MMORPGs: Ultimate Hobby Or Waste Of Time

The other day I joked with a friend of mine about what my life might be like had I, instead of playing MMORPGs over the past 10 years, done something more productive with those 14,962 hours (give or take an hour). In an alternate reality I’m most likely a famous brain surgeon who does male modelling on the side or a Nobel Prize winning physicist and poet. It made me wonder – has all that time I’ve plugged in MMOs just been one big waste?

I think back to my days of summer holiday at University when I literally had nothing to do except hang out with my friends, drink beer, watch Jackass, occasionally attend half-assed Kung Fu lessons and play MMORPGs. A lot. I was kinda like a middle class, well-spoken, redneck geek who instead of living in a trailer park, stayed in a comfortable flat in town and pondered existentialism whilst battling the undead mobs of the Estate of Unrest in Everquest.

Being married and shackled to a full-time job, I now look back at those years with mixed emotions. Half of me regrets not taking advantage of my time more and using it for more product pursuits whilst the other half of me really envies my past-self and wishes I could still be doing that right now. I guess it boils down to what you think the purpose of life is: is it about doing something meaningful for mankind or is it simply just about enjoying yourself and being happy?

MMOs are serious business and very few people play them lightly. They tend to require a lot of time and commitment and aren’t called addictive by many people for no reason. In many ways, they are indeed the ultimate hobby as they offer a huge amount of scope and lifespan yet on the other hand, they are also very demanding and suck up much of our lives.

I guess as I’m getting older, I’m starting to look at life in a different way and now my spare time seems more precious than ever. Should I be spending those rare hours plugging away at a MMO or should I be trying to do other things and better the life of myself and family? It’s tough because I want to achieve more in my life yet I also selfishly thoroughly enjoy my hobby.

Hmm, too much thought for me tonight so I’ll put it out for discussion. What do you think? MMORPGs – ultimate hobby or complete waste of time?

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41 Comments

  1. If you didn’t have MMOs, chances are that you would have wasted away your time with beer, television and contemplating your own navel – since that’s what people at Uni usually do. I’ve wasted hours on games and MMOs during my life, but I have a feeling that I would have wasted them on something else if I hadn’t been playing.

  2. Why are you writing this post and pondering your pondering’s?

    Back to grinding Sir!

  3. Frank says:

    Gordon, my friend, everything that doesn’t advance your life in some way is technically a “waste of time”. The thing is, as humans we crave and need something to fill a void that we have for something that isn’t just work, which is what advancing your life is, essentially. That’s why entertainment and the need to forget one’s own problems and trials is always going to be around.

    MMOs simply crystallize that for geekery by being so obvious about it. If you think about all the hours wasted raiding or pvp’ing, it’s really just not something that is actually, honestly, worthwhile to your overall life – but we do it because it makes us feel like our brains can unplug from that life, if for a little bit.

    It’s when you are more invested in unplugging from life than you are in living it that playing MMOs in any serious manner has dark consequences.

    • Gordon says:

      Well said! I think you’re right and no one can pursue “work” 24/7 – we need entertainment and technically speaking all entertainment is both a waste of time and very valuable.

      In terms of entertainment, escapism and enjoyment, MMORPGs have been very worth it for me! :)

      • Floda says:


        Well said! I think you’re right and no one can pursue “work” 24/7 – we need entertainment and technically speaking all entertainment is both a waste of time and very valuable.

        Might want to read the book “Masters of Doom”.

        That proves that 24/7 working gives benefits far outweighing education, status or family.

  4. xXJayeDuBXx says:

    ULTIMATE HOBBY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Stabs says:

    Prior to MMOs my hobbies were stamp collecting, ornithology, car brochure collecting, football, hooliganism, alcoholism, pot smoking, D&D and other rpgs, computer games, reading, and trying to get laid (usually unsuccessfully).

    I deeply regret that my distraction with MMOs is depriving society of further efforts in these directions and can only hope posterity will forgive me.

  6. Look at me atm:
    Instead of writing these lines I should prepare my CV for a job I need to get to survive here. What am I actually doing? Discussing about mmorpgs if they are an ultimate hobby or waste of time…well…and you are pondering about your wasted time… :D

    Main post starts here:
    If you regret that you invested that much time in MMOs -> they are a waste of time.
    If not -> its ok.
    Comparison: You are in a Casino with the people you like. Lets say you lose around € 100.- . So you got 2 choices: Regret: because you could have done muuuuch more better stuff with that money (including getting angry) or dont think about the lose and smile about the nice time you got with your wife/friends and the thrill at the tables.

