Games as Respectable Hobbies

Matt Barton's picture

It seems that outside the hardcore gaming community, many people still think of games as simple pastimes; casual activities with little redeeming value. Relatively few I've talked to consider it a legitimate hobby or craft. It seems to me, though, that at least MMOs are headed in that direction, where it makes more sense to talk about hobbyists rather than gamers.

This was a point my friend Max brought up in one of our many discussions over Ventrillo. I had made a comment like, "I don't know why I spend so much time doing these daily quests; they aren't much fun and this is supposed to be a game. Shouldn't everything be fun?" Max's response was no--that might be true for single-player games, but MMOs are more comparable to advanced hobbies like woodworking, quilting, wine making, or what have you. There is a good deal of financial investment, of course, but what's really at stake is time. It takes a lot of time to make a quilt, for instance. I doubt that every moment of making that quilt is fun. Indeed, it probably gets pretty repetitive after awhile; yet there is some kind of pleasure in seeing the progress and realizing that you are steadily honing a skill. Probably more important, though, is the reaction of people to the product; "Wow, what a great quilt; you're really talented," as well as being part of a quilting circle or group. What's important is that for a quilter, quilting isn't frivolous; it's well worth the time and cash investment. I think we're still not at a point where we can say the same thing about gaming with confidence; whereas people might agree with the quilter, they'd still think spending a comparable amount of time/money playing a game was "a waste."

I find many similarities between hobbies like quilting and playing MMOs. For instance, there is the constant repetition that I can't imagine anyone considering to be constant fun. Farming for hours to get some crystallized fires or whatever is just not fun, though it is rewarding to finally get them and be able to make your item or finish your quest. I also see the same socializing and identifying that goes on; WOW heads have an easy conversation starter, but also move on to talk about other things. They do recognize and respect expertise, of course, and there is value in knowing how to do things very well (and plenty of room for specialties). Some quilters, for instance, know how to "finish" their quilts, whereas others have to go to a professional to have this done. Others have worked out special techniques or effects that they can share with others. One thing about WOW and quilting (or fishing or hunting) is that there is so much to know--so much, that nobody really knows it all. Instead, everyone has a general knowledge and perhaps a few areas of expertise. When people come together they can talk about these areas and compare notes; but there's also a pleasure just in finding someone else with the same interests and talking to him or her about that or anything else.

In short, I think it's high time that gaming was elevated (in the eyes of the public) to the level of legitimate hobby rather than denigrated to amusement or pastime. I see gaming as in no way inferior to hobbies like quilting, hunting, stamp collecting, playing a harmonica, etc. For the same reason we wouldn't condemn someone for spending months working on a quilt, we shouldn't turn up our nose at someone spending months leveling up a character in World of Warcraft.

Comments

Aaron Wegner (not verified)
Games as Respectable Hobbies

I agree with you that gaming is valid as a hobby, but I think this subject deserves finer granularity. On the scale of redeeming value, I put the general category of gaming somewhere above more passive entertainment like watching sports, TV, and movies, but below "hobbies that involve creating things". Maybe it's near the lofty level of reading books. With most games, the hard limit of your participation is exactly what the programmers thought to put in the game. By thoroughly playing and mastering every aspect of a game, you've usually only accomplished the same thing as 1 million other people. I think that it's arguably more valuable to have created something new and unique that is a result of your own work.

Matt Barton
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I see where you're coming

I see where you're coming from, Aaron, but I don't understand your contention that gaming doesn't involve creating things. Games involve creating at least three things. For the sake of convenience, I'll stick to MMOs. For one, you are creating a character. This takes time, effort, and skill to accomplish, and yes, these characters can be worth a lot of money. Second, many games allow you to create objects -- such as crafted items in WoW or unique objects/settings in Second Life. I'm convinced that future games will allow more unique crafts and unique items (perhaps taking a page from Ultima Online). Third, you create data that is stored in a physical database. People like to think that anything existing in a computer is "virtual" and not "real" or "physical," but it is in fact a physical entity--some sectors on a hard disk or some such. Indeed, a character on a WoW server is at least as "real" as money (in the sense that we're not on a gold or silver standard anymore).

