Markfield: What makes for good leisure?


Courtesy of YouTube

Developed by Sports Interactive, Football Manager 2022 can turn hours into minutes.

Harrison Markfield, Columnist

Recently, an article came up in the recommended reads section of my browser about why millennials don’t seem to have hobbies in the traditional sense, instead spending their shrinking amounts of leisure time on consuming content or marketing themselves through social media. A lot of the piece is spent discussing Instagram, which I do not use, but I took more interest in the idea that time away from work or commitments is spent consuming rather than creating.

I am not a millennial of course, but all the same I found the article quite resonant. When talking about what one might do with their free time (something most of us are probably doing a lot of as we return to school and meet new people), I think of a hobby as something that involves a type of effort, not just passive consumption. 

There’s always someone who says they paint figures or run a newsletter or can row 2000 meters in under 6 minutes. By contrast, I tend to just read, take long walks and sink slightly embarrassing amounts of time into Football Manager. 

For the uninitiated, Football Manager is a simulation game by Sports Interactive in which you, the manager, take on any football (or soccer, as we know it) club or national team in the world and do whatever you want from there. 

It’s an interesting game to talk about for other reasons– the game is a good example of player-modulated difficulty; its fans are highly devoted and will go around the world to scout players in obscure leagues to make sure the databases are as accurate as possible and so on– but the point is that it’s not entirely interesting. You don’t control the players. There’s no flashy graphics. There are, however, a lot of buttons and screens that allow you to exert your influence and knowledge of the game and turn that into a winning philosophy. 

To avoid spending too much time on the game, the point is that Football Manager requires a profuse amount of dedication for something that is supposed to happen outside of working hours but can lack the same sense of reward as something more tangible. 

I am certainly better at the game now than when I first opened the 2018 edition, got scared after a few minutes and didn’t come back for years; but I wonder if the countless hours spent were spent wisely or, to invoke an economics term: missed opportunity cost

To give an example, I always bemoan my artistic skills– I used to skip art class during middle school and hide elsewhere in the building– but never got the idea to sit down and get better at it, either by trial and error or finding some kind of tutorial. But why not? What I think it comes down to, for myself and perhaps others, is comfort. 

Knowing that one only has a limited amount of time to be able to devote to recreation, it feels like a lot of that calculus becomes less about maximizing enjoyment and more about minimizing the ability for lacking enjoyment. Working on a skill may not always be an enjoyable thing: save for the sense of progress over a long period of time, the moment-to-moment experience of doing something new or unmastered may be a drag and discourage further progress.

The aforementioned calculus changes by the person, to be sure, and maybe others see it the exact opposite way: where new experiences and skills are a welcome change from everyday life, falling back onto comfortable sources of enjoyment only when necessary. And I don’t want to come across thinking that every endeavor that one does needs to be productive; in fact, quite the opposite.

Having the time for side activities is a luxury in and of itself, and people with the good fortune to have time to themselves should spend it however they like. But I do wonder if the habit of consumption as entertainment is maybe detrimental, and if it’s worth accepting that sometimes, leisure is best spent doing something that isn’t easy or “safe,” but challenging oneself to accept non-linear progression and take enjoyment in the process itself.