Inventing the Self

Killing time

December 3rd, 2013 by matthew finston · 1 Comment


Having a love/hate relationship with games, gaming addiction, computer games, iPhone apps, etc. I felt that the readings this week touched on some interesting ideas. One thing Ito’s and Bittanti’s “Gaming” article glossed over was how a subject derives an interpretation of gaming as killing time.

It seemed like the article was more concerned with how individuals interpret their gaming experience rather than why they interpret it positively or negatively. The authors surmise, “gamers talk about games as killing time and a waste of time and see value in precisely those properties of games that enable a certain state of distractedness,” (201). While the authors provide insight into how gamers interpret  their gaming experience, they do not discuss the process in which discourse informs cultural valuations of gaming. This was not their concern.  In the footnotes the authors reveal,  “in this chapter . . . we focus on actual social practices of gaming and what game players describe as meaningful outcomes of their play” (2010, 241).  Gaming and meanings ascribed to the gaming experience are treated as givens. Gaming as a practice and the formation of meanings are not problematized.


Still, the idea of gaming as “killing time” speaks to me. I also interpret gaming as  killing time. But often I end up killing a lot more time then I originally intended. Once, killing an hour turned into killing 3 months. It was not so much that I was simply filling dead time. I was creating dead time. I was reducing my obligations or eliminating them so that I could kill more time.


What is funny to me is that just like some of the subjects in Ito and Bittanti’s article, I interpret my gaming as unproductive. Why though? What made the time spent feel like time lost? Another type of analysis the article did not explore was the phenomenology of gaming. What is existence experienced as gaming? In contrast to the “Gaming” article, Dennis Cooper’s narrative God Jr. provides insight into the phenomenology of gaming. The narrative did not distinguish the experience of gaming with reality. The father character, Jim Baxter, playing the Nintendo did not experience gaming as separate from himself. It was intertwined in his experience of his life. A type of the “machinima.” But more. He was not “Jim Baxter” playing the bear. Cooper portrays Baxter as experiencing life as the bear.


Heidegger’s hammer metaphor in Being and Time I think is analogous to gaming. Gaming, like the hammer, is ready-to-hand. While playing the game you are not aware of the specific colors of the buttons, the internal wiring, the game console, the television set, the room around you, the lighting in the room, the time of day, etc. Until the game stops working, does it become present-at-hand, meaning that you become aware of the game as game and not as an experience. The experience of gaming stops. When I used to own a Supernintendo, you would have to insert the game cartridge into the console. Sometimes the game froze and you had to blow on the cartridge to make it start working again. I was only aware that the game was not in my experience of it when the game stopped working.


In other words, gaming challenges the very notion of experience as something internal for the very experience of gaming always exists outside of oneself.  This brings me back to my original issue with the notion of “killing time.” It seems that gaming is devalued as experience because it metaphorically disrupts the idea of experience as internal. What you do in a game does not happen to your body. It is projected outside of yourself. Nevertheless, the gaming experience isn’t felt as external. Being successful in a game or winning in a game gives us the sensation that we are winning. Getting a high score belongs to the player not the computer. Yet the high score still exists only as we are gaming and within the world of the game. It is this paradox of gaming as experience that becomes interpreted as “killing time.”


My question is whether interpreting gaming as “killing time” comes out of a value system that treats productivity as an ideal. Additionally, I am also curious whether the essential tension of the gaming experience, viewing unproductivity as a negative experience, is paradoxically a form of self-prescribed treatment to assuage feelings of unproductivity. Is it a sublimated form of productivity? By that I mean, is “killing time” simultaneously a way of reminding oneself of one’s unproductivity as well as a way to have accomplishments? Doesn’t “killing” refers to an act, one that has yet to be accomplished? If the time is already dead (unproductive time) why does it need “killing?” In this way does “killing” refer to both failure (not using one’s time productively) but also an accomplishment (the death of time, aka “killing time”)?


It also seems that the discourse of the productive individual as an ideal is thus paradoxically confronted in the phenomena of gaming. Gaming as resulting in unproductive productivity enables a subject to produce individualized accomplishments. On the one hand, the subject participates in gaming to fulfill the feelings of failure. On the other, gaming is the practice of sublimated individualized accomplishment. The gamers build their avatars, complete quests, accomplish tasks, win fights, beat levels all in the name of achieving individual accomplishments. Gaming thus enacts the myth of practical meritocracy.

Gaming becomes intoxicating because it fulfills the imagined ideal of labor leading to results. In this way, gaming is the refraction of the paradox of capitalist ethics and its practice par excellence. Whereas capitalism requires laborers to be alienated from their products, capitalism also depends on reinforcing the ‘labor-to-capital conversion’ myth as a means of self-fulfillment. Gaming is a reproduction of that paradox. It enables gamers to invest labor into intangibles that are meaningless once they stop playing.  The valuation of gaming as “killing time” is constitutive of the practice of capitalism. Thus gaming is not a perversion of the proper capitalist ideal; it is its perfection. Gaming actualizes the ideal of capitalism by having one’s labor always translate into individual (avatarial) growth and it discloses the practice of capitalism with the feeling that one is “killing” one’s own time.


I think that the book God Jr. addresses these questions. For the father must kill his time to assuage his guilt for killing his son. Killing his time becomes a productive way to atone for his sin.

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1 response so far ↓

  • John Giunta // Dec 4th 2013 at 1:46 pm

    A lot to digest, but certainly very interesting. I was wondering what you think about video game tropes or video game-esque narratives informing other narrative genres (novels and films with what we can identify as video game structures, lesson plans designed like video game leveling up) or even actual experience, in the way in which I (and other people I know, I swear) often use video game jargon to stand-in for “real world” objects. I often feel as if my early age interaction with RPG and Adventure games has shaped my real-life interaction with my environment, and not necessarily in an unhealthy way, like we’ve seen in Cooper.

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