Creation vs. consumption: How and why I see creation as the ultimate form of entertainment
Oftentimes, in our day to day language, “work” is something to be avoided. “TGIF” and living for the weekend make it seem like 5/7 of one’s life is lived in utter suffering. I welcome the weekend, but a large portion of my weekends is commonly considered as “work” too - developing video games as a hobby, and writing for this blog, among other leisure activities.
However, contrary to the common usage of the word “leisure”, game development and writing are leisure to me. It seems like hustle, but I do it with the same motivation as watching a movie, which is to reset and relax.
So sometimes I wonder if I’m just wired differently, and why designing a video game world or coding a scene can actually bring me as much joy, if not much more, than binging a TV show. Having given this question much thought, which is how many of my blog posts and thought exercises come from, I think I’ve identified some patterns, and how it can be reproducible.
- Creation as entertainment, not “work”
- Why creation is seen as a chore, and how anyone can overcome this perception
- The importance of consuming content
Creation as entertainment, not “work”
I mentioned before that what I do on the weekends is commonly classified as “work”, regardless of the fact that writing and coding video games does bring me a huge amount of fun and entertainment. It seems to be assumed that if the act is one of creation, it is tedious, and that only acts of consumption are relaxing or leisurely.
As an important clarification, I don’t want to perpetuate a sometimes toxic belief that good programmers (or insert [profession] here) are those that also do their [profession] on the weekends. I make it clear in my articles that I value breaks and compartmentalization, because resetting and relaxing allows me to be more productive in the long run.
I suspect that since game development is quite different in subject matter than my full-time work, it really does give me a break. To further ensure this, I actively avoid data science technical work on the weekends, and for my machine learning livestreams ai.science I read papers and prepare for talks with researchers on weekday mornings. Thus, coding or technical work on machine learning and data science, which is my full-time profession, are strictly compartmentalized to weekdays.
Benefits of creation as entertainment
Of course, one might wonder how it’s possible for creation to be entertainment in the first place, if it expenses mental energy? How does it compare to consumption as entertainment?
To use an example scenario: if I’m quite mentally drained from the work week, and am looking for activities to relax, will writing a blog post only serve to exhaust me, or will it refresh me? Will coding for my game, instead of binging some TV shows, only lead to burnout? Or can it be just as fun as watching said TV show?
I will discuss all of those points in this post, but firstly I want to mention the benefits of creation as entertainment to me, because this context is needed to provide explanations of why and how it is possible.
- It is extremely cheap. For this site, I spent $60 a year on hosting. That is like what, 4 months of a Netflix subscription (Canadian dollars)? Aside: I don’t subscribe to Netflix but treat it as a la carte: only getting it when a new season of a show e.g. Black Mirror comes out, then cancelling once finished.
- The added bonus of having detailed articles on this blog that take hours to write. An analogy of how this is beneficial in a way that consumption never could be: Imagine if for every TV show I watched, a blog post magically appears on my blog. Nope, that doesn’t happen.
- Creation as entertainment energizes and refreshes me. It brings me more utility and personal satisfaction than mindlessly consuming content, which actually drains me.
So, if creating as entertainment is so energizing, fulfilling, and oftentimes cheaper, why is it commonly still seen as “work”, with the connotation that less “work” is necessarily better?
Why creation is seen as a chore, and how anyone can overcome this perception
I suspect that the answer to the above question is that creation is seen as “work” in a negative connotation, because most creation is extremely difficult at the beginning. If one is mentally exhausted from their professional work week, they might really not have the mental energy to be writing or producing anything.
Indeed, it was difficult for me at first - my first few blog posts took me weeks to plan and write, and I would edit them multiple times before I was satisfied. As I wrote more, it took less and less mental energy, and it was fun to see my thoughts come out on paper! I started blogging once every two weeks, while keeping up the quality of editing; and after some months of that, I increased it to once a week.
Getting started on creation as entertainment is difficult and mentally draining. That’s why most people don’t associate creation with relaxation, and why most people fall off the bandwagon before it becomes entertainment to them. But once that point is past, as demonstrated with the progression of my blogging frequency, it’s possible to get more and more relaxation from creation as one grows accustomed, and even continue to increase the intensity or frequency, too.
The fun and addictive flow state
Another reason why I have so much fun with creation is that it allows me to enter a state of flow that passive consumption cannot give me. The closest to this flow state is in active consumption such as playing video games (though it’s hard to separate between active and passive consumption).
I enjoy the flow state so much, that sometimes it is actually an unhealthy addiction. “Just one more scene to code” or bug fix is a similar feedback loop to me as “ugh, just lost the match, I’ll just play one more round” in Heroes of the Storm (a game somewhat similar to League of Legends).
It’s possible in this state for me to neglect my sleep quality and healthy eating, which I have learned the hard way, and have since built up good sustainable habits and routines to keep my flow state binges healthy.
