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Should I play World of Warcraft?

12 Post author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 04:25AM

I've avoided playing World of Warcraft because many people enjoy it so much that they neglect other things in their life.

Does that make sense?

How about cocaine?

How about sex?  I hear that's pretty good too.

ADDED:  Lots of interesting discussion, but no one is getting at some points of particular interest to me.  Most answers assume that you have important stuff to do, and you need to decide whether WoW will prevent you from getting that important stuff done.  They also assume that your brain usually errs on the side of telling you to do "non-important" stuff (WoW) at the expense of "important stuff".

One question is whether there is any evidence that your brain is biased in this way.  I think your reflective self greatly overestimates the probability of success at the "important stuff".  I have worked very hard, twelve hours a day, 7 days a week, on "important stuff" for most of the past 30 years.  The important stuff never pans out.  So it appears that when my brain told me to play Freecell rather than work on that important paper on artificial intelligence that got pulled from the book the day before publication due to petty office politics, or to watch Buffy rather than do another test run of the demo I spent three months preparing for DARPA that no one from DARPA ever watched because the program officer was too busy to supervise his program, or to go hiking instead of spending another weekend working on the project for NASA that was eventually so big and successful that my boss took it over and then tried to get me fired1, or to go dancing rather than work on the natural-language processing approach that got shelved because my boss felt it emphasized the skills of mathematicians more than his own, or to LARP rather than put in another weekend on my approach using principal component analysis for early cancer detection that it turned out some guy from the FDA had already published 6 months earlier, or the technique for choosing siRNA sequences that a professor from George Mason already had a paper in press on - all those times, my brain was using a better estimate of success than my reflective self was.

Another question is why the "important stuff" is important.  Fun is fun.  On the surface, we are saying something like, "I have a part of my utility function that values contributions to the world, because I evolved to be altruistic."  If we really believe that, then for any contribution to the world, there exists some quantity of fun that would outweigh it.  And people use language like, "WoW may be fun, but it has little lasting effect."  But when you contribute something to the world, if the relevant motivating factor to us is how our utility function evaluates that contribution, then that also has little lasting effect.  If you do something great for the world, it may have a lasting effect on the world; but the time you spend feeling good about it is not as great - probably less time, and a less intense emotion, than if you had spent all the time accomplishing it playing WoW instead.  So this question is about whether we really believe the stories we tell ourselves about our utility functions.

1. He got to award himself all of the department's yearly bonus money that wasn't awarded to his subordinates, so any obvious success by his subordinates was money out of his pocket.

Comments (107)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 05:18:03AM 0 points [-]

No.

Comment author: lukeprog 07 October 2011 06:50:48AM 6 points [-]

I almost always forego WoW, cocaine, and sex in favor of doing things with a decent chance of helping all of humanity. This makes me much happier with my life than WoW, cocaine, or sex generally would, though the sex option is at least competitive. Doing things that are clearly connected to your values is both motivating and satisfying.

Comment author: lavalamp 07 October 2011 01:55:43PM *  2 points [-]

I almost always forego WoW, cocaine, and sex...

I think the real question is: what thing(s) could you not add to that list? E.g., I could say almost the same exact thing you did, and it'd be true (sans the saving the world part, unfortunately)-- but I couldn't add minecraft to the list...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 09:33:42PM *  1 point [-]

More specifically, why doesn't Luke add helping all of humanity to that list? Is he really that altruistic? What is it about helping some vague unappreciative "humanity" that lets it trump all these other awesome things?

I'm downvoting Luke's comment, not to be mean, but because I think it's unhealthy and not even moral to subordinate yourself so thoroughly to "all humanity", and I don't want to encourage Luke to do it more.

Comment author: lavalamp 07 October 2011 10:14:38PM 2 points [-]

My point was sort of that I'm having a hard time believing anyone can be quite as dedicated as lukeprog's post makes him sound. Maybe he is just that awesome, but it sounded like posturing to me (read: it definitely is posturing, but perhaps it's also based in reality). Admittedly, I chose a roundabout way to express that.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 08 October 2011 02:32:18AM *  1 point [-]

I was adding my comment to yours, but directing it at Luke. Will clarify.

Comment author: Technoguyrob 09 October 2011 08:19:13PM 0 points [-]

Economies of time and scale. I study mathematics because once a theorem is proved, it is established forever. On the other hand, working at McDonalds provides only a localized contribution in time and space, as does playing WoW.

Comment author: XiXiDu 07 October 2011 09:56:44AM 1 point [-]

I almost always forego WoW, cocaine, and sex in favor of doing things with a decent chance of helping all of humanity. This makes me much happier with my life than WoW, cocaine, or sex generally would...

Does this mean that once friendly AI reigns over humanity your most valued activity will be uncalled-for?

Comment author: timtyler 07 October 2011 11:54:55AM 2 points [-]

Perhaps it will make a 'messiah'-friendly world - so those folks who are so inclined can save the world every day - and twice on Sundays.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2011 01:56:30PM 9 points [-]

Does this mean that once friendly AI reigns over humanity your most valued activity will be uncalled-for?

If doing things that help save the world is satisfying and then you actually succeed in saving the world it seems like you should feel entitled to be satisfied. Permanently. Then you can do all the other intrinsically rewarding tasks with the added pleasure of knowing that you get to do them because you saved the @#$% world.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 09:36:12PM 0 points [-]

That's not how it works on Buffy...

Comment author: pedanterrific 07 October 2011 09:43:27PM 2 points [-]

Friendly AI reigns over humanity != Acathla is sealed once again.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2011 05:48:05AM 9 points [-]

Should I play World of Warcraft?

No.

I've avoided playing World of Warcraft because many people enjoy it so much that they neglect other things in their life.

Enjoyment is not the thing that makes behaviors addictive. Reinforcement is (to a large extent) a biological process distinct from enjoyment.

How about cocaine?

No.

How about sex? I hear that's pretty good too.

Yes.

This line of questioning is not deep. It is silly. While there is a similarity between the things in the list {WoW, cocaine, sex} it is not strong enough or of the right kind to make it sensible to generalize from 'WoW bad' to 'therefore enjoyable things bad or WoW good'.

