Are Video Games a Waste of Time?

Joe Rogan’s comments rekindle an old debate

Jared McCarty
Sep 1, 2020 · 9 min read

Late in July, Joe Rogan made a comment on video games in episode #1514 of his prolific podcast The Joe Rogan Experience. He said:

“Video games are a real problem. They’re a real problem. And do you know why? Because they’re fucking fun… You do them, and they’re real exciting, but you don’t get anywhere.”

For those of you who don’t know, The Joe Rogan Experience is one of the world’s most listened to podcasts, being downloaded around 200 million times a month and raking in $30 million annually. He was speaking to Joe De Sena, a long-distance athlete, entrepreneur, and founder of the Spartan Race as well as co-founder of the Death Race. Joe Rogan received a fair amount of flack for his thoughts, but more importantly this comment in particular reignited an age-old debate: are video games a waste of time?

Recently I completed the wildly ambitious Naughty Dog epic The Last of Us Part II. As the credits were rolling, I felt a roller coaster of emotions. Along with the typical bitter sweet “what now?” that beating a game brings, I felt frustrated, elated, repulsed, hollow, and fulfilled all at the same time. Most essentially, however, I felt cold, like the characters I had come to love and spend hours of my life with, who I understood and — to my occasional horror — connected with had their stories close out in a bitter and realistic grey as opposed to the cheery, bright apricot rays of the sun or the raven void of objective evil. Instead, it very well may have ended in a fashion comparable to real life. Articles and essays have been written breaking down the different aspects of the story telling genius that surrounds the game. The rest of my day was personally mentally filled with the tales spun to me throughout The Last of Us Part II’s 40 hour runtime. I thought about the consequences and implications of that video game on and off for days, replaying scenarios in my head and yearning for an opportunity to run through it again to soak in everything I missed. So, does that mean that the 40 hours I spent in virtual Seattle (and subsequently the 40 hours of those around me who watched the entire thing) were wasted? Well, that depends on your perspective.

There’s plenty of impartial benefits playing video games brings you (I’ve written articles on some of them) but if you look hard enough, you’ll always be able to find information that fits the narrative you want. If you look at the economic impact video games have had, especially in recent years, you could even make the argument that gaming brings in billions of dollars every year, thus stimulating the economy and being beneficial to society. Along with this, the games industry has over 2,400 companies, creating over 200,000 jobs. Economically speaking, video gaming is a powerhouse that’s only predicted to grow in the coming years. However, I don’t think that’s what Joe Rogan — or most people who bring up the “waste of time” argument — are implying. The emphasis would most likely be put on the typical gaming stereotype: unemployed overweight men in their parent’s basements pwning noobz and generally not contributing to the betterment of society, instead content to live in their virtual worlds and allow life to pass them by without so much as a second thought. Or perhaps the new-age “Fortnite kids,” who insist on staying inside and building towers in Fortnite instead of going outside and playing with their friends. While those individuals exist, it doesn’t seem to be true for your average video game enthusiast. There’s over 2.5 billion gamers around the globe, meaning approximately 32% of the world plays video games in some capacity. Of those, there are business owners, entrepreneurs, rich people, poor people, celebrities, professional athletes, blue collar workers, stock brokers, you name it. Joe Rogan himself is documented as having an obsession with Quake in his younger years, and despite being legitimately addicted to video games, he still managed to create a podcasting empire and amass himself a net worth of $100 million. Gaming is no longer a nerds’ only domain, and those who operate within it have varying levels of what we have determined to be success.

The emphasis would most likely be put on the typical gaming stereotype: unemployed overweight men in their parent’s basements pwning noobz and generally not contributing to the betterment of society, instead content to live in their virtual worlds and allow life to pass them by without so much as a second thought.

Mario Kart by Jonathan Averstedt.

Gaming has become the biggest entertainment industry in the United States by a pretty significant margin. If an individual is a cinefile, spending their days attending as many big screen events as possible, wiling their free time hours away by watching all the films they possibly could, they would be considered a “movie lover.” If they took the time analyzing every painstaking detail, highlighting, dissecting, and loving every ounce put into production, the conversation would go no further than, “they really enjoy cinema.” The same goes for music, or traditional art. I believe the reason for this is because these more conventional forms of entertainment have been established as a legitimate art form: the amalgamation of creativity realized in tangibility.

There’s over 2.5 billion gamers around the globe, meaning approximately 32% of the world plays video games in some capacity. Of those, there are business owners, entrepreneurs, rich people, poor people, celebrities, professional athletes, blue collar workers, stock brokers, you name it.

