24-Hour Arcade

Time is the great equalizer. Everyone gets 24 hours per day, 365-366 days per year, 73.2 years in a lifetime. But how much of this time is actually usable on things we want to do?

Imagine an arcade filled with game machines. To play, the machines require tokens, and one token is worth one hour of time. Let’s assume the role of the ever-popular middle-class American: Jane Doe. Like everyone else on Earth and in this arcade, she gets 24 hours to convert to tokens. Jane knows exactly how she’d like to spend them: On the shiny and exciting game Hopes & Dreams.

A game console of Hopes & Dreams
A game console of Hopes & Dreams

Yet, the first game she plays is Sandman’s Toll. It’s relaxing and peaceful, and—quite frankly—she enjoys indulging in it. Most humans require 7 to 9 hours of sleep to function. Being the average American, Jane splits the difference and goes with 8.

16 tokens remaining.

Feeling refreshed, Jane moseys on over to the next game. She’s still got two-thirds of her tokens. Plenty left to enjoy! As she approaches Hopes & Dreams, another gamer wrinkles their nose as she passes. Morning breath. She’s got it bad. And, well, her pits aren’t smelling like roses either.

She stops by Societal Beauty Standards. This is a pretty mindless experience, a grab-bag of mini-games. Sighing, she zones out and performs her rituals. Brushes her teeth, once in the morning, once at night. Flosses. Gargles. Shaves. Showers. Decides on and changes into clothes—yup, she’s been walking around the arcade naked until this point. Plucks her eyebrows. Trims her toenails. Combs her hair. Washes her face before bed. All of these games eat up one token.

15 tokens remaining.

Looking and smelling respectable, Jane’s back at it—the remaining tokens burning a hole in her pocket, as she still longs to spend them on Hopes & Dreams. Well-rested and clean, she’s ready to play, right?

Until her stomach growls. A pang of hunger leads her to Hungry, Hungry Humans. She quickly breaks her fast, spending no more than a quarter token—15 minutes. But it’s not enough! Another half token is chomped down for lunch—30 minutes. That’s not enough either! Dinner requires prep, so she finds herself spending nearly a full token—45 minutes—on the cooking, serving, eating, and cleanup. To combat her indulgence, she squeezes in a 30-minute pump at the gym or a run around the block. By the time she’s done, Hungry, Hungry Humans sucked up 2 whole tokens!

13 tokens remaining.

A smidge under half of her tokens, Jane’s really itching to play Hopes & Dreams. She moves toward the shiny game console, a spring in her step. Now rested and cleaned and fueled, her energy levels are at an all-time high…until she stubs her toe on Indentured Servitude. A clunky gray box with an ugly screen and complicated controls. It’s blocking Jane’s path, so she sighs and withdraws her tokens. This mind-numbing, soul-crushing game is a grind—sucking up her attention with an endless stream of menial, frustrating tasks. Only a privileged few are exempt from its greediness. Unfortunately, Miss Jane Doe—the average American—is not exempt. While the box advertises a whopping 8 tokens, she finds herself spending 9 to play.

4 tokens remaining.

At this point, Jane is damn tired. And somehow the arcade seems to have stretched. She’s somehow gotten to the opposite side of the room as her bright and shining Hopes & Dreams. Sighing, Jane gets behind the wheel of Rush Hour, a traffic-ridden racing game. Like most Americans, she spends 30 minutes driving to work and 30 minutes driving home from work. In the time of a pandemic-induced quarantine, this physical commute is replaced by a mental commute, of sorts. Time spent decompressing from the misery of Indentured Servitude. Another token fades away.

3 tokens remaining.

A new game appears. Another gray box labelled Shadow Work. Somedays it asks Jane to pay taxes. Or do laundry. Or mow the lawn. Or complete an oil change. Or pay a bill. Or grab groceries. Not the same chore each day, but there’s always something. Although the tasks aren’t miserable like Indentured Servitude, Shadow Work is equally unfulfilling, and Jane can’t seem to avoid it.

2 tokens remaining.

Jane’s so close to Hopes & Dreams. She can almost reach out and touch it. But then she sees her friends and family gathered around a nearby console: Social Creatures. Jane’s a good person and cares deeply about her relationships with other humans, so she gets online. A phone call with mom. A glass of wine with a friend. Maybe a round of Scrabble with grandma or Legos with her 2.5 children. At best case, this eats an hour.

1 token remaining.

Finally…Jane’s standing before the shiny, exciting, and ever-elusive Hopes & Dreams. The game she’s been longing to play all day. She’s only got one token left, and her weary fingers drop it in the slot. She gives it her best shot.

What is this game? For Jane, it’s oil painting on canvas. Ever since an art class in grade school, furthered by an art history elective in college, Jane’s been longing to paint the world through her eyes. Oil painting isn’t, by default, a lucrative profession. It adds little to society in comparison to the richness it brings to the person holding the brush. So, Jane, being a reasonable and contributing member of society, compromises on the full-time pursuit of this dream. She still desires and can indulge in it, but only after her other obligations are fulfilled: The token-hungry games of the 24-Hour Arcade.

Hopes & Dreams is a different game for everyone. For John Doe, it may be music. For another, writing. Or pottery or video games or quilting or yodeling. Like Jane, many of us have other obligations. Those obligations may be different, and we may be more efficient with our token-spending—meal-prepping to avoid time on Hungry, Hungry Hippos or finding a chill boss to reduce Indentured Servitude from 9 hours to 7—but the question remains: How do we spend the hours that remain?

I’ve spent many of those hours—those tokens—on games like Netflix Binge Party or Infinite Scroll or Beer-Can Barbarian or Wine of War or anything produced by Couch Potato Studios. I’ve spent even more of those hours on games by Noble Distractions, Inc. like Hustle Porn or Required Reading or Excuses Crossing. But nothing comes close to the time spent on truly awful games in the Self-Absorption Series: Self-Pity 4, Self-Loathing 6, and Self-Deception: Uncharted. While some of these games are fine and sugary escapes, they aren’t the game I truly wish to play. Especially not after a long day in the arcade—when I’ve got one token remaining.

Here’s to dropping a token into Hopes & Dreams.