    That easy it is for me!

  7. SmakenDahed says:

    It’s a hobby. If you stopped it you would substitute it with some other interest or form of entertainment. Or you would find yourself with all sorts of spare time and just fall back into it.

    That’s what I do.

    I also find I consume more (which might be good for the economy) when I’m not playing a MMO. I buy more books, music, non-MMO games or movies.

    Now if there was some way to hook a treadmill up to power my computer it might actually be a healthy hobby.

  8. Ferrel says:

    I have frequently had this thought and often wondered how life would be different if I didn’t spend all that time playing MMOs. Generally I’m not sure I’d have done anything other than find a different time sink and filled my idle hours with it. I also think of what playing MMOs has done for me:

    1. I’m an extremely competent manager. Leading a raid guild has given me huge insight into how people work and getting a job done. In the real world everyone wants you to already have management experience but will rarely give a new person the chance to earn it. This let me do that.

    2. I’ve met people from literally all over the world and broadened my world view. From a small town in Georgia I’ve met people all over the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Europe and even a few from Asia.

    3. I’ve made some very real, very long lasting friendships with some awesome people. I would never have met these people otherwise and they have had a big influence on my life.

    4. I’d be far more introverted. I was a fairly shy fellow in high school. MMOs forced me to interact with others (at least back in my day they did. Now they don’t as much).

    5. I wouldn’t have an extreme hatred for gnomes and all thing gnomish. Some may consider that a flaw. I consider it a righteous crusade.

    • Gordon says:

      I suppose when you list the facts like that it actually seems like a very useful hobby. I never considered all of the friends I’ve made or the experiences I’ve had with MMOs. It’s no doubt been a lot better than just watching TV.

  9. Blue Kae says:

    Anytime I have second thoughts about my hobbies I think of two things:

    1: The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. – Bertrand Russell
    2: If I wasn’t playing games, I’d probably be watching TV which is an even bigger waste.

  10. JC says:

    I’d say it’s both simultaneously.

    But, as others have noted, it’s all about opportunity costs — what would you have done with that time otherwise? If you would have just watched TV, then I’d say you didn’t waste your time at all.

    If you would have cured cancer, that’s something else entirely. . . . . .

    For myself, I don’t consider it a waste of time — I enjoy it, I’ve made friends, it’s low cost per hour compared to many other hobbies, it passes the time, etc.

    My parents, on the other hand, think I should be devoting myself more to studying religion. I roll my eyes and think THEY are wasting their time doing that :P

  11. Tesh says:

    It depends on the person and level of addiction. *shrug*

    While I very strongly prefer games to TV, games have their share of utterly mindless activities *coughRepGrindcough*, as well as deleterious effects on psychology. Perhaps it’s better than drunk driving, but just because there’s something worse doesn’t mean that there wasn’t also something better that probably should have been done instead.

  12. I love MMOs. A lot. I do think that most of my time was wasted, but not all of it. I have a few bonds and friendships and connections I would not have otherwise. I just wish I had been more mature when getting into the genre, so I would understand the social and personal repurcussions that come with extended playtime in a virtual world.

    There are dozens of books I’ve never read now, seasons of TV series I’ll never watch, and other games whose narratives I will never experience. There are tests I didn’t study for, dates I never went on, and relationships with friends and potential girlfriends that I ruined because of my MMO playing. It makes me sad to think that I let my entertainment take over my life so completely. I think they CAN be a waste of time; it’s up to us to realize how we’re playing them. If we realize they’re so engrossing, they can become the ultimate hobby.

    • Gordon says:

      I think it’s about finding a balance. When the hobby starts to interfere with “real” life when it’s problematic and it becomes far more than just a waste of time but actually something that’s detremental to ones life.

  13. Krosuss says:

    I’ve played games my who life and am only an MMOer this past year. I guess anything could be construed as a waste of time depending upon your perspective.