Just look at the expected consequences of the mentioned activities. Roughly speaking it goes {'slight positive, large negative', 'just lots of negative', 'huge amounts of positive'}. Act accordingly.

Comment author: Jack 07 October 2011 07:16:15AM *  9 points [-]

There are plenty of positives associated with cocaine. Hell, if you really wanted to get stuff done... it puts Adderall to shame.

(Or so I've heard.)

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 07 October 2011 04:59:09AM *  4 points [-]

I'll comment again to note that I am struck by the relevance of Tom McCabe's post Levels of Action. Tom noted that we can think of some actions as "additively" improving the world and others as "multiplicatively" improving the world. Your choosing to take up WoW would definitely additively improve the world insofar as it's the most enjoyable thing you can be doing at the times you play it (whether that's true depends on a couple of other factors, but stipulate that). But it would almost certainly not multiplicatively improve the world—or even multiplicatively improve your total enjoyment of the world, if you were a pure hedonist—and that is the standard you should be applying when evaluating the opportunity costs.

(This should be read as a followup to my comment here.)

Comment author: D_Alex 07 October 2011 05:53:20AM 16 points [-]

Sure, play WoW. It will prepare you for life as an upload.

Seriously: I play WoW about 15 hours per week. I find the game to be a most pleasant way to relax, better than, say, TV, which I only watch for 1-2 hours per week.

But the game is designed to "reward" time spent playing (you can find plenty of info on that on the web), and I know that many people do get sucked in and spend countless hours doing mindless, repetitive tasks to get some minor advantage (of which there is a practically inexhaustible list). These are the kind of people who look back with shock and horror on broken relationships, stagnating careers, flabby physiques and quite rightly attribute that on 10'000++ hours over 5+ years playing WoW.

So I think it all comes down to: what will you be giving up to find time to play? If it is TV, lolcats, porn etc - fine. If it is study, exercise, and good company - do not do it.

Comment author: khafra 07 October 2011 12:04:18PM 14 points [-]

I have the feeling that WoW, online MMORPGs in general, and all Zynga games optimize for wanting instead of liking. If I get into them, I try to notice when I'm not enjoying myself, and just stop--but it can be difficult. I tend to stick to "liking"-optimized games like Mass Effect, Deus Ex, Bioshock, et. al.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 01:58:28PM 4 points [-]

Can you elaborate on the difference between liking and wanting?

Comment author: loup-vaillant 07 October 2011 02:14:37PM 10 points [-]

Lukeprog wrote rather extensively about this distinction :

Basically, wanting and liking are quite separate in human minds. It is easy to like something you don't want, and want something you don't like.

Comment author: EphemeralNight 07 October 2011 02:12:06PM -1 points [-]

That sounds like the difference between fun to play and fun to win.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 08 October 2011 03:12:11AM 7 points [-]

Phil, I would like it if you promised that when you ask a question you're sincerely interested in the answers, and that when you advance an argument, you sincerely believe it valid.

Because there's been some recent post and comments of yours (some comments here, your post about simulations+Christianity, the one about the "National Institute of Theology"), that I have trouble believing you truly mean; I find it likely you may be saying absurd stuff just to amuse yourself or "promote discussion" or whatever other purpose you may have.

But if you're doing this I have no interest in participating: For me it's tiring and exhausting to argue with someone who has just decided they will argue for the sake of arguing. Nor is it truly promoting discussion, when someone advances fake arguments and pretends not to budge -- that's called trolling, not discussing, and it's harmful for the quality of a forum, not beneficial.

So can you promise that you're debating in good faith with arguments you consider valid, not just to amuse yourself in our expense?

Comment author: EphemeralNight 07 October 2011 02:36:23PM 11 points [-]

Playing WoW comes down to what you want out of it.

As a game, WoW just isn't very good. It's designed around the fun to win (rather than fun to play) paradigm like most MMOs, except there is no ultimate victory condition a player can ever reach, so they keep playing, sustained by small and temporary "wins" along the way that are ultimately unsatisfying. This results in something like the Sunk Cost fallacy combined with a Belief In Enjoyment, that drives them to keep playing towards that fun of winning that they'll never actually reach, which is often mistaken for addiction.

As a social platform it's better, at least on the realms that have established communities that are friendly to newcomers. To a lot of players its a role-playing platform first and a game second.

As a virtual environment it's among the very best. You can spend an amazing amount of time just flying around and taking screenshots of the scenery, and everything has a story behind it. As a fan-fiction writer, it may even be the optimal fictional universe, since it is rich and diverse enough to support pretty much any story one might wish to tell. And have you seen the machinima?

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 03:51:23PM 15 points [-]

This is a long comment constructed entirely of disclosure and discussion of personal data. Read at your own risk.

In the fall of 2009, I started using the program hamster to track first all the time I spent wearing pants, and beginning in 2011, all my time, 24/7. I initially did this because I felt I spent too much time on Reddit, on my feed reader, and on email lists, and in general, wasting time. I thought that by tracking my time, I could quantify how much time I wasted, and reduce it over time. This didn't work out, but I still enjoy having the data and can occasionally do cool things with it.

Reddit dwarfed the other activities in my waste category, and even my time usage at large (the single-most activity in 2010 is reddit, at 281.5 hours -- spending time with my romantic partner was second at 273.4 hours). My reddit usage peaked in August of 2010, when I spent 39.75 hours on reddit.

At this point, I quick reddit cold-turkey (I spent five minutes on reddit in december of 2010). I assumed that since I now had the single-largest waste time activity eliminated, I would be hugely more productive. This didn't turn out to be the case. As I stopped using Reddit, I started playing video games with friends I lived with. I've spent much more time playing video games than I ever spent on Reddit -- from 2010 to now, I spent 287 hours on Reddit, and 724 hours playing video games. I rationalize this by saying that most of this (534.4 hours) is "social" -- that is, I'm playing video games sitting next to someone in meatspace. But ultimately, I'm still wasting time.

The lesson I've learned from this is that it's futile to try to optimize away all waste time. Humans are not resilient enough to be productive 16 hours a day with current productivity systems. If I could find a way to accomplish meaningful work while playing Halo: Reach or browsing Reddit, I possibly do lots of good things. But I still wouldn't move through my todo list any faster.

