Multitasking – What To Do While Gaming

By John Walker on July 6th, 2012 at 11:00 am.

I am so great at Photoshop.

People like to divide people into two groups: those who can multitask, and those who cannot. Nearly everyone includes themselves in the former group, and then they put everyone else in the latter. Most people are lying. But there’s another group: those who needto multitask. I’d put myself in that group – the sort who can’t concentrate on one thing unless he or she is doing at least one other thing at the same time. You may call it ADHD. I call it efficient. I wrote about it last year, and it turns out it’s more common than I’d ever realised. So below are my suggestions for the best ways to play while you’re doing something else.

I had previously thought I was an extreme, until mentioning such matters on RPS and elsewhere, and finding out I was in good company. As I said before, being someone who finds it very difficult to get to sleep without both listening to a podcast and playing a game on my phone, I find that keeping my mind satisfactorily busy can take a lot of input. Not necessarily smart input, I stress – I’m not proclaiming mad genius, but rather just mad.

Here’s a confession: In the past I’ve reviewed two games at the same time. A big PC RPG with long load times on my monitor, a DS game that offered short spurts of play on the desk in front of me. When I played my favourite game, The Longest Journey, for the first time, I created huge piles of nonsense doodles. In times I’ve replayed it since, I tend to have a puzzle game going at the same time, since its extensive conversations are essentially radio. And as I’ve mentioned before, when I played Diablo III I found it the perfect time to catch up on TV shows. There are some games I’ve played for leisure that are inextricably linked to a certain TV series that I consumed simultaneously, like when a book gets attached to a particular album. I’m not sure how I’d cope if I didn’t have two monitors. But this, I proclaim, is a thing to embrace. Let’s embrace it.

Action RPGs, Meet TV

I really believe these are the very best games for multitasking. Much mocked for just being click, click, click, anyone who’s actually enjoyed them knows this to be both true and untrue in equal measure. But no matter how much passion you pour in, in the end you really are just left and right clicking in enormously satisfyingly repetitive tasks. Unless you’re playing to a competitive, nightmarish level, or co-opping with chatty chums, I find it hard to imagine your mind doesn’t at least wander as you play. And with most games in the genre either not having a story, or not having a story worth listening to, they make the perfect partner to a double-activity.

At this point, your options are pretty enormous. Load up iPlayer, or Netflix, or Hulu on that second screen, and go crazy. Take this as your chance to finally watch It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. You’ve always been meaning to, and it’s definitely worth it. Did you ever get that far into Krater? And maybe you’re about 14 episodes behind on South Park? I’d suggest you base your selection on shows that don’t require your transfixed attention, nor those that are heavy on the aesthetics. You’ve two screens next to each other, you can likely watch both at the same time without too much effort, but you’re not going to want to miss anything essential on either. That’s why the ARPG is the perfect accompaniment to the breezy comedy, or even better, those procedural crime dramas you’re not quite ready to admit to others that you secretly love. You want to know what Red John’s been up to on The Mentalist, but you know the programme really doesn’t merit your undivided attention. And Titan Quest’s only a tenner.

First Monitor, Meet Second Monitor

If you’ve got a two monitor setup, then you have the most options. And if you don’t, have you considered it? I realise a second monitor seems rather a luxury, but you can pick up a brand new 19″ flatscreen monitor for as little as £65 now. And I’d argue that second one doesn’t need to be swishy, or worrying about white balance or whatever it is we’re supposed to remember. It’s just going to be used for email, IM and TV shows out of the corner of your eye. In fact, you need spend no money at all.

Second hand, especially an old CRT, well you could probably pick one up from the street outside your house. There are a bunch on eBay at 1p if you’ll collect them, and I just checked Freecycle in my area and found a few. I’d argue it’s pretty easily free – or perhaps for the cost of a cable.

This does mean it’s pretty essential that whatever you’re playing be able to run in a window. If you’re having to task switch back and forth, it’s going to crash something eventually, and with the inevitability that the game will do something you didn’t ask to your display settings, there’s also a good chance that a streamed file, or even an AVI on your machine, will just freeze up in the face of CONFLICT. This is why any developer who doesn’t have their game running in a window hates you, hates games, and hates The Mentalist.

Sims, Say Hi To Podcasts

Podcasts make an even easier accompaniment to all manner of games. Essential is the lack of a regular scripted narrative in what you’re playing, or it all becomes a muddle. But when that narrative is missing, it can leave a big part of your brain without anything to focus on. Sure, you’re going to war with China, but what are you learning about stochasticity? I love this opportunity for input (if you make a Short Circuit reference, I will be forced to point out that as a 13 year old I thought the film would have been much better if it had ended at the point where that sanctimonious arseball of a robot was smashed to bits with baseball bats and left to die in an alley), and I love that it’s possible while being entertained by a game. And this offers a good opportunity to pooh-pooh at those who claim that you wouldn’t focus properly on either and lose out – I bet you have the radio on when you’re driving, right? And yet it’s only very rarely that the Archers causes you to become so confused by the synchronous activities that you veer off the road and into a wall. (Actually, maybe that’s not a great example, since listening to the Archers does make me want to veer off the road and into a wall.)

My top tips for podcasts, you ask? Well, I’d say:

RadioLab – Just the best radio show/podcast there is.
My Brother, My Brother And Me – Awesome “advice” show from three brothers.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Makes six hour monologues on history utter compelling.
The Rock, Paper, Shotcast – When we record any.
Rum Doings – Two of the Earth’s handsomest, funniest chaps, having a chat.

I think podcasts make a great option even for those less prone to filling in crosswords while paragliding. Audio has long provided a background to other activities, and while I’d argue that playing IL2-Sturmovik is possibly more involved than washing dishes, it still leaves plenty of room for voices. And best of all, unlike music, podcasts don’t tend to clash with the noises the game is making, so long as it’s not talking at you.

