It was a Wednesday night, and we were in the twilight zone where it was too early to go to bed but too late to start something that involved effort. After a few awkward minutes of hemming and hawing, I fired up Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA MegaMix/Mega 39s.
With minimal explanation of why I was suddenly playing a rhythm game written nearly entirely in Japanese—a language that I don’t speak—I picked some of my favorite songs and dove into the zone, thumbs matching the beat. After the second song, one of my housemates asked me when I had started playing this game.
“Oh, right around when quarantine started,” I said.
“Oh,” he grinned, “This is your quarantine skill!”
I froze. To be honest, when I turned on the Switch, I did want to show off a little bit. But I felt outed: instead of getting a job or writing more or chipping away at my backlog of books, I had spent my extra quarantine hours mastering a rhythm game.
“Yeah,” I slowly said, “I guess it is. You want to try?”
I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy watching him struggle with the timing a little bit.
During my latest roadtrip, I listened to the first episode of Planet Money’s “Summer School” series. As “homework,” they told me to apply the concepts explored in the episode—opportunity cost, sunk cost fallacy, and marginal benefits/costs—to a part of my life in order to find the “market forces underpinning the choices” that I was making (if those words don’t make sense to you, I’d recommend, uh, listening to the episode). The first thing that came to mind was library books, but upon further inspection, these concepts shape my relationship with this rhythm game as well.
Oftentimes, when I think about the amount of my life that I’ve spent playing video games, including mastering the rhythm of “Rolling Girl,” I cringe. But I imagine Professors Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson would wave their hands at the days and weeks I’ve sunk into Kingdom Hearts and Animal Crossing and cry, “Sunk cost! It doesn’t matter! Think about the opportunities you are missing instead.”
Which doesn’t make me feel completely better, but marginally so.
When I choose to play Project Diva, it’s when the marginal benefits of playing a song (gives an injection of accomplishment that my Enneagram Three soul craves, creates bopping beat, demands my full attention) outweigh or equal the marginal costs (doesn’t create community, can’t sing along because I don’t know Japanese, takes time from other leisure activities). I play song after song until the scales finally tip to the negative—I realize that it’s bed time or that I’ve been hogging the TV or that I really should write that next blog post.
There’s also some nostalgia and pride wrapped up in the weighing, if I’m completely honest; mastering a video game beat reminds me of winter break in fifth grade when I was better than all the other elementary schoolers in the YMCA program at Dance Dance Revolution and the countless New Year’s Days where I beat nearly everyone at Guitar Hero 3.
On that Wednesday night and countless other days in spring 2020, I determined it was worth it to slowly get better and better at catching the wave.
Maybe all these fancy economic terms are another way for me to circumvent the little capitalist tyrant in my brain who keeps guilt-tripping me for not being productive at all times. It’s hard enough to accept that I enjoy this game, a game that I believed was only for weebos. But when it comes down to it, I’m just making the choice that gives me the biggest rush of achievement for the smallest investment of my time. It’s a pretty good trade-off, at least for now.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of the Creston neighborhood in Grand Rapids. When she isn’t reading Young Adult fiction, she’s playing board games with her housemates, listening to podcasts, scrolling on education Twitter, and preaching the gospel of intentional community to anyone who will listen.