Hardwick's Lathery Foam

Chris Hardwick, he who founded The Nerdist empire (or, if not empire, then duchy) and hosts the likes of the Nerdist podcast and The Talking Dead, has a book coming out called, fittingly, The Nerdist Way. Hardwick’s also an occasional contributor to Wired (a magazine I like very much) and this month that magazine sports an excerpt from Hardwick’s book. Right now, right here, this website features an excerpt of that excerpt:

Videogames make you feel like you’re actually doing something. Your brain processes the tiered game achievements as real-life achievements. Every time you get to the next level, hot jets of reward chemical coat your brain in a lathery foam, and it seems like you’re actually accomplishing stuff. But unless you get paid to play videogames, you’re kind of not accomplishing stuff.

I sometimes do get paid to play video games, when I need to learn them to write about them (if they exist in a playable state when I’m brought on the project), and I agree with Hardwick here. Sort of. A little.

The thing is, what are “real-life achievements” exactly? Is it a real-life achievement when you earn your friend some bauble or doodad in a Facebook game that makes them happy? Is it a real-life achievement when your tournament win is grounds for a celebratory fling?

Whenever I think about the boundary on the idea of “real-life achievements” now, I think of that exchange from the Pirate Bay trial:

“When did you meet [fellow defendant Gottfrid] for the first time IRL?” asked the Prosecutor.
“We do not use the expression IRL,” said Peter, “we use AFK.”
“IRL?” questioned the judge.
“In Real Life,” the Prosecutor explained to the judge.
“We do not use that expression,” Peter noted. “Everything is in real life. We use AFK—Away From Keyboard.”
“Well,” said Roswall. “It seems I am a little bit out of date.”

Everything is in real life.

So, what’s the boundary on the notion of “get paid?” Does it have to lead to money? Things that are worth money that you get for free, that’s payment, right? Can I continue this line of questioning without using the word gamification? (Shit.)

Now I’m thinking about Jane McGonigal, of course, who argues that doses of gameplay are good. Games build confidence, alertness, awareness, and more, right? They can empower. They can hone. They can do good.

Of course, Hardwick’s writing not about a bit of healthy game-playing, he’s warning against obsessive tendencies that lead us nerds to overindulge, to submerge, to become devoted to things without leveraging them for enhancing our whole lives instead of our fleeting feelings.

And even that obsession can be turned to good, Hardwick writes:

If you’ve been obsessed with a game, you have already proven to yourself that you have the ability to focus. You know how lion cubs play around and it’s all cute ‘n’ stuff? They’re not playing for the fuck of it. They’re training to eviscerate things professionally later in life. If you’re a gamer, this is what you have been doing.

What real-life achievements have you earned thanks to games?


  1. Ryan Macklin
    October 24, 2011

    Setting aside any achievements in being a gaming professional, most of what I can think of, though that’s partly because of the culture surrounding games rather than directly from the games themselves. But then can that really be separated? I’m not sure.

    Running convention games for random people has made me a lot more confident in talking with people I don’t know. A decade ago, I was an introvert who dreaded being around people I didn’t know, let alone actually talk with them. Today, still an introvert — people tire me — but one who is functional in social situations.

    – Ryan

  2. Will Hindmarch
    October 24, 2011

    Ryan, I think we’re missing part of your first sentence there. I think I get what you’re saying, though, and I agree that it’s fair game to put the game-related lessons in with the game. I’ve learned a bit about Internet discourse by playing Halo with strangers, even though that’s not strictly what that game’s about. The gamerscore I get for capping Covenant grunts has mostly taught me things about game design, which is work-related, and so maybe I can’t separate the real-life achievements so easily from my real life. Hmmm.

    Like you, though, playing RPGs with people I hardly know (or have just met) has brought with it some real-life achievements, including new friendships, public-speaking skills, and work. But that brings us back to the exception of playing for pay again. ‘Round and ’round I go.

  3. David Chart
    October 25, 2011

    An Origins Award?

    My English students tend to be impressed when I pull my books off the shelf to show them, as well. I don’t usually get past the first couple.

    But then, what use is money? I’d want to argue that games (and novels, and films, and so on) are aspects of what life is for, so you aren’t wasting your time gaming, you’re wasting your time if you work a lot and don’t game. (Simplifying massively, of course.)

  4. Will Hindmarch
    October 26, 2011

    “[G]ames […] are aspects of what life is for[.]” —David Chart

    Simplify away, David, ’cause that’s lovely.

  5. David Chart
    October 26, 2011

    Games are aspects of what life is for.

    There, now you can quote it without all the brackets and ellipses.

  6. Will Hindmarch
    October 26, 2011



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