisely what’s happening: by choosing to spend x number of hours doing y, you actively choose NOT to spend x number of hours doing anything else. Period. There is no getting around it.