Gamer Interrupted: Playtime Management Workshop

Robin Torres
R. Torres|12.19.07

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Gamer Interrupted: Playtime Management Workshop
Each week, Robin Torres contributes Gamer Interrupted, a column about balancing real life with MMOs.

Despite my chosen screenshot, I do not believe that money is the root of all evil. Nor do I believe that about video games. But if you're reading this blog, you are probably wishing you could spend more time playing video games and less time worrying about money and the other necessities of life.

Unless you are fabulously wealthy with no job, family or significant other and with servants to do all of your chores, you probably wish you had more time on your hands. Most of us have work and school or work and family or work and dating and not so much time to just play around doing whatever we like. While it is not a good idea to bring the stresses of work home with you, it is a very good idea to apply some of the skills and techniques you use at your job in your non-working life as well.

I'm not saying you should hold morning meetings with your family, write up your children when they misbehave or insist on the appropriate cover sheet for their TPS reports. I do think that using some basic project management techniques to help you balance your MMO playtime with the rest of your life may be very helpful if you are having trouble juggling it all.

You can use these techniques to plan anything in your life -- whether it's completing a certification or finishing your term paper by the deadline or planning the best New Year's Eve party ever. You don't need to get some project management software or learn about the traditional triple constraints, but a notepad and writing utensil may be helpful. Unless you have to coordinate with someone else such as a spouse, this will be mostly a mental activity.

Even though I'm currently a stay at home mom and a writer (I can't tell you how happy I am that I can say that), I used to be a Project Manager. Allow me to show off my leet skillz.

Step 1: Declare a Mission Statement.
Ew. Just typing that out gives me corporate-level shivers. I have been playing a bit of Toontown Online lately, however, where corporate cogs are the bad guys, so that may have something to do with it. But I also think that we all have encountered some seemingly unnecessary propaganda at our places of work that gives us the heebie-jeebies. I do think that as far as playing your favorite MMO is concerned, you need to keep the big picture in mind. The Mission Statement for all of us should be:

It's all about fun

Or, if you want a more detailed one:

To leverage the synergy (just kidding!) To reduce the stresses of my daily life while immersing myself in an enjoyable virtual world.

Why is this so important? Because some people play MMOs long past the point of enjoying themselves. Whether you are the leader of a guild full of drama queens or you've just exhausted all of the fun out of the game, if you aren't relieving your stress, then you shouldn't be doing it. You shouldn't have to schedule leisure time to deal with the stress of your gaming time.

Step 2: Determine your maximum available playtime..
Once you eliminate all of the absolute necessities of the week such as work, school, sleep, eat, exercise (yeah, I forget this one sometimes too and I'm paying the price), what are the hours you have left over for more flexible activities? Remember that things like together time, chores, shopping for the week, etc. must all be fit into all of that available time as well, but because they are flexible, their times can be adjusted.

Step 3: What are your in-game goals?
Time for a reality check. Now that you see what the maximum blocks of time available to you are, think about what you want to accomplish in-game. If you don't actually have more than 2 hour blocks at a time to play, then completing Taskforces or participating in large raids are not viable goals. But collecting all of the Badges in CoX is definitely attainable. If you have no real time during the week, but can play for long blocks on weekends, then healing 25 man raids is a perfectly reasonable goal as long as you belong to a guild with an appropriate raiding schedule. Some games are more conducive to shorter blocks of time than others, for example, Hellgate: London is easily played for just an hour or two at a time. But even the more time intensive MMOs have things you can fit in to short playtimes, if you are really into that game. So, keeping your maximum blocks of time in mind, state your in-game goals.

Step 4: List your resources.
In order to maximize your gaming time, you need to take advantage of all of the resources available to you. Gaming blogs, official forums, item database sites are all game-related resources you should have bookmarked for reading during breaks. Spouses and live-in grandparents are other resources available to you (with their cooperation) if you have children. Also think of items that may help you squeeze in gametime such as a headset for quiet gaming while others watch TV.

Step 5: Create a flexible gaming schedule.
This should be formalized and posted if others are required for making it happen (and those others should most definitely be consulted and have leisure time schedules of their own). Keeping your goals and resources in mind, create a few gaming sessions a week, leaving plenty of time for the other flexible tasks to be completed. You may even want to extend this to a monthly schedule so that you can use your game time to motivate you to get other things done. For example, if the garage needs cleaning, schedule a weekend to do that and give yourself an extra gaming session the next week. Or if you have finals one week, then schedule no gaming that week, but make sure your vacation time has some extra gaming goodness for your reward.

A good project manager keeps holidays, possible emergencies, acts of nature, etc. in mind and schedules buffers in accordingly. In the case of a gaming schedule, you should always err on making sure that all responsibilities are given that buffer and gaming should be near the bottom of your priority list. No, not at the bottom. Some activities are, in fact, less important than your MMO fix -- like taking extended naps for the express purpose of allowing your cats to have someplace warm to sit or playing Hi Bob... by yourself... with that liqueur you don't even like that much but was a gift... I'm just sayin'.

A more mindful approach to how you use your time will help you use it better. And making sure that your non-gaming activities are getting enough attention will reduce the chances that your gaming time will be interrupted. Now, I'm going to take advantage of some in-game holidays during the small amount of gaming time I have scheduled. Mmmmm Hot Apple Cider.

Robin Torres juggles multiple characters across multiple MMOs, two cats, one preschooler, one loot-addicted husband and a yarn dependency. After years of attempting to balance MMOs with real life, Robin lightheartedly shares the wisdom gleaned from her experiences. If you would like to ask Robin's advice or if you have a story you wish to share, please email Robin.Torres AT weblogsinc DOT com for a possible future column.
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