No gaming: one week left

Posted on November 26, 2010 with tags life.

Today there’s one week left on my self-imposed “no-gaming exercise”. I like to make this kind of exercise for various things (not eating foo for this amount of time, not doing bar, etc.), so by itself the exercise was not a special event. But computer gaming is one of my favourite activities, so… it was rather interesting. There were to goals to this: gaming is addictive (can I stop playing for three entire months?) and gaming eats time (how much time do I gain?).

Last time I tried such an exercise (for a month), it ended early by me accidentally playing, of all things, nethack: someone told me at work “hey, you know we have a nethack server?” and before I realised what I was doing I was already playing nethack for half an hour. In an xterm. With no graphics, no sound, but with coloured ASCII chars.

In truth, I started the new attempt rather accidentally. I travelled a lot this summer, and so I was already a month without playing games. Realising this, I said to myself: I already didn’t play for a month, and it goes fine, let’s see if I can make it a three months “official” no-gaming exercise. So, my Windows partition went away, my save games were put aside, my few Android games were uninstalled, and I was ready.

How did it go? Very… interesting.

After two weeks, I was having lots of free time. Long-delayed tasks were finally taken care of, unread books were getting attention, and in general I had time on my hands.

A month into the exercise, somehow my free time was creeping away. I took on some new (periodic) tasks, I was reading more, and by one and a half months I was back to zero on free time advantage.

Lesson 1: people expand their schedule until it eats all their free time.

After about two months, I was still doing fine, but I had a few times the classical addiction dreams: you dream you visit someone, and they’re playing a new game, and ask you “Don’t you want to play?”, or someone tells you about a nethack server, and without realising, you ruined your exercise. I had this kind of dreams while giving up other things, so it was definitely a withdrawal symptom.

Lesson 2: you might have given something up, but your brain didn’t (yet).

With three weeks left, I said: it’s time for me to start building a new gaming machine, so that when I’m done with the exercise, I can start playing right away. And this is where the problems started. For until then, I was not thinking about games at all. But once you install your new Win7, the graphics drivers, you start to wonder what new games were launched, what new expansions were released, and suddenly you realise you skipped many games, and how can you not play them? A week later, my Steam and GOG wish lists have increased greatly, and another week later I was already with many newly-bought games.

Lesson 3: giving up computer games for a just few months is only partially a time saver: while the backlog of non-played games doesn’t contain all games that you skipped, it’s still a significant backlog. Such an exercise is rather more useful to shift free time around, than an absolute time saver.

At this point, I was talking with colleagues about all the new games, the expected launches during the holiday season, etc. like I didn’t stop playing games. The funny part was that in the second half of November, Slashdot had not one but two articles about people not being so much interested in games anymore. Believe me, if you cannot play games for a period while your friends very much talk about how awesome hot new game X is… after a while you won’t have this lack of interest problem anymore (of course, I’m extrapolating from my experience, etc. etc.). On top of that, on Planet Debian was another blog post about “what game to play”. All these were like a general reminder about playing games :)

This moment (two weeks left) was also the hardest moment, with the sweetest temptations: machine installed, games installed, all set, just need to press New game.

Lesson 4: abstaining from a thing is much harder if said thing is readily available, or “in your face”. Quite obvious in hindsight…

So here I am, with just one week left. It was an interesting thing to do, and it was definitely worth the effort, if not for time gained but for learning about oneself. Only one question remains: next week, which game shall I play first? ;-)