Computer Games Are A Waste of Time?

June 27, 2009Tagged Toastmasters

Do you ever play computer or video games? Let me ask you - what's the point of playing games? It seems pretty pointless. It's just a pastime. A waste of time. And I should know because I've wasted many hours playing computer games.

Why, then, am I grateful for having wasted my time with computer games?

It's been said that nothing has any meaning, except for the meaning you give it. I have found a way to give meaning to what would otherwise appear to have been a waste of time.

But let me start by telling you how I got interested in computer games in the first place. It all started with a SEGA 8 bit video game console that I bought while in elementary school. Included in the package was a game called Wonderboy III. It was a classic side scrolling platformer. As the game progressed, your character turned in to different animal forms, each with different capabilities. I really loved that game and spent countless hours playing.

But video game consoles were quite limited. My friends in junior high all had computers! Naturally, I wanted a computer too. I saved up for an Atari, later traded it in for an Amiga, and finally spent all my money on a PC. A vast number of games had been developed for each of these platforms.

In high school I chose a special study track that was a mix between regular classes and distance learning home study courses. We spent less time in school and more time in "independent study." This was a tremendous opportunity, to play more computer games. In fact, none of us made much effort at independent study, and the headmaster canceled the study track from the curriculum the very next year!

When I got to Linköping University, class attendance was not even required. That meant as much free time as you wanted. Of course, it also meant that you suddenly had a lot more responsibility, a concept we didn't fully grasp. A friend of mine dropped out after two semesters full time study, of Quake.

But all this game playing had another effect on me, apart from wasting my time. I got very curious about how games work and wanted to find out how to make my own games.

As it turns out, games are programs. To make your own games you have to learn programming, which is really quite hard. In fact, programming games requires an even greater investment of time than just playing games. Soon I was more interested in developing games than in playing them, andI envisioned a future career as a game developer. That's why I came to Linköping to study computer science.

But it was while studying computer science that I found my true calling - artificial intelligence, i.e. programming computers to make them smart. After working a couple of years at the artificial intelligence department at the university I decided to become a PhD student and earn a PhD in artificial intelligence.

By that time I had all but given up my interest in computer games. But I had never quite forgotten how much fun games can be! And, a couple of years ago, I discovered a way of integrating games into my life once again. My idea was to apply my artificial intelligence research to computer games. I could try to make the characters in computer games smart, and thereby make the games much more interesting and challenging. Much more fun!

Thinking back, I have come to realize that it all started with those first computer games. Even though all that time playing all those games looked like a senseless waste of time, it was those games that got me interested in computer programming, and ultimately in artificial intelligence, which is my passion.

That is the meaning I have assigned to games. And that is why I am grateful for having "wasted" my time with computer games. In the end, what started out as just fun and games, has turned into making games that are more fun.