Waffle: My Distracted Gaming Mind

My brainium, unoccupied.

I’m not someone who can do one thing at a time. If I’m not doing multiple tasks I cannot concentrate, and get quickly distracted from anything I should be attempting. Writing this requires the distractions of a train journey, music, and text message conversations. One game at a time is rarely enough for me. Begin your diagnoses.

So it takes a special game to hold my full attention. And that’s neither a criticism nor the fault of the game. It certainly doesn’t hinder the entertainment offered, nor my enjoyment. So long as I can be maybe drawing pictures of sheep, playing another game on another device, or even watching a TV programme on another screen, I’m generally happy.

But this isn’t exclusive to games. It’s true of every aspect of my life. I can’t just watch TV – I’d go mad – I’ll do a crossword at the same time, or fashion something intricate out of Blu-Tac. Reading a book is by far the most difficult task for me, requiring me to be isolated from all other possible sources of information or entertainment, with the ideal music chosen to distract the right parts of my brain. Just to be able to get to sleep, and this is not an exaggeration, I need to be watching TV and playing games on my phone/DS. My brain – it needs to be busy.

My fiancée is continuously driven to distraction by my own need for distraction. She wants to know I’m listening when she tells me about her day. Of course. But I know I have a far better chance of actually listening if I’m doing a jigsaw puzzle at the same time. Which is no way to treat someone, obviously. But such is my struggle. And hers.

Someone once expressed concern over my reviewing skills based on this information. “But if you need to be doing something else, how can you judge whether the game offers enough for those who aren’t?” Good question. It’s pretty simple – if I’m doodling pictures of sheep, or solving a sudoku, and the game is still boring me, it’s a boring game. I know my own levels. It’s fine. You can relax. That, and the fact that I’ve a proven record of being really good at reviewing games, which I think counts for something.

However, it does affect my views of games in some other ways, that perhaps are completely unfair. Like when there’s no option to run it in a fullscreen-sized window, and it won’t task-switch, and I desperately want to change the podcast I’m listening to. Or when it’s a game with a terrible story, but one that interrupts too often to let me have anything else on with sound. I don’t judge games based on that, obviously. I’m not mad. But I do wish they wouldn’t.

But something struck me recently: are some games enough for anyone? My perspective on these matters is a tad skewiff, but can the “Run there, do that” mechanic of an MMO really grip anyone to capacity? Sure, I realise this doesn’t apply when you’re in a guild, chatting with a dozen friends invading a raid. But those early levels? Or perhaps an even better example: Action RPGs.

I love Diablo clones. I mean, love them. From Torchlight to Titan Quest, it’s a rare game that can keep me as happy for as long. I’ve a feeling I might know why.

An FPS, of course, offers me respite from my mad need to be doing two or three other things. Quick reflexes, all action, constant attack – I’m in. I may put my own music on, perhaps, but those few hours of frantic assault are enough to force my attention. Not because they’re intellectually superior, of course – just loud. And I really enjoy them. But an ARPG – that’s something else entirely, and I think it might be because it lets me pander to my own insanity.

A good ARPG isn’t nagging you all the time with cutscenes or new instructions. It offers its calmingly repetitive tasks, its constant sense of progression, and eighty million billion enemies to chop up in peace. Enough peace for me to really embrace another input. Perhaps an episode of RadioLab, where I can give my full attention to the popular science content. Or an episode of a entertainingly low-brow crime procedural that doesn’t require me to keep looking to see who’s delivering wry asides.

RPGs are an interesting time for me. The wandering, exploring, fighting, inventorying – that’s all fine. But as soon as I’m in an extended conversation there’s trouble. I’m going to have a lot of difficulty remembering to listen to what they’re saying if I’m not giving my idiotic brain something else to play with. It’s like distracting an errant child, putting the shaky, rattly toy in his hands so he’ll not reach into the fire. If I don’t give the bits not used for listening to the excellent chat of the game something to do, they’ll start causing trouble, and I’ll have lost track completely. Shaky, rattly toy added, and I’m engrossed in the game’s narrative.

