Funny To A Point – Are You Suffering From Summer Gaming Remorse?
Whether you're a student trying to enjoy the final weeks of vacation or a working stiff who just appreciates the warm weather, escaping into a virtual world during the summer months can come with a hefty side of guilt. If you or a loved one is currently suffering from Summer Gaming Remorse, this week's Funny To A Point has just the cure!
No matter what your age, it's easy to feel guilty about parking your butt in front of a video game during the summer. Everyone wants to make the most of their free time, and while games can be extremely rewarding, they can also suck hours from your life in the blink of an eye like the creepy naked space-vampire from Lifeforce. When you're a kid, you're always working against the Doomsday clock that is going back to school; the later into the season you get, the more bittersweet gaming sessions become, tainted by pubescent panic over the upcoming reading assignments, cafeteria lunches, and endless exams you'll soon be enduring. As an adult, the regret shifts to (among other things) your neglect of the great outdoors – especially in Minnesota, where we only get about five nice days of weather a year.
Normally, Minnesota's weather works out great for us gamers. In the winter (which lasts roughly from September to mid-July), there's not much of an incentive to go outside – the only things waiting amidst the snow drifts are frostbite, wet shoes, and driveways in desperate need of shoveling. Snow days are basically a doctor's note for an impromptu gaming session; unless you've got a spare tauntaun you're willing to sacrifice, you're better off staying inside with a cup of cocoa and a controller.
Actually, the work commute can be quite pleasant during mild Minnesota winters...
On the flipside, Minnesota summers also offer their share of guilt-free gaming opportunities, thanks to our state's penchant for sweltering humidity – the motivation for going outside tends to nosedive when you melt into a puddle as soon as you hit the front steps. Sudden torrential downpours, bloodthirsty mosquito swarms, and roving gangs of wild turkeys (yes that's a thing), are all valid excuses to stay indoors in Minnesota as well...depending on how much you're willing to bullsh-- yourself, anyway.
I often use Minnesota's bonkers weather (not the turkeys though; they've grown on me) as an excuse to get in some extra gaming, but unfortunately – or fortunately if you're a normal person – the weather has been great this year. A long, mild spring has brought virtually everyone out of their homes (there may be other contributing factors this year as well). The people I pass during walks in my neighborhood seem to appreciate the rarity of our idyllic weather, especially the tottering seniors who have more horror stories about the winters of their youth than the Stark family. Staying in to play video games would be like some kind of cosmic crime.
I've come to realize that at least a small part of my underlying guilt has been inherited from my parents. Back when I was a kid (disconcerting side note for young readers: The older you get, the more you will find yourself saying this un-ironically), both my parents viewed video games as a waste of time. One of my most soul-crushing childhood memories was the night my grandma called to ask if she could buy my siblings and me an NES for Christmas. I still remember my mom politely saying no as my face melted off in the hallway like the guy at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least that's what it felt like, anyway...
She eventually acquiesced to our pleas during the SNES generation, but my dad was still firmly against them (when he wasn't playing Super Mario Kart with us, the lousy hypocrite). To him, video games had three strikes against them: They kept us indoors, they kept us in front of the television, and...they were video games (I know it doesn't make sense, but they're not my strikes, okay?). His idea of a hobby was going to the lake and catching fish – and Magikarp didn't count.
And yet my dad thought Duck Hunt was cool, despite the fact that you were shooting waterfowl with a pistol.
I eventually got the last laugh when I landed a job writing about games, but even before then I wasn't buying the waste-of-time argument. Sure, we could all be out building houses or knitting quilts for world peace, but as far as fictional entertainment goes, the interactivity of video games can't be beat. Even the best movies and television shows can't engage viewers like a video game can, because you're no longer just a viewer – you have a say in the action. (That said, books are still better for cultivating the imagination, so read one every now and then, ya big illiterate dummy!)
Above and beyond story, video games also have the distinct advantage of being games, challenging us in ways the real world rarely offers, and allowing us to challenge others as well. The thrill of competition and desire to test ourselves drives every athletic sport, most of which somehow escape the waste-of-time argument despite revolving solely around getting a dumb ball across a line or into a hole. Video games routinely surpass the depth, complexity, and strategy of most sports, while also taking us to fantastical worlds and letting us role-play a plethora of different characters to boot. That's pretty awesome.
Chances are you won't be flying your own spaceship in the real world anytime soon...lousy real world.
All that said, I still sometimes feel a twinge of guilt about playing games on a particularly picturesque evening or when I've got a laundry list of things (often literally laundry) I need to get done – so maybe my dad got the last laugh after all? When I was in college, the solution was just to go full-on vampire, playing games until dawn and then shuffling to class like a zombie (if you'll pardon the mixed horror-monster metaphor). However, being an adult requires finding a healthy balance between gaming and...everything else. So, for those still looking for relief from Summer Gaming Remorse, I'll leave you with my patented three-step cure*:
Step One: Spend an hour a day outdoors. Whether it's mowing the lawn, doing a rain dance to avoid having to mow the lawn, or dragging your spouse/child/dog around the neighborhood to catch Pokémon, spending a little time outside will make any subsequent gaming session feel earned. If it's rainy or too humid or your state is on fire, congratulations, your conscience is off the hook – that's Mother Nature's fault, not yours!
Step Two: Unplug for a week. Once a year, I head to a cabin up north for a weeklong break from gaming and the Internet in general. But you don't need to burn up vacation time for the same effect – just swearing off social media for a few days and focusing on the things and people around you can remind you how distorted your worldview can get from being connected all the time. An Internet detox is kind of like Neo sliding naked out of The Matrix, only the real world that you're waking up to is actually the nice one.
Step Three: Remind yourself that gaming is awesome. The first two steps should help ensure that gaming doesn't take over your life and turn you into the Lawnmower Man. But finding a healthy balance doesn't just mean limiting your all-night video game benders – it also means not working too hard. The dumb things we do for fun allow our minds and bodies to recharge, which in turn makes us better workers. It's why European workers get an obscene amount of vacation time, and another reason you shouldn't feel guilty for spending a summer evening gaming. After all, everyone is entitled to the entertainment of their choice, and as far as choices go, video games are a great one.
*Common side effects of the cure include: headache, stomachache, and/or buttache. May cause eyes to burst into flames as if seeing an angel in its natural form. Other reported side effects include: irritability (both mood and bowel), inflammation of the joints, and deflation of the ego. May cause drama. Taking the cure may cause your skin to turn green; this is permanent. Do not take the cure if you are on any other medication, operate heavy machinery, or wish to continue seeing the world in color. May cause Dane Cook to appear funnier than he really is. The cure has been known to cause exploding vocal cords in a small(ish) percentage of patients. Wash your hands after using the bathroom – this doesn't have anything to do with the cure, but is just good hygiene. Some patients taking the cure have experienced erections lasting longer than four hours, but weren't really complaining about it per se. If you experience death while taking the cure, please discontinue use and contact your doctor immediately.