Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I am so booooored...

For some reason, I am never bored for a very long time. Even in situations where there is otherwise no stimulation, in waiting rooms, on public transport, I don't get bored. There's too much going on in my head for that - OK, some of it may freak me out, and I may become stressed, unhappy or depressed if I end up on a negative track, but I am rarely bored.

When I do get bored it's in situations where I am in a kind of borderline state between escaping into my own head, and paying attention to something I know I ought to focus on. Only guilt and politeness keeps me trying to focus, and I fight my inner desire to do something completely different. Plan next weeks lectures, for instance. That can be fascinating if the alternative is listening to 30 minutes of positioning over administrative territories and professional status. As a random example.

Facebook is one of those places where I tend to get a bit bored. There's so much going on that doesn't really concern me, and so I phase out most of the information that flows past me, and I go to check who beat who in the most recent vampire game. Or if my dragon pet is underattack. It mostly is, it is a pathetic fighter. However, today somebody had posted a really interesting link. Netzwurker Mez, who is a cyber-poet, put up this fascinating little article on... boredom.

It turns out that boredom is a major cause of drug-abuse and crime. Idle minds and idle hands, etc, seems to be true. But also, boredom is the source of great thinking and great ideas. Well, I have to admit, some of my best lectures and articles have been born in some of those loooong meetings where there's nowhere to go but into my own brain.

And also, there's a little game-related metion in there, with a connection to flow:
Encouraging children to entertain themselves in mentally active and imaginative ways and to avoid passive, quick-fix entertainment could also reduce boredom. “We provide children lots of entertainment in the form of television and iPods to prevent them from developing their inner skills to contend with boredom,” Sundberg says. Engaging in active entertainment, such as playing sports or games, is also much more likely to produce flow, Csikszentmihalyi says.

Now, connecting boredom and games, we get grinding - the repetitive tasks which does lead to progress, but appear to be mindless. Today many of the big online games are being criticized for the grinding they demand from the players. Perhaps it's wrong to be so critical? The players I interviewed in 1999 saw grinding in the form of levelling as a neccessary act which filled its own important niche in the inner life of a game. The eagerness with which so many youngsters who would be bored to tears if they had to read a "stimulating book" grind, is astounding. What's going on with all that grinding? Is boredom another force of human pleasure and creativity?

I think I need to look at that, a little.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fear and Facts

This is old news by now, but for Scandinavian readers it's a pretty piece of good news. The Swedish National Board of Youth Affairs has just published a report on youth who are heavy gamers. This is a study of health, political activity, social issues, stress levels and academic performance of young people who define themselves as playing a lot of games. The main finds are:

They are of no worse health than others, quite the opposite, they report less headaches and less stress than non and low gamers. They also report about the same physical activity level.

They are not more criminal or problematic than non or low gamers, quite the opposite, there is a tendency towards less use of alcohol than their peers.

They are as politically active and -conscious as other youths their age.

They are slightly less academically ambitious than their peers. This can however easily be traced to their backgrounds, as it seems like the heavy gamers to a slightly larger extent are recruited from families where the parents have little or no education.

All of these deviances are however minor. The main conclusion after reading this report is that young people who play a lot of computer games are pretty much like everybody else, have the same problems, but are perhaps a little more relaxed about their lives.

While this is no bomb, it's certainly a nice confirmation of the "feeling" many games researchers who are also gamers have had for a long time. Unless specifically looking for the problematic stories, the general impression is that gamers do just fine, and are perfectly normal people. And here it is, the confirmation that this holds true - at least for Swedish gamers.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New Year

And again I start on a new year. It's the seventh year of my blog, something which feels rather scary. After seven years all the cells in a human body is supposed to have been renewed/exchanged, so every seventh year you are, physically, a new person. I don't know how correct that piece of folklore is, but the thought is interesting. Perhaps that means it's time to renew something else as well? As I am back in Umeå after a wonderful Christmas spent physically and mentally hugging my family, I have a lot of time - too much perhaps - to consider what needs to be renewed. But that's what I am here for, and these dark winters are made for it.

As for winter: not too cold, but snowing, tiny sharp little crystals that blow into your face. Biking is exhausting in this weather, but with my winter tires it's doable. It's definitely time for layering.