“No, Don’t Worship the Crunch, or: Why Health, Love, and Life Matter”

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What’s important is that you choose life… and then live.”
-Naomi Hunter, Metal Gear Solid

 

 

Is there no joy left in the world, even in video games?

Today I saw that Polygon was trending on Twitter, and I decided to check out what was going down, me being the inquisitive individual that I am. I also suspected that it was something less than savory. Usually that’s the case when Polygon is trending. My instincts weren’t far off and soon I had the distinct displeasure of reading an article entitled “Why I worship crunch”, a piece which seemed to me to praise working yourself to death in the face of your health and the love of your family. (NOTE: the Polygon piece has been updated with an intro by the author which sets his article in a much more redemptive light… there’s just that ugly title to overcome)

There are few things more off-putting to me, to phrase it lightly, but I’m not approaching this rebuttal of sorts from a standpoint of self-righteousness. Since the inception of The Well-Red Mage, I too have given in to putting work and aspiration above the really important things in life, the fundamentals. I documented last February that my wrist began to ache after a full year of blogging, trying to put out content daily or as often as I possibly could. For the first time in my life I had to buy a wrist brace.

On top of that there have been many, many nights where I’ve stayed up late into the early morning hours just trying to get those last few sentences in, only to go to my day job in a few hours. I consoled myself by saying to the waning energy of my soul that I was building something for myself and for my family. Though no one may even read the words I wrote at the lonely hour of 3AM, it was a necessary sacrifice in order to achieve my dreams. That, to me, is the Crunch.

But now I’m dealing with heart palpitations and murmurs again. I suffered these, tightness in my chest, dizziness, and extreme fatigue when I worked in the restaurant industry for a decade. When I managed my own cafe, I was downing quad-shots of espresso on top of several morning cups of coffee. No wonder I ended up in the emergency room one night. My health was one big reason why I left that soul-crushing industry.

Joke’s on me that I did it to myself again, not through work but through a hobby, something I love and enjoy: writing! But I don’t want it to be that way, and I’ve made the adjustments that I need to to ensure I get more rest, I don’t pull so many “all nighters”, and that I drink less caffeine to keep me alive. Because if I’m dead, not only will I not be able to dedicate myself to my work, I also won’t be around to see my sons learn their letters, go to school, graduate from college, get married, and bring my grandkids into the world. I have to think about what kind of legacy I’m leaving behind. One that will cause my children to hate my memory since I was never around, or one where they’ll remember me fondly and carry on the dreams of independence, creativity, and the craft of writing…

“When I worship at the unholy altar of Crunch, everything outside of the work fades away. ” That’s tragic. I’ll stop short of accusing that writer of loving life.

Here’s the difference and the glimmer of hope that I really didn’t see in the Polygon article, which seemed to me to normalize, no, glamorize putting work ahead of everything else (which the author of that article claimed wasn’t even necessary!). You can work and pour your passion into what you’re creating without turning it into a monstrous obsession. Addiction is never healthy and the Crunch is addiction. Why live to work rather than work to live? There are all kinds of reasons why it does happen but it need not happen.

I understand what passion is. I understand that in a fit of creative energy one can pour themselves into their work in an admirable way. Some great works of art have been made in this way but these are different than seeming to advocate for that fevered lifestyle as a kind of constant, something to be enjoyed as you work through the births of your children and the deaths of your parents. That doesn’t make you admirable. It makes you a sphincter. This doesn’t seem to help the stereotype that gamers don’t know how to have meaningful relationships with real people and that they obsess over digital worlds to the point of failing their own health, because that seems to be the case with the author of that article.

The author concludes by talking about how he considered the price to be fair, and I just can’t empathize with that. Creating video games in a flooded market where most titles are forgotten after only a few years, and doing so by sacrificing your health, your relationships, and experiencing your family is not a fair price to pay. This strikes me as a symptom of a culture which has lost sight of self-control.

Your children, your spouse, your family, your friendships… you don’t know how much longer you’ll have any of them. I have two kids under two-years-old now and Kal and Nolan won’t be little for long. No level of graphical fidelity equals seeing them smile at me. No level of fluid mechanics can match falling in love with my wife again every day. These things are without price.

Thank you for reading this article about health and video games, but now go spend some time on the relationships that are most important to you. If you need to, make some changes in your life. Don’t push away people. Meet ones that give your life meaning.

I don’t want to be the dad from “Cats and the Cradle” and I don’t think you want to sacrifice everything for your work either, even if it’s video games or content creation. Do you? I doubt anyone from Polygon will read this, so this is my earnest plea to you. If you were on your deathbed, would work be the last thing you’d want to do before your time is up?