While there are some who’ll think me mad, or perhaps an ADHD-riddled child (heck, writing this out makes me start to worry a lot more about me), I know that in the wide stretch of the internet I will be reaching some like minds. They’ll know who they are. They’re the ones who’ve figured out that there’s a way to make the ¬ key be a shortcut for Winamp to start and stop an mp3, from inside any other application. They’re the ones who, if someone took away their second monitor, would start screaming and running in circles until they were sick and passed out.

And it’s okay to be us. Other people will (rightfully) become infuriated by us on occasion, because our habits are infuriating. A great deal of my life currently is spent working out how to appropriately listen to my fiancée in a way that means I look like I’m listening, and actually hear anything.

For good or bad, games don’t have such needs, and so I’ll likely continue to fail to offer them the eye-contact they might expect. And I’ll always have a huge soft spot for an action RPG that knows what to do.

I’m sure I’ll always be embarrassed by it. When playing a co-op game of something with the rest of the RPS team, I very self-consciously switch anything else off that might be in the background, and do my very best to stop playing Freecell at the same time. But then I equally struggle not to play a game of Strimko on my iPhone when I’m having a nice evening in with some friends. People think I’m being rude. If only they could understand. Action RPGs understand.


  1. godgoo says:

    fascinating. I thought I was like this but in no way to the same extent, actually I just don’t allow myself to be and subsequently find myself having to use real willpower to tear myself TOWARDS whatever it is im doing. I also find myself idling a lot between other peoples conversations and my own thoughts- never met anyone else like it.

    • Ruffian says:

      as far as idling between your thoughts and other people’s conversations man, I think everyone does that. And I also think that (I’m not sure how old the author is or anything) people are showing a trend in general, as we march steadily onward through time, towards this “ADD”, or rather, general need for multiple forms of input at once. I think personally, that it’s born of the fact that we’ve simply been raised with more tech than our parents and shit, so yeah you might be a little ADD or whatever, but hell man who couldn’t be with how much cool ass shit we’ve been rolling out since we learned about chips and bits, right? I know I am. Got the tv always on, torrents always rollin, game playin, music blastin, and a fine honey on my jock.

    • 12kill4 says:

      Wow I really hope that last phrase doesn’t mean what I think does…

  2. MuscleHorse says:


    • MuscleHorse says:

      Seriously, I’m somewhat the same. I’m quite controlling over what music is played in any given situation so the supplied music with any game doesn’t usually cut the mustard. The Steam overlay has been quite useful in my need to be constantly checking sites/chatting whilst playing.

  3. Meneth says:

    I think I might have a milder version of what you describe.
    I can play games and such without anything else to occupy me (though I do hate it when they don’t have windowed mode)
    On the other hand, when reading (except for a good book) and writing, I do best if I have something else to distract me at the same time. Usually music or the internet.
    I tend to find myself going through my browser tabs every few minutes unless I’m focused on something involving, like a game or scripting.

  4. fallingmagpie says:

    It sounds like you may have a small brain tumor pressing against your temporal and occipital lobes. I suggest you schedule an MRI.

  5. Soon says:

    I read this whilst browsing for hardware, chatting online, playing Gemini Rue, modelling a robot, and watching cartoons.

    I’m not like this in the office though. I’m a laser-focussed, conscientious, work-machine.

    So maybe you need something that challenges you, or a proper job.

    • Richard Beer says:

      Sadly, I’m the opposite of this. Sit me in front of Assassin’s Creed or Mass Effect 2 and I can waste hours being sucked into a beautifully realised world with no concept of the real passage of time.

      But sit me at my desk at work and ask me to concentrate on one thing all day that I don’t find particularly interesting or challenging, and I’ll constantly be flipping to RPS for the latest story (or any of the other 50 sources in my Google Reader), watching videos, following suddenly remembered idle wonderings from the previous evening through Google, etc. Incidentally, I love my job. I guess it’s just not challenging enough.

  6. President Weasel says:

    Depends on the game. To play something like championship manager I’d need a documentary on the iplayer, or a high-on-the-action, low-on-the-thinking American TV show. But then again, with certain TV shows I need to be playing championship manager at the same time, or half-reading an internet.