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Rowdy Rob
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Games are not "respectable" hobbies

First of all, the implied message of Matt's article was, in my view, that videogame playing needs some sort of "legitimacy" in order to justify playing them. Perhaps we, as "mature gamers," still feel the stigma that games are childish, since we are "first generation gamers." Many in our age group, or the older generations, might not perceive gaming as legitimate pastimes, or "hobbies," for mature people, as the article professes. Thus, the sort of defensive position that videogame playing is justifiable from an intellectual or cultural perspective arises.

From my point of view, it is a bit of a stretch to label videogame playing as a legitimate hobby, rather than a pastime. Other hobbies, such as quilting, crafts, playing a musical instrument, or collecting rare-or-interesting items can have a tangible effect or product outside of the game world. For example, if I learned how to sew a quilt, that would be a skill that I can retain for the rest of my life. The same with musicianship: if I learn to play the guitar, that skill will still be impressive 50 years from now. And Bill's videogame collection will seem even more impressive in those years!

But if I work my way to a level 80+ character in WoW, no one is going to care 10 years from now, or perhaps even five years from now, when WoW's day in the sun has faded. The "skills" and "accomplishments" are generally non-transferable outside the WoW game. Even if the next big MMO has similar rules to WoW, you'll still probably have to start all over from the beginning of character development.

From this perspective, WoW might seem, years from now, to be a waste of time, since nothing tangible was produced in the long term, as opposed to the other "hobbies" listed above. So, in my view, gaming would be more correctly considered to be a pastime, rather than a hobby. Hobbies tend to result in some form of creative product.

That being said, what's wrong with gaming as a pastime? Everyone has a pastime, be it watching TV, betting on sports, hanging out in bars, doing crossword puzzles, reading fiction, and so forth. Unless done to excess, pastimes do not have to be "legitimized;" people just do them and enjoy them, end of story.

Pastimes can lead to other rewarding facets of life, such as friendships, other inspired interests, or even endeavors related to the pastime. A great example is "Armchair Arcade," where we have these interesting discussions, which lead to book deals and movie deals!

I contend that, as a pastime, videogaming is at least as legitimate as other pastimes, if not more so. It promotes computer literacy, mental stimulation, and relaxing escapism. If someone looks down on my "videogaming" pastime, well, I'm not so impressed with their "getting-drunk-in-bars-watching-the-game" pastime either, but to each their own.

So, from my view, game PROGRAMMING is (or can be) a hobby, but game playing is a pastime.

Pastimes are like mini-vacations away from the general stresses of life. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, and I think they are a necessary part of the human condition. But I don't think it's necessary to classify "videogames" as a hobby to justify their importance.

Videogames are fun, and we enjoy them. You can take that to the bank. :-)

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Catatonic
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I collect spores, moulds and

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Mark Vergeer
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Gaming is not perceived as a respectable hobby

From my own personal experience and from what I hear, read, observe around me 'Gaming' as in 'Videogaming' is not perceived as a respectable hobby. It is perceived as a childish and useless activity, regardless of the fact that it can be just as entertaining - of not more so - as reading a book or watching a movie or play.

Of course 'Videogaming' has turned into a multi-faceted industry with hardcore/grinding MMORPGs on one end of the spectrum and the casual DSLite/DSi/Flash Web games on the other. This very fact makes it even harder to 'simply be perceived as a respectable hobby'. I must conclude that the video game industry still has a long way to go before it is as respectable as let's say the movie, film or other entertainment industry.

Perhaps the 'throw away'-aspects of it let it down. Video-games are often released for a specific category of machines/platforms that are closed and proprietary formats are key. There's no universal compatible format which gamers can use to play on 'their gaming device'. Some efforts have been made by the industry to make it so - look back the the MSX Standard, the jabs Microsoft has at creating a PC gaming platform - but somehow these do not catch on and we are left with a multitude of formats, region lock-outs and what have you.

Oh I wish gaming would be perceived as a respectable hobby, but alas we still have a long way to go. Perhaps sites like this one, where people write about their hobby in a different way - not just 'this game rocks!' - can change the way gaming is perceived. And perhaps the industry can improve the durability of their games by introducing 100% software based backwards compatibility and even perhaps some degree of cross platform compatibility so that the 'video game format' becomes just as accessible to all as would a Videotape, Pocketbook, CD or DVD.

My two cents!

