« McGregor's Garden | Main | A New Joystick »

Mar 08, 2007



If we can't easily divide work and play, we're back to: stuff happens, time passes.


If work becomes play, what becomes of leisure?

1-10 scales turn into great averages for determining what a sample universally likes and dislikes, but what about identifying polarizing topics, like I imagine gardening and homework to be?


I’m convinced there can’t be a hard line between work and play. I love doing logic puzzles, most people only do them if they are studying for the LSAT. Is that work or leisure? In a world where this is “fun” I don’t know that we can ever divorce fun from attendant notions such as achievement, status, challenge, maybe even some level of suffering....because I admit that video makes me want to try the Death Race...for fun.


@Jim: Why?

There is no reason to expect that a broadly taken-for-granted popular distinction, that is culturally and historically particular to modernity, should bear any analytical weight (especially globally) just because it feels so familiar. Applying work/play to empirical cases generates all kinds of problems, because people don't actually follow the distinction in practice. It's a cultural representation that only hampers our claims about games.


(And, I should add, thanks to Greg for the shout-outs/links. I promise to keep my invocations of the word "contingency" to a minimum here ;).)


Jim: I think Thomas's point is that another analytical tools are out there, it's just that we tend to gravitate toward this one as a culture.

Gazarsgo: What that says to me is that maybe the concept of leisure fails simply at the level of: "De gustibus non est disputandum"?

Thomas: Hey, go ahead, say contingency! :-)

Jen: Lordy! I had not seen that before, thanks for the link. I'm also thinking that could be great... fun.


Funny - I would rate "sports" as around 4 on that list.

Im no slob - but when I train, I do it to get a bit more buff, not because I think it's anything close to "fun".


That polls appears to skew suspiciously male to me. The top three most fun activities are sex, sports and fishing?

Uh. Huh.


Gamers are still mostly male so the skew makes sense. Now as times change you might expect that list to change.


It wasn't a poll of gamers:

"Luckily, the Survey Research Center at the University of Maryland conducted a survey in 1985 in which people were asked to rate how much they enjoyed various activities on a scale of 1 to 10. “Sex” came in first, with a score of 9.3, followed by “sports” at 9.2. “Housecleaning” is near the bottom of the list, with a score of 4.9."

Did they only ask men?


LOL, tho the housework figure is certainly trans-gender. ;)


Yeah, dunno -- using this here IntarWeb thing, I imagine we might be able to track down whether there was some kind of gender skew in the sample population for that survey:

Cite is: Robinson, John P. and Geoffrey Godbey, Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use their Time, University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999, 2nd edition.

It could be that they only asked people to rate things they did with some frequency and those who liked sports and fishing *really* liked sports and fishing -- more than other folks liked other things that they liked. Also, I imagine there might very well be women out there who *really like* sports and fishing? (Or even -- see above -- "death races"?)


Likely the offered list of activities was skewed. Did it include shopping (ie. recreational bargain hunting?) Talking to friends? Making stuff? (Painting, quilting, interior decor, other types of creative hands on activity) Not to sound cliched but if you really polled women you'd get those near the top I believe. At least above fishing. ;)


warning, the following comments are not to be taken entirely at face value

Economics = The Dismal Science

Someone throw me a rope here, we're looking to economic theory for answers about fun?

Also, I notice, you've taken the liberty of bolding categories that were not in the original study. If you're going to throw sports into the more work like category, you might as well put sex there too. I'm just saying . . . how do you draw the line?

@JJ - Art and Music was 9 on the study, hobbies was 7.3, just for a point of reference


Well, getting a bit meta here: the categories are in the original study, but I'm guilty as charged of selective bolding. (And, btw, as I said, these are just a few from a longer list.)

Why did I bold so boldly? Because I thought "play" and "work" were good points of reference. As to the bolding of laundry, I'm not sure what happened. Something just came over me when I was looking at the Typepad WYSIWIG. It was just like jouncing a limb. :-)


Ya know, it strikes me that you academic folk working in synthetic worlds are much braver than I, or have seriously odd notions of fun. So much of rigorous academia seems to revolve around precise definitions, and to attempt to wrangle precise definitions in a context when virtually (!) everything is subject to change (so long as you update the TOS), strikes me as a really impressive proposition. I mean, I get to use the terms in generally descriptive ways and be done with it, but you've chosen the course that requires that these terms have exact limits and attributions. That really sounds like "work" to me.



Ron --

Yep, I guess we "academics" do have a penchant for wanting to define terms. And yes, being very careful about your words can sometimes make thinking into work. But then again, people do play Scrabble for fun! ;-)

But the point here, I think, is that, as Thomas says, really drawing this "leisure/work/play/game/fun" line as a general concept might be impossible -- or at least not be worth the effort.


Economics = The Dismal Science
Someone throw me a rope here, we're looking to economic theory for answers about fun?

Economics is the relevant discipline. The fundamental question there is, "Which of these would you rather do or have?" It is all about trade-offs. Would you rather spend an hour farming greens or work for an hour and buy gold from a farmer? If I would prefer the work, even after working 40 hours a week, your game is less fun than my job. Bad sign for the game. Economics is a formal way of considering the various applications and insights of incentives and preferences.

