Distractions – can playing games at work increase productivity?

Distractions.  We all have them.  Whether we work at an office or from home, we are distracted from our ‘job’ by ringing phones, meetings, the occasional thunderstorm outside, or someone dropping in to say hi.  Stay at home workers, I believe, are subjected to twice as many distractions, especially if you are a stay-at-home mom or dad.  Kids and pets have an uncanny way of interrupting the ‘work flow’.

But what about self-imposed distractions, like playing games at work.  For the last year and a half I’ve had the intense pleasure (and pain) of not working outside the home.  It’s not that I haven’t looked for a job.  Trust me, I have and still do.  Every day.  But seeing as no doors have opened at this point, I have been following my passion and writing my heart out.  During this time I have finished my novel, sent it out, received a request for a rewrite and finished it again for re-submission.   I’ve written several short stories, won a few awards for my writing, and am currently writing on books two and three in my YA fantasy saga.

But not all my time has been spent on writing.  Outside of my normal distractions  (kids, disabled hubby, animals, etc.), I have one self-inflicted distraction:

It’s not a difficult game but I like it a lot, for many, many reasons.

Wizard101 is a 3D massively multiplayer online role-playing game  Players take on the role of students of Wizardry to save the Spiral (which is the set of worlds this game takes place in), and battle a variety of creatures by casting spells using a turn-based combat system similar to collectible card . Players advance in the game by accepting quests to learn new spells, gain equipment, and collect gold.  Although designed for pre-teens, the game appeals to all ages.  Players can play alone but it really is a game designed to play with others, and in fact, many of the bosses you can’t beat without collaborative play.  During play, you can ‘chat’ with your teammates.  Many times, I don’t chat much at all.  I ‘listen’ to the conversations between the younger members.  Great fodder for a YA author.  Also, seeing that I write YA fantasy, this game is right up my alley for having fun.

But, how does playing games affect my writing ‘job’?  If I’m playing games, then how can I possibly get any work done?  Well, according to WorldWinner, a provider of online games, playing casual games at work can increase productivity.  The survey from their 2007 press release states (and I quote):


The survey, which involved more than 500 players who compete at WorldWinner.com, reveals surprising new reasons workers take time out of their day to play casual games. Among them, more than 80 percent of respondents who play online games during the workday feel better-focused on work as a result of periodic mental breaks associated with game play, 76 percent report improved productivity, and 72 percent rely on game breaks to reduce job-related stress.Recent studies suggest that a growing number of workers are seeking alternate ways to reduce stress while on the job; and a great many of them are turning to casual word, card and puzzle computer games.

In fact, more than 60 percent of gamers who play games during their workday use “brain teasers,” including puzzle/strategy games (such as Bejeweled 2) and card games (such as Solitaire and Free Cell), as a form of therapy during the day. When asked how game play recharges their creative juices, the great majority of respondents answered that online games “take my mind off of work for a few minutes” or “calm me down after something has frustrated me.” An inference easily drawn from these findings is that casual game play may boost productivity by serving as a healthy way to refocus the mind in high-stress situations.


I personally find this to be true with me and my writing.  Many times I’ll get to a spot in a chapter or a short I’m writing and my brain freezes. I don’t know where to go with it or what to say.  At that point, I either take 20 -30 minutes to unwind in Wizard101, or I go for a 20 to 30 minute walk.  Sometimes, if time and weather permit, I do both.  It’s amazing what that time away from the ‘job’ can do to revitalize the brain and the body.  After such a break, I am able to go back to several more hours of work.

There’s no doubt that everyone needs a break at work, but whether this calls for gaming stations to be implemented at workplaces across the country is another matter… Does your employer let you sneak in the odd game at work?  If you’re self-employed, do you play a game of Angry Birds or Solitaire every now and then?  If not, maybe you should.  It might just increase your productivity.

Are fiction writers certifiably insane?

I mean, come on, think about it.  We have voices talking inside our heads.  Lots of voices.  They talk to us, they talk to each other.  They argue.  We talk out loud, verbalizing their words.  We act out the scenes the way we envision they should react to a string of events.  We plot out evil and then make these imaginary characters murder, rape, pillaging, lie.  Why, even some of our characters ride wedras, talk to trolls, train with wizards or fight dragons.  Some are werewolves, others elves or some unheard of species all together.  And some of these imaginative tales take place in cities we’ve never been or in make-believe worlds.  Sounds kind of nutty to me.

Most of the time, people like the ones described above, undergo extensive psychiatric help.  Thousands of years ago, they may have burned us at the stake for practicing sorcery.  And it wasn’t long ago they put people away in sanitariums for hearing and talking to voices inside their heads.   So why aren’t authors considered certifiably insane if they hear a voice in their head and answer back?

I’d like to think it’s because we have some connection with reality, but I can’t use that as a huge excuse because most of us writers spend more time in our imaginary world than in the real one, at least us full-time writers.  I don’t know about you, but nothing burns me more than typing a way at a great scene and the oven buzzer goes off, the dog knocks over a vase, the phone rings or a precious offspring whines for the umpteenth time that his sister stole his legos.    How dare reality take me away from that pivotal moment that’s changing my character’s life for good or bad!  Now, I’ve lost it, that moment where the plot was coming together.  My brain is now frozen.  I’m lost.  Now it’s time to go to the store or the park, yet the entire time my characters are duking it out in my head.  Scenes are unraveling.  The words are flowing…and I’ve left my digital recorder at home.  No matter what I do, the voices never go away.  They’re always there, plotting, devising, whispering.

Even as I sit here and write this post, one of my supporting characters is arguing with his father, loud and clear.  My brain has been in a deadlock as to how I was going to re-write this scene so it didn’t sound like a Star Wars knock off, and now it’s coming to me.  Unfortunately, this means I now have to part with reality and talking to you good folks so I can hang out with my imaginary counterparts and sort out their issues.  *smile*.

Yes, we authors are a little ‘touched’.  It’s all good, because without us crazy, insane writers, there would be no books to read, and what kind of world would that be?