Affectionately concerned,
Well-Red-Mage-Black-
-The Well-Red Mage

 

What better opportunity to support private journalism rather than the sliminess of the mainstream, as I’ve heard it described?

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44 thoughts on ““No, Don’t Worship the Crunch, or: Why Health, Love, and Life Matter”

  1. Great post! I guess due to an experience I had when I was 16 where I was really sick, I learned early on (before I even entered the workforce) that family and friends- and life itself- are way more important than killing myself with work. When I’m at work, I am a hard worker; however, work is NOT my entire life, just a small, but necessary part. Dealing with so many deaths and changes this year has only solidified my opinions, and I will never apologize for valuing family time over work time.

    I’ll admit, though, I’m a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to cleaning… my husband will kindly remind me every once and awhile that the whole house doesn’t have to be cleaned in one day, so I can afford to take a break. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Inspiring! Never apologize for valuing family time over work. It’s a sick world we live in with a lot of broken people but I think we writers were put here to make a positive difference. If this post can convince or remind someone of the importance of spending time with loved ones vs drowning them out because of work aspirations, then I’m glad for that. I’ll pass your comment on to my wife, who very much enjoys a clean house. Sometimes we can’t have it all cleaned and ready for guests, especially with two kids under two, but it’s like this is what real life looks like. The house looks lived in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I wholeheartedly agree with you! And there is nothing wrong with a house looking lived in 🙂 I love my house being clean, but sometimes I just want to relax and watch tv/ play a game/ whatever, and I realize that it’s okay if the floors aren’t mopped until the next day lol. Spending quality time with my husband is more important!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I am happy that I have not been forced to do the Crunch. I was interested to find out about working through the night. I can understand how it might be interesting at first (working whilst everyone is asleep and writing in the peaceful darkness), though I can see how continuing to do it would affect health and impair relationships with other people. I also feel that the media promotes working long hours, with celebrities boasting about their workaholic lifestyles and articles humiliating people who work less. I also wonder if one reason people in creative industries spend so much time working is because it allows them to escape into a fantasy world (I remember one author listing a large number of reasons why people should not become writers, with the only benefit being that he only spends time with fantasy people). I am happy to find out that you have found a way of pursuing your hobby, while limiting time spent on it to still spend time with family.
    What is Polygon? Was the writer referring to working in the computer game industry? Was your café successful? Why did you enter the restaurant trade if you found it soul-destroying?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hoo boy celebrity worship… that does seem to be a big part of workaholism. It sounds like the author than you quoted has a low view of humanity and human relationships, which I find is odd for a writer who communicates with humans through their writing. I always felt that the anti-social writer cliche is overdrawn and paradoxical.

      Polygon is a mainstream news source for entertainment and gaming. The writer I referred to wrote the article for them, and in the article he shares his credentials, so short answer yes apparently. My cafe was part of a large chain and it was one of the fastest growing chains in America. I made a lot more money then but I wasn’t happy. I started working there because it was an available job out of college that turned into a career I didn’t want.

      Like

  3. !!! I have those things 😳 I don’t work a stressful job, but I AM often stressed due to feeling time constraints since J always have so many projects planned.

    We live in a time where pushing yourself to the limit is lauded, and there are just some nights where I know I can’t do something no matter how much I might want to. It says a lot that people who work themselves to death are put on a pedestals…and none of it is really good under close examination.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is something I worry about a lot. I live to create, so I try to be as dedicated as I can be to what it is I’m doing, even though I know that good artists need limitations in order to be consistently efficient and life experience in order to inspire them. But I also know that what I do isn’t as important as who I do it with, and I think that I might have more of a social life if I weren’t so devoted to working on solitary projects. Just the other weekend, I spent a solid three days out of the house, and I really enjoyed being about to shed the pressure of work. I think that I might be more realistic about how much is enough if I had those other things there regularly to balance it out. My philosophy is that everyone should find someone for whom they’d retire.

    This wasn’t so much a response so much as several random thoughts that I’ve associated with this topic. I’d normally round these things off with something deep and thought-provoking, but I think this is an open-ended problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey thanks for commenting and I appreciate you sharing some of your life’s experiences with us. Every definitely should find someone that they can place above the importance of work, to give work meaning. It’s also an open-ended problem with no easy solutions. Human relationships are like that, it seems.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoyed this article, Mage. I mean, not the bits about work impacting your health obviously. And I’m glad you’re doing better!

    It’s a destructive part of our societies that we feel the need to work like this. I think back to one of the toughest “crunch” times in my past, and all I have is a sense of how pointless it was – we created a report, in the end, we didn’t save the world. All of the people who worked on it have moved onto other companies, better things; hardly anyone stays in touch; the people who read the report have long since forgotten it.