The other useful thing here is volume tweaking. Game volumes, enormously frustratingly, are exponential, so if you want to be able to hear one thing over another, you’ll likely have to take the settings down to a fraction above nothing. A useful trick for getting an extra boost of quiet is to open up the volume mixer in Windows, and tweak the individual game right down in there too. But bear in mind Windows sometimes remembers where you last set it, the next time you can’t work out why you can’t hear the game.

Then In The Other Direction

The previous ideas rely on the game not offering you all the stimulation you need not to wander off and start setting fires. But what about games that go far further, engage you much more, but just leave that crack open where your mind wants something other to do than think the thoughts. That’s where rubbish TV comes in! I’m going to make a proper confession here, and you’re going to judge me, and that’s just going to have to be the way it is.

For me, one of my absolute favourite games, Burnout Paradise, is forever associated with Dragons’ Den.

(For American friends, it’s the UK version of Shark Tank. For the rest of the world, it’s a gruesome depiction of the idiocy of capitalism, as half-witted serfs are made to beg for money, in exchange for most of their business and their dignity, from bored multi-millionaires.)

You see, Burnout requires lots of concentration if you’re going to studiously avoid all the races and just smash every yellow barrier and red sign. And annoyingly, it has that dickpacket DJ Wankomica shouting out inane bilge all the damn time. It means whatever you’re also doing as you play, you have to not mind missing bits, or not actually looking at it at the same time. Purely audible content doesn’t tend to play well with this, but something as dumb and vile as Dragons’ Den is perfect! You can glance over at the 40-something father of three who just quit his job so he could go full time into his business creating a tumble dryer with a built in currency converter while rich barons rub their eyes and tell him they hate him, and then focus back on making that ramp to smash that thing because IT MUST BE SMASHED.

And In The Smaller Gaps

I mentioned how my DS played a part in preventing the crazies. That’s still a very viable option, but I’d stick to a regular old DS rather than a 3DS. I think trying to focus on the eye-bending sort-of-3D and then looking up at a 2D monitor, back and forth, would absolutely definitely cause a life-ending aneurysm. But why not go even simpler? If you’re me, and thus disgustingly addicted to Killer Sudoku, just have a book of that on your desk in front of you for those frequent frustrating loading screens, or lengthy lumps of dialogue between levels? Because what is the alternative? You’ll commit crimes, that’s what is.

In Conclusion

It’s not that unusual, you know. And I argue it’s about embracing certain types of games not as failing to consume all our attention, but rather their leaving room for more. Bookworm Adventures is an amazing way to spend an idle couple of hours, but it’s not quite enough, and there’s always another episode of Deadliest Catch to watch. But be careful not to start resenting games that do require your undivided mind. That’s good too, remember. And you’re not weird, okay? It’s perfectly fine that there’s a Killer Sudoku book on my desk, and those three sets of BuckyBalls in various elaborate shapes by my keyboard, and my email visible, and Twitter going, and the eight IM windows open. Maybe I could read some of that book? Maybe I need a third monitor? It’s not weird! It’s special.

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141 Comments »

  1. paddymaxson says:

    I mostly enjoy listening to regularfeatur.es when playing online shooters, you can’t be mad that some swearing 14 year old BF3 superhero when you’re laughing yoru arse off at some of the finest peurile comedy ever made.

    • McDan says:

      Yes, battlefield 3 is the game I multitask the most with. Usually with some show on mostly in the breaks between games. And if there are annoying kids music/podcast over the muted game. Why aren’t there more shotcasts! They are brilliant. And also a book on the lap most of the time.

      • Bonedwarf says:

        One of my fondest gaming memories of recent years was grinding away in WOW on my wifes character (she was racing someone to 70 at the time so as we had a new baby I was helping) while listening to Kevin Smith’s Smodcast.

        That and grinding in Blasted Lands listening to Stan Ridgway.

        Glorious.

      • Dreforian says:

        I have the TV on when I’m computering, so much so that even if it’s off I’ll still periodically crane my neck around to see what’s flashing by. With games, watched a marathon of Invader Zim while playing Jedi Knight. Neither were ever the same for me again. The worst (or perhaps best) example of the pairing effect happened when I played Deus Ex. As deeply engaging as it was, my tongue was bored so I would eat lunch from the same place regularly. Eventually it got so that whenever I played Deus Ex, I tasted the spicy mixed cheese they used. And when I ate something with the spicy mixed cheese….well….it tasted like Deus Ex!

    • boundless08 says:

      Online shooters are always good for music or podcasts. I first started listening to music playing games when I got the first xbox which enabled the playing of music during games(shock horror)! Conflict Desert Storm with Rage Against the Machine blaring over it, looking back I consider myself quite smart for choosing the combination.

      For slower games I usually stick on some Devin Townsend and lately I’ve been obsessed with the Bastion soundtrack from the last indie bundle.

  2. Njordsk says:

    I sometimes pause and alt/tab for checking forums, but that’s it, can’t do anything else at the same time, my brain just can’t. Well, let’s say I can listen to music while bashing mobs on HnS… erm.

    I sometimes envy my wife that can read a serious book, listen to TV and me at the same time, and managing to tell me what happened for all of them.

    • dysphemism says:

      I’m the same way — if I’m playing a game, I can’t even carry a conversation without infuriating the other party.

      Meanwhile, my brother learned to play some pretty exquisite guitar in between rounds of Counter-Strike. That’s fine, just help yourself to the good genes. Ass.

    • liquidsoap89 says:

      I’m mostly the same way, although it’s more of a preference than an inability. I find it very difficult to focus on a podcast while playing a game (yes I’m a “pooh-pooh”). And I prefer to play single player games, so music usually just interferes with the game’s tone.