Together, video games and my main romantic partner account for 1,571 hours of my time from 2010 to now out of a total of 9,888 hours total (time spent sleeping is only tracked starting 01/01/2011 and accounts for 2,075 hours). While it's easy for me to think of these things as non-productive, they're probably essential to my life as it is now. My romantic partner is incredibly important to me, and video games are the primary way of bonding with the people I live with (especially since I don't drink). Without those things, I think my life would be worse off.

This data is probably incomplete -- a better metric would be the rate that I go through items on my todo list. Since I haven't found any task software that's as good at what it does as Hamster is (I use Getting Things GNOME! now, the daily builds are tolerable), I can't examine that data. But if you're actually concerned about misusing your scarce resources, track how you use them and decide based on actual data, not based on how high-status sex, drugs, and World of Warcraft are on websites.

Comment author: Prismattic 08 October 2011 03:35:34AM 1 point [-]

I apologize for zeroing in on a triviality, but Is "wearing pants" a euphemism for something? Or do you normally sit at the computer without them?

Comment author: [deleted] 08 October 2011 04:02:15AM 2 points [-]

It's not a euphemism, it's the rule of thumb I used to determine if I expected myself to be productive during that time, and therefore, if I should track that time. Eventually I decided I just wanted all the data and started tracking everything. The main difference is that I started tracking how much time I was asleep. Even before then, I tracked some things while I wasn't wearing pants (like showering or being on my laptop in bed), and I didn't track some things I did while I was wearing pants.

People typically think that "wearing pants" is a euphemism; I should change how I communicate that, but it's still how I think about it.

Comment author: antigonus 07 October 2011 06:36:40AM *  18 points [-]

The vast majority of the time you're playing World of Warcraft, you probably aren't actually going to be enjoying it. If you experience similar numbness during sex, you probably shouldn't engage in that, either. (This is probably the simplest of several correct answers to the question, but it applies even if you don't get addicted.)

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 08 October 2011 05:03:59PM 5 points [-]

The important stuff never pans out... petty office politics... DARPA .... NASA ... FDA ... my boss took it over and then tried to get me fired... already had a paper in press on

It seems like your are using a bad strategy for choosing projects - specifically, you choose projects that are highly vulnerable to socio-political interference (and I imagine your talents, while impressive, do not include socio-political maneuvering).

Comment author: b1shop 08 October 2011 04:41:06AM 4 points [-]

I enjoy playing a lot of video games, but I found the time my SO and I played WoW boring. In a real video game (lately for me: TF2, FIFA, ME), when you fail you have thoughts like "next time I'll try a different approach" or "Oops! I herped when I should have derped." Winning is genuinely satisfying because the challenges involve more than measuring your sunk cost against an arbitrary number of hours.

When you fail at WoW, it's because you picked a fight several gameplay hours too soon. When you win, it just means you get to move on to the collection quest.

There might be more cerebral challenge in the upper levels, but I was bored by the month-and-a-half I invested into it.

Comment author: pedanterrific 08 October 2011 05:48:42AM *  2 points [-]

Oops! I herped when I should have derped.

I do this all the time.

And in my (limited) experience with MMOs, it's generally more productive, as well as fun, to treat it as primarily a social enterprise. I was unsurprised - though vaguely impressed - to find just how profitable the street performer business model can be.

Comment author: CronoDAS 08 October 2011 07:53:50PM 0 points [-]

When you fail at WoW, it's because you picked a fight several gameplay hours too soon.

Unless you're already at the level cap, or doing level-matched PVP, or something.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 08 October 2011 11:01:05PM 0 points [-]

At the level cap, or at level-matched PVP, the determining factor is usually the quality of the gear you've accumulated; so that e.g. you need to accumulate gear in normal dungeons before attempting heroic dungeons, in heroic dungeons before attempting low-difficulty raids, in low-difficulty raids before attempting high-difficulty raids, etc...

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 08 October 2011 03:16:11AM 3 points [-]

And in regards to World of Warcraft: I don't regret taking a single character from start all the way to the top levels and following the questlines, and seeing all the lands and so forth. That content entertained me well enough, that I consider it time as well-spent as any other entertainment option.

But I do regret the time I spent on raids and instances, though; which at some point I realized I just wasn't enjoying nearly enough compared to the time I had to waste on them.

Comment author: Jack 08 October 2011 12:49:32AM *  7 points [-]

Regarding the addition:

I don't really understand your insistence on radically simplifying the experience of making decisions and moral judgments. Obviously my 'utility function' doesn't work by releasing dopamine in magnitudes corresponding to the 'goodness' of my actions. When people say "WoW may be fun, but it has little lasting effect" they are not commenting on the duration of the increase of pleasurable neurotransmitters-- they mean complicated and confusing things like "WoW may be fun but I won't be proud of myself the way I would if I spent that time helping people" or "WoW may be fun but it won't give me self-respect" or "I'll feel better about myself accomplishing things in real life". No one thinks altruism feels like WoW but lasts longer-- it's an attempt to express what internally feels like a different sort of utility.

On occasion it is a distinction that leads people to say mysterious sounding spiritual things-- perhaps part of why some theists have trouble seeing how an atheist would act moral. And 'God' as a shared mental entity has often been something like an externalization of far-mode thinking that seems to, in some people, give them greater control over their near-self.

The main thing though, is that 'selfish pleasure' and 'moral rightness' feel different in my brain-- I suspect they be less distinct in some brains and more distinct in others. But treating them the same way for all people just gets the phenomenology of decision making wrong at least for a large class of humans.

Again, it's far self vs. near self and this post is exactly the confusion treating those selves as a unitary utility function creates.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 08 October 2011 12:46:22AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: CronoDAS 08 October 2011 07:56:47PM 1 point [-]

That link is illuminating.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 07 October 2011 10:48:04PM 11 points [-]

The important stuff never pans out.

Many of my "important" projects have. Here are some differences between my examples and yours:

  1. I didn't do my important projects under a boss.
  2. I didn't try to publish papers, but instead just discussed my ideas on forums and mailing lists.
  3. I never worked "twelve hours a day, 7 days a week" on a project unless I found the work itself fun. (During one of the project that I did mostly for financial reasons, I played WoW a lot, and it still worked out pretty well.)

