Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Getting Over Gaming Guilt

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 30, 2010

Many years ago, listening to the radio on my commute to my day job at the video game studio,  I heard a report on the radio about how the average American watches over 25 hours of television a week. I was instantly seized upon by a feeling of some kind of moral superiority. Why, I maybe watched 2 or 3 hours, total, and that was only during the “on” season.

After a moment of reflection, however, I considered how many hours I spent playing video games. Ah, there were the rest of the hours. My sense of moral superiority fled. Mostly. I still considered gaming to be more-or-less superior to passive TV viewing, but still – that was a big chunk of time spent each week on my hobby!

I spend significantly less time actually playing games since then. There’s just not that much time in the day, especially since I have a full-time job and a family and side-business other hobbies and responsibilities and stuff. This is a problem most adult gamers run into, eventually. There’s always more to do than time to do it.

But I still game. I love gaming. I don’t want to be one of those game developers who don’t actually, you know, play games anymore.

But what I’ve found, lately, is that I feel a little guilty spending time gaming. ‘Cuz, you know, time spent playing games is time not spent finishing up Frayed Knights. Or hunting down and setting up affiliate indie games for the Rampant Games website. Or writing a quality article about games and indies, instead of the usual bashed-together stream-of-consciousness crud I normally slap up here daily. Yes, I fully recognize that in order to write about games, I should be playing them.  And I do, but I just feel guilty about it.

That’s not the way to play games. They are meant to be enjoyed and loved.

Plus, games are a major – and important – part of my life. They are how I let off steam and retain my sanity. Games are, for me, a release, an escape, a palette cleanser for my brain, a source of material for this blog, a source of inspiration in my development work, a social activity with friends, a badly needed break from the routine, and a healthy little dose of adventure and excitement in my day. These are not things to feel guilty about!

So how to get over the little nagging feeling that I should be some kind of robot that is 100% productive 100% of the time?

My solution – I think – was borrowed from a trick I learned about personal finance from a seminar a couple of years ago. I had the same kind of misgivings “wasting” money on fun but pricey stuff, like taking the entire family to see a the symphony performing an evening of video game music, or enjoying a more expensive restaurant. They presented a simple budgeting plan (with, of course, aggressive portions allocated to savings and investment), but a portion had to be allocated each paycheck to “play money.” Play money has to be spent on frivolous, fun activities or purchases. It couldn’t be saved too long.

It was money meant to be blown. Without guilt. That was the trick. We’d have blown it anyway… we could just do it without feeling bad about it. That’s what that supply of cash was FOR.

So I’m trying the same thing with time management, and gaming. I don’t think I’m spending any less time playing them now than I did a few weeks ago, but now I think, “I am supposed to spend this time playing games,” (particularly RPGs) so I don’t have to worry about what I could have otherwise been doing with my time.

I’m still working out the kinks in this system, as it’s awfully easy for  a quick 20-minute session to turn into two hours.  And then there’s the issue of finding the best time to game. When I’m dragging, a half-campaign of Left 4 Dead 2 can often be exactly what the doctor ordered for a needed break that helps me get another solid hour or two of work done afterwords. Sometimes. So what time is the best play-time?

So am I unique in my little mental disorder? Somebody please tell me I’ve not been alone in this…

Filed Under: Geek Life - Comments: 10 Comments to Read

  • Greg said,

    Alone? Ha. Hardly. Finding a way to balance all the things you speak of is certainly a challenge! I’ve been trying to embrace more time-management techniques and tools lately in order to “squeeze” more out of my day. (Don’t get me going talking about ‘org-mode’ 😉 )

    “Stepping back” (and playing) can be extremely productive for me. Often times I will find that the things that just “had to be done” really aren’t that important. Conversely, quick and simple solutions often ‘present themselves’ in this “down time”.

    For me, nothing is more important than perspective, and nothing is more critical to perspective than play.

  • Matt said,

    It’s a great feeling to read this post, because I feel exactly the same.

    I have a full-time job, as a freelance software engineer, with most of my time spent on not-so-funny things.

    My goal is to get out of the classic work-tv-sleep model asap. To do so, I’ve got a lot of ideas for some cool web applications with the hope that one day, they will bring in some money so that it could become my full-time job, which would enable me to work
    whenever I want and avoid the 10 hours a week commuting.

    However, there is a lot of work before getting there and I have to do during the evening. Sometimes, I can’t and I just need to do something else like watching tv, reading a book, hanging around somewhere…or playing video games.

    And then, it’s exactly what you describe : I feel guilty and I’m constantly thinking I should be working instead, so that next year (or the year after or …who knows) I would get this free time back when my projects are starting to become successful.

