Are Video Games a Waste of Time?

I’m not a nihilist, but let’s be clear about what we mean: what is (or is not) a” waste of time”? Our school assignments end up in trash cans at the end of the semester. Most of our work is undone or obsolete in a year or two.

What achievements really do matter in life?

As much as we want to brush off videogame accomplishments as meaningless, what really distinguishes them from accomplishments in school or work? That they are recognized by others? The subjectivity in that answer is unsatisfying because it is so dependent on others and leaves nothing intrinsic to the achievement. What about the thought that those accomplishments improve our lives? This raises questions about happiness and meaning in our lives. Accomplishments with family and friends seem to be different in kind from achieving praise at work or school. If videogames can facilitate (and not obstruct) our personal relationships, can they be more conducive to self-actualization than the tasks of employment that so often interfere with our relationships?

If videogames can be used to solve genetics puzzles or produce knowledge for humanity, are they as good as working hard in a lab? Maybe it depends on whether you think work has to be boring, and whether you think videogames are always fun. I have worked harder on some videogames than I have on some essays, sometimes enduring greater frustration and aggravation as a result. Although we think of them as mindless recreation, videogames can be demanding and challenging, as the world of e-sports shows.

Even if videogames can connect us to distant relatives and unlock genetic mysteries, I worry about a population that spends too much time sitting and staring at screens. Even if videogames can never consistently be more than accidentally helpful and mostly a waste of productive (by capitalist standards) time, I worry about a population that shuns a potentially culturally enriching medium. It seems there is room to balance productive, healthy, useful enjoyment of videogames with a sense of humanity, work ethic, self-awareness, and a sense of being-in-the-world (no, I’m not going to call it Dasein) rather than “staring-at-images-of-the-cyberworld.”


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