You might want to try my approach, before giving up on "important stuff" altogether.

Comment author: CronoDAS 07 October 2011 10:13:07PM 3 points [-]

If your expected lifespan is more than six months, cocaine is a bad source of hedons; over time, your brain chemistry will adjust to the presence of cocaine and recalibrate itself so that instead of feeling good on cocaine and normal otherwise, you'll feel normal on cocaine and bad otherwise.

As for WoW and other MMOs, well, I've heard the horror stories, but I also know plenty of counterexamples. My personal experience was that I played WoW for a while and got bored with it. I'm probably not quite like most MMO players; I was a little disappointed at how fast I could level if I tried, and I spent quite a bit of time doing quests I was overleveled for.

Comment author: Lapsed_Lurker 07 October 2011 08:59:33PM 9 points [-]

A data-point: Me.

I used to play Everquest. I would describe myself as addicted: I would play so late I had hours less sleep than optimal several nights a week, get up for work tired, go through my work day tired, drive home on the motorway nodding off to sleep (Sometimes I'd have micro-sleeps and swerve. Dangerous!, I must have been crazy!) but as soon as I got home to EQ, I'd suddenly be alert enough to play until the wee small hours again....

I was like that for... over a year, which couldn't have been good, even discounting the risk of killing myself in a crash.

After I stopped playing EQ, (I got forced to quit by circumstances) I played several other MMORPGs over the next few years, culminating in WoW. None of them got me anywhere near as addicted as EQ - maybe my mental immune system had learned to protect me? I dunno, but I do sometimes wish for that 'high' that kept me playing EQ with that intensity, even though I know that it would be bad for me.

I don't know if there's a lesson or a moral in that, but like I said at the top, it is at least a data-point for you.

Comment author: Desrtopa 07 October 2011 04:48:40PM 12 points [-]

I have reason to expect myself to be biased when it comes to dealing with MMORPGs, but my impression is that most MMORPGs, WOW included, are designed to encourage wanting to play more than liking to play.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 07 October 2011 04:24:44PM 4 points [-]

Before you do, read this.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 07 October 2011 05:22:47PM 4 points [-]

Warning: may cause tabs to explode on contact. If badly afflicted, attempt to apply will power liberally to the affected area. If still badly afflicted, then the answer to the post is NO, and you're welcome.

Comment author: Document 10 October 2011 05:25:16PM *  0 points [-]

Firefox's Adblock Plus add-on has a supporting add-on called Element Hiding Helper that is helpful for situations such as these. You just press Ctrl+Shift+S and you can block pieces of websites as you see fit.

From jaimeastorga2000. You still have to deal with the tabs from the first page, but once you block everything it's effective immediately for all open windows and you're basically immunized against the site for good. Just make sure you have "When I open a link in a new tab, switch to it immediately" unchecked in Firefox's options before you start.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 02:42:45PM *  1 point [-]

Presumably your value computation includes values other than "enjoying doing something". For example given the explicit choice between getting to enjoy delicious food for the next 5 years at the expense of having a child starve, versus having average food and letting the child live, most people would choose the latter - even if they were extremely confident that there were no ulterior consequences of any kind and the food would contain additives to surgically neuter any guilt they might otherwise feel.

The case regarding your playing WoW instead of doing something else may be less clear cut than that, but one example is enough to prove that there is nothing unusual about valuing something more strongly than one's own enjoyment of some activity. A related Less Wrong trope is "orgasmium", which is considered by most to be an undesirable future for humanity despite its being defined as a state of optimal bliss.

Whether or not playing WoW is actually what you should do depends on your what your other values are, besides wanting to enjoy WoW - and you probably know more than anyone else here about those values; although since humans generally possess similar values, depending on your ability to introspect and imagine your response to certain arguments and stimuli you might not. After all, shouldness is a two-place function that takes as one of its arguments your own brain. It also depends on how accurate your model of reality apart from your value computation is (for example, if you had never taken drugs you might be unaware of how pleasurable, or displeasurable, that is).

But as far as your values are similar to the majority of humans, WoW loses out to other, stronger values a lot of the time because:

a) it is inconsequential and unproductive

b) it is seen as a solitary activity

c) it is aesthetically displeasing in lots of other, small ways, e.g. the physical position of the human, his lack of attention to the environment, the narrow range of emotion, the pandering to the lowest common denominator/ mass consumption, the dependency on interacting with someone else's software cynically created to maximise addiction instead of beauty or inventiveness...

d) it is time-consuming, compared to many other hedonistic activities

Also consider the distinction between wanting and liking - although most people are not explicitly aware of this distinction, they probably have some intuitive feeling that they do not "enjoy" WoW so much as they cannot help but do it.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 October 2011 06:26:43PM 4 points [-]

For example given the explicit choice between getting to enjoy delicious food for the next 5 years at the expense of having a child starve, versus having average food and letting the child live, most people would choose the latter - even if they were extremely confident that there were no ulterior consequences of any kind and the food would contain additives to surgically neuter any guilt they might otherwise feel.

Er, isn't that the choice most people face, and don't most people choose tasty food? Even people with ascetic diets- like myself- seem to do it primarily out of the joy they find in asceticism rather than to free up productive power than others.

Comment author: Nornagest 07 October 2011 06:40:01PM *  4 points [-]

I don't think so. That might be true in some limited contexts, but if you live in the First World you're not meaningfully contributing to conditions of food scarcity where it matters by choosing to eat well. Scarcity of resources on a global scale isn't what causes people to starve; more than enough productive capacity exists, at least for now. The problem is more that local economics and logistical systems sometimes don't provide sufficient incentive to get that food where it needs to go, and the West spontaneously choosing to adopt an ascetic diet wouldn't help that: it'd push the demand side down and make agribusiness less lucrative, but it couldn't empower your average lower-class family in the Horn of Africa, for example, to buy expensive imports to replace the crops failing due to the current drought.

There are some sustainability arguments you could make, but that's political enough that I'd rather not touch it for mind-killer reasons.

Comment author: jkaufman 07 October 2011 07:00:52PM *  2 points [-]

Tasty food is, as a whole, more expensive. We could present the choice as:

"""

You are given the explicit choice between:

1) spending $N to eat delicious food for the next 5 years

2) spending $M to eat average food for the next five years and donate $(N-M) to prevent children starving

"""

I believe $(N-M) is more than enough to keep one child from starving.