    I actually had a major problem with The Killing because of this – I realised that even though it was decently-made, engrossing telly and I cared about the plot, I couldn’t concentrate on it for a whole episode – I wanted to be doing something else, half-watching it, and listening to the words so I could keep up with the plot. The words being in Danish, however, made that more than a little tricky. That really brought home to me the fact that I never really do one thing at a time any more.
    See also: the good versions of Wallander.

    So yes, I also have attention span issues, or a need for distraction, or a mind that’s been overexposed to internets and now needs to multitask.

    I am, however, entirely able to absorb myself in a book for long periods – but it does depend on the book.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Sounds about the same as me.

      Take Torchlight. I absolutely could not play that game on its own for any extended period of time. Its too repetative and too much of a mindless clickfest. But when paired with a quality podcast! Ah, yesyesYES!

      For quite a few months last year, my Monday night every week would consist of carefree one-button clickfest carnage on-screen with my Destroyer (built specifically to have as many passive skills as possible), whilst listening to the equally senseless ramblings of Slanik and Turpster on OMFG.fm (sadly discontinued), with a pint of lager in one hand, a mouse in the other, and a bowl of peanuts and/or bombay mix on the side. Aaah, bliss.

      As for TV, some shows seem to engross me utterly, while others require me to be busying myself with the internet or a magazine. Examples – Walking Dead. Awesome. Brilliant. Loved every minute of it, and was always focused throughout. Wonders of the Universe (with that professor wot was on panel shows) – I couldnt simply sit there and watch it. It was far, FAR too boring, but wanting to give it a chance, I sat there reading PCG at the same time. Middle ground? Deep Space 9 – Depends on the episode.

      To be honest though, I think we’re all a bit like that to some extent, we’ve just all got different boredom thresholds.

    • President Weasel says:

      I find I can concentrate on playing Dwarf Fortress because I can be distracted from what I [i]am[/i] doing by remembering the 5 or 6 other things I am planning to do – need to do this, then check on weapon production, schedule the militia training, what’s the stonemason up to, have I got any doors yet, got to make some wooden spears for the Danger Room, how’s that room I was digging out coming? Right, where was I? Oh, it’s 2am.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      Subtitles are your friend! With the right DVD recorder/player you can watch at x2 or x3 speed and still read the subtitles and get the story.

    • Lilliput King says:

      Which episodes of Wallander are the good ones? I assume the subtitle ones, would make sense.

      I like the English versions. They’re some kind of bizarre tragi-comedy where a really bad detective slowly loses what is left of his dignity and sanity while watching witnesses die around him.

      His crumpled face is like a soul erosion progress bar.

    • Tei says:

      I played a lot of Red Faction Guerrilla with Babylon 5 in background. That made both things better.

    • Jesse L says:

      @Lilliput King

      That’s the best short-form review of Wallander I can imagine.

  7. Sirbolt says:

    I understand exactly what you mean. I’m a graphic artist currently, and about the only time i can be onehundred percent focused on any one thing is when i do two things at the same time. Unless i have some series or movie going on my second monitor my work will constantly be interrupted in order to surf the internet, walk to the cafeteria, check my phone or any other distraction i can find. It is really annoying when you think about it, especially since i get less creative when i’ve exhausted everything that’s barely watchable.

    • Davie says:

      I know what you mean–I draw as well, and my drawings tend to be shite unless there’s music or a show playing in the background. I need to occupy as many senses as possible to produce decent work.

      Oddly, though, I hate distraction when it comes to games. Frequently I’ll wait until I’m alone in my house to play so there’s no chance of anyone interrupting me, and I certainly don’t want to listen to a podcast or a film when I’m trying to play. I enjoy immersion quite a bit, and I do my best to be immersed even if the game isn’t very good at doing so.

