One of the criticisms I often see levied at World of Warcraft and other such MMORPGs is people saying that playing them is ‘like work.’ By this they mean, I believe, that the gameplay involves a lot of more-or-less tedious tasks which you’re rewarded consistently, if incrementally, for achieving. It’s an interesting criticism, in particular because of how revealing it is of our attitudes towards work.

Personally, I enjoyed WoW– but, then again, back in the days when I had a job I enjoyed work, too. That said, the experiences were entirely different. I worked as a programmer of small Flash games, and though most of the job wasn’t difficult, some of it was quite intricate and, at times, frustrating. Nothing could be further from the experience offered by WoW, which was almost entirely painless in every way. Painlessness was the genius of Blizzard when they made WoW, because even when you’ve tired of the game it is a wonderfully quiet semi-world where it is, simply, easy to exist.

Conversely, I’ve just started playing SpaceChem, and I can’t think of a game that’s more like work– that is, the work I actually did. Programming work, minus the tedium, the downtime, the projects I wasn’t personally invested in, and the not infrequent need for me to fix someone else’s mistakes. Also, regrettably, minus the money.

Do people whose lives are awash in tedium seek the challenge of SpaceChem? Do people who have stressful jobs seek the relief of WoW? Or do the same predilections that drove them to live those lives cause them to choose more of the same? I’d imagine there are plenty of examples of each.

However, I must say that this popular perception of employment as being a simple method of trading lifetime, of trading valuable minutes and hours and dreams away for money, has gotten into my head. It used to be that a man’s trade defined who he was, and now it seems that we believe it consumes who he wants to be. And these both happen, sometimes, but I think it must often be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This illusion haunts me. It makes me terrified of the world of work when I probably shouldn’t be. I want to work, I hate getting to the end of the day with nothing to show for it but tissue paper memories that dissolve in a week, or in two. In other words, I hate idleness for all of the same reasons I’m scared of jobs that are no more than holding positions.

But the sheer satisfaction of creating a machine, intricate and elegant, and seeing it perform perfectly the task I imagined– SpaceChem reminds me of all of the things I lost with my job.

Except money. I’ve never cared much for money.

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