Playing at Work or Working at Play?

A large portion of my time since taking part in a new gaming podcast at NPR has been telling everyone I know that… I’m on a new gaming podcast on NPR.

Most people have reacted with polite interest or impolite but understandable disinterest, but one guy I told kind of scoffed and congratulated me for getting “paid to play World of Warcraft.” I tried to explain that what I get paid for was actually writing or talking about games, rather than just playing them, but he was still pretty dismissive — like having fun at a job precludes it from being at all worthwhile.

I was going through this exchange in my head, trying to put into words how I felt about it, when I luckily heard the following exchange on a Marketplace interview with Tom Lutz, author of the book Doing Nothing.

[Marketplace host Kai] RYSSDAL: You talk, actually, about writers and how you’re never comfortable with the time off that you need to be writing. But you’re never happy working, so you can’t write.

LUTZ: Yeah, writers have a particular problem with slacking, partly because we never looked like we’re working.

RYSSDAL: Y’know, they say the same thing about radio journalists . . .

LUTZ: Of course! . . . Well, actually, it’s a problem for all professionals who have control over their own time, [they] are faced with that issue 10-20 times a day. Y’know, “How am I going to spend the next hour?” We have to read to get ready to write. We have to kind of constantly be doing research. That research can slide off into reading the New York Times, which can slide off to reading Salon, which can slide off reading whatever . . .

RYSSDAL: Take your pick, sure.

LUTZ: Yeah, and since a lot of us watch culture for a living, watching “The Sopranos” is probably an important part of our job. We need to watch it. We need to be up with that. And the NBA Finals? .. .

RYSSDAL: Absolutely.

LUTZ: I think so. But, y’know, we have this sort of slacker crisis on a regular basis simply because of the nature of our work.

This is something I think most video game journalists can probably relate to. Simply because ofthe nature of our work, it can be hard to seperate out what’s meant to be leisure and what’s meant to be toil. While playing and reviewing games is work for us, it’s not exactly a tough day in the coal mines. Playing games is fun, and getting paid to do a job that is partially playing games can make you feel like a little bit of a slacker. For me, at least, there’s a little bit of guilt in getting paid to do something that just doesn’t look like work.

The opposite can also be true. For some game reviewers, playing games for fun becomes a virtual impossibility, either because of time constraints or because they just can’t turn off that critical eye. The more games you’re exposed to, the more likely you are to be bored with the overwhelming majority of games that are derivative, clunky, or plain broken in some way or another. It’s a rare person that has enough love for the medium to keep that same passion after years of slogging through games seemingly designed to break the player’s spirit. It’s that kind of person that probably has a bright future in game criticism.

I don’t have an overarching point here, per se. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about of late, and I thought I’d bring it up here for consideration and discussion by both those in the industry and those hoping to be. (comments link, yada yada)

Regardless of what you think, though, you have to admit it’s pretty cool to have a job where you won’t get fired for playing a PSP at work. Or will you?

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