Note: I do think we have a (large) duty to help other people, I don't think food donation is the best way to do it.

Comment author: pedanterrific 07 October 2011 07:33:10PM 2 points [-]

Tasty food is, as a whole, more expensive.

Somebody needs to tell this to the junk food industry.

It's probably true that expensive food is, as a whole, more tasty, but I'm not so sure that the reverse holds.

Comment author: jkaufman 07 October 2011 10:07:10PM *  1 point [-]

I agree that the choices are different in the first world between poor people and people middle class and up. It's the second group of people that I'm claiming are making (or choosing not to think about) this choice.

One can eat equally healthy food for less money, but it is less tasty. I enjoy eating meat, but vegetable protein (beans+rice, etc) is much cheaper. People have the choice to spend less on their own food, and provide more food for other people.

(More caveats: I doubt cutting your food budget is the best place to save money. I favor the giving what we can approach of pledging to give 10% of income and cut wherever you prefer.)

Comment author: Vaniver 07 October 2011 08:25:12PM 1 point [-]

Somebody needs to tell this to the junk food industry.

Fill up a grocery cart with a month's worth of potato chips. Fill up another grocery cart with a month's worth of wheat, rice, and beans (preferably bought in bags of no less than 10 pounds). Compare costs.

Comment author: pedanterrific 07 October 2011 08:31:42PM *  0 points [-]

Factoring in the costs of buying a car to get to a place where they sell those things? Interesting question.

Edit: That came out wrong. I think the question isn't really that simple (opportunity costs, etc etc), but I acknowledge the disparity in price you are pointing out.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 06:36:58PM 1 point [-]

It probably wasn't the best example. But I did say "explicit" choice - i.e. some agent offered them this choice directly for whatever reason. It may be true that we are disturbingly amoral when the effects of our actions are several steps removed, the victim is at a distance etc. And it may be true that we don't tend to shut up and multiply in moral matters. But given my clarification, the point still stands that there is nothing unusual about prioritising other values above our own enjoyment of something.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 07 October 2011 01:09:26PM 2 points [-]

Upvoted for leading to interesting discussion.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2011 01:36:21PM *  4 points [-]

Unintended side effect: Anyone who doesn't want to see poor quality posts or disingenuous arguments has now been given an incentive to minimize high quality comments in any descending discussion. Approximately the opposite effect to voting up the high quality discussion directly.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 03:42:27PM *  4 points [-]

Good point. I'll help you out here by downvoting your comment.

Comment author: wedrifid 07 October 2011 04:07:01PM 6 points [-]

Good point. I'll help you out here by downvoting your comment.

Backfiring sarcasm: By declaring you downvote to be "helping me out" in penalizing high quality comments in response to terrible posts you seem to be affirming the criticism as high quality.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 October 2011 12:37:32PM *  13 points [-]

How about sex? I hear that's pretty good too.

I have the sense that you're putting this up as a reductio ad absurdum. Yet celibacy (the voluntary sort, not merely not being able to get any, hinted at here) is recommended in most traditions of searching for enlightenment, and not only religious ones. Socrates said that in old age he was glad of the diminishing of sexual desire, as becoming free of a slave driver. Darwin gave careful thought to the pros and cons of marriage -- the time lost from scientific work to maintaining it, against the support available from it. And Eliezer wrote some years back that working on FAI was too important to leave time for a girlfriend (although that seems to have backfired).

So yes, sex should definitely be on the line as a recreation whose usefulness must be seriously weighed, more seriously than you seem to have intended.

[ETA: Socrates' metaphor was actually that of being dragged about by a wild animal.]

Comment author: Pavitra 07 October 2011 02:55:52PM 6 points [-]

It seems to me that dating is an open-ended resource drain, but sex is unlikely to become dangerously addictive due to built-in upper limits on the percentage of one's time spent on it (fatigue, etc.)

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 October 2011 03:14:22PM *  3 points [-]

By "sex", I really had in mind the whole intimate relationships thing. Outside of geekish fantasies of societies in which two people just say "how about it?" and get on with it, in the real world it is never that easy.

Comment author: handoflixue 07 October 2011 06:39:59PM 4 points [-]

in the real world it is never that easy.

Geeky, social misfit speaking here, and I have pretty ready access to "no strings attached" sex from quite a few people. This is not abnormal for my social group, either. I realize I'm somewhat of an exception, but it's really not that hard to learn how to do this yourself if you live in a major city...

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 03:44:12PM 5 points [-]

Although, I know a good-looking woman who enjoys sex with different men a lot, and she finds it is that easy.

(No, I'm not going to give out her phone number.)

Comment author: Multipartite 07 October 2011 09:22:41AM *  1 point [-]
  • In general, make decisions according to the furtherance of your current set of priorities.
  • Personally, though I enjoy certain persistant-world games for their content and lasting internal advantages, the impression I've gotten from reading others' accounts of World of Warcraft compared to other games is that it takes up a disproportionate amount of time/effort/money compared to other sources of pleasure.

For that game, the sunk-costs fallacy and the training-to-do-random-things-infinitely phenomenon may help in speculating about why so many sink and continue to sink time into it. I've noticed that people who bite the bullet and quit speak not as though they were dependent and longing to relapse into remembered joy, but rather as though horrified in retrospect at how they let themselves get used to essentially playing to work, that is doing something which in theory they enjoyed yet which in practice was itself a source of considerable stress/boredom/frustration. (Again, I have had no direct experience with the game.)

For cocaine, straightforwardly there's the expectation that it would do bad things to your receptors (as well as your nose lining...) such that you would gain dependency and require it for normality, as with caffeine and nicotine and alcohol. Your priorities would be forcibly changed to a state incompatible with your current priorities, thus it is worth avoiding. If there were a form or similar thing which in fact had no long-term neurological effects, that is one which actually gave you the high without causing any dependency (is that even theoretically possible, though, considering how the brain works? Well, if dropped to the level of most things then instead, say...), it might be worth trying in the same way that music is helpful to cheer oneself up (if it cost less as well?), or perhaps sweet foods would be a better example there.