      With that in mind, having 3 monitors has caused me to play most games in a window (at the very least any game that doesn’t run properly at a 3 screen resolution), and this lets me open a browser and do various things. And if it’s a multiplayer game (bah!) I’ll sometimes manage to turn some tunes on.

  3. AmateurScience says:

    Recently I’ve had the Euro’s/Wimbledon on on the laptop whilst I’ve been playing, provides just enough extra stimulus to be interesting!

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Yes a laptop is ideal for this, because then you don’t have to worry about alt-tabbing and volume settings and so on. Same goes for an ipad in a stand.

  4. Post-Internet Syndrome says:

    I’m not really a huge multitasker, and watching TV while playing games is completely out of the question, but listening to radio/podcasts when playing grindy games like diablo, borderlands and binding of isaac is a perfect match. It even helps me get “in the zone” and play better when it comes to twitchy stuff.

    And yes, RadioLab is unbeatable. Everyone who does not listen to it need to start now.

    • Ninja Foodstuff says:

      Audiobooks!

      Can’t believe John didn’t mention those.

      • MattM says:

        Indeed I have been doing “A Song of Ice and Fire” re-listen while playing Diablo 3. I can’t read onscreen text while paying attention to a audiobook, but after the first run through on normal I skip all that anyway.

    • Xtinction says:

      If you like radiolab, you should give ‘This american life’ a shot. It’s really well made and not about any american life at all. It’s just too bad they dont freely distribute older episodes:(

      • mompkin says:

        They do, you just have to do it through the player on their website – it’s not so bad, since the episodes are an hour each – not that much clicking through. Other podcasts I thoroughly enjoy listening to while multitasking are Freakonomics radio and Planet Money, all of which strike me as being in very similar veins to This American Life and Radiolab.

  5. RegisteredUser says:

    With sex sims, I like to keep one hand free for multitasking myself. Or two, if there’s an auto-mode.

    • Njordsk says:

      You mean you need two hands?

      Hats off sir.

      • RogB says:

        ‘chinese burn’ technique

      • RegisteredUser says:

        To quote a running gag from one of Jimmy Carr’s shows, originating from a heckle: “Don’t forget the balls!”.

        If I just improved the sex life of 90% of the readership by 100%, please contemplate a considerable, charitable financial donation.
        Thank you.

  6. KauhuK says:

    For some reason listening to music while doing other things helps me concentrate better. It’s like my brains need something else to do while doing other things.

  7. Zanchito says:

    For me, if the game doesn’t keep my full attention it means I’m bored and playing it is a waste of time.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      I feel the same way.
      Contrast to “just one more turn/level/new gun” and “OMG when did it turn 2 in the morning!”

    • lordfrikk says:

      This a thousand times.

      For some reason this whole discussion reminds me of people who regularly doze off while watching a movie. Why would I want to watch TV when I am in fact sleepy? I rather turn it off and go sleep and watch the movie at full attention.

      • Ragnar says:

        My wife does this often. It’s not that she’s sleepy when we start watching a movie, it’s just something about reclining on a comfortable couch and not moving for a while that makes her drowsy. It could be in the middle of the day, it doesn’t matter.

        Oddly enough, she doesn’t fall asleep in theaters, but maybe that’s because they’re not nearly as comfortable. No such problem with Anime, since reading the subtitles keeps her awake. Otherwise, it has to be a really engaging show or movie for her to stay awake throughout.

    • felisc says:

      yup, definitely the same.
      i guess it would be different if playing game was part of my job, though.

    • roryok says:

      same here. What’s the point in playing a game that you don’t really need to pay attention to? Unless we’re talking turn based, and the turns are hours apart (like wordfeud or something) then why would anyone bother with it?

      And as for “clicking in enormously satisfyingly repetitive tasks”, let me just point out that bubble-wrap does not have always-on DRM

      • EPICTHEFAIL says:

        I just read that as Wordfreud…

        • roryok says:

          that sounds like fun. Your scrabble choices analysed by a psychiatrist obsessed with shagging his mom

      • MattM says:

        Listening to an audiobook and playing a non-verbal game engage different parts of my brain and doing both is more enjoyable than doing either alone. Its like hiking in the woods while having a nice conversation.

        • Ragnar says:

          I don’t like doing several things at the same time, as I find that I can’t focus on either activity as much as I’d like to. But slow non-verbal games (like SpaceChem) leave me feeling like I’m missing something, or wanting something more, and I think audiobooks or podcasts are just the thing!

    • hamish says:

      i play bejeweled on iphone while waiting for a MP (1 life per time) round to end, fills up the wait time nicely, also works for downloads.

  8. Bostec says:

    These are grand ideas! I’ve been playing EVE recently and I do a lot of mining. Its half relaxing, half boring but only one quarter productive. I have been booting up Plants vs zombies but I really wanted some more options on what to multi task on. I’m seriously considering a 2nd monitor.

    • Ruffian says:

      do it to it brotha! I just recently got another display and it’s pretty boss. definitely haven’t regretted it.

    • Ragnar says:

      I strongly believe that a second monitor is one of the best computer upgrades you can get. At home and at work, it greatly improves both my productivity and my computing experience. I can live with a slower cpu or graphics card, but I need my second monitor.

      And I’m not even a multi-tasking multi-stimulus person. I like to focus on one thing at a time, and turn off my extra monitors when playing a game or watching a show (unless I need to have a guide up on the second screen, in which case I can). That second monitor makes doing even one thing at a time much easier.

  9. MOKKA says:

    I somehow stopped doing this stuff once I got rid of my TV. Before that I often let it run in the background despite rarely paying attention to it.

