Play As Work, a review

Posted on September 26, 2015

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I will try not to generalize in that way that creates broad towering imaginary opponents that look imposing but have no depth to them and when pushed are carried down easily by the wind. Instead I will focus on one specific remembered human whose behavior radiates outward, flowing into a trend I know I have seen but cannot pinpoint more exactly than in this one. Rather, in his blog. I happened to scan it one day more than a year ago and perhaps more than two. The blog was dedicated to his ‘backlog’, a to-do queue of entertainment items to consume. I believe he reviewed their consumption but I can’t recall.

It did not seem to be a joyous undertaking.

It appeared as if the desire to get to the bottom of his stack of distraction had so overtaken him that he needed to formalize and document it in a work-like process; hence the blog. When did play become work? With the advent of Netflix? The birth of the MMO? Is it simply a feature of adulthood? Or of a capitalist society?

I recently bought a handheld game system and immediately began to feel pressure. A library of games—little plastic flakes of adventure and freedom—were mine for the buying. This first boundless feeling was quickly replaced with the growing realization that these boxes would trap me if I let them. I was letting them. Nine out of Ten. Must Play. Instant Classic. How many hours would it take to work through these? What order should I play them in? Maybe leaven a heavy RPG endeavor with the shrill note of a bright platformer? How was I to make sure these experiences would become solid objects that I could put in my pocket and take out later, admiring their surfaces? What if I got bored ten hours into a fifty-hour quest? What a waste! Say I missed a missable item and thus unknowingly skipped three lines of dialogue that the writer was forgetting even as s/he wrote them? What is a 100% Complete save file worth? Whatever it is, it is not a beautiful object. It is not a crystal ball of experience encapsulated.

When it’s good and you’re lucky, a job is enriching and fulfilling, a labor of both substance and struggle. Leisure can co-opt elements of this for its own purposes, but when the map is mistaken for the landscape an intention in creation has been twisted and put to ill use. Play is not a journey outward toward a place or time yet to be achieved. Play is an orientation within oneself, at its best part of that religious impulse a toddler has to put whole uneatable objects in her mouth. To taste today.

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