  8. Danarchist says:

    Well that sounds EXACTLY like ADHD man, I have it myself and you described me to the T. I also have a hell of a time in rooms where there are more than one conversation going on that I can hear clearly, due to the fact that my mind listens to all of them at the same time and I really can’t focus. So basically it would be like your first day in the Borg hive mind.
    But that aside, to relax enough at night to go to sleep I usually need to spend a solid hour on my computer doing something that requires focus. I have found that RTS, especially city builders that don’t have an insane amount of accounting involved, work the best. But just playing a game isn’t enough, I need to also have something light like the Daily Show or IT crowd or something playing on my laptop at the same time.
    ADHD isn’t just for kids you know hehe, I lived my whole life with it and got diagnosed when I was in my 30’s. The difference between treated and untreated is night and day. Life is SOOOOO much easier since I was prescribed adderol. I can actually stand sports bars now.

  9. Teddy Leach says:

    Funny, I can blindly concentrate on games, but when I’m doing anything else, I need something going on.

  10. Jumwa says:

    I’m quite amazed. This describes my own behaviours pretty much exactly. If I’m not able to get enough to distract my mind, I start doing annoying things like clicking the end of my pen or making irritating sounds with my mouth until my partner starts yelling at me about how infuriating I am.

    It really came crashing down upon me how reliant I am upon these multiple distractions when an update of my video card drivers robbed me of my dual-monitor setup. I was utterly crestfallen and despondent for days. But then I set it up so that my partners second monitor was closer to me and I either commandeer her setup when she’s not home to manipulate it or constantly remind her to keep the images flowing for me.

    All in all I’ve been fortunate to have an understanding partner, or at least one who would rather acquiesce to my need for multiple distractions rather than listen to my irritating jumble of instinctual sounds and noises. And yes, bless those delightful windowed-full-screen action RPGs. Bless them every one. Where would I be without them?

    • Jumwa says:

      Also: your bit about reading. I have to have music, but not just any music. Something emotional and lively, but not lyrical. I usually opt for classical, in the vein of the Russian composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff is a favourite. Piano concertos two and three all the way.

      Also also: I find it amusing that people are recommending medication as if this is some debilitating problem that needs correction.

    • Jesse L says:

      Well wouldn’t it be debilitating if, say, you couldn’t be exactly who you are in the exact circumstances you’re in day after day? Like if you had less money and couldn’t afford all the gadgetry necessary to do so many things at once?

    • Jumwa says:

      Well that would be a personal call. If it’s really so bad that you couldn’t function at all–despite your best efforts–with your attention focused on one thing then you’d no doubt have to consider new methods to live with it. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion of medication, however. Medicating should be a last resort taken after careful consideration, not flippantly tossed out as the first thing a functioning person should do to “treat” their slightly ‘deviant’ trait.

  11. Brumisator says:

    I’m playing broken sword and watching mythbusters while reading this article…

    I feel ya, mate!

  12. Wubbles says:

    You described what sound like the symptoms of ADHD. Maybe you should go to a doctor.

  13. zind says:

    I love strimko!

    I used to play it during linear algebra all the time…

  14. Rhin says:

    I’m the complete opposite…. my attention is a freight train. If you so much as tap me on the shoulder and say hi when I’m engaged in something, you’ve effectively derailed me entirely, Quite a jarring experience. I like to drive with the radio off, and I like to work with brown noise in my headphones.

    • Oozo says:

      I’m more like that as well. Thanks for mentioning brown noise – wasn’t familiar with it, but I find the sound deeply comforting. Might listen to it myself while working.

    • DrGonzo says:

      Make sure you don’t get brown noise muddled up with The Brown Sound though.

    • Creeping Death says:

      I’m exactly the same. Its at its worse when I’m trying to read, the slightest background noise or interruption throws me off -.-

    • Xercies says:

      While I’m not that bad I’m pretty much the same, I must focus on one thing anything distracting I will focus on that. I cannot do both my brain refuses it.

      In fact its taken awhile for my brain to get ued to listening to music while working and even then sometimes i will stop work and listen to the music or when i’m working find out that 5 songs have changed without me noticing.

  15. VelociraptorBill says:

    You’ve described me perfectly and this sentence is why I will never complete many of the games I own: “Like when there’s no option to run it in a fullscreen-sized window, and it won’t task-switch, and I desperately want to change the podcast I’m listening to.” If I can’t run a fullscreen window on one monitor and do something else in another without minimizing or crashing the game, I will not play it.

