Even at 31 years old, I procrastinate with video games. Here’s how it plays out.
“YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME!”
I was playing Dark Souls III and had just failed to take down a certain boss again. I’d even summoned other players to help me, but one of them got killed right away. The other and I were able to bring the boss down to a sliver of health before I met my own demise.
I turned off the PS4 and put the controller down. I’d already played all morning, rather than do more important activities like study or freelance work. I was also exhausted, so I went upstairs to lay down for 20 minutes.
…5 minutes after laying down, I was back on my feet. I was determined to beat this guy before I went to pick up my daughter from school.
Almost two hours later, I finally took him down. I cheered, proud of my accomplishment of finally overcoming this obstacle that had bugged me all day. No other game has ever challenged me as much as the Dark Souls games, which means no other game feels as rewarding to beat.
But at what cost? I just spent the majority of my day playing a video game. That’s fine for a college kid between semesters- I spent most of my breaks in college (especially the month long winter break) playing World of Warcraft and Counterstrike.
My life is a little different now, though.
I Procrastinate Even Though I’m the Busiest I’ve Ever Been
It’s not exactly like I don’t have anything else to do. I’m a homeowner and a husband. I have a beautiful little girl and another kiddo on the way. I’m going through a (good) MBA program, and work as a freelance writer. I’m in the U.S. Air Force Reserves as an officer. I like to visit my family, most of which live within a 3 hour drive.
So… I’ve got a few things going on.
But I also love video games. I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Back then, the graphics weren’t quite what we have today. Some would say that graphics don’t matter but… yes they do.
There are a few differences between back then when I played as a kid and today.
How I Procrastinate with Video Games Now vs. 20 Years Ago
As a kid, I didn’t get sucked into games as easily as I do today. While we would play a lot of Diablo and Everquest, it was only on the weekends when I’d go to my Dad’s house. During the week I was doing what every child should do after school – play outside. We didn’t really play many video games during the day unless it was super hot (like the middle of the day on summer break) or very cold.
Winters in Georgia are the worst. It gets cold here, but not enough to snow (usually). Sucky.
But even in college, where some people literally flunk out because they play video games too much, I was never really sucked in. The most I would play a game would be 1-2 dozen hours, then quit. I would just get burnt out, plus I had too many other things going on.
Another thing is that I wasn’t using video games for life avoidance. When I procrastinate with video games now, I’m essentially putting off other, more important things I could be doing.
- House work
- Brushing the dog (who sheds like crazy)
- Calling friends
Unlike when I was younger, I know now that the world is basically like an open-world RPG. I can do whatever I want- I’m not walking down this one, single path Final Fantasty style.
That’s a good and bad thing. While it’s great to have the maturity to know that these things are possible and available, it’s bad because if I procrastinate, there’s this constant sense of guilt hanging over my head.
All of this ties back into how I procrastinate with video games. Because here’s what has happened to me over the last few years, since I got my Xbox 360 in late 2009:
- A new game will come out, say Call of Duty or League of Legends
- I play and think about it at least 2-4 hours a day. Sometimes in the morning, usually at night.
- Then if I get to a part that’s really frustrating, it’s tough for me to put the controller down. One thing that stands out to me is Dark Souls III’s Aldrich, Devourer of Gods. It took me at least 20 tries to kill that piece of crap.
- My mind would keep telling me “Justin, calm down dood. You aren’t trying to become a professional eSport player. Go do something more productive like writing.”
- I then tell my inner voice to shut up and make up for that horrible LoL game I just had. Because even though I play a lot… I can’t compete with these 5-6 hour a day kids.
- I eventually get tired of the game and move on. It may be a few days or up to a few months before I pick up another game and dive in.
The good thing is that I’m not always hooked on a video game. The bad thing is that once I do, I get so sucked in that I start avoiding things I shouldn’t.
Part of the problem is I love RPGs. In the last two months I’ve beaten Dark Souls III, Life is Strange, and The Order: 1886. I’ve also played over 20 hours in The Technomancer, which I’ll probably finish but to be honest I’m not sure yet.
Before that it was Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Last summer it was Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Dragon Age: Inquisition.
And every few months I’ll pick up Skyrim again just to mess around. There just aren’t many games that give you the freedoms you have in that beautiful game.
So (as you can probably tell), my timespan between video games usually isn’t a few months. A few weeks is more accurate, if not a few days. When I was younger, it just wasn’t like that. Part of that was I’m sure video game companies didn’t bring in top psychologists to make games addicting like they do now.
My Procrastination with Video Games was Getting Worse
But again, there’s a major problem here. When I procrastinated with video games as a kid, it really didn’t matter. My job was to do well in school, which I did easily. I was one of those kids that never really tried but still got A’s.
…although looking back, I was a procrastinator back then, too. I would usually do my homework the morning right before it was due. And by right before it was due, I mean RIGHT before. So if my class schedule was
- Math – I did my math homework when I first woke up that morning.
- History – I did my history homework in math class.
- English – I was ignoring my History teacher because I was too busy with my English homework.
I wish I was kidding, but I’m not. Working like that was very stressful, but it worked most of the time.
Just thinking out loud here, maybe I’ve always been more of a procrastinator than I thought…
Okay, anyways. Let’s get back to present day.
