Friday, February 24, 2012

The duty of leisure

Warning! This is post is as long and pompous as the title implies - read at peril of falling asleep and/or rolling your eyes right out of their sockets!

Thank you to Hugh over at the Melting Pot for finding something I can write about. He picked up on an essay Bravetank wrote about feeling guilty for playing WoW. He then also links to an essay by a developer about why downtime is necessary. I don't think the second piece was written in response to the first, but it's pretty clearly applicable.

As far as these things go, I don't really disagree with Psychochild's position. It seems clearly true to me that a human expected only to work, sleep, and eat is going to go mad or die. Further, the only work such a person would be capable of doing would be the most rote drudgery you can imagine. They wouldn't have the energy to do anything else. Something like digging ditches would probably be your best bet. You wouldn't even be able to have them do something physically less demanding, such as standing guard, because a guard shift in a legitimately hostile or dangerous area requires real concentration and attention.

So he makes a good argument, but I honestly don't think that he even needs to appeal to a need for downtime to "justify" hobbies. Especially a hobby like gaming.

I recently said on twitter that "culture is collaborative," which isn't a new sentiment at all, much less one that originated with me. At the time I was saying it in response to complaints about the film adaptation of Lord of the Rings (the films are not the books, that's the point, deal), but I feel that it's a much broader truth.

The culture we live in is a huge, goopy mess of currents and masses and deformations and eddies. We are affected by it and we shape it in turn. It reaches into every aspect of our lives. Gaming is a part of culture, as is reality TV, literature, film, advertising, the nauseating Republican debates, fanfiction, folk art: everything. When we game, we're taking part in that grand project.

It's tough to talk about stuff like this because it's so nebulous, and to be frank it begins to sound pretty silly. Like someone logging in to camp for Loque has some kind of mystical bearing on the Greek debt crisis. Of course I wouldn't go that far. Amongst the analogies that I would use to illuminate my understanding of culture is one of gravity. All of us little gamers are tiny little specks of matter out there in the void. We have gravitational fields, and we do a lot of jostling between each other. No particular individual will have noticeable pull any of the big elements in the system, but in the aggregate we shape the way things look in the future.

The games we play today and the ways we play them determine the games that get made tomorrow. Games, films, books, visual arts, music, and conversation all impact each other. Mass Effect 3 is going to introduce gay male romance options, and that fact did not occur in a vacuum. Nor is the fact of gay marriage in six states in the union.

What games we play and how we play them are important. Not only is downtime necessary, but how we spend it shapes the society we live in, and it is also a part of shaping ourselves. Quite apart from the enormous, impossible to grasp nebula of "culture," I think that humans have responsibilities to ourselves. I guess I take an almost Aristotelian view of virtue, in some ways. I would say that we should always strive to be the best version of ourselves possible. Work can be and is a part of that, but for me personally I feel that I grow into a better self by the consumption of media.

This goes beyond games, of course! I am a voracious devourer of the written word (fiction, non-fiction, prose and poetry), some varieties of TV and movies, and lots of different games. In fact recently I've felt guilty because I've been doing so little gaming, to an extent that I think I've been failing a duty to myself.

Obviously, everything in moderation! But the mere act of playing WoW should not trigger a feeling of guilt. When you engage with a facet of culture, as you're doing when you play the game, you're doing the collaborative work of shaping culture at the same time that you're advancing yourself as a fully realized person. Take pride in your work!

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