Thoughts of somebody who is barely controlling his addiction.
Are computer games a valuable way to spend my time? At some level I feel they are, but why do I get a bad feeling when playing too much? Why don't I get such feelings when doing parkour or playing chess?
Even though all are in the grand scheme of things "senseless" and their only value to me is that they make me happy by providing me with a sense of progress? Shouldn't I be more content with the progress I get from games?
Because I am progressing a lot, doing quests, interacting with wonderous artificial worlds and following the stories of their inhabitants?
I think the answer to that question, of why computer games feel bad to play at some level boils down to two concepts: The current cultural in-acceptance of gaming and the dangers of addictions.
Aren't Computer Games fun?
Computer games are artificially created and especially good games provide just the right amount of challenges to be overcome. They are designed to be tremendously good at provoking flow experiences because they continuously push the player to become better in all kinds of ways. Well-designed games, like Hollow Knight, The Witcher, Minecraft or League of Legends (all of which I have played an embarrassingly high amount) are just treasure troves of rewarding, challenging (and sometimes frustrating) experiences.
But the challenges within games are inherently meaningless and artificial. There is nothing to be gained at the end of playing a game, nothing worthwhile to be achieved, one could argue. The rewards gained within a game are worth absolutely nothing outside of it.
Games are played for the sake of playing. For the sake of the activity of playing itself. In a way, games are exploiting the machinery that rewards accomplishments within our brains. And they are very very good at that (because clever teams make them so).
And this is true even for the non-video game versions of games, such as Chess or Go. Play is valuable, not because of some real reward, but because they produce conscious experiences of flow, like almost nothing else. Flow in things like music or sports or scientific pursuits is usually accompanied by much more work.
It's not as easy to get started and not as easy to keep going from flow state to flow state. But on the other hand, the accomplishments in these fields have one thing that games don't yet have...
Society (at least large parts of it) does not accept computer games (yet) as much as it accepts other activities. And there is a part within us that needs to be accepted by others. This is why playing computer games often feels bad after some time. Because we know that a lot of people would not approve of us playing.
There is always this inner voice that says: "Come on... nobody values what you have done here... So stop doing it!".
To me, that's one of the main reasons why spending time in artificial worlds often feels so "wrong" and yet so "right". It's the constant tug of war between this inner voice, reflecting the "wants" of society and doing something "meaningful" and the inherent hedonistic beauty of the experience of gaming itself.
In a way this voice sucks but since it is there, at least within my brain, I seem to care enough about what other people think, that playing games build up a tremendous amount of guilt within me that affects my actions. Maybe sometimes too much.
When playing computer games I am not gaining the admiration of other people and therefore the time put into them feels worth less. During playing games I forget the time like with nothing else, but then later I regret having spent so much time with them. And that sucks.
If we imagine a world, where things like e-sports gain more traction and people start competing in computer games in just the same ways as other people compete in older games like Chess or Go and have social prestige from these activities, would it then be "ok" to have a career as a gamer?
Because... computer games are fun and without the guilt and shame connected to them, from the perspective of society, they would be ok to play. Right?
The Problem of Addiction
There is one point that makes computer games a dangerous thing. Independent from their appeal to other people in society.
In a way, the question from above is a bit like asking the question of whether taking massive amounts of heroin would be good for you if it were societally rewarded in some way to use heroin.
And the answer to that is, of course not. The detrimental effects of drugs like heroin are too bad to be shrugged off and the effects of addictions are crippling to the life of a person. And it's the same with computer games, only to a lesser extent.
For one, playing computer games for a long time damages health. Sitting for too long with a bad posture, doing less with friends, having fewer social interactions with other people and usually quite erratic sleep cycles and spending much more time inside are all concerns that make me think that computer games can severely harm your health.
And computer games are also built to be addictive. They are built so that players can lose themselves in arbitrarily set challenges and continue gaming for hours and hours and hours. Because that's what a good game should do, it should get you into a flow state easily and keep you there for a long time.
But that's what makes good games dangerous. Because it is very hard to control the amount of time spent with them. And losing control over the hours spent playing computer games is a lot easier than losing control over the hours spent writing or the hours spent climbing or doing parkour or learning a new language or coding.
And that makes games and computer games especially more dangerous. Because they are something we can become addicted to quite easily and addictions, take away our freedom to decide. And that's why addictions are to me one of the fundamental problems to living a fulfilled life.
Because if I can't control my time, then there are all these beautiful things, that I will miss out on and regret not having done later. And that was only because I was playing games instead. Another problem with games is that they don't help one become financially independent. And that is another of those fundamental problems.
For those reasons, the danger of addiction, the lack of societal acceptance and the associated guilt I feel, when playing too much, I try to keep away from games and limit my time playing them. With varying levels of success. (It still happens way too often that I go to bed at 3 am because I have been playing some video game and forgot the time)...
But, while I think that all of the above is true, I can not deny the beauty and happiness and memories that I have gained from playing games.
They are just like stories of countries that I have visited, beautiful memories of experiences that I have lived through. Memories, that connect me with other people in ways that I am deeply thankful for. Just seeing the eyes of people sparkle, when they talk about their favorite games, makes me happy, and if I have also enjoyed those games, there is something we can talk about immediately and connect over. And I don't want to miss out on that either.
So I need to find a balance, to not spend too much time with games. So that I don't become addicted and lose my freedom. Games are nice, but they should not prevent me from doing all of the other things I want to do.
And finding this balance... well it's difficult.