Recently I’ve had a resurgence of interest in the concept of opportunity cost.“Time spent” is not an unfamiliar concern: growing up, the most common argument used to denounce my gaming habits was to raise the “but you could be doing other things!” flag high in the sky (and, in retrospect, there is an undeniable scent of escapism to my early gaming career, so… sorry, Ma).
Opportunity cost has a simple definition: the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. Put another way (roping in Mama again), it means that whenever I would boot up my Satan machine to restlessly jackhammer my leg and slay dragons for three+ hours, those three+ hours spent gaming could have (she would’ve said should’ve) been spent doing something else. It’s a pretty easy concept. I also happen to think that it’s a torturous and paralyzing concept that encourages one to linger in the past, encourages the self-critical what if I had…? line of thinking which, in my opinion, gives too much credence to the negative Nancys of our lives that already did their darndest to Other us because we had a controversial desire to spend our time in the digital exploration of worlds hitherto unknown.
Though, in the spirit of mindfulness, I do think that a little more sun every once and awhile would have done me good growing up.
Which brings me to the Now. Because growing up never stops; because I do think that a little more sun every day would do me well; because, as a working adult, time is a more precious commodity than Teen-Me could ever imagine. I have bills to pay, I have relationships to manage, I have my wellness to practice. I have a future to set intentions for.
Intentions are set, for me, by way of a priority list; what do I need to do, what do I want to do, etc. That priority list, in turn, is set with this concept of opportunity cost in mind. When I’m done with what I need to do, I only have so many hours for what I want to do. It’s great when I can get those to overlap. Generally, if I have to do something but also want to do it, it climbs up my priority list pretty quick.
I wrote recently about how I thought my old gaming habits were a lot like my old drinking habits, and I stand by that. Gaming has entered a weird space in my life, an activity that I have made and continue to make a living from doing related work, and a pastime that I genuinely enjoy but have struggled to find time for lately.
It’s always time. It’s funny to me that we so often measure a game’s worth by how much content it has - by how many content hours we can get out of it. I’ve begun to think about it in terms of how many hours I will potentially sink into it.
My life isn’t at a place where I want to be comfortable drinking for fun, where I want to be gaming just to consume a game and tune out. It’s made me reassess how I engage with my games and how I use the time more intelligently, or at least engage with the time better so as to lessen this growing sense of opportunity cost. That’s why I’ve begun to take little notes on things I find - story features, art features, questions that I’m prompted by. I play a lot of role-playing games and games like World of Warcraft. These types of games are judged based on their story, their gameplay, their art.
There’s so much wealth and talent that gets poured into their creation, and so much of it I take for granted by coasting through the content tuned out. So I’ve begun to look for how things are made, to think more critically about what I’m doing and why I’m enjoying it. What art styles stick out that I can learn from, what story elements can I siphon out and synthesize, where is the game taking inspiration from. It’s made the experience more educational, and when the question comes up “Can I have a glass of wine and play some games, or should I be doing hard research?” the answer is a little more forgiving.
But Connor, why would you try so hard? Can’t you just play? No, Dear Reader, because I love games. They tie my brothers and I together. Gaming is at the core of so many of my friendships. With so much growth I still want to undergo as I navigate my growing-up, I’m at a point where - if I don’t change my approach to gaming - I risk needing to give them up because my priority list is filling up quickly with things I need to be doing and gaming is getting pushed lower on the list of what I want to be doing.
I encourage you to think about your own gaming habits, think about how you’re qualifying your time spent. Is it as entertainment? Are you actively engaging? What do you love about gaming, and how can you amplify that? I’m a big fan of thinking that we’re never done learning, and I’ve found that approaching games with earnest attention has made the experience so much more rewarding.
Whether it’s in learning and paying attention to the externals, like the process and the inspiration of the actual making, or even if it’s just paying more attention to the mechanics and the how you’re playing. That’s the sort of attention I maintained in breaking down old arena matches that let me climb to Gladiator in WoW, and the sort of attention I gave to my League of Legends habits to climb the ladder.
And if your answer to this exercise is that you just game to game and enjoy the tune out, the relaxation of entertaining yourself? Then great! Perfect! The point isn’t to foster a guilt, but just to be mindful of how you’re gaming so that you are enjoying it the way you want. There’s no wrong way to enjoy a game or a glass of wine, but I think it’s important to foster an awareness of how you’re utilizing your opportunities.