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Bill Loguidice
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Not to over simplify the

Not to over simplify the argument in any way, but I think that there are two main reasons why videogames are looked down upon. One, is that they're mostly entertainment - fun - which is not in and of itself anything detrimental from a societal standpoint - just look at sports - but two, and more importantly, they're interactive and as such have a certain barrier to entry, i.e., ANYONE can sit and watch TV, a movie, a play, a sporting event, whatever, but NOT everyone can sit and play a game and understand all that it entails (the nuances underneath the superficial exterior). The less something is understood, the more it can be misunderstood. Certainly something like a videogame, that looks like a purely physical activity centered around having fun can seem frivolous, when, if you REALLY play some of these games, you can see how they can involve higher brain functions, be it needing to develop a strategy, solve puzzles, coordinate hand functions, etc. The sad part is it probably is a superior way to learn things (fun, visual, interactive, etc.), but is underutilized because of the stigmas associated with it.

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Chris Kennedy
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Gaming as a hobby

I also play Racquetball (Actually, I don't. I was just acknowledging Catatonic's comment.)

Hey Matt - I honestly do not consider gaming to be a hobby. I do believe that the work a gamer puts into an MMO or something like Diablo II (a game in which I logged quite a bit of time several years ago) to create an item, customize a character, adds a bit of uniqueness to the game. It adds a way for players to distinguish themselves by using their creativity to build user-based content. What would some other examples of hobby-like gaming be? Creating Mii characters on your Wii? Those can certainly be creative. What about building levels and scenarios in something like Little Big Planet? That entire game is based on user-made content. Does the gameplay and creativity involved in Little Big Planet make a LBPer one that has a hobby?

What defines a hobby? It is simply a continuous pursuit of an art/craft? Does it have to be acknowledged by the masses as a hobby to be considered a hobby?

When people ask me what my hobbies are, I typically answer things like "I collect toys, rebuild arcade machines, modify game consoles (i.e. other electronic projects), build model kits, continue to build and improve my home theater, etc..." I do not state that I play video games as I would actually file that under interests.

If watching sports isn't a hobby - if it is simply a form of entertainment - then is Fantasy Football a hobby because of one's involvement.

The user-created Wikipedia has much broader form of the definition of hobby (in fact, you are redirected to it if you type pastime). It mentions games (it shows some art of two guys playing cards). It also mentions reading as a hobby. What an interesting idea! While it takes absolutely no creativity to read, it does require the reader to be able to picture what is going on in his or her head. The greater the imagination of the reader, the more likely (imo) that reader is to enjoy something like a work of fiction.

So I suppose it does come down to what someone defines a hobby to be. Does it require creativity and something tangible in the end, or is it simply "an activity or interest that is undertaken for pleasure or relaxation?" That is quite a large gap. My first hobby was doing artwork and building model cars. Since my definition of the word was founded on this, I suppose my opinion of the word sides closer to the creation of something tangible - or even a computer program - more than sides with that of a simple blanket term for one's interests.

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Matt Barton
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I'm not sure what the

I'm not sure what the various dictionaries have to say on the word, but I'd only consider something a "hobby" if it required some form of expertise (i.e., insider knowledge), an active community of like-minded people, a significant cash investment, no expectation of profit or return-on-investment, and probably some supporting industry (perhaps a cottage industry). Thus, things get classified as hobbies if you can go to a store somewhere and buy materials produced specially for that activity. Take for instance the big arts and crafts sections of Wal-Mart.

Is watching TV or pro sports a hobby? I think it can be, but only if people go beyond "just' watching and really got into it. If someone was into a show like "Star Trek," for instance, to the point that they were not only watching the show but were active on Star Trek-related forums and wikis, experts at Star Trek trivia, attended conventions, buying memorabilia/books, writing fan fic, etc., I'd call that a hobby. Same for "sports nuts" who really get into a sport/team and make that a big part of their life. If you know all the players' names on a team and can talk endlessly about their stats or whatever, I think you've passed into hobby land.

Likewise, I'd distinguish "hobbies" from "arts and crafts." Arts and crafts *are* hobbies, but not all hobbies are arts and crafts.

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Catatonic
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One dictionary definition is

One dictionary definition is simply: "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure". So cutting your fingernails is a hobby if you enjoy it.

Mark Vergeer
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not such a narrow definition of ' hobby ' please ;)
Catatonic wrote:

One dictionary definition is simply: "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure". So cutting your fingernails is a hobby if you enjoy it.

Indeed. It's basically pastime activities, even standing on your head for hours on end could be one. Without the added - more narrow - definition of Matt.

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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