Games Starting to Feel Like Work? Researchers Recommend Ditching the Schedule

Photo by Noah Silliman

Photo by Noah Silliman

If you’re part of something like a raiding guild, an amateur e-sports team or a tabletop group, you may have experienced the inexplicable dread that creeps up when you have a game coming up — even though you’re doing something you ostensibly love. It feels like work, you start to forget how it was ever fun in the first place, and eventually, maybe you even burn out.

We now have a good idea of why that happens: it’s all in the scheduling.

Researchers at Ohio State University completed 13 studies on the ways we sap all the fun out of our leisure activities, and reported on their results in Journal of Marketing Research.

In both hypothetical and actual experiences, college students who participated in the study enjoyed their leisure activities less if they were scheduled. An entertaining YouTube video was more entertaining if it was watched immediately than if it was scheduled. An imagined trip to get frozen yogurt with a friend was more satisfying when it was spontaneous than when it was planned.

Activities planned for a window of time were better, though. Students who were given a specific time to pick up free coffee and cookies liked their treats less than students who were given a two hour window.

“People associate schedules with work. We want our leisure time to be free-flowing,” said Selin Malkoc, co-author of the study and assistant professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

“Time is supposed to fly when you’re having fun. Anything that limits and constrains our leisure chips away at the enjoyment.”

Of course, it’s not always possible to be spontaneous with leisure time. You’re not going to have much luck getting ten or twenty people together for a serious raid if you plan it for, say, some time Thursday night. But if you’re playing a few games in DOTA 2 or running a couple mythic dungeons with friends, consider whether you can plan it a bit more loosely. “After dinner on Tuesday” may be a lot more fun than “Tuesday at 8 p.m.”

Otherwise, it might be comforting to know that feeling a bit like your game time is work is perfectly normal. If that’s not what you want for your leisure time, it might just be time to try something new — or make sure you have room to relax outside of raid nights.

[Journal of Marketing Research]