The standard answer for sex is that it's already part of your system of priorities, and so there's little helping it. Practically speaking, it would probably be far easier if one could just turn off one's interest in that regard and focus one's energy elsewhere--particularly, in terms of the various psychological/physiological health benefits, if one already cannot experience it yet is near-futilely driven to seek it. Again though, there one more wants to turn off 'the impulse to have sex' rather than sex itself, since there are advantages if you want to have sex and do compared to if you want to and can't, and also advantages if you don't want to and don't compared to if you want to and can't.

Hm... returning to the original question wording, if one treats World of Warcraft as a potentially-addictive use of time that may truly or otherwise effectively rewire one's sytem of priorities to the point of interference with one's current priorities, then it is likely reasonable to avoid it for that reason. It's again important to note which priorities are true priorities (such as improvement of the world?) that one wishes to whole-heartedly support, and which are priorities which, when stopped to think about, don't have a particularly reason to value (such as the sex drive issue, which actually doesn't have much going for it compared to other ways of pursuing pleasure).

(Species-wide reproductive advantages are acknowledged.)

Comment author: Crux 07 October 2011 05:42:25AM *  8 points [-]

Depends on your utility function. WoW doesn't seem to build a significant corpus of micro-skills or anything; it seems of mere transient enjoyment. It's fun in the moment, but then later you regret having wasted your time. It's dangerous though, and not simply because it's a waste of time. Plenty of things are a waste of time, but once you realize that, you quit. WoW is different; it's addictive super-stimuli.

You were asking what the difference is between being addictive and simply being really, really good. Well here's an example: being in the midst of an indulge-regret cycle is one way to experience addiction. Think of somebody who eats three donuts each night, but always regrets it the next morning. Or someone who, well, every night stays up way too late playing WoW, and then every morning hates himself for it. Or somebody who whiles away his weekends or evenings playing it, and then always regrets it when at work. The indulge-regret cycle; a species of akrasia.

WoW is addictive for the same reason donuts are; it's super-stimuli for a certain part of our built-in reward system. It's hard to resist, yet useful to resist (at least for somebody with a utility function sufficiently similar to mine), because it plays on certain emotions and indicators and not on others. Or it affects one part of our motivational system so strongly that the natural stimuli for other parts becomes boring. And of course natural stimuli for that part gets boring too. And that's bad because you start picking WoW (or whatever the super-stimuli is), over a ton of stuff of long-term importance. Like activity related to physical or mental health. Or your finances.

We're built with a reward system that constantly feeds us inherently-compelling information. Taste, emotion, etc. But of course this system gets hijacked left and right in the modern environment. It's built to motivate us in the moment, but designed to be in a harmony of interests with our future selves. Something is supposed to taste good to make you eat it now, to be healthy later. Not so anymore! Now we have junk food, and that creates a potential conflict of interests among our different selves over time. You want to eat it now, but you'll regret it later... So you try to summon that precious will-power, but of course that rarely works.

WoW will hijack your reward system, destroy your motivation to do things that in the future you'll regret having not done, etc. It's not mind safe. Not for somebody with my utility function, anyway. I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Sorry this was so rambling.

Comment author: handoflixue 07 October 2011 07:23:50PM 5 points [-]

WoW doesn't seem to build a significant corpus of micro-skills or anything

High-end play will teach you a fair amount about teamwork, coordination, and group politics. If you're in charge of the group, you'll gain some decent management experience - actual employees are a LOT easier to manage than WOW players. I was a manager for a couple years, and fairly highly rated within the company, and I relied a lot on my gaming experience to get me started :)

It's probably not the best environment, but for people who are otherwise fairly socially isolated, it can be an incredible experience. I suspect running a tabletop RPG would be more optimal, but that's also significantly less convenient.

I've had other friends who do high-end raids in WOW confirm that this benefited them in performing managerial duties.

Comment author: Crux 07 October 2011 07:47:54PM 1 point [-]

Good points.

Comment author: Jack 07 October 2011 05:38:37AM 22 points [-]

If only playing World of Warcraft had a refractory period.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 07 October 2011 04:30:48AM 3 points [-]

What would you be doing in your spare time otherwise? A few years from now, if you looked back at a nontrivial proportion of your spare time having been spent playing WoW instead of the other things you'd have done, assuming that you had enjoyed your time playing the game but derived no especially lasting benefit from it, would you be happy (or at least indifferent) about it?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 04:47:59AM *  7 points [-]

I've spent a ridiculous proportion of my spare time in the pursuit of sex, and derived no especially lasting benefit from it; yet don't regret it.

Therefore, I should either play WoWarcraft, or choose celibacy,

(Odd, then, that those things tend to go together...)

Comment author: timtyler 07 October 2011 11:57:48AM *  1 point [-]

Many of the 'lasting benefits' are usually associated with foregoing contraception...

Comment author: Crux 07 October 2011 05:57:38AM *  4 points [-]

No lasting benefit? You're not better at social interaction because of it? It didn't improve your mental health and thus facilitate other activity that built other skills or helped you in some other way? Etc.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 07 October 2011 04:54:26AM *  5 points [-]

But what was your ideal outcome when you were pursuing sex? If it was really just the possibility of meeting someone to have sex with once, then yeah, the ideal outcome is pretty transitory and the analogy to playing WoW is legit. But if your ideal outcome was long-term partnership and an ongoing sexual relationship, then I think the time spent pursuing sex is best thought of as an investment of time which, even if it hasn't panned out for you yet, has a very big hypothetical payoff (if you are the kind of person who wants an LTR). I don't think that situation is a very good analogy for WoW, where the most you will ever be able to say is that you enjoyed the hours spent playing it, never that they furthered your other goals in any way.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 October 2011 04:30:38AM *  11 points [-]

No, you should not play and your reasoning makes sense. Games like WoW are designed to be superstimuli. They are the mental equivalent of an addictive drug. Some people will get highly addicted, while others will be able to do just a bit every now and then. But the risk level of addiction is high enough that avoiding them makes sense.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 04:39:35AM 6 points [-]

How do you distinguish an addiction from something that's just really, really good?

Comment author: MileyCyrus 07 October 2011 05:09:28AM *  17 points [-]

An addiction is something you want, but don't like or approve of. The good stuff is what you like and approve of.