  10. MaXimillion says:

    http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=UUAuUUnT6oDeKwE6v1NGQxug&feature=plcp

    Nearly 1200 interesting talks of convenient length, and since they’re mostly talk they’re perfect for displaying on your second monitor. Youtube autoplay does tend to break on a playlist this long though, so you’ll have to manually click the next video every 5-20 minutes, but that’s not too big of a deal.

  11. Jimbo says:

    “… turns out it’s more common than I’d ever realised.”

    Most people are lying. I’m not though – I’m commenting on the article at the same time as reading the article.

  12. Hodge says:

    I’ll sometimes turn off in-game music and listen to my own tunes, and if a game involves long loading times or any other kind of waiting around I’ll read a book as well. But that’s about the extent of it for me, my brain falls squarely into the ‘cannot multitask’ camp.

    And I’m massively envious of all you multitaskers, because I know how much more I’d get done if my brain worked that way.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      The research I’ve looked at goes more in the direction of us all having mostly similiar brains. So there aren’t these guru multitaskers; they are likely just people not caring enough about being properly engaged in the first place, but they aren’t picking up more or better info at the same time than you when faced with MT.
      Given that there are things like pilots and pilot training(or, say, drummers, soldiers, etc), you CAN learn to automate certain basic skills, movements, skills and so forth, giving the impression of 50 things at once, but that usually boils down to mechanical delegation(muscle memory and such) more than actually getting “Superbrain(TM)”.

      I could of course be wrong, misinformed or out of date.

      • Ninja Foodstuff says:

        Back when I did psychology A-level, this came up a fair bit. The gist of it, IIRC, is that you can only truly focus on one task per sense at a time. So you can watch one thing whilst listening to something else, but not listen to two conversations at the same time (you can rapidly switch between two conversations, but that’s about it). Probably this extends to “verbal” sensations too- you wouldn’t be able to read two separate texts at the same time.

        • MattM says:

          At my last job as a research tech I spent a lot of time running assays and doing other manual labor. I found I could listen to a podcast or audiobook while working with my hands and pay full attention to both. You could argue that I was rapidly switching between the two like a single core CPU scheduler, but I saying I wasn’t effectively multitasking would be wrong. My hands were in continuous motion and I wasn’t missing any words in the book. However, anytime I needed to read or type something I had to pause the book or else I would tune it out and miss stuff.

          • HerrKohlrabi says:

            Thats because your working memory is divided into a “phonological loop” associated with reading, talking, listening etc, and a “visuo-spatial sketchpad” more associated with vision, movement etc. Thats why doing manual labor while listening to the radio works out so well, whilst listening to a podcast while trying to read at the same time works out less good. Doing highly automated tasks (or games) frees up a lot of working memory resources as well, making you more able to pay attention to the less automated task. So in a way, it’s multitasking, but it’s more like having a separate CPU and GPU.

    • Skabooga says:

      Yeah, here I was thinking I was being hip for occasionally listening to music while playing roguelikes, but now I read what John does . . .

  13. RegisteredUser says:

    In both my experience and pretty much most research I’ve come across(e.g.:Talking to someone while they are driving will have most of it go down the drain unless you are driving a straight line highway section and basically talking about “Sunny today, huh?”), the reality is that you either do one thing well, or you attempt to do a couple of things, but end up less focussed and more shallow.

    You can’t have an intensive, meaningful conversation encompassing all prior points and being attuned to this particular person with more than one person at a time(ok at most I’ll give you two), and if you then add a running television, music and five open other windows that are blinking to the mix, I personally can actually FEEL the aggrevation of this being wrong rising.

    Having music on while casually reading? Fine.

    But I could punch people that will have their TV running or are actively, loudly clicketyclack chatting away while I am trying to have an actual conversation with them on the phone.

    I would recommend not training yourself into this lack-of-real-focus corner, because I feel like it can pretty easily habitualize itself, and regaining focus can become harder and harder. And our brain hates doing things it feels are hard to do. But it loves quick and easy distractions.

    -
    As for gaming: If the game isn’t good enough to satisfy you alone, maybe you should consider breaking up with it completely and looking for something better, more immersive instead. You will after all die eventually.

    • qrter says:

      I believe you (and quite a lot of other people) are missing the point – it isn’t that the game in question isn’t good enough, it’s that the game is perfect for combining with some other form of entertainment.

      One doesn’t exclude the other – some games are suited for full immersion, others for a mix of flavours, if you will. One isn’t more fun than the other – they’re different kinds of fun.

      • Ruffian says:

        you get it at least.

      • mompkin says:

        I can’t agree more – in fact, I often will start a new game not knowing what flavor it is – is it a game I enjoy playing much more with my headphones on by myself, or is it a game I enjoy playing with the sound off While I sit next to my wife while she knits and we watch TV together? I love a balance of both in my spare time, they do completely different things together. If it’s a game that requires a lot of concentration, I can’t really watch the show and have conversations with her at the same time, and while that game might be immensely enjoyable at a different time, it doesn’t fit what I want to be doing at that moment.

  14. alvysingerUK says:

    I review mobile games and my wife took a photo of me half watching TV, playing a Match 3 game (surprise), holding our one month old daughter and occasionally petting the dog next to me.

    Something like Castle, which is better to listen to than watch, is ideal for such epic multi-tasking.

    • Ragnar says:

      But then you miss all of Nathan Fillion’s hilarious expressions!

  15. mcol says:

    Yes I’m one of those, but I definitely don’t consider it a good thing. For me it’s a symptom of 30 odd years of almost daily game playing, and being a very enthusiastic (and natural) enquirer and consumer of information relating to a very diverse range of interests. Moreover, I’ve worked for years at home (In the IT industry ofc), and have become used to working on 3 screens, whilst listening to stuff in the background, or taking the dog out with 3 mobile phones in my pocket, listening to an audiobook, checking work mails.

