As a kid, one of my strongest desires was to make time pass by as quickly as possible.
I am uncertain as to whether this was born from a wish to ‘grow up’ as soon as possible, or to have the ability to fast-forward through the more mundane bits of living, but what I do recall vividly is the pool that I had found which quenched my thirst.
It was not in school, the swimming teams, books or spending time with the other kids at the playground that attracted me the most, but instead it was the entire new worlds that were unlocked through the key that was video games.
Immeasurable amounts of my time and attention had been poured into the exploration of these worlds. Pokémon, Final Fantasy, Grand Theft Auto, Kingdom Hearts, Need for Speed, Minecraft, Grand Turismo, Counter Strike, Roller Coaster Tycoon, Sim City, Battlefield, Left 4 Dead, Tokyo Extreme Racer, The Sims, The Matrix, Far Cry, RuneScape and GunZ — just some of the countless titles that are flashing past as I recall these memories.
There was no one particular genre that I had favoured, as my interests spanned across MMORPGs, driving simulators and first person shooters, but the one thing they all had in common was the capacity to make time flow fast and seamlessly. At the root of this, I believe, is the overwhelming sense of adventure, curiosity, entertainment, social belonging, problem solving and escapism that these games had made possible. The passing of time had only been a by-product of the visceral sense of engagement that I had experienced, whether there were a pair of joysticks underneath my thumbs or a keyboard and mouse.
One might say that I had ‘wasted’ all of that time during my childhood, as there is nothing today that I can tangibly point to and show others of all the accumulated experiences, but on the other hand, many of the in-game memories are as real and memorable to me as my other ‘real world’ experiences of tumbling around in chaos with the other kids at the playground or of being rewarded for something I had put my mind towards achieving.
Since I have gotten older, the original desire of making time go by as fast as possible has shifted towards the opposite end of the spectrum — of making time pass as slowly as possible. Perhaps this is a natural consequence of a slow, emergent realisation that time is no longer the infinite timeline that it appeared to be during childhood.
IIn the lead up towards the point where I had decided to completely stop playing video games, I had started to dislike the feeling of selecting the ‘Start Game’ button at the beginning of a day, only to then realise that the sun had already set and the day was over by the time I had logged out of the session. The question that had started to percolate was an ugly one: ‘where did all of my time go?’ That worried me, a lot.
Slowly but surely, as I spent less and less of my days gaming, more of my time was put towards exploring new sets of activities that happen to generate similar sparks of adventure and curiosity while also making the passing of time feel more tangible. What does this actually mean?
Through trial and error over a long period of time, I had discovered activities that were fun and intensely engaging while also having the additional layers of challenge and complexity — these two components seem to be crucial, because of their roles as forcing functions in pushing my mind towards being completely in the present moment and nowhere else.
For example, 12 hours of fun and engagement would look more like the experience of being a tourist in an unfamiliar city, or spending a day just for leisure. Time would probably go by incredibly quickly during times like these.
12 hours of fun, challenging and complex engagement to me would look like time spent committed towards reading a difficult, dense book or building up the logic required to solve a particularly hard problem. These are the times when my mind would desperately try to hit the fast-forward button, but to no avail.
Why would I choose the latter compared to the former? Well, I’m not sure I know exactly what the truth is either. But I knew that something was working when I stopped anxiously questioning myself with the dreaded question of ‘where did all my time go?’ during the fun-while-simultaneously-challenging-and-complex activities.
In some sense, instead of having to wield plastic handheld controllers and look at a screen to immerse myself within new worlds, it is my habits, projects and countless experiments that have become games in and of themselves. Overflowing sources of adventure and curiosity, yes, while also being tangible milestone markers I can point to and say to myself and others, ‘that is how I have spent the time.’
When real life has evolved into a single-player video game of infinite video games nested within, there is no longer a desire to speed things up. One can only hope to wish for the seconds to turn as slowly as possible, for the game to never have to end.
To close, this is another take on the many games we play, as described by Naval Ravikant:
The reality is life is a single-player game. You’re born alone. You’re going to die alone. All of your interpretations are alone. All your memories are alone. You’re gone in three generations and nobody cares. Before you showed up, nobody cared. It’s all single-player.
Socially, we’re told, “Go work out. Go look good.” That’s a multi-player competitive game. Other people can see if I’m doing a good job or not. We’re told, “Go make money. Go buy a big house.” Again, external monkey-player competitive game.
When it comes to learning to be happy, train yourself to be happy, completely internally, no external progress, no external validation, 100% you’re competing against yourself, single-player game. We are such social creatures, we’re more like bees or ants, that we’re externally programmed and driven, that we just don’t know how to play and win at these single-player games anymore. We compete purely on multi-player games.