Comment author: XiXiDu 07 October 2011 10:43:18AM *  3 points [-]

I don't want to save humanity and don't like it, but I approve of it. I want to play games and like it, but I don't approve of it. I can't really think of any activity that meets all criteria, +wanting/+liking/+approving. What should I do?

Comment author: wedrifid 10 October 2011 08:43:36PM 3 points [-]

I can't really think of any activity that meets all criteria, +wanting/+liking/+approving.

Really? That seems... odd. Are there no healthy enjoyable activities that you want to do? Not even sex?

Comment author: Mycroft65536 10 October 2011 09:10:20PM 0 points [-]

When I would explain wanting vs liking vs approving Sex was my go to example for an activity that fits all three.

Comment author: Document 10 October 2011 04:15:22PM 0 points [-]

I can't really think of any activity that meets all criteria, +wanting/+liking/+approving.

Eating?

Comment author: jsalvatier 07 October 2011 02:15:00PM 0 points [-]

Perhaps experimenting with ways to change your disposition about either wanting or liking about a particular activity you approve of?

Comment author: randallsquared 07 October 2011 06:00:02PM 1 point [-]

Or, you know, approving.

Comment author: grouchymusicologist 07 October 2011 04:46:24AM 6 points [-]

Well, I believe the field of psychology has tended to distinguish addiction by noting that it pertains to behavior that you persist in despite negative consequences in other areas of your life. If you're skeptical about that definition, then think of it as something you want to stop, because you've determined that the drawbacks outweigh the benefits, but can't.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 October 2011 04:45:30AM 5 points [-]

How do you distinguish an addiction from something that's just really, really good?

In general, addiction is hard to define and is some extent an issue of cultural convention. We can't label all superstimuli as addictions.

Strong verbal declarations by the individual who have the relevant behavior that they wished they could stop is one good indicator that something should be considered an addiction.

If it is something that is not normally part of the human set of behaviors and creates strong physical or mental dependency effects in those who engage in that behavior then it is likely to be useful to think of it as an addiction. Thus for example, social interaction is a normal part of human behavior so we don't call it an addiction. But I have seen people who are away from their WoW for too long become cranky and irritable in a way that looks pretty similar to how a smoker acts when they can't smoke for an extended period of time.

I should probably be more careful with the term addiction than I am since it is a term that does have a history of abuse.

But, whether or not we use the term addiction in this context, it seems that WoW does become a massive timesink for no substantial positive gains.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 07 October 2011 04:50:06AM 0 points [-]

The current question in the title of his post is "Should I play World of Warcraft?" -- your "Yes", however seems to mean that he should avoid playing it. Has Phil changed the title after you answered?

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 04:53:55AM 3 points [-]

I have added text at the bottom. Originally, the last line was, "Does that make sense?" To which he answered, "Yes."

Comment author: JoshuaZ 07 October 2011 04:53:26AM 2 points [-]

Title remains the same. Earlier version ended with the sentence "Does that make sense?". Since Phil has edited his post I will now edit mine to make it clear.

Comment author: RobertLumley 07 October 2011 04:30:06AM 1 point [-]

Yes. WoW destroys lives...

Comment author: Kutta 07 October 2011 06:39:48AM 4 points [-]

You want to destroy PhilGoetz's life?

Comment author: RobertLumley 07 October 2011 01:54:53PM 0 points [-]

Does that make sense?

There were many conflicting questions. I didn't actually notice until after I posted, and I didn't really feel like the edit was necessary, since my opinion was pretty clear already.

Comment author: smk 08 October 2011 01:13:08AM 0 points [-]

WoW is pretty fun if you find a guild of friendly folks and voice chat with them while playing together. I haven't found WoW to interfere with the other things in my life. Most of the people in my guild also have careers/classes and family, and don't neglect them.

Fun is important to me.

Comment author: Crux 07 October 2011 09:38:01PM *  0 points [-]

Interesting addition to the OP. There's a monumental amount of evidence that our brains are biased in that way. It's called addiction, akrasia, procrastination, etc. An example is when short-term indicators such as how something tastes mis-align with long-term ones like whether later you get a stomach ache, nausea, dizziness, etc. For example, you may eat a donut now because of how great it tastes, but then regret it later because you end up feeling sick and nauseous.

I consider this a modern world problem. I assume that all these indicators are supposed to be in harmony, but the modern environment breaks this delicate balance. We end up with a conflict of interests among our different selves over time. Perhaps the most famous and familiar example would be night guy vs. morning guy. It would be one thing if you went to sleep too late one night, found yourself miserable the next day, and then made sure to not make that mistake again... but it's another one entirely to do this systematically--day in and day out.

This phenomenon of the internal conflict between night guy and morning guy is another indicator problem. Your signals for going to sleep mis-align with those of whether you got enough sleep by the time the next morning morning rolls around. This conflict is intractable. Your night self wants to stay up, but it's not him that pays the damages; it's your morning self. What's the cause of this internal conflict? Artificial lights, unnatural lack of exercise, comfortable chairs, TV, computers, the internet, etc. Once again, the modern world breaks a delicate system.

So what about WoW? Well, is staying up super late unmitigated enjoyment? Is refreshing LW and your email 85 times per hour as fun as your revealed preferences would suggest? No. They blow. There are many downsides. The LW refresh cycles that last until 4 AM usually include their fair share of FML. Fun is fun, but it stops being worth it when "FML!!" gets too interspersed between those moments of fun. Or later when you find that you've lost your health, your girlfriend, your job, etc.

I find that every kind of super-stimuli (e.g., junk food, music, WoW) has a slew of disadvantages. They do damage to your health, your social life, your work, your emotional sanity, and so on, whether directly or through causing you to neglect other areas of your life. If these things don't matter to you, then fine. But I really doubt that. Being healthy, happy, etc... that is fun. Going emotionally insane, being sleep deprived, losing your health, not getting any face-to-face social contact... that blows almost no matter how you slice it.