    It is a consequence of that environment, that I now find it difficult to concentrate on one thing. The reason I feel that is not a good thing, is because I know that the tasks I am performing in multitude are diluted as a result, I ‘skim read’ everything, or ‘skim listen’, and ‘skim play’. For example; my work is rushed and of lesser quality, I miss important details in radio/tv programs or podcasts and articles, I die stupidly in Eve Online.

    I see this behaviour also in my 2 kids (15 and 10 yrs), they can’t take a 10 minute car journey without a handheld console and ipod. Ok it’s a car journey but, more worryingly, school education completely fails to hold their attention, reading a book or article to thoroughly understand a concept or learn something becomes almost impossible for them, unless that education is delivered in short wiki-like paragraphs via the web, preferably with a banal youtube on loop in the background and listening to skype.

    All of that said, I would not have it any other way. I’d surely die of boredom.

    Just another thought; I wouldn’t consider consuming information through multitasking a more efficient way of working. Really all you are doing is ‘sifting’ the various sources for the pertinent info: that key moment in a game, key phrases or words in the spoken or written word etc etc. If I really do want to know something, I sit and read it in silence.

    • RegisteredUser says:

      Extremely worrying, if you ask me(especially re:kids. Not so much that car rides are boring, but that you can’t hold their attention with lower peak-excitement tools anymore).

      I think our systems get used to a certain type of stimulus of excitation and we kinda get hooked on it, even if its just constantly artificially created.

      I do however believe this can eventually be counter-acted, if you really want to and take the time and energy to do so(bit like weaning a system off of drugs, I expect).

      • mcol says:

        Not sure whether you’re saying I’m wrong, or whether ‘it’ is wrong.
        But yes I agree regards the kids, and as a parent I take steps to counter it, to a degree. Similar to steps I take myself, with ring-fenced unplug times for actually getting things done, like homework, and a fairly rigorously enforced routine.
        It’s easy to sit back and ‘cooo’ at how fast and ‘efficient’ the little darlings can consume information, but there is very very little depth to the knowledge they are acquiring.

        It is a learned behaviour, as someone else has said up there ^^, there are no superhuman multitaskers, just those who pay less attention, sift and prioritise. Kids are not being ‘born’ with awesome multitasking brains, they have access to so much information and external stimulus that slowing down becomes very difficult for them.

        Edit: sorry either you edited wrong, to worrying, or I misread. That’ll be the multitasking :)

        • RegisteredUser says:

          It always was “worrying”. I did add more text via edit.

        • mcol says:

          Another thing I read about this recently is that in some circles it is theorised that we’re moving away from the need to have a deep understanding of anything, but instead have finely honed skills of searching and sifting information to get the answer ‘on demand’.
          This is reflected in the way kids behave now, and even young adults (certainly judging by some of the young IT engineers I employ). Where once I expected someone to have thoroughly digested every book on a particular subject, it’s now more likely that someone will have a framework understanding, and will simply search the rest when needed. Whilst watching TED.

          • RegisteredUser says:

            Sounds more like romanticizing the distraction addiction.

            Obviously the understanding of things on a meta-scale is important and knowing how to aquire and contrast knowledge from a wide variety of sources. But that basically is the principle of academic or journalistic research, and that in turn only becomes a sharp instead of a blunt instrument when after skimming through 50 abstracts or headlines you actually read the attached articles in depth for the actual relevant facts and knowledge to utilize those in turn.

            Your “information/tidbit scavenger” will be able to find the articles, but will he also be able to tell you what it is actually about? And if not, is he really of any use to you in a respectable manner?
            Great, you’re more qualified to be a good intern than anyone else, preparing and presorting for the important people.
            But what about the actual post, control, direction, work etc..

            I don’t see the need for depth and sophistication vanishing anytime soon. Seems quite the opposite trend is visible, that the more flooding of information we get, the more categories specialize into further subcategories..

            At best I’d say yea, on top of the challenge of being really specialized and sophisticated, you are more and more expected to also do and know more and more things on top as well..not just know where you might be able to look them up after the meeting is over.

            But that’s now just “my guess is as good as yours” stuff; real world will be real world.

          • Apples says:

            I think this is pretty much right, except I think there is a difference between actual ‘deep knowledge’ and what people consider ‘deep knowledge’. University Challenge-style fact recall strikes most as deep knowledge but may as well have no understanding behind it; a computer with no real ‘knowledge’ or ‘understanding’ could answer quicker and more efficiently than a person. One must have an actual understanding in order to perform as you describe information sifters doing – they must know what fact they need, through their understanding, and how to quickly find it. And unless we’re suddenly plunged into a situation of isolation I believe this is probably a more effective way of doing things than having reams of facts memorised; far better and more useful that I understand basically how a pointer works and then move on to another subject than dick about memorising syntax, when that knowledge is almost instantly accessible by my brain anyway!

            Re the comment above, why would the ‘scavenger’ not be able to tell you what the article was ‘really about’? How does he know what information to glean if not by grasping the broad meaning – the thing it’s ‘really about’ – first? How’d he find them and select them as being relevant without knowing what they were about? Some people will be more effective than others at this, but it’s unreasonable to say that all people will be bad at it, or imply that being a skimmer and an indepth-reader are mutually exclusive.

          • RegisteredUser says:

            You have tons of (medicine) interns or civil servants working for doctors or deans of medicine, copying stuff for them etc. (Or any other students doing errands for their professors, and so forth)

            You don’t need to really know how to dissect someone or how certain gases interact with the lung and magnetism to figure out that the article you are browsing is about imaging techniques for those pulmonary embolisms the guy asked you to copy as much as possible of.

            Superficial and rough knowledge is enough to gather odds and ends around an area of expertise, but it doesn’t imply or necessarily come with actual knowledge or deep understanding, as already argued.