First steps toward creation as entertainment
Previously, I mentioned a thought that perhaps creation is commonly described as “work” and with a negative connotation, because it is mentally difficult at the beginning, and requires persistence to pass an inflection point after which it can feel like entertainment.
For one to build creation as entertainment into their leisure routines, I think it is valuable to examine this facet of the flow state:
Flow experiences imply a growth principle. […] To maintain that flow state, one must seek increasingly greater challenges. Attempting these new, difficult challenges stretches one’s skills. One emerges from such a flow experience with a bit of personal growth and great “feelings of competence and efficacy”. - Excerpt from Wikipedia
This echoes why the flow state is such a great source of entertainment for me, because it provides a sense of personal growth and elation that passive consumption cannot provide. This also might be why I naturally progress in my creation as entertainment activities, such as slowly increasing the frequency of blogging while keeping the same quality and length.
For one used to 100% consumption as entertainment, there are several ways to overcome this and build in even a little bit of creation as entertainment.
- Start small - even if it’s just writing or coding something for 30 minutes each weekend.
- It’ll be easier with a project or output in mind - an example is instead of just learning an instrument, learn with the purpose of performing for friends. I elaborate more on this point in the next section.
- Design the activities to be a bit difficult (counterintuitively). If the task is too easy or comfortable, it’s hard to get that entertaining and relaxing flow state, and it becomes a chore. See the quote on flow above, that “one must seek increasingly greater challenges”.
The importance of consuming content
Now I’ve gushed about how creation really energizes and entertains me, it might still seem strange. After all, what human can simply quit watching shows? I assure you, I actually still consume, and I’m not a freak of nature. In fact, I consume a lot.
- I do watch shows. In fact, for many years I have followed the show RuPaul’s Drag Race, and there have been 4 seasons aired in 2020 alone (12, All Stars 6, Canada, Holland). I watch them weekly as soon as they come out. That’s a lot of reality TV. I also follow Dragon’s Den (Canada) weekly.
- I play a lot of video games… trust me, you really don’t want to know how much.
I own 6k+ games on Steam… peak collection as consumption…
Regardless of how much I enjoy it, there is an upper bound of creating as entertainment. The rest of the time, I naturally consume, albeit on an overall less than I create. Consuming can help me see what’s possible, and expand my worldview with other people’s experiences. Shows and movies we watch are the results of other peoples’ creation (be it as “work” or entertainment), after all.
I will bring up specific examples where consumption is actually a precursor to any creation.
As a child I read a lot of fiction books. All of that had no immediate use apart from being consumption as entertainment. But it’s helped me immensely throughout my professional life, as well as video game world design and writing a 70,000 word video game script.
Another example, directly relating to point
2 in the previous section: Over the last month, I decided I would design and make the user interface for my second commercial game. I learned to use Gimp, an open source art program (the G stands for GNU), and actually came up with a decent design which I subsequently coded into the game.
I learned to do a lot in Gimp and used it to make GUI art assets in two weekends.
While I had no experience making UI, it really wasn’t “wow, even though I have no experience making art, I could make this GUI in 2 weeks”. I have been playing games for years and I have seen hundreds of game GUIs, both good and bad. I have spent hours interacting with each of those GUIs. I know what general game UI works and what doesn’t, and it wasn’t all just learned in 2 weekends! I had to have consumed an enormous amount first to be able to learn and create so rapidly.
Smart consumption - making passive consumption immediately useful
Another way that I use consumption in a way that’s not draining, is “just-in-time” information, a concept that I encountered in Tim Ferriss’ book, 4 Hour Work Week.
Excerpt from Tim Ferriss’ 4 Hour Work Week, in the “Low Information Diet” chapter.
In the example of learning Gimp, I watched plenty of video tutorials. But this wasn’t done idly, as I had a project to put that knowledge to use immediately. If I had just passively watched art program videos, from experience, 90% of that information would have just exited my brain in less than a week. This is similar to constantly taking online courses, without applying the knowledge. Might as well not have wasted that time.
Image 1: Learning the many functionalities of Gimp to create game art assets.
But with the project of making my own GUI in mind, I could find relevant information to consume, flipping it from “just-in-case”, to “just-in-time” information consumption. For the above image, I needed to use the combined knowledge of “paths”, gradient effects, and complicated selection rules to create a nice font that bent around a banner (WIP in above
image 1; result in
image 2 below).
I looked up all those components, and executed them. Now I will not forget any of those concepts in a long time, and could even teach someone else how to do it. Much better than spending time watching videos on those concepts, then forgetting it a week later, and without any creation output.
Image 2: I’m comfortable enough now with Gimp to even make my own marketing materials.
So there we have it, my thoughts on creation vs. consumption, and how and why creation is a huge source of entertainment and relaxation to me, instead of the common perception that it must be draining.
I’ve also gone through some reasons why creation as entertainment might not be common, because of its learning curve and initial mental discomfort, and how anyone could take steps towards it.