The Ryan Lambie column: My Favourite Waste of Time

Ryan's caffeine purge sends him scurrying to his consoles for consolation, bypassing much housework on the way...

Mr Ryan Lambie's amazing joypad.

The problem with addiction is that giving up one vice very often leads to another. Smokers giving up cigarettes invariably end up hooked on chocolate or chewing gum, for example. My recent decision to give up caffeine means that I have to avoid all thought of coffee or cans of Diet Coke – and to take my mind off these things I’ve started playing video games with even more enthusiasm than usual.

Spending most of my spare time staring at a screen with a controller in my hand wouldn’t be too much of a problem if I were a teenager living at home with my parents, but I’m not and I don’t; I’m an adult with an eye-watering mortgage and sundry bills to pay. While I sit and blast away at wave upon wave of Halo 3 grunts, the back garden becomes increasingly overgrown, the taps continue to leak and the bedroom walls stand unpainted.

Every time I start thinking about re-upholstering those chairs sitting out in the utility room, the dark forces behind XBLA release something unmissable like Braid or Bionic Commando: Rearmed, and suddenly the household chores are just a memory and the walls crumble around me like the House of Usher.

Earlier this year, Times writer Giles Whittel described video games as a ‘colossal waste of time’ and, rather bizarrely, likened them to ‘heroin and teenage pregnancy.’ A strange allusion to draw, but then this is a writer that gets away with slipping such lines as ‘whither these lucky bourgeois paragons on such a blessed morn?’ into his editorial.

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So are video games a waste of time? Are they really on a par with drug abuse and other social ills? In video gaming’s defence, you could say that the FPS genre improves hand/eye coordination, that puzzle games are good for the brain or that Command and Conquer is as big a tactical challenge as a game of chess, which are all true enough statements.

But the fact is, video games are a waste of time – in precisely the same way that watching sports, films, television or any other passive activity is. Even so, it’s unclear why games are singled out for such vitriolic abuse – perhaps it’s because they’re a comparatively new medium that they’re considered to be ‘low culture’ at best, or at worst akin to teenage pregnancy and Class A drugs.

When Rockstar put out games like Grand Theft Auto or Bully, both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers queue up to condemn them, and before we know it they’ve been blamed for knife crime, rising obesity levels and the credit crunch. Video games become the reason that people don’t attend church anymore, why men don’t tip their hats to passing ladies and children throw conkers at policemen. Video games are, in short, the downfall of modern culture.

So as I sit and guiltily blast my way through Bioshock‘s Rapture I think of all the highbrow, high-culture things I should be doing instead, like reading the works of Dostoyevsky, admiring cheeses or going to the opera.

I unleash another fiery salvo into a Big Daddy, and as I do so I think: if I wasted less time playing video games and spent more of it skiing in Val Thorens, I too could be a little more like Giles Whittel.

The thought makes me shudder ever so slightly, and I play on.

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Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.