The term "dismal science," by the way, comes from Carlyle's Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question. He calls economics "dismal" because it denies the "beneficient whip" that will keep slaves from idleness, instead looking to free choice about what is worth doing. So yes, it seems like just the right approach to the question of leisure time. :)



Understood greglas and totally agree. Couldn't resist a bit of fun, as it were, though too I think it does make sense to generally remind folks that these terms also have a general meaning which is useful in most contexts. While in some very precise and interesting sense the terms overlap to a large degree, at least, there's still this general sense in which we use them in which they are quite different.

Actually too I sort of wanted to suggest something about how much we all, here, seem to love our work. My sense is, at least (and this could just be the coffee talking) that many of the folks here are consistently very excited by our work, that we find it quite fun, as it were, and even something about how we've chosen the paths we have for precisely those sorts of reasons - we're jazzed by this stuff (so we love to hang out talking about it). Dunno, just seemed like an interesting sidelight to the discussion.


My take on the definitional projects that we engage in here from time to time (and it's something I've articulated before elsewhere on TN, so forgive the repetition), is that it's fine as a way of organizing our thinking and avoiding past mistakes (and culturally-specific assumptions), but problematic as soon as we get mired in trying to make them exact and bounded. We should be pragmatic -- the definitions of these things that we work from should be judged by their usefulness for answering the questions we want to ask in the current moment.

And I'd agree that the unexpected confluences of work, fun, and the like are just the kind of things that should make us wary of any attempt to divide up our activities according to a work/play distinction.


I think one of the key metrics we're missing in this discussion is that of choice. Leisure, fun, recreation, rest, games... whatever we want to call them, imply that there is a measure of choice available: I can do this thing instead of working at something necessary for my survival.

And, frankly, that is the measurement of "enjoyable work," as well. As we have become a more complex society, there are lots of funky things that we can do that are valued enough to earn folks a living. Back a couple thousand years ago? Hunt, gather. Not so much of a career choice dilemna... Whaddya wanna be when you grow up, son? I want to be a hunter, like you, pop. Good for you... not like yer no-account, good-for-nothing gatherer of an uncle, Gronk...

I get paid to do something I mostly really enjoy doing. Isn't that the goal? But I also have many interests that fall outside that range. I will never, I think, make a living off my poetry. Pure leisure? Well... yes. But in my case, any kind of writing/reading and thinking metaphorically also informs the part of my great, bony haid that I use in my day gig. If I was a banker, being a poet would probably impact my vocation less.

So... where's the border? Is writing poetry work for me? Sometimes it feels that way. It is, in the actual *doing* of it more painful, psychologically, than much of what I do at work. Many of my minutes and hours at work are more "fun" than those I spend wrestling with the dark gods of writing. So... is it leisure?

It's a choice.

My dad is 68. He still works 60+ hours a week. Why? His work is his favorite thing in the world. He's never found anything he likes more than what he does. He's good at it, and people pay him for it. He doesn't have to do it that much, but he chooses to, and it's a job that a 68-year-old can still do very well.

It's a choice.

If I can afford to pay $20/month to play WoW, and that's all my budget can take, but I hate the grind... I will still need to grind to make it to Level 60+. If I can afford to RMT my way instantly, but like the grind and the social aspects and the RP... I have more choices, but do not take them. If I can pay the $20/month and any additional amount, because I have a ton of cash, but I don't have more than 30 minutes a day to play because of work/family commitments, and the friends I want to play with demand at least 2-hours a day... again, I have less of a choice, but it's time related, rather than money.

To me, the rewards of the industrial revolution have been an increase in choices, not in leisure. More women, for example, can choose careers over staying home. Men can do the opposite. More people can have careers in areas that once would have been considered leisure activities, and so the time that we thought would have been given to leisure, is still worked... which also adds to our productivity. More types of leisure are available, and that give us even MORE jobs, meaning even more people can work rather than play and add value while having "fun."

If you choose to do something, it is good/better, regardless of whether it is work or play, productive or leisure. If you have to do something to survive, be it a job or the grind, it ain't so good.


I think what Keynes missed all those years ago was the efficiency of modern industry in manufacturing discontent. If people in the UK were content with the level of consumption of fifty years ago, yes, they would only be working a few days a week. If a religious revival had most people leading a life of prayer and contemplation like medieval monks, they could probably get by with “working” a month or two a year.

It’s a nature/nurture debate though on how much the advertising/marketing industry turns up the “natural” level of discontent. My sense is that it does not take a huge increase in material desire to increase the amount of “work” in a society. Doubling the size of your house does more than just double the demand for building materials. It needs more roads and vehicles to move the materials, more fuel for the vehicles, more arms to defend the fuel sources etc.

So much of our economy is immaterial these days that I am wondering of the process might implode before long. Just how different is gaining social status in the guild by getting a better sword in WoW from gaining status in the office by getting a better SUV? If people ever reframed most of their activity as “playing the Consumer Game”, then most peoples lives would be 80% leisure. Sure the Consumer Game has a lot of grind, but that’s no different from a typical MMOG.

The comments to this entry are closed.