            But sure, it can be a valuable skill to sound like you know a lot in a lot of areas; it reflects high social value. But you need to be damn sure you can withstand at least initial probing too, lest it apparent that you just know the “headlines”.

            My point simply would be that actual substance still matters(and predominantly so), and that that is a fairly normal and obvious statement to make.
            If you read closely(oh, the irony) the point wasn’t that they are in any fashion mutually exclusive, but rather than with an ever increasing information flood, you ALSO need to become proficient in dealing with that on top of being highly specialized(and perhaps know more than just a single area of specialization, see various “crossover” job types).

  16. golem09 says:

    Last year I played 200 hours of Binding of Isaac. I used that to catch up on All seasons of Seinfeld and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, then the first 6 seasons of Cheers, and various audiobooks.

    This year, Path of Exile. Dual Tasking rocks

  17. aerozol says:

    Podcasts and Audiobooks!
    More podcasts that are awesome:

    Dr Karl on Triple J
    This American Life
    Smodcast
    Idle Thumbs (archives)

    • NetsukeMonkey says:

      I shall check these out – any other recommendations?

      I love the fact that Dan Carlin’s hardcore History was mentioned in the article – I cannot praise this podcast enough! Also my addition to the list: ‘Sceptics Guide to the Universe’

      • Captchist says:

        Oh and of course Weekend Confirmed – Great Video game podcast with a legacy going back many years now.

    • Splotch says:

      Ha yes Dr Karl is amazing

    • Captchist says:

      Podcasts:

      On the Media – NPR show about the intersection of journalism, social media, politics and old media.

      Critical Hit – Fantastic Dungeons and Dragons podcast where a group of people play through a game and record it. Very high quality.

      Film Sack – Reviews of mediocre films from the past 40 years.

      Those are the ones I usually jump on as soon as they show up in my feed.

  18. Ian says:

    I’ll often have Football Manager on the go while I’m watching stuff.

    • President Weasel says:

      Indeed yes. It’s not a game I’d ever play on its own (except on long train journeys), but I have spent a lot of time over the past few weeks (after picking up FM12 again on a jaunt to Embra and back) in a sort of ‘Football Manager and Bad TV fugue’. 3 serieses of Supernatural interspersed with a couple of series of Rookie Blue and some documentaries, and suddenly it’s 2018 and Liverpool have won the Premiership and the Champions League.
      Football Manager is definitely a half your attention game, and not one I could even play without some; conversely with something like Battlefield 3 I’ll be using all my attention and might not even have the radio on. MMOs come somewhere in the middle, but I’d definitely at least have the radio or a podcast going – perhaps even Rum Doings.

      • TillEulenspiegel says:

        In the past I’ve been guilty of playing Football Manager on one monitor and having actual football streaming on the other. I might have a problem.

        FM requires considerable attention when taking over a new club or buying new players, but the matches certainly don’t.

        • President Weasel says:

          Real football in the news makes me want to play Football Manager. Shooting in telly programs makes me want to play Battlefield. Drinking on the telly makes me want to have a wee glass of something. Sometimes I manage to resist all of these things.

  19. rufenstein says:

    I hate to miss too much of the action from the Starcraft II competitive scene, so the second screen will be occupied by VODs or streams from the GSL or other tournaments.

  20. Hoaxfish says:

    I do this, but frankly it doesn’t feel like I’m really getting the proper experience of either “task”.

    Even listening to a podcast while reading articles occasionally leaves me with the feeling that I’ve missed out something, so I’ll pause the podcast if I’m actually interested in an article and not just skimming it.

    In the same way, I can really only play boring turn-based flash games when I’m watching something I actually enjoy on TV… anything with subtitles needs my full attention or I might as well not watch it.

    Playing a good enjoyable computer game, has my full attention, because it’s actually good enough that I want that whole experience, rather than be distracted by other “good things”.

    Sometimes I just like to sit on the floor and do nothing.

    • President Weasel says:

      I don’t think it’s impossible to do “text heavy” things like reading a book and listening to a podcast at the same time, not without missing bits of both. And certainly from my own experience you can’t watch a subtitled TV programme while playing a game – it’s for this reason I only got a couple of episodes of The Bridge and never finished The Killing or even the first ep of Borgen, despite being the kind of middle-class guardian-reader who is supposed to love Chunky Sweater Noir and the Scandinavian West Wing.

  21. Brittfire says:

    At the point it said about fire up iPlayer or Netflix.. I relised this was me… playing Diablo 3 at the same time as watchimh Breaking Bad :D

  22. Ergates_Antius says:

    Definately not a multitasker.

    When I get involved in something, it gets *all* my focus to the detriment of *everything* else. A thing doesn’t even have to be particularly good or interesting to absorb all my attention – I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had “just a quick go” on some crappy flash game, only to find it’s suddenly 2am and I have to get up for work in 5 hours.

    Stick me in front of a good game and you could probably burn the house down around me and I wouldn’t notice (until the electricity cables melted and the PC shut down).

  23. Inzimus says:

    used to listen to Cheech & Chong albums on tape, whilst playing Knights of Legend and watch Tom Sawyer (some TV-series) whilst playing Daggerfall, back in the days
    nowadays I have more than one computer set up in the computer-room, hence it’s easy to have something running in the background – but no matter how old I get, I always seem to fall back on Cheech & Chong for easy listening whilst playing

    also a Gameboy Advance SP (backlit) is perfect to play Tetris whilst waiting for certain games to load content/levels/save-games

    when all else fails, have a NES hooked up to your phat-TV and shoot some ducks in Duck Hunt whilst waiting for stuff to load ^^ possibilities=endless

  24. trumpet says:

    Hardcore History really is excellent

  25. Nixitur says:

    In my opinion, one of the greatest ways to keep your mind busy while playing games is watching Let’s Plays. Preferably of a game you already know.
    For example, playing Terraria while watching a Terraria Let’s Play is really very entertaining.