    So is reading a book more productive? Taking kung-fu lessons? Drinking beers of the world? I look at hobbies as something fun and entertaining we do to pass the time. If along the way you’ve had fun … then it wasn’t a waste of your time. And that’s the key: YOUR time.

    My wife doesn’t understand my affinity for playing WAR. I say well you read books all the time. And these are historical or mind-broadening books but works of fiction. So sitting around reading a Dean Koontz novel is more productive than my sitting and playing WAR? If she were reading books on how to speak another language or about something historical or a self-help book I’d be more apt to give more credit.

    Being married like you there are other things that demand time: family, kids, job, house, all that stuff. Life is a difficult balance of things we have to do, things we need to do, things we want to do, and things we wish we’d do.

    To each their own … some people play MMOs, some read, some play console games, some play sports, etc., etc. Only you can determine if it was all a waste of time … your time.

    • Gordon says:

      I think people are definitely right with the opinion that it’s not a waste of time if you enjoy it and get something out of it. Although there’s perhaps nothing concrete to show form it (i.e. a certificate… nice idea though :) ) it’s still worthwhile if it gives one pleasure. I still wish there was a way to benefit my career whilst doing it or increase my physical health or something when playing :)

  14. Longasc says:

    I sometimes wonder why I prefer to play MMOs instead of single player games. Trivial tasks often take hours, after all. Besides that, I like to read fantasy novels. Guess I am a dreamer and should finally give in and become an overseer or contractor on a columbian drug plantation?

    • Gordon says:

      At least being an overseer on a columbian drug plantation would teach you important skills like people management, socialisation, working under pressure, gun skills and getting the best out of your team with a tight deadline looming,

  15. Dblade says:

    It sounds more like a general midlife crisis than MMO’s specifically. You could replace it with TV watching, or working in accounting. I think MMO’s are only a waste if you use them to neglect real things that you can actually do. You will not win the Nobel Prize, but you really should get to working back on that science fiction novel you keep talking about (not you in specific.)

    Other than that, its cool. The good thing about it being a waste of time is that you can take a break or trash it at your leisure. If you think working in your job has been a huge waste and have kids, chances are its going to be much harder to restart then.

    • Gordon says:

      Very true. This is probably coming out because I just got married this year and I’m coming up to my 5th year at my job and starting to wonder “what’s my purpose in life”. I don’t think anyone’s managed to answer that one yet :)

  16. Jeff says:

    I’m kind of in the same boat. Gotten to that age (26) where I’ve got higher priorities than sitting around and playing video games all day. I’ve played MMORPGs for the past 4 years (roughly 8000 hours), and I sometimes ask myself why I’m playing.

    Here’s my take on it. If you ask yourself why you are still playing, you probably shouldn’t be playing MMORPGs. However, let’s take me and DVDs. I love to sit down and watch a TV show for 45 minutes to 2 hours (sometimes, I’ll get 3 part episodes). Now I never question watching DVDs because even though watching TV is a waste of time according to some, I actually enjoy watching DVDs.

    So if you enjoy something, but you put a lot of time into it, then it’s not a waste of time. However, if you have to ask yourself why you’re still playing, then it might be a waste of time. Some people enjoy playing MMORPGs. I enjoyed WoW for the first couple years, before I got to see what was going on. That said, I don’t plan on buying Cataclysm.

  17. saintdenis22 says:

    Basicly you are saying in your statement “live for self or live for others?”

    Since hatred is not the opposite of love, selfishness is the opposite.

    It makes me realizes that we should choose others. (by living a more productive life)

    PS. In regards to a purpose in life…
    faith in God (through Jesus) is the only real purpose in life..
    to have a real relationship with Him centers every area of your life

  18. Heretic says:

    Instead of playing MMOs (i am an MMO addicted) we ought to have sex.

  19. josh says:

    The problem with all these comments is that they are written by people who do waste their time on MMORPGs. So ofcourse they are going to justify it as: “I would have wasted my time anyway.”

    I find that hard to believe, as television is not as compelling as MMORPGs. There is no social aspect, no customization or development. What MMORPGs do is take all that energy that people would normally be channeling on some aspect of life that enhances their skills. Instead, you get a safety-zone, a no-skill no-risk place to escape to.

    I liken it to smoking cigarettes. It costs you money and it costs you time (or in the case of cigarettes, it shaves off years of your life). All the while acting as a psychological comfort that needs to be habitually used.

