Science, Fiction, Life

Getting the monkey off my back, and putting him to work

Hi, my name is Ryan and I’m addicted to video games. No, I’m not wasting away in an internet cafe, failing to feed or wash myself. But the addictive behaviors are there and they can be scary. Almost every day I tell myself that I should do something positive with any free time I have. Write, read, exercise, etc. And then, almost every day, when I actually find myself with free time I manage to convince myself that it’s ok to just play a game instead. Oh, it has been a busy few days at work. Oh, you’re almost done with that level in the game, might as well just finish it and then we’ll call it quits on gaming for a while. And once I start playing a game, being interrupted, or not being able to spend enough time in the game makes me cranky. I’ll even get cranky if I’m anticipating playing but I have to do other things instead.

I could just stop. Delete my Steam account, throw away my game disks, and replace the XBox with a regular DVD player. Never touch games again. The problem is, I don’t really want to do that. Gaming and the culture surrounding it are a pretty integral part of who I am. And the gaming industry is maturing along with my generation: yeah there’s all sorts of stupid and offensive crap out there in the world of gaming, but there are also some genuinely excellent games that are pushing the boundaries of interactive storytelling. Just as reading a novel can be a wonderful, enriching experience, despite technically being a waste of time that could be “better spent” on something “productive,” there are games that have the same sort of impact, whether through great characters and story, great gameplay that fires the imagination, excellent aesthetics, or some combination.

The point is, I don’t want to stop gaming. I would be missing out on a part of popular culture that I very much enjoy. I just need to control it so I can achieve other goals in life that I’ve had for years but have not made much progress on. In particular, writing and exercising regularly. So I have come up with a plan to use my gaming addiction for good rather than evil.

I have set up a Google spreadsheet where I will log my time doing productive things and the time I spend gaming. I have worked out formulas that will reward me with gaming time for doing productive things. Addiction is fundamentally tied to your brain perceiving a certain activity as rewarding and therefore seeking that activity out in an endless loop. Gaming is precision engineered to trigger the reward centers in your brain for performing various tasks in the game. That’s a big part of why it is so fun, and why it can be addictive. My plan shifts the activity that triggers the reward to be outside of the game: I do something good in the real world, and my reward is to earn gaming time.

Here are the formulas that I am using, in case you’re curious.

If I have exercised that day, I earn 15 minutes of gaming, plus gaming time equal to time spent working on fiction, plus two-thirds of my time spent writing here on the blog.

If I have not exercised that day, I earn gaming time equal to two-thirds of the time spent working on fiction, plus half of my time spent blogging.

If I do no exercise or writing on a given day, I lose 15 minutes of gaming time.

You can see that the way I have it set up, I am rewarded more for doing the more difficult type of writing (fiction writing). Also, exercising is rewarded by itself, but is much more rewarding when combined with writing, boosting the amount of reward from the writing. And if I’m a lazy bum and don’t do any writing or exercise, I don’t just fail to earn more gaming time. I actually lose some.

We will see how well this system works. I did a trial run of it before our big Japan trip, but it quickly went off the rails because I didn’t enforce my own rules. That’s the main problem with any system of convincing myself to do productive things: at the end of the day, I’m the one holding myself accountable, and the addictive tendencies make me very good at convincing myself to bend the rules. ┬áThis comic from Hyperbole and a Half sums up this dilemma perfectly:


That’s part of my reason for posting about it on here. The more people know about my scheme to trick myself into being productive, the more guilty I’ll feel if I don’t follow through. I do solemnly swear that I will post an update about how this plan is going in about a month. Until then, here’s hoping this works… Now, to go record the time spent writing this blog on the spreadsheet!





  1. TKA

    Good luck, worth a try.

  2. infamousgingerinfamousginger

    I have been thinking about this and I have a nuance on behalf of your family. You must also do at least 15 minutes of “houswork” perday toearn the video playtime. Perhaps with the new vacuum?

  3. Guy Riessen

    Good luck! I always think of the part of your brain that tells you it’s ok to just close your eyes during a commercial, it’s not like you’ll fall asleep and miss the end of your show, right? Same part of the brain that tell you, even though you love mountain biking, it’s probably too late today, or too cold, besides we can bike tomorrow.

    The brain is an evil, underhanded, lying sack of neurons just waiting to get one over on the stupid body it drives around all day.

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