If you can play WoW in moderation and enjoy it and not feel any bad cognitive effects or hits to your health, that's great. But it's very addictive in that it will send an overwhelming shock-wave through the rest of your natural reward system, and your brain will start equating the health of your character with your own. This is scary shit. Your identity will become unstable, and looking at yourself in the mirror after a long WoW session will be a bizarre experience. This might well advance until the day you admit to yourself that you've gone completely insane.

WoW is not mind safe. Again, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. I can get raw enjoyment out of things that won't threaten to destroy my health, drive me insane, wreck me emotionally, etc. And many of those things will build a whole slew of skills that I will be able to use to have even more fun in the future. WoW may well build some important skills, but the downsides and cognitive hazards are just too massive.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 11:23:46PM *  2 points [-]

Interesting addition to the OP. There's a monumental amount of evidence that our brains are biased in that way. It's called addiction, akrasia, procrastination, etc.

The hypothesis I'm suggesting is that all of that evidence is only evidence when evaluated from the giddily-optimistic view of "what I could have done with all that time if I hadn't wasted it". Not from comparison with the accomplishments of a control group that didn't waste their time.

I can get raw enjoyment out of things that won't threaten to destroy my health, drive me insane, wreck me emotionally, etc.

If people destroy their health for a game, to some extent that is evidence that the game is worth destroying their health for. Or to use another example: If you are living in a crack neighborhood in Detroit and the best you have to look forward to is a life of poverty, about a third of which is spent in jail if you don't get killed first, then maybe taking cocaine every day for a couple of years until it kills you really will give you a better life. We have a deep-seated prejudice against admitting that might be the case.

Comment author: Crux 08 October 2011 12:28:14AM *  0 points [-]

The hypothesis I'm suggesting is that all of that evidence is only evidence when evaluated from the giddily-optimistic view of "what I could have done with all that time if I hadn't wasted it". Not from comparison with the accomplishments of a control group that didn't waste their time.

Oh I see. Yes, that's an important consideration. Not "wasting time" playing WoW doesn't automatically dictate that you're not gonna do some other "useless" activity or that you're gonna get anywhere with any of your "important" projects.

So it's a matter of what you'll give up for it and what it's upsides and downsides are. For me personally, it would almost definitely lead to less exercise, less face-to-face social interaction, less showers, less oral hygiene, less progress on projects that are deeply important to me, etc. I've been there (not WoW, but other addictive video games), and I don't want to go back.

But it might be different for you. Maybe those things wouldn't happen. Perhaps you wouldn't care if they did. Etc. Need more context! Should you play WoW? In this thread, I gave you plenty of considerations that may or may not have been aware of (what you're responding to right now plus an earlier comment). Ultimately though, we perhaps require more information about your situation.

For me: less music, earlier bed-times, less YouTube cycles, no junk food, no MMOs, etc; these all contribute to greater long-term happiness. But should my self of this moment even care about my selves of the long-term? Well, the question isn't really should. The fact is that I seem to be hard-wired that way. I never do anything of mere transient enjoyment or long-term disadvantage without at least a twinge of FML.

The incoherence of our utility function is a direct result of how different indicators mis-align with each other and launch our different selves into an intractable civil war. If my different selves are prepared to carry out the conflict, there's no way to say who's "right" and who's "wrong"; all we may say is that there's a conflict of interests and there will be a winner and a loser.

But I don't think it's in the interest of any of my different selves to have this disharmony. Night guy would much prefer to be able to go to sleep early and enjoy it rather than hate sleeping and instead stay up super late, end up feeling like shit, feeling guilty, etc.

Maybe I'm rambling by now, but I'm just trying to shed some light on the usually mysterious phenomenon that you pointed out: the incoherence of our utility function. And I'm trying to explain what it means for our action, which is perhaps what you're grappling with at the moment.

If people destroy their health for a game, to some extent that is evidence that the game is worth destroying their health for.

Akrasia is systematic failure; rationality is systematic winning.

Short-term, revealed preferences rarely tell us the whole story. Just because somebody destroyed their health for a game doesn't mean that they didn't experience intense, intermittent FML mode the whole time and the vague, trapped feeling so often associated with akrasia, and certainly doesn't mean that they didn't regret it later.

Or to use another example: If you are living in a crack neighborhood in Detroit and the best you have to look forward to is a life of poverty, about a third of which is spent in jail if you don't get killed first, then maybe taking cocaine every day for a couple of years until it kills you really will give you a better life.

Yes. Could be the case. Would need more information about his utility function, though.

We have a deep-seated prejudice against admitting that might be the case.

Most perhaps do, but not me.

I have no problem admitting that for somebody with a different utility function than mine, it might be a good idea to do any variety of what I don't: drugs, junk food, WoW, etc. I'm prepared to dive as deep into the rabbit hole of value subjectivism as you want.

Comment author: thomblake 07 October 2011 02:26:09PM 0 points [-]

You should not play WoW in order to enjoy your free time, mostly for reasons already stated in the responses.

However, it contributes significantly to our culture, so it might be remiss to ignore it entirely if you care about experiencing relevant parts of the zeitgeist.

If you choose to go that route, take the same sorts of mental/social precautions you might take before 'trying' intravenous heroin.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 07 October 2011 03:41:32PM 2 points [-]

What precautions would you take before trying heroin?

Comment author: jimrandomh 07 October 2011 05:02:18PM *  9 points [-]

What precautions would you take before trying heroin?

I'd prepare a schedule of upper-bounds on usage, including a scheduled, externally enforced hard stop date and detox period. For milder drugs, I use a "day, week, month" rule - one day out of every week, one week out of every month, and one month out of every year the drug is not allowed. For something as addictive as heroin, I'd strengthen this considerably - probably including a 3 month scheduled no-use period to extinguish the habit, just long enough after starting to get the data on whether it's resuming after the 3 months. And I'd set things up such that if I broke my own rules, my friends would notice and intervene. (Note that this means the withdrawal periods have to be counted on the 'cost' side of a cost/benefit analysis, and that almost certainly means not using strongly-addictive substances at all).

In the case of World of Warcraft, I'd set a scheduled uninstall-and-cancel-subscription date, then resume months later. I believe they offer a free trial period, the end of which would be a natural time to do this. (But be sure to keep repeating the detox periods!)

Comment author: thomblake 07 October 2011 05:50:35PM 0 points [-]

Yes, that pretty much captures what I would say.