    MMORPGs are a business model. Developed not for personal fulfillment or for the sake of great game design. MMORPGs are designed to prey on the psychology of people in order to suck them in with small risk-free victories that pat the ego. This creates an addiction. The companies are making money off of systems that aren’t designed for any purpose but to enslave you to be a follower for as long as possible.

    It kind of reminds me of a cult.

    My grinding days are over.

  20. They’re both a total waste of time and something I need to do to stay sane. Disconnecting from the real world is a fundamental part of my relaxation, and is something I’ll do in one for or another forever. Reading a book contributes very little to anyone else, and has no direct return on time invested, and is the same for me.

    A good book or a good game are what is great in life. Yes, I could have made more money, or creating something else, or fixed something, but I’d not be as happy.

  21. Mindlessthinker says:

    I played an MMO because a friend sled me to. I hated it, but I stuck around because people in MMOs basically treat you like garbage if you aren’t statted out in the best gear. Since I hated the gearing part and I eventually lost all of my friendships with people who played (precisely because of the game, and how they acted in it), I say MMOs are the worst kind of game. I regret every hour I spent playing it. On top of that, in my experience, you truly meet the very worst of humanity in an MMO game. There are some very ugly people that play MMOs, and I don’t mean physically. I played for 2 years, and I had the worst experiences of my life with the worst people I have ever met.

  22. No more mmo says:

    I actually stopped playing MMOs 5 years ago around college. Do you know what I replaced it with? No not TV or drinking beer. I replaced it with weight lifting and chasing women.
    A. Got laid 5 months after i quit.
    B. stopped wacking it because a vagina beats the hand any day.
    C. Became more social and accomplished.
    D. Can actually talk to girls normally.
    E. I’m actually buff now (protein shakes and no wacking it)

    Anyone who wishes to get a life, join bodybuilding.com forums for great tips and advice. You are the physical you, take care of your physical you.

    Then again some people have lost hope in life and find no reason to move…..i’m feel so sorry for those folks…. RIP

  23. Ordinary says:

    Its more about setting priorities in your life.
    What you do in your free time regardless of the vice is your choice.
    Let me share my story.
    I was born into a poor family and my childhood days are not that glamourous.
    I didn’t have much toys so I resorted into picking out milk cartons from garbage bins to exchange them for toys
    I also have no money for coloring pencils so I picked up the broken tips from classmates and used them to color my school assignments
    I will always remember the day when my teacher took up my coloring assignment and showed it to the class.
    Having only using tips to color, he said that my coloring represents chicken scratches on the earth.
    Somehow I managed to survive my childhood and education.
    I do not do sports or join clubs then because there was no money for it.
    So how I managed to survive my childhood.
    When I was in my teens, my dad lost his job (which already not making much from it)
    He got a part time job working in construction and he came home with bleeding palms.
    Sometime touched me deep in my heart. This cannot continue. I need to get out of this endless cycle.
    I told my dad I want to stop school and get a job which my dad threatened to disown me if I do.
    He told me not to worry about the money and get my education done.
    After I graduated with a diploma at 20, I signed on to the air force.
    It is compulsory in my country (Singapore) to serve in the arm forces.
    If I hadn’t signed on, I will be given a meagre allowance for 2.5 years which I feel it will be hard for my parents
    I had to sign on to get a better salary. (For a person with no money in his past 20 years of his life, $1350 per month is a lot)
    After a year, life got better, my dad was working full-time giving people foot massages.
    It paid better than his factory job.
    Having my family finances in working order, I started to think what to do with my spare time.
    I tried furthering my studies with an overseas university but failed in the attempt.
    This was because my job requires me to learn to 3 different systems and my brain was already overloaded with information when I knock off work
    I bought a computer and started socializing using IRC. (Internet Relay Chat) if anyone my era can remember.
    It freed me up from being a shy introvert to at least being able to hold on to a decent conversation.
    Weekends were spent partying with booze on weekends, waking up for late lunch on Sunday and back to work on Monday.
    After work, I would spent all the time on the computer talking to others.
    After a year, I woke up one Sunday morning, vomiting into the toilet bowl, feeling terrible from the hangover due to the extreme party the night before.
    I looked into the mirror and saw a very tired face staring back at me.
    “What am I doing with my life?” I decided, enough is enough.
    The next year was spent socializing in Starbucks and CoffeeBean every weekend instead.
    I felt better but the drinks although have a less damaging effect on my wallet, it still does not generate any savings.
    I was 22. I knew I had to do something with my money before I end up like my parents.
    I bought 1 endowment insurance policy and 1 life insurance policy that year.
    The next year I bought another set. So every year I was pouring $6000 into insurance each year.
    But my pay had gradually increased to $3000 per month, so I was pretty comfortable.
    Having all my money tied up (after expenses, giving to parents, savings etc), I found very little money for entertainment.
    I was still into IRC and meeting friends, but I cut down on the drinking sessions and going out.
    Then I met my wife, my first girlfriend and my last. We started dating and as she was also from a poor family, we spent a lot of quality time together spending only what we have.
    With that my budget was really tight as I was also saving for marriage.
    Then in 2000 Starcraft was released. I bought a copy from a friend recommendation and never looked back.
    I bought her a computer in order to spent time together online instead of going out.
    Not only did my savings increased (because we cut down on going out and played the games instead), we also made a lot of friends online.
    I was not considered addicted to it because I still do IRC(most of the time with my wife) and went out with friends and dating.
    In 2001, having finished my contract with the arm forces, I changed jobs and got an technician job in a MNC.
    In 2002, we got married and bought a house and got a mortgage for a house.
    With that, I worked lots of overtime. (I knew the mortgage will kill my savings). My wife was also holding a job on and off.
    After marriage, we both spent a lot of time in MIRC and gaming.
    Not only does that cut down on the expenses of going out, we also bonded to each other because of the games we were playing together.
    We did not have any children as we both decided we just needed each other.
    In 2011 I paid up my mortgage in full and changed to a less demanding job.
    I managed to do that because my 2 endowments have matured and I was really glad I made the decision to save 15 years ago
    From then we spent a lot of time playing GW2.
    For the first year it came out, I spent over 3000 hours in the game. Which I eventually stopped and went on to try other games.
    This year, we decided that we will travel the world next year, spending lots of time on looking for information on backpacking.
    I am 40 this year and she is 34.

