Gluttony is a rather peculiar sin, as it is arguably the most specific and least complicated of the lot. In simplest terms, gluttony traditionally relates to the over-consumption of food and drink, but it can also be the act of over-expenditure on material goods. As mentioned in the last article in this series, it is closely related to the sin of avarice, which is really about hoarding and keeping wealth rather than expending it. Together these sins represent our human capacity for materialism and selfishness, and indeed the real sin of gluttony was not in the eating of an overabundance of food, but in the notion that by doing so one would be depriving others of food they needed.
So how does gluttony relate to gaming? Well, I’m sure I’m not the only one who occasionally uses a game session as a license to eat a few too many Doritos or eat an extra slice of pizza, but I don’t really think that qualifies as a sin. At least I always make sure not to eat the last slice, so I don’t think I’m depriving anyone of their fair share. There is at least one fantasy themed pub out there where you could combine gluttony and gaming, but again, that’s not really what I’m thinking of here.
The expression of gluttony in gaming, as I see it, is in the sometimes all-consuming nature of gaming itself. If you are bothering to read this then I imagine you are quite the avid gamer as well. If so, I’m sure there have been times in your life where your passion for gaming may have nearly eclipsed everything else and perhaps even led to negative social, economic, or personal consequences. I’ve heard horror stories of relationships breaking up over gaming, of people calling in sick to work after staying up all night at a marathon game session, and of people spending money on gaming products they probably should have been saving for more practical purposes.
These are the glutinous sins of gaming, the sins by which we selfishly put the game before more important things, and particularly the sin of allowing it to come between us and the people in our lives.
I’ll admit, I’m at least guilty of spending sometimes silly amounts of money on gaming items, and if I had the cash to spare and a room to put it in I’d probably buy myself a Polestar Sultan table from Geekchic. I’m also sure I’ve occasionally put in time on designing the next dungeon for my campaign or even writing for this website that I might have better spent preparing for a class or writing a professional paper. Finally, I’m sure my wife has occasionally begrudged me a game night, though she is quite supportive of my gaming habit in general. I don’t think I’ve ever put the family finances in danger with a game purchase or missed any deadlines or responsibilities because I was too busy working on a scenario, but it’s easy to see how the hobby could take over.
My point here is that gaming is fine in moderation, and even perhaps to a certain excess as long as it doesn’t interfere with the rest of your life. Despite what we all learned from the 1980s barrage of now unintentionally humorous movie-of-the-week specials (I’ll never forgive you, Tom Hanks, for Mazes and Monsters) almost all of the tales of the game’s negative influence were eventually disproved.
Today everyone seems much more concerned with addiction to video games. (Indeed, “Internet Gaming Disorder” has made it into the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)
I really don’t think it’s too common for gaming to become addictive enough to interfere with regular life and its responsibilities. At least, I don’t believe it’s any more addictive than other hobbies, many of which I would argue lack the redeeming and creative features of gaming.
Of course, if gaming does lead to more severe consequences than occasionally not getting a good night’s sleep because you stayed up a bit late finishing that last encounter or having your spouse be a bit miffed because you got home at 1 am instead of midnight, then it may be an issue. The real dividing line, in my opinion, is when a game – or any activity really – shifts from the realm of anticipated pleasure to compulsory behavior. A good game should be an extra bit of spice in your life, not the main dish.
So, what is the danger of gluttony in gaming? Simply put, I think the greatest danger is in over-consumption and burnout. A pleasant experience naturally produces in us a desire to seek out that experience again, just as eating a yummy piece of food is likely to make us return for seconds or even thirds. But just as with overeating, one can have too much of any good thing, and the rule of moderation applies no less to gaming.
Tabletop role-playing is, by nature, very involved and immersive, generating a heightened state of imaginative concentration that cannot be indefinitely maintained. It is an activity that requires a certain amount of down time between sessions, and in fact many of the core experiences of gaming are heightened by periods of reflection and anticipation.
I’ve experienced the massive endorphin rush a good game produces and thought to myself, “How soon can we do this again?” It’s a good sign and means that the game is compelling and vital. However, it is an urge that needs to be – at least moderately – resisted. Good games take time to craft and they need some imaginative space to grow. Waiting a bit for the next gaming session, eagerly anticipating it, adds savor to the experience. When gaming becomes a compulsion, then it may be time to take a break.
I’ve experienced just such an, admittedly unintentional, break in my own gaming career. Several years ago my gaming group, which had met regularly for over a decade, died a slow and inimical death. We all simply got too busy. Our careers and families absorbed the vast majority of our time. Some of us got into MMOs and focused our attentions there instead. What was a weekly meeting turned into an every other week session, then to a monthly session, and finally to an occasional gathering that, too, petered out. The game sessions started to feel a bit like a burden to some of the players, and I think that is what really ended our long-running group. Albeit unintentionally and without agency, we did the right thing and did not give in to gaming gluttony. We let it go and focused on what was more important at the time.
However, this turned out not to be a bad thing at all. A few years ago, I slowly began to get back into gaming. At first, it was just an occasional game with colleagues at my university who were play-testing the new edition. Eventually, I reconstituted what was left of my old gaming group and brought that together with my new gaming friends for my own campaign. We picked up a few additional folks who were interested in trying the new edition along the way. My brief respite from gaming has only made me more appreciative of what I have now.
I also have to admit, I’ve never really experienced the level of compulsory addictive behavior in role-playing gaming. I think the inherent nature of the cooperative play that defines the tabletop role-playing experience, and the need to take time between sessions for the game master to prepare materials, make it almost impossible to truly binge on gaming. I know we tried to do so sometimes back in my high school days, but those aren’t really the games I look back on with the greatest fondness. Those games I played in grad school and after and the ones I still play now, though perhaps more spread out and less frequent, are far more vivid and compelling than the overeager, rushed, and pedestrian games of my youth.
Yet I have experienced the compulsive need to game when I used to be a regular MMO player. I’ve actually been absent from MMOs for several years now, though I don’t think I was ever “addicted” to them in any significant way. I do fondly remember my days of guild raiding, though occasionally colored by party politics and other annoyances. But I also recall how a pursuit that began as a pure pleasure turned, through constant repetition and over familiarity, into something of a burden. For me, they became increasingly a chore and less and less an anticipated pleasure. It was like eating the same dish over and over again. I did it because I was used to it and it felt almost like I was supposed to be doing it, but I can’t say I was really enjoying it anymore. I didn’t experience a dramatic break with MMO gaming, I just found myself eventually prioritizing other activities over it, and it eventually faded from my life.
I don’t ever want that to happen with table top gaming. So, I have made sure to keep my gaming priorities straight. I now run a monthly game and play in a semi-weekly brief lunchtime campaign with several colleagues at my university. This seems a fine balance, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed gaming this much in years. I eagerly look forward to each game session and they never feel like a chore or a burden, even when I spend hours preparing my next encounter or dungeon. I think I’ve finally found the perfect balance for gaming in my life and conquered any concerns I had about glutinous gaming.
On a final note, I will just mention that my own adherence to my theory of moderation in gaming has been amply demonstrated by my several month absence from this column and the Ludus in general. Professional opportunities, though quite welcome, took up all my free and not a little bit of my un-free time this summer. Those duties fulfilled, I now look forward to returning with –tempered – vigor to the Ludus.