Games, on the other hand, still carry some weight of the past, with many still holding the sentiment that gaming is made for children, or as mentioned before, lazy people with no motivation or drive. Art is subjective, as something one person finds as art may be contested by another as not, but speaking as objectively as possible, games simply fit the bill. The most succinct definition of art I could find was this; “Art is often considered the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. It encompasses a diverse range of human activities, creations and ways of expression, including but not limited to music, literature, film, sculpture and paintings.” Ask any gamer if they’ve felt emotions during a video game, and they’ll have a dozen examples at the ready of how this cutscene or that character made them feel. Games explore the human psyche, with the likes of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice attempting to demonstrate the fragility of grief. Or Undertale, showing us our predilection to violence. The list is nearly endless of gaming experiences that have brought gamers emotional turmoil, peace, sadness, happiness, and all emotions in between. As far as traditional art is concerned, gaming landscapes must be sketched and painted before they can be designed. Characters go through countless design iterations, mostly by hand, with ideas being bounced off several artists to make their visions a reality.

As for sculpting, what is 3D design and animation if not just using modern technology to sculpt our masterpieces? Michelangelo may have his David, but the modern magnum opus may take the shape of the breathtaking vistas in Sucker Punch’s excellent Ghost of Tsushima (which is being used to boost Japanese tourism, by the way), or the strange alien worlds of Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky. This speaks nothing of the writing, with stories sometimes taking years to come to fruition. These emotions are felt because gamers are given direct control over the world’s in which they reside. As you watch a movie, you’re a passive observer of the events on screen. With a controller in your hands, however, the weight of the decisions fall on you, the player, even if you have no choice in what your character does on screen. I believe this direct link to the events transpiring on screen creates an environment that focuses on emotional investment, thus creating a more emotional outcome.

Michelangelo may have his David, but the modern magnum opus may take the shape of the breathtaking vistas in Sucker Punch’s excellent Ghost of Tsushima (which is being used to boost Japanese tourism, by the way), or the strange alien worlds of Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Source: Wallpaper Cave.

Games aren’t solely artistic endeavors, however. There are some individuals who play strictly sports games, or competitive games like League of Legends or Call of Duty. While I would argue that the artistic angle can apply to these games as well (massive teams of creatives are still expected to work on them) the competitive aspect is significantly beneficial. They’re shown to promote pro-social behavior, increase teamwork, and skill development. On top of this, there’s plenty of people who play these games for a living. Joe Rogan actually mentioned this after his comment, lamenting that it’s possible and a legitimate job. Streamers, YouTubers, and eSports players are all recognized vocations that have the potential to bring in millions of dollars. It’s difficult to become popular enough in these fields to bring in a livable wage, but to ignore the idea that video games have become a sustainable possibility would be naive.

That being said, it would be equally as naive to feign the problems that are associated with video games. Too much gaming can lead to chronic health problems due to their stationary nature. Obesity, and all the issues that come along with it, can be a symptom of too much game time and not enough exercise, especially in children. Video game addiction can also be a problem, described as the problematic, compulsive use of video games that results in significant impairment to an individual’s ability to function in various life domains over a prolonged period of time. Game addiction affects no more than 3% of gamers worldwide, but it’s on the rise, and is still a genuine problem for millions of people. However, the same sentiment can be said for many pursuits people consider “productive.” Exercise addiction, for example, can occur when an individual is so obsessed with exercise they continue it despite it causing physical and emotional harm. As with many addictive activities, monitoring your time and keeping yourself in check is the best way to prevent the addiction. Video games are just another addition in the long list of undertakings sporting the phrase, “moderation is key.”

At the end of the day, what is and isn’t a waste of time is pretty subjective. Someone who’s engrossed in sports may find painting a waste of time, and a painter may find sports meaningless. While I believe that Joe Rogan’s take on video games is an antiquated and quite frankly false statement, I can understand why someone with his background may find them to be a waste of time. For me, gaming is an enjoyable way to appreciate the culmination of effort from teams of talented artists, designers, developers, writers, and story tellers. It’s interactive entertainment quite unlike anything else in human history, and hey, if it makes you happy and it isn’t hurting anyone, can it really be a waste of your time?

Hello everyone! Thank you for reading. I’m actually a pretty big Joe Rogan fan and don’t harbor any ill will towards him because he isn’t a supporter of video games, but I’m curious what everyone thinks about his comments!

Jared McCarty

SUPERJUMP

Celebrating video games and their creators

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