    • Jumwa says:

      Likewise. I used to try and force myself through the games regardless, but now? I’ve accepted my finances are stable and I no longer need to guilt myself to death about not finishing a game I paid for, so I don’t try to agonizingly force myself through such things anymore.

  16. Jikid says:

    I’m interested in how this affected your studies (presuming it did – and I would be surprised if it didn’t)?

    • John Walker says:

      I failed my A levels the first time (NNE), and did barely any better the second (EED), despite being an intelligent person. I just couldn’t ever bring myself to revise, and at the time didn’t have the awareness or maturity to figure out ways around it.

      For my first go at A Levels, during my many hours of revision I produced a stack of the most extraordinarily detailed three-dimensional block shapes crafted and shaded on graph paper. I totally deserved an A Level in doodling amazingly complex shapes while watching TV.

      I guess it’s somewhat fortunate that I’ve managed to fluke a job in playing video games, really.

  17. Mr_Hands says:

    Well, this article was tremendously life-affirming.

    This extends to nearly every aspect of my life. My girlfriend finds it infuriating that I can’t even be bothered to go grocery shopping without headphones on and something playing on my iPod. In several instances, she drew the line when I was following after her, intently managing my company in Game Dev Story (or, more recently, unlocking more classes in Dungeon Raid.) Mostly, I imagine she’s just irritated that she has to yell to communicate with me. (Or just annoyed that, to the outside world, she appears to be dating some emotionally stunted manchild, which is probably true enough.)

    When I was writing essays for school, I used to have a CD playing on my stereo, MP3s playing on Winamp and (sometimes) something playing on my MP3 player.

    Then there’s watching TV: I’ll usually have at least my laptop open and a game of Blood Bowl or Super Meat Boy or Crusader Kings running. Or I’ll be fiddling with my DS.

    I’ve recently moved my computer out of my bedroom, so there’s no TV going on while I’m playing games, but I’ve definitely had music playing in the background while playing Left 4 Dead or BC2. Instead, I find I just cycle through games like some ADD-addled chimp. 5 minutes of Dragon Age, a mission in DoW II, a 1v1 in Starcraft 2.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I was with you for all of that, quietly nodding in agreement. But then you said you would listen to three things at once, then I got confused.

    • Jesse L says:


    • John Walker says:

      Yes, life-affirming. Mr Hands reply, and others like it, are such a relief for me to read. Other people whose brains are similar, but who don’t appear to be socially dysfunctional, etc.

    • Archonsod says:

      John – it’s actually quite normal for men. It’s to do with brain wiring, they published a load of research on this kind of thing when they were looking for psychological marketing techniques. It’s one of the downsides of playing music in a store – low level distractions tend to de-focus female shoppers (meaning they’re more likely to pick up and buy stuff they didn’t want when they entered) but have the opposite effect on men. It’s also why you tend to find stores with male clerks tend to have the radio on more than those with female clerks.

  18. Premium User Badge

    ChaosSmurf says:

    Watching a movie and constantly checking twitter while reading this article, I came to the conclusion that you are a very odd man and we are nothing a like.


  19. Ricc says:

    Very interesting. I get easily distracted, but I’m probably only average at multitasking, which can be a poor combination. :) I was kind of addicted to podcasts for a while though. Listened to about 15 hours of gaming and other podcasts during the week… And I don’t even commute a lot. I had to forcefully stop myself from this distraction. And although this sounds silly after what I just said, I’d be interested to hear this article discussed with Nick! :)

  20. kikito says:

    You are a WOMAN, man.

    • Quinnbeast says:

      Indeed. My multitasking goes only so far as having a dump while reading the Metro.

    • GHudston says:

      You have a WOMANS purse m’lord!

  21. zergrush says:

    Unless it’s a multiplayer game that needs split second rections / a shitload of multitasking ( usually RTSs and fighting games ) or games with an unusual atmosphere or high level of tension ( like the constant threat of being invaded in Demon’s Souls, or pretty much anything in Amnesia ) I’m unable to stay focused and will constantly be tabbing to do other stuff. I usually tab after every conversation or fight on RPGs and between missions /matches in other kinds of games.