    As you say, the most important things are your health, your family, your friends. We need to do a better job of respecting the need to spend time with family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you very much and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been surprised at how many people have come out to say they’ve dealt with these issues themselves. That says a lot about many things, but I think it touches on the issue that we don’t help each other as human beings anymore. I would hope we can all develop friendships that would tell us “no” when we’re taking things too far.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m glad you posted this almost rebuttal. It’s important for people to see different sides of the coin and I think you bring up all the reasons why your side should be face up. It’s difficult not to get sucked into your passions but it’s so important to learn self-control with them. The lowest point in my marriage was during one of these crunch times and I never want to feel that again. It changed how I feel about persuits and what really matters. Thanks for addressing this!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I did my best to state my feelings based on what I’ve been experiencing, and a commenter kindly pointed out to me that an intro has been added to the Polygon article. It casts it in a much more redemptive light, in my opinion.

      Liked by 2 people

        • Absolutely can happen to any of us. When I originally read the article, it seemed to me he was saying it wasn’t necessary to make all those sacrifices for it but he loved it anyway. That’s the part that gave me pause. Now with the intro they added, it sounds as if the Crunch is cast in a more negative light by the author.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Even though I don’t agree with a lot of what he says in it, I found the piece (which was an excerpt from the author’s book) interesting. I think it could have used a bit more context, although there is now a preamble on how he understands he is a broken individual and that the concept of crunch needs to be discussed more openly and that it is being discussed is a good thing. So I don’t think he necessarily is championing it but the way it was originally positioned and titled didn’t help things (and Polygon has a history of poor titles and chaser decks).

    For my part, I struggle with anxiety and depression. One of the ways I coped internally before getting help was by throwing myself headlong in to something but it can become super unhealthy. Similar to you, I ended up in the hospital and had to make changes. I’m glad that the author of the piece is healthier now but I can relate to how he still craves his high from crunch as I, on bad days/weeks, will slip in to those same old coping mechanisms because it feels good. It’s a struggle. But I’m glad we as a society (myself included) are talking about mental health – sometimes not at the right pace but we’re improving.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for commenting! This is the first time I’ve engaged in the discussion surrounding “the crunch” but I’ve been told from reputable sources that this is an ongoing issue in gaming development and it crops up in conversation now and then. Maybe the article could’ve used more context, and I approached it already with a fair dislike for most of what I read from Polygon and the other big names, but I didn’t find it to be a very nice article to read. It seemed very ugly to me. Interesting but ugly. That headline was a huge factor in my impression of the article, going into it.

      I didn’t realize they added that preamble, which was smart on their part considering the backlash. I wasn’t interested in being a part of the backlash so much as contributing some hope and redemption to what seemed like a gratuitous post. That preamble sounds more redemptive and pointed, and I appreciate that.

      In no way am I attempting to belittle your personal struggles, it just dawned on me right now that I haven’t met any adult who hasn’t struggled with anxiety and depression at some point in their life, to varying degrees of course. Getting help is a big part of that and I’m glad you’ve done it. I’m glad you and I and the author have come through it as far as we have. Thank you for sharing from your personal experience, and letting me know about the changes made to the original article.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Putting work ahead of everything else is very much a western world thing generally associated with men. You work hard to provide for your family. If you’re not working hard all the time then what the hell are you doing?! It’s not healthy and it’s something of an old fashioned way of looking at life. Game development isn’t the only place that this happens, but it’s certainly one I’ve heard a few horror stories about!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for your comment, my friend! Yeah, I think of filmmaking too and I’ve also seen it associated with the Japanese worth ethic as well. Recently did some research on the music of Chrono Trigger, which almost killed its composer when he didn’t leave his office for four days and was eventually hospitalized. I recently read an article about how the birth-rate in Japan has even gone down due to young men and women devoting themselves to their careers almost exclusively. So maybe it’s a civilization thing or a westernized world thing, but ultimately I think it’s a human thing that boils down to selfishness. I seemed to get the gist from the Polygon article that the author was sacrificing his own health and his family life for the “feeling”, the high, the rush, of worshiping the crunch, making it sound like something that should be tried more. That’s what I find detestable, and mostly because I’ve been doing it to myself lately. Again, nothing wrong with working hard, I don’t think, but when work takes the place of living then that’s clearly dangerous and unhealthy. I live by the motto “I can’t be the smartest man in the room but I can be the hardest working” but there’s definitely an extent to that. I don’t want to push so hard I ruin my health and can’t be there for the family I was trying to support in the first place, just because I get some kind of high off of the crunch!