Since I’m a freelancer/stay-at-home-Dad right now/student right now, my free time comes at different times of the day throughout the week. Some days it’s from 1-3 pm while my daughter sleeps. On the weekends it’s usually after she goes to bed about 8pm.
So I end up playing video games at different times of the day. I’ll say something like “This is my only free time because I have school tonight and get home too late to play.” So I try to justify that fact that I’m procrastinating with video games. I know it won’t make me relax because I have lots of other stuff to do, but I tell myself it will help me relax.
I always wondered about this. Why would I procrastinate like that if I knew it’d make me unhappy in the long run? After all, I’ve had wishes – I can’t call them goals – for years that I never accomplished because I was too busy playing against 9 year olds in Call of Duty or League of Legends. I would prioritize summoning zombies and forcing bad guys to fight each other in Skyrim instead of writing or exercising.
Spoiler Alert- Video Games Aren’t Relaxing
Recently I listed to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience while driving back and forth to class.
In the book, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi points out that it’s difficult for us to really relax when we’re doing things like watching TV or reading fiction. Instead, we actually relax better when we get into a flow state while doing something productive. For example, we may be able to relax better by learning a new foreign language, playing a musical instrument or making something with our hands.
Think of what people did even just 100 years ago to relax after a long day of hard work. Would they sit down to play video games or watch television?
Did they spend time on Facebook, comparing themselves to their friends and playing annoying browser games?
Were they busy talking on the phone all evening to their friends who they hadn’t talked to in a whole 2 hours since school ended?
No- they found much more productive things to do. The farmer might go work in his workshop to build a piece of furniture like a cabinet or chair. The wife may sew some clothes, work on a quilt, or get things ready for breakfast the next day. The kids would clean up around the house and maybe read for school.
Or heck- maybe they would take some time to play a game together. But considering that’s spending time playing with your loved ones, I’d consider that very productive.
That explanation hit home to me. While I love video games, I never feel more relaxed after doing them. I think part of it is because I know I’m procrastinating and could be using my time in a more productive way.
Now that I’m an adult and I’ve been exposed to all of the opportunities available to me, sitting on my tail and playing video games feels wrong.
- My house always needs something done, from regular lawn maintenance to improvements like painting the poop-colored walls or expanding our tiny patio.
- I could write. Write about productivity or video games or my MBA or my family or the military or whatever else I want to.
- I can find more freelance work. My wife is the main breadwinner right now while I go back to school, but I do bring in some money through freelancing. Why not go for more to help relieve the financial burden?
- Exercise. I’m in the worst shape I’ve ever been in right now.
- Read- either fiction or non-fiction. I think I’ve only read 1-2 fiction books in the last few years, but that’s changing. Tim Ferris of The 4 Hour Work Week recommends people read fiction as the stories help us understand and apply lessons better than many non-fiction books can.
That’s why I feel like video games just aren’t what they used to be. Now they’ve become more of a method to avoid the important (and truly more relaxing) things.
But that doesn’t mean I want to give them up.
Gaming is the only hobby I’ve kept since I was a kid. Others would catch my interest for a while and then fall off the map. Basketball, karate, tennis, etc.
But gaming is something I’ve always come back to. SInce I can do it in my living room without a lot of expensive equipment, sometimes it’s hard to argue against it.
Beating difficult games like Dark Souls feels rewarding. Even though you know millions of others have done the same thing, it’s still nice to know that you had the fortitude to stick with something until it was done.
Video games are also a very unique art form. They unfold a story, but you get to play a major role. Sometimes it’s an epic story about a match you single-handedly turned around in League of Legends. For myself, the most common is how you saved the town/world/hot female victim in an RPG.
The problem is when we do these things. It’s perfectly fine to read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game. Everyone except for extreme workaholics do that.
But if you’re doing these activities to put off the more important, that’s when you have a problem. If I procrastinate by playing video games instead of studying for that test I have tomorrow, that’s a bad thing. If I take a 20 minute break to “just play one match” that turns into 1-2 hours, I’m doing it wrong.
So what’s the solution? Rather than continuing this pattern, should I just completely give them up indefinitely? Should I read 50 different time management books? Should I limit myself to just a few video games a year, and spend the in-between times on a different hobby?
On the one hand, some of these seem legit. If I sold my Playstation and gaming computer, the logic goes that I would be completely eliminating the temptation. Similar to keeping chocolate chip cookies out of the house if you’re trying to lose weight.
But it doesn’t address the core issue. None of these things do.
I know because I’ve tried these things before. What I found is that if I can’t fill these times with video games, I end up doing something else. Watching YouTube. Reading non-fiction books (and then not taking action on them.) Worrying and daydreaming and getting frustrated that I can’t partake in my favorite hobby.
So no- those aren’t the best solutions to take. While they can work temporarily, I’ve found that the better thing to do is to dig deeper. To find the root of why I’m procrastinating and what to do about it.
Well I think I’ve found a solution. To be honest I haven’t tested my theory much yet, but the next few weeks will be interesting. But to give you a little spoiler- I want to change how I procrastinate with video games. I still want to keep them in my life, but do a few things differently throughout the day to ensure the most important things get done first.