    In Summary,
    From the year 2000 to this year, we have spent at least 2000hrs a year on online games.
    It was the cheapest form of entertainment we found both of us are interested in.
    The point is, the entertainment value is there, the bonding was there.
    The main point is, we knew when to stop and work on our priorities.
    Priorities for my life.
    1) Get an education
    2) Get a job
    3) Save up for the future
    4) Get a girlfriend
    5) Get a house
    6) Get married
    7) Clear mortgage
    8) Travel around the world.
    9) Retirement

    Whatever you do in your free time is ok, regardless how much time or money you spend on them.
    It might be basketball, it might be clubbing, it might be bungee jumping in every location known to man.
    It just that you need to get your priorities right and spend time with your family first.
    I am not rich but I am comfortable where I am.
    You need to work on your priorities first before getting online to play the game.
    Its pointless to be the best in a game server and not getting anywhere in real life.
    Once again.
    SET YOUR PRIORITIES RIGHT.

  24. You actually make it appear really easy along with your presentation but I to find this topic to be actually one thing that I feel I’d never understand. It kind of feels too complex and extremely extensive for me. I’m having a look forward on your subsequent post, I will try to get the grasp of it!

  25. Gamer says:

    I think there are two levels to this issue:

    1. Whether spending too much time gaming / watching TV / derping is a problem or not.

    2. Are MMOs addictive to the point of having you spend more time derping than you would have otherwise.

    Personally, I think the answer to the first point is yes, that it is a problem. The reason why playing a MMO is so addictive is, I feel, because it gives you an easy way to excel. Poor endless hours into it and you will get good at it. This will earn you the recognition of your peers (gamers). Excelling in RL activities is more often than not less of an obvious relationship between effort and outcome. It is scary to fail in RL, sometimes you don;t even try not to fail. MMOs don’t have those issues, or to a much lesser extent.

    Regarding the second point, I do feel that MMOs are more addictive than other activities. So I don;t think you would have spent all that time watching TV or doing other equally wasteful stuff.

    That being said, I am on the same ship right now. But for me accepting this reality is the first step in moving away from it.

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