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, I’ve heard a little about the issues facing Japanese workers with them being encouraged to work 12 hours a day then go out socialising for the next 6. I’ve heard that the reason dating sim games sell so well over there is due to them providing a “pocket partner” who won’t judge you for working all day every day. It’s quite depressing when you think about it.

        In my line of work there are often crunch times where I have to work a lot, often including weekends and I get in trouble at home for this. I feel this is offset by the holidays though. I do feel for people in hard working professions who don’t get the benefit of long holidays to recover.

        Liked by 2 people

        • All this is very depressing. I agree. I don’t condemn a lot of these folks who are and feel stuck in their jobs. I once felt that way. But I definitely can’t get behind someone treating the crunch as a dangerous high. I’m glad to hear you get your holidays! Time off is an important part of work!

          Liked by 2 people

  9. Freaken awesome post, Mage. I used to work alongside those that loved “the crunch.” What I took away from it is simply compensating for something else missing in their lives. While that’s a simplistic way to look at it, it’s in every industry, but abundant particularly in development. It’s brutal. I’m lucky to work an awesome job where I earn money to work here, not to live here. It’s always a problem of management when people need to work late, and the fact that it’s a staple of the American economy is very sickening and disturbing to me.

    Great thought piece though, glad to hear that priorities are all set over in Well-Red Mage land 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you for your comment, Geddy! Things are getting set over in Well-Red Mage land, but I’m a work in progress! 😀 It’s a daily thing to remember to spend time that matters with my family and guard my time and health against workaholism. I think you’re spot on with your assessment of overcompensating and maybe in some way that relates to what I mentioned about the stereotype of gamers not really knowing how to cultivate meaningful relationships, falling in love with digital ones instead. There needs to be more talk about that and bringing humanity into the gaming world, starting with a return to couch co-op!! 😉 but the solution itself won’t be simple.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I was glad to see a fair-minded backlash towards Polygon on this. I don’t think that this should be acceptable and it really seems abusive stemming from a lack of proper management or planning. I’m not involved in development but I can’t imagine why this needs to be an ongoing thing where people are killing themselves doing the work. What do you think is a good solution to it? Did you have a chance to see the original article on Polygon?

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      • Well thank you for making a whole post about this. I did read the original article on Polygon. I’m not their biggest fan, but this really doesn’t seem like the kind of article they usually put out. I’m not involved in video game development either, but there’s a world of difference between someone working a few late nights to meet a deadline, and mandatory, borderline abusive, and unpaid overtime. Honestly, from the consumer side, I can’t see a fool proof way for us to protest crunch time. Almost every major AAA publisher probably crunches to some degree, and since all they understand is money, the most effective protest would be boycotting, but you just can’t stop those games from selling. Crunch is something that feels like it comes up in video game discussion every other year, and people get really hot and bothered about it for a month or so, but then the rage dies down. I’d say the best we can do is notice and encourage developers when they speak out about abusive practices and listen to them, and call out publishers for doing so. Social media is a heck of a thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I doubt I would’ve written an entire post on this subject unless I’d recently had to deal with my own health issues again in direct relationship to overworking myself and sacrificing the fundamentals! I’m not Polygon’s biggest fan either, neither do I much care for mainstream gaming journalism because of all of the (for lack of a better word) extremism. “Abuse” is a good way to phrase it, if a developer is burning their health down for something admittedly not necessary and enjoying it, even seeming to advocate for it. It sounded a lot like the language of an addict. I hope that our voices can help individual developers to do what they need to and make changes in their lives. For them, it’s money but there are other jobs, even in games development that aren’t so torturous? I’m certain this happens in filmmaking too. I’ve never really spoken out against it and I think it bleeds down to content creators, that we too have to be careful to guard our time, especially our family time. What I’m learning right now with my health issues seems to lead me to that conclusion.

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          • Exactly. Williams’ excerpt seems born from the old industry veteran mentality of “I did it, and I came out alright”, that a lot of seniors of every industry have, and far be it from me to say he didn’t come out okay, I don’t know him personally. But not everyone is as okay with spending hours or even days slaving away at their job with no appropriate compensation. Williams sounds like a lot of people who criticize teachers when teachers want better pay or more benefits. His stance seems to boil down to “If you truly love (occupation), you’ll work in any kind of conditions”. While I understand that every work place is going to have its fair share of undesirable people and practices, being rewarded for your work and just being treated like a human shouldn’t be a perk, it should be the bare minimum. I know I’m not buying his book, haha.

            Liked by 1 person

            • That level of pragmatism, which erodes health and relationships, shows what a disdainful thing pragmatism can become if you’re working yourself literally to death for it. Someone addicted to it like Williams should have had a superior who ensured that efforts were taken to preserve the humanity of the work environment and their employees. I won’t be purchasing the book either hahaha..

              Liked by 1 person

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