    Another exception is when I’m trying to do something a bit tricky or simply fail at a certain goal, at those times the OCD kicks in and I’ll be repeating the same fucking thing for hours until I get it right or give up on exaustion.

  22. SuperNashwanPower says:

    You are all horrible twisted products of the information age and should be isolated, in a wood, with no mobile phone reception or electricity, and forced to whittle sticks into interesting shapes.

    Diagnosis is nothing without a suitably draconian ‘treatment’. Also, electrocution.

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      The smell of the pine, the sound of the birds, the feel and the look of the wood being whittled as well as the wind on your face and the awkward rock in the small of your back.
      – maybe the information age is the problem but in the respect that it has removed many of the senses from our activities…bring on smell-O-vision.

    • John Walker says:

      I was born in 1977!

  23. oatish says:

    I keep bouncing back to this article, news feeds, my *actual* work and I am listening to music in my office right now.

  24. Dariath says:

    You prolly have ADHD. May wanna see someone about possible medication. You’re always gonna be the way you are, but sometimes they help depending on the person.

  25. mkultra says:

    The only way I’m even remotely the same is by the fact I talk about myself on the internet.

    • Temple to Tei says:

      I don’t even do that, see I’m a totally private person and would not talk about myself on the internet.
      Why? Well, there was this one time that –

    • Thants says:

      Well, I just talk to myself on the internet.

    • Thants says:

      Shutup, I don’t do that!

  26. Mechorpheus says:

    Totally with you John. I can quite happily consume TV series / movies while gaming as it just seems like a much better use of time. This tends to annoy the hell out of my friends as I recommend about 5 different shows a week, and they complain about lack of time in which to watch them all. I do tend to ‘zone-in’ on StarCraft 2 when playing online, but music is still required for that.

  27. McDan says:

    I find myself doing this more and more as well, laptop now being right next to the tv makes it far too easy to chat/play games on the laptop, watch tv/play games on the tv, play/chat on phone and radio playing something.

    Good read, disturbing pictures though…

  28. Cooper says:

    Ignore the posts mentioning ADHD. ADHD is a catch-all term used to diagnose a variety of issues, some of which are -only- problematic because they deviate from expected norms, as they otherwise have no negative effect on everyday functioning.

    I particularly understand the reference to your fiancee. I find it exceptionally hard to pay attention to someone unless I am in direct conversation with them, or doing something else at the same time. The relating-of-day-activities (as it does not necessitate a response) from my partner is very similar for me to paper presentations at seminars from other academics. I can’t for the life of me actually take onboard anything unless I’m also doing something else.

    I think this may be why I seem to have an opinion on everything. Given that the only way I take anything presented in is to respond to it, having an opinion on everything seems to be my coping mechanism.

    For me it’s my own thoughts. If I am not occupied enough, my own thoughts (and they are never very interesting, deep or meaningful) simply drown everything else out. I spent most of a panel of paper presentations I was charing on saturday wondering why all the carpets in our department are blue…

    • Myfyr says:

      I wonder how many people have been adversely affected by comments like this? It seems to be a worryingly common sentiment in some internet circles. You aren’t by any chance an anti-vax type, are you?

      Edit: To be fair, ADHD was ludicrously over-diagnosed in children in the 80s/90s, and to some extent still is, which has understandably led to some quite reasonable bitterness about unnecessary, and potentially damaging, medication of children. This is a serious problem, but also not the issue here.

    • Latterman says:

      he has a point.
      ADHD has become (or was? i’m not really up to date with the state of psychology) one of those popular diagnoses for children that don’t act like they are expected to.

    • Cooper says:

      My comment regarding ADHD was in response to comments here. I doubt fully qualified medical practitioners are cropping up on RPS comments threads and giving diagnoses based upon a few thousand words on actionRPGs…

      Rather, ADHD has been mobilised here by those who are using it as a catch-all for non-normative mental functioning. My main problem with it is how it is used in common discourse. How it may now be used by medical practitioners is another debate entirely.