    Once a month I’m even thinking of simply stopping those free-time consuming side projects. Happily, I didn’t until now. What prevented me to do that ? Simply the fact that, once in my lifetime, I need to try to go the end of one of those projects. Just for the sake of trying or making an attempt. It’s a personal challenge and that’s important to me, whatever people are saying…

    So no, you’re not alone. Not at all.

    Time spent on the train going to work has left me with enough time to think about all of this. I think you’re on the right way with your time management idea. I’m convinced that organization/scheduling is the key to success. Free time is scarce resource and as such, it requires to be consumed carefully. Without some kind of management, it’s too easy to exagerate in one way (working) or another (enjoying free time).

    I’m still having a problem with it though : I need some clear way to visualize how I could organize my free time. I tried to write it down on some paper but that doesn’t work for me. I’m thinking about something like a dashboard that would additionally tell me how much time I spent working, and that it’s time to do something else. A kind of project management tool or timesheet system but very lightweight and with another name, since it reminds my full-time job. It could be an excel sheet

    Any idea about how to enforce a free-time schedule ?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    The other trick with the budgeting system probably works for time management, too: KEEP IT SIMPLE. The more detailed it is, the harder it is to follow.

    I think working it into a habit as much as possible – a routine – is the other key.

    But I’m still figuring it out as I go.

  • Gareth said,

    I’ve got exactly the same problem. I remember spending entire weekends gaming when I was younger, now an entire day seems an incredible luxury! And you’re right, that guilt in the back of your mind drags at you, it’s hard to enjoy games as much when you can’t just let yourself go with the experience.

    I’ve found the solution is to give myself a ‘free weekend’ every month or two. Basically, complete vacation from responsibility, I gorge on games, whatever TV shows or documentaries I want, read a book, any activity that is pure consumption, no output on my part at all. And without any ‘ok, just an hour’ limit. I find by the end of the weekend I’m fairly recharged and able to get back into things.

  • getter77 said,

    Yep, not alone. I’ve been suffering from something of an ever-worsening strain of this for months now—overloaded, lacking enjoyments, and feeling ever-more-cornered.

    Even with a structured day, things have a knack to keep going out of whack that just cascades into “lost hour” after lost hour.

    Somehow, I’ve found myself more attuned to eating and cooking related stuff(Not excess feasting mind, moreso knowledge and experience/experiment hungry..) as this has escalated in tandem. Really don’t know what to make of it but to keep trying…as it feels like I’ve got very much mis-matched wires crossed throughout the lot of it.


  • Silemess said,

    It makes sense to me, and you’re not alone. Money is tangible, at least, in the respect that you control if it sits there or if it moves on. Time you simply can’t exert that kind of control over, aside from “Well, it’s (x) time, guess that means I need to do (y).”

    For me, scheduling backfires when its in respect to things I want to do. Suddenly time is tight and I wind up trapped by “I want to do, and that, and that…” and waste my time with sort of the inverse of boredom, unable to do anything BECAUSE of the possibilities. Funny how that doesn’t happen with the work schedule.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    Think of it this way: the laws of physics dictate that no system can be 100% efficient. You’re a system. It’s that simple. 😛

    At a more human level, +1 for Greg above. Even if you could be productive every waking moment, now and then you really need to step back and get a new perspective on things. You also need to relax and let your mind wander — that’s when your brain does the actual work. Last but not least, you need to stop from time to time, lay back and enjoy what you’ve done so far, lest your work lose any value at all. That way lies clinical depression, and believe me, you don’t want to go there.

  • MadTinkerer said,

    “that I should be some kind of robot that is 100% productive 100% of the time?”

    This attitude on the part of my Game Design professor should have been reason enough to quit the class. Unfortunately, I was stubborn enough to keep at it despite the warning signs that the guy in charge was a two-faced con artist who has no idea how to teach people to make games. The result (oversimplifying things for the sake of this post, the real story is very long): complete burnout after just ONE semester, and a year to recover to the point where I could properly enjoy playing games and bear to program again. Some attitudes are pure poison.

  • Calibrator said,


    the guy was either a dumbass or paid by a mainstram giant *cough*EA*cough* to prepare you for your future life as a drone…

  • Mrs. Rampant Coyote said,

    Yes, I’m there! There’s always something to clean, or dishes to do, or work to be done, and I feel bad if I sit at the computer and there’s still laundry not done. I’m just grateful for you never being critical when things get messy and I want to read a book. It makes me glad to let you have time to play too.