Striking a Balance
Seeing as how the online game has the ability to consume a player’s life just as the bottle can take over a drunk, the uneducated observer might conclude that our class is more or less engaging in the facilitated use of digital drugs. While this assertion might not be too far from the truth, it is important to note that, just like any other addictive activity, moderation is key. By controlling the degree to which one participates in an addictive hobby, the user is able to reap most of the benefits while bearing a minimum of the costs. As I have been an avid gamer for almost my entire life, this economic process of moderation is something that has been more or less self-taught throughout my grade-school years. By pressing the power button, a player accepts nature’s unwritten agreement that, in a person’s full schedule, engaging in one activity will necessarily deallocate the time alloted for another. The solution (as it is more or less a personal formula) to a successfully-balanced life is to arrange said schedule such that work, play, and other miscellaneous activities are all optimized. Thus, playing LOTRO has had a minimal impact upon the rest of my life since I merely stuck it into the time slot that I had reserved for gaming, anyway.
As LOTRO has slowly shifted to Neverwinter Nights 2, so has my allocation of time in that slot. I still do all the work I need to do, and I still spend a healthy amount of time (and have a lot of fun) with my friends. But, my bipolar life is such that I have more fun overall when I spend an equal amount of my “play” time with friends and video games. After I’m done being a socialite, I go and isolate myself from the outside world with an absorbing video game. I have learned through experience that, for me, this method maximizes the amount of fun I have on both fronts. I head directly from the frat party to BioShock; from Assassin’s Creed I leave for the concert. I succeed (or at least I’d like to think so) in this balance because I am naturally motivated to do my work with the end goal of existing on one of these ends of the social spectrum, knowing that I’ll also get to travel to the other. By economically maximizing the amount of fun I have, I also optimize the amount of work I am able to accomplish via a strengthened motivation.
Yet, I am a rare breed. Many are unable to recognize that each necessary (and healthy) activity should have a minimum amount of time allocated to it. For example, just because I love a new game does not mean it would be wise to forsake my friends to play it; it merely increases the amount of fun obtained from gaming and, thus, my overall fun. The new game will only take full effect if strategically integrated into my life in the first place, so attempting to reduce its effect by allowing it to consume more time in my schedule would be a fallacy indeed. Unfortunately, many fall prey to the addictions caused by such absorbing games as LOTRO and World of Warcraft. They fail to allocate their time correctly, and the time originally reserved for the game expands, taking over other necessary activities in its conquest.
So how, then, does one know when enough is enough? When does one log out of the virtual world and once again exist in the real one? The answer to this question is personal in nature. I know people who play 6-8 hours of Halo 3 every weekend, yet still function perfectly in every regard. On the other hand, if I ask another kid to play 2 hours of Soulcalibur IV with me, I could easily disrupt his perfectly-balanced life, sending it into a chaotic downward spiral. Everyone simply has to figure out for themselves a manageable, sustainable amount of time for which to engage in their favorite activities. An enjoyable activity must not consume a person’s life, but it also must be present in order for any enjoyment to come of it. Although my analysis of a balanced life may sound economic and mathematical in nature, I assure you I don’t have a formula chart to determine how much Mass Effect I can play tonight. It’s just like learning to ride a bike; you may fail the first few times you try, but eventually you get the hang of it and develop a very useful skill.