  26. Skeletor68 says:

    I keep hearing Idle Thumbs is great. Is it worth starting out at the beginning with?

    Diablo 3 accompanied by the TGS podcast with Total Biscuit, Jesse Cox, and Dodger goes together really well for me.

    Also, if I have some light proofreading to do outside of normal work hours I like to have something such as Crusader Kings 2 running in the background at a slow pace (when not in a war or other catastrophe obviously). This lets my castle upgrades and money collecting continue while I collate author and proofreader corrections.

    I couldn’t watch a TV series at the same time though, that just seems weird.

    • Urthman says:

      Idle Thumbs is about 30% silliness, 30% discussion of games that were old when the podcast was recorded and maybe 20% current gaming events. So if you enjoy listening to those guys, there’s no reason not to go back and start listening with the first podcast. Most of the discussion is as relevant now as it was when it first came out.

  27. Rao Dao Zao says:

    For games that require audio, I have a huge pile of Lego for the loading screens. And a notepad for doodling.

    For games that don’t require audio, I chair-dance and sing my heart and soul out.

  28. Lambchops says:

    I don’t really consider listening to music/radio while doing something multitasking. If only because I’m used to always having music/radio on while at work and at home.

    But with games and TV the music goes off and they usually have my full attention. The exception being if I’m finding a Grand Prix or football game a bit on the boring side I might read a book at the same time and only pay attention when the commentators get excited (so if Lawrenson or the ironically named Bright ate on commentating duty I get a lot of reading done!).

    I’m fairly easily amused.

  29. MistyMike says:

    IMO the need to occupy the mind with something else besides the game signifies that the game is not that interesting.

    Particularily the in-game conversations in the likes of The Longest Journey or Dragon Age tend to go on forever. Now, I see the need to have the dialogues which create the narrative depth, but game devs so far haven’t really come up with a way to make it engaging and not breaking the game flow. There is something very wrong when all the interactivity, which is at the heart of the game, is replaced with passively gawking at the screen for prolonged periods. When I played Skyrim I actually neglected to ask the NPC all the available options, which is pretty much a gameplay mistake in CRPGs – just give me the quest and I’m off. I didn’t want to spend ages listening to exposition.

    Older games like Planescape Torment were better in this regard since the text was written and came in smaller chunks, which you could read at a glance. Today’s insistence on full voice acting results in a game with tonnes of boring bits, unfortunately.

  30. Batolemaeus says:

    I’m writing this comment as I’m watching videos on thatguywiththeglasses and playing sots2..so yeah. This was an interesting article.

  31. Firkragg says:

    Since it’s summer, I had to move the pc down from upstairs (have a small “hems” = translation “bed loft” apparently, gets too hot to run games here in the summer). So I rearranged downstairs, moved everything around so now I have my pc set up on my dining table, in front of my tv (yay singlelife!). Use the monitor as my primary screen and use the tv for viewing series and the news. Currently I’m burning through The Daily Show while playing Endless Space or Shogun 2.

    Though I find the notion of adding more distractions while playing action games or rpgs quite frankly odd and counterproductive. To each his own I suppose.

  32. drewski says:

    I had the cricket on one glorious summer as I listened to CDs and smashed my way through about 3 RPGs. KoToR will forever be associated with me with Richie Benaud and Red Jezebel.

    I don’t think I can actually play an ARPG or a rogue-like without a podcast on anymore. And it always takes me twice as long to get to sleep if I don’t have a CD on to focus on as my brain shuts down.

    Yay! For half consuming media while you do something else.

  33. TomxJ says:

    I read during loading screens and paint my imperial guard whilst playing Frozen synapse sometimes

  34. Edawan says:

    I do Podcasts + fishing in WoW.
    Lots of alt-tabbing during down time too. (that can be as short as 5 seconds, it’s enough to read a few lines)

    Other than that I prefer to be fully immersed in my games.

  35. standardman says:

    I tend to play TF2 while listening to podcasts. I have the game volume just high enough so I can hear anything important so spies don’t murder my back.

    In fact, I’ve noticed recently that I prefer playing TF2 over other games exactly because I can listen to some podcasts.

    • Wang Tang says:

      When playing TF2, I either watch TV (when it’s 18:00 -> Simpsons) or listen to music. While waiting for respawn I tend to program a few lines.

  36. tkioz says:

    I tend to play puzzle games while watching TV shows or movies on my computer. Or I read while playing a game, generally I’ll play for 10mins, tab over to my ebook read for 10mins, then tab back.

    It’s rare for content to take my undivided attention these days… but when it does it’s great.

  37. InternetBatman says:

    I tend not to multitask. I did listen to the CNN Cold War series while playing LoL though. Right now I’m playing Metro 2033 for the first time and it would be ruined by multitasking.

  38. The Clash At Demonhead says:

    When i game i like to have music going,have twitch tv/ youtube up, talk to various friends, every so often read some book or draw some stuff and if i have a new portable game that too. How i love my set up.

  39. NathanH says:

    I have no hobbies apart from games that I can do at home, and playing two games at once is usually silly, so the only concession to not paying full attention to a game is to be thinking about games or looking at games forums.

    I’ve tried to watch football and play games at the same time but this is rarely fulfilling.

  40. DiamondDog says:

    Football Manger can at times be running constantly on my computer. According to Steam I’ve played 514 hours of FM2012, and that’s mostly through having it idle, ready to burn through a few matches while I’m on the internet.

    I can’t say I like playing what is supposed to be an immersive experience with other distractions going on. Certainly not a TV program, I couldn’t handle that at all. I’d have to concentrate on one or the other. It’d just feel like a waste, not really giving the show or the game the proper attention.

