Everyone has “that friend,” you know, the one who plays every game on Facebook? Farmville (and all the other Villes), Candy Crush Saga (and all the other Sagas), Texas Hold’Em Poker. Name it, they’re playing it or have played it.
Non-gamers get annoyed by game requests and news feed posts about games.
Why is social gaming so popular? Isn’t it just a waste of time? As a long-time gaming addict who has cut back severely on the amount of gaming time I spend in the past few years, I want to share my thoughts on social gaming.
I got hooked on gaming in the 80s: old-school video arcades, followed by Atari, Commodore 128, Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, etc. When I discovered PC games had a longer shelf-life than gaming system games, I stopped playing those types.
Then I discovered social games around 2008. A few years in, I’d played nearly every Facebook game that Zynga and King had to offer, at one point or another, as well as a whole mess of games by less well-known makers.
About two or three years ago, I took a hard look at how much time I was spending on Facebook as a whole. Digging through my browser’s history, I discovered I was spending a good 4-6 hours per day (more on weekends) messing around on there, mostly with gaming.
How is that possible, you might ask, for someone with a three hour round-trip commute (at that time)? Easy, a heavy gaming day’s schedule used to go like this:
- 5 am: Wake up and game
- 7:30 am: Shower, get dressed
- 8 am: Leave for work
- 9:30 am: Work
- 12:00 noon: Check a few games and collect a few bonuses over lunch
- 12:30 pm: Work
- 6 pm: Leave for home
- 7:30 pm: Grab something quick to eat, take it into my home office and eat/game
- 11:30 pm: Realize it’s nearly midnight. Tell myself only a half hour more
- 12 am: Reluctantly off to bed
That’s 6 hours of gaming right there (and only 5 hours of sleep). I’m stating this as an example, not because I’m proud of it, but because the habit snuck up on me. It’s like any other addiction – you start off slowly and it builds before you realize it.
One of the pivotal moments of revelation that caused me to look at the time I spent gaming was this: I got a frantic phone call at work one day from my husband. “Pick my corn!!” he fretted. I went online and picked his Farmville corn. Then it occurred to me that we don’t even have an actual honest-to-goodness garden at home. Imagine, I thought, if we put half the effort into a real garden as we did into the fake Farmville crops?
I didn’t do anything about this right away, just let the idea form in my head. Eventually, I analyzed the usage in my browser history and came to the conclusion I spent too much time gaming.
I quit slowly over time, cutting back to just three games per Facebook profile (yes, I played on multiple profiles, for sobbing out loud). Then I cut back to two games on each. Then I cut back to a single main Facebook profile.
I also began limiting the time I spent social gaming. I thought long and hard about the things I had sacrificed over the years – exercising, sleep, reading books, etc. I stopped gaming in the mornings and began reading instead. I limited evening play to an hour a night at first, then cut back to only on weekends and then only for 2 hours per day. Lately, I’m popping on for a half hour or less.
It made a difference. I’ve lost some weight, I’ve read numerous books and I feel more productive as a whole. I’ve remembered things I used to enjoy before the addiction took over.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing against social gaming or any other kind of gaming for that matter. Games entertain us, keep our brains agile as we age, help our creativity and time management skills and hone our eye-hand coordination.
But like all other things in life, there has to be balance.
I still play, but I place self-imposed limits now. I’m still on Jackpot Party Casino (keeps me out of the real casinos – which are like Disneyland for people like me who are drawn to any machine that lights up and makes exciting noises – also thereby saving money) and I picked up Candy Crush Soda Saga for a little variety. No matter how much I love a game and no matter how much fun I’m having while playing it, I try to stick to my time allocations and schedule.
There are exception days of course, like rainy Saturdays when there’s not much to do and no harm spending an extra hour or two online. But I try really hard to make those days truly exceptions rather than the daily norm.
Reflection Questions: Are you a social gamer? Are you happy with the amount of time you spend on the hobby? Do you have a healthy balance or is gaming occupying too much of your time? If the latter, what do you plan to do about that?