    Having said that, I did go through a weird faze a while back where I’d put on Star Trek TNG while I was playing Minecraft, just because it can be supremely boring at times. Not having a second monitor though, I’d just listen to the episode, alt-tabbing to it when a good scene was coming up. Thankfully I realised how stupid that was and just went back to music. Although it does mean I now have very specific memories of being down a cave in Minecraft with the TNG theme playing, or Picard lecturing some alien about something. It was an odd combination, especially when the show threw up a sound that freaked me out in game.

    With music, I’d say I actively look for games I can play while listening to new stuff. I suppose it’s a bit of a bad habit now, but I can’t seem to just listen to music by itself. So I listen to it while playing Pro Evo, FM or something like League of Legends. Something that’s just about gameplay, rather than story and atmosphere.

    Oh, and Minecraft is brilliant for podcasts or radio shows. Most of my current world was built listening to about 6 series of the Unbelievable Truth.

  41. abremms says:

    here I thought I was the only one with this particular “problem”. I’v been through the netflix library twice at this point. MMOs are great for catching up on TV shows. Turn based strategy games like civilization are also pretty great.

    what gets me though, is audiobooks. My audible account is a veritable library of good reads inexorably linked to good games. A Song of Ice and Fire? Civilization 4. Harry Potter? Minecraft. The Wheel of Time? Torchlight. and so on and so forth. Audiobooks are also the only reason i have a job, since i can listen to them while i work, and i can’t manage to do my work without something to listen to.

  42. TheBlackBandit says:

    I’ll often play the piano while I’m waiting for games to load up.

  43. Apples says:

    I like to have Creatures 2 on in the background (muted, obviously – otherwise I would go mad) while doing other stuff on my computer. They don’t have population explosions and ugly graphics like C3 and I just check in now and then to see births and deaths. Although the populations usually get homogenised quite fast, I haven’t found any more interesting A-Life games that can just run unsupervised.

    And I always have a book going on my iTouch for loading screens!

    edit: also I watched the entire first series of My Little Pony while doing my dissertation/final year project. Not a brony, they were just simple enough/bland enough to follow while thinking apart other things

  44. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I don’t do this a lot. I do sometimes play different music like I did with WoW at times. But I do this with Minecraft. I tend to play that windowed so if I’m busy digging away I can easily put on a youtube video or something.

  45. affront says:

    I’m pretty shit at multitasking, yet I still do this. Granted, I limit myself to mediocre shows or content that by itself wouldn’t keep my full attention if I were to only consume it at the time and nothing else, but still.
    Watching a TV show, a gaming stream or listening to an audiobook or at the very least good music (no, the ingame music generally doesn’t count) while waiting for turns in multiplayer TBS or MMO grinding or playing anything that doesn’t require full attention (like DayZ does, that I really can’t play with something else running since I need to hear every little noise – even music is too distracting) is pretty mandatory these days.

    You 1-screen-people should really consider at least trying 2 screens once, as back when I still had only one I always thought people raving about dualscreen were overrating it shamelessly. But no.

    Currently thinking along the lines of John’s “Maybe I need a third monitor?”, as Dwarf Fortress alone already requires 2 full screens (Therapist, Stonesense, DFhack, Wiki, I need a projectorrrrrrrr).

  46. Phinor says:

    These days NOT doing something while gaming feels like a waste of time. It’s not even limited to gaming, even browsing the Internet, reading RPS demands a secondary distraction. Be it a podcast, a movie, a TV show or watching a hockey game, there has to be something going on at all times. There are few exceptions to this rule of mine, some games simply require your full attention and I keep my second monitor off. Recent examples (that I’ve played) are story/atmosphere games like Alan Wake and Planescape Torment (1st time I got through the whole game even though it was the third time I bought the game. Oh and it’s wonderful.)

    Then there are days when I’m playing two games at the same time while watching or listening to something. On my left I’m playing a MUD with someone else leading so I’m basically typing few commands a minute, on my main screen I might be playing something like Civ 5 or Diablo 3, nothing too demanding and then there’s the TV show on my right. Three screens feel like a bit much? Well you want three for proper sim racing so why not utilize all three of them in other situations too. And it’s efficient too!

    But podcasts are great. You need to find podcasts where the content is not the important thing, it’s the people doing the talking. One of my favourites is Tell ‘em Steve-Dave. They could be talking about anything and I’m still interested. Same with Giant Bombcast. Often the best Bombcasts are ones where they barely talk about games at all. Podcasts are also a sickness. I started listening to podcasts around three years ago and I’m at around 3000 hours now. That’s nearly three hours a day which is not healthy.

  47. The V Man says:

    While I *can* multi-task while gaming, I much prefer not to. For me gaming is a time to unwind and relax – not a time to do 50 different things at once; I spend all day doing that. I truly enjoy being able to focus, if a bit languidly, one and only one thing. As a result games that draw me in and immerse me in their worlds are, by far, my favourite. In contrast a game that has me thinking about other things often gets uninstalled in a flash and consigned to the heap.

    Oh and as for Dragon’s Den, I do rather enjoy the now long-running Canadian version (the commonwealth countries all call it by that name as do a fair few other countries). And a fun piece of trivia – the original show was Japanese and called ‘Tiger of Money’.

  48. Jamesworkshop says:

    No im the complete opposite if i’m on my laptop and somebody turns the TV on I have to leave the room as it’s too distracting.

  49. zachforrest says:

    All the Elder Scrolls games are inexorably linked with Radio 4.

    Link’s Awakening and Frasier go hand in hand also.

    Hardcore History is fantastic. The best free bit of culture i have ever consumed.

    • stryker619 says:

      I challenge anyone to come up with a show as consistently funny as Frasier

  50. stryker619 says:

    I listen to classical music while reading stuff for school, but that’s about the extent of my multitasking. Beethoven makes de Tocqueville almost bearable.