    • Myfyr says:

      Yeah, children seem to often get screwed when it comes to psychological diagnoses. Possibly because diagnonsis relies to a greater extent on patient communication, and old men frequently struggle to fully understand children. In any case, I’m not fully convinced childhood ADHD should be medicated. It’s not a life threatening condition, it’s difficult to get a definite diagnonsis, and childhood ADHD often subsides by adulthood (possibly due to mis-diagnonsis in those cases?).

      Teachers and parents should still be aware of it though, so that they know how to handle schooling and other similar things. Too many kids have been completely screwed up by being constantly told they “aren’t trying hard enough”, when in actual fact they are neurologically incapable of learning in the manner they are being asked to. That’s why my hackles go up at blanket denials of ADHD. The consequences are truly tragic.

    • Myfyr says:

      @Cooper: Fair enough, I can see how it may have seemed that way. However, as I understood it, people were basically saying “That seems very familiar to me, perhaps you should see a doctor – if it’s ADHD things can get much easier”. Which sounds reasonable to me?

      Honestly, John’s description was eerily familiar, and I suspect likewise to others. I don’t think this was a case of “That sounds a bit wierd and inattentive, must be ADHD”.

      In any case, apologies for the possibly overly-emotional initial response.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      I remember that episode in series 1 of The Sopranos when the school doctor gave a list of ADHD symptoms regarding AJ. What struck me is that it can apply to just about everyone. I did a little research and yes, they were actual ‘symptoms’. So yes, it is a catch-all term.

      EDIT: Latterman: It currently is, yes.

  29. Serenegoose says:

    I’m actually the opposite. I focus on one task, and it becomes everything that I am – when I’m writing, I can’t have music – people talking is horrendous, and the internet is a demon, waiting to steal me away. It’s not just that though. When I’m thinking about something, I can’t sleep, I hate eating, going to fetch a drink is done reluctantly. I lose the ability to consider anything around me that isn’t my task as important. I get distracted easily, but I hate, revile the distractions, because my focus is so intense that I cannot even enjoy pleasant diversions. When I’m into my writing, and I’ve dumped the 8th hour into it that day, I know that I should perhaps go do something else for a while, but as much as I try, I cannot stop thinking about what I was doing, what I want to continue to do, and so the enjoyment of everything is sapped away.

    • Rinox says:

      Same here. I need absolute focus on one thing at a time, often obsessively. I’ll often let similar work pile on for a day or two at work so I can race through it in one mad cafeine-fueled frenzy of hours of singleminded focus. I simply can’t do this, then something else, then that, etc. It severely affects my performance.

    • choconutjoe says:

      I’m the same. There’s little I hate more than people/things distracting me when I’m deeply focused on something.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      Yeah, this kind of thing is -completely- alien to me. The most I simultask is when I pull out a book or my phone to read while eating, or when I put on music when folding laundry or doing work stuff (and, in the case of the latter, it better be something instrumental, or my brain starts to get annoyed).

      I hear about people who can’t do their homework unless they’ve got the TV on, and I’m like WHAT. When I watch a TV show or a movie, I sit down and watch it, period. Sometimes I eat something, but that’s about it. Same with games — they take up my entire focus.

      When I used to read mind-boggling studies that say Americans watch an average of six hours of TV a day, I just figured people had the box on in the background, not really paying attention to it. But maybe I’m wrong: they’re paying attention to it… and they’re just also doing everything else at the same time.

      So weird.

    • Lacunaa says:

      Well I don’t exactly hate eating breaks when I’m focused on something but I do somewhat agree. Have a clear focus on your mind feels really good actually! It’s one of the reasons I like a game of starcraft so much. There’s so much going on that I get into a total focus mode effortlessly once I send my first scouting scv away. Even working on my master’s thesis gets a lot more enjoyable if it’s the only thing on my mind.

  30. 7Seas says:

    Hmm, perhaps this is why you and I disagree so fundamentally on certain games. I enjoyed both Alpha Protcol and Dragon Age 2, and thought you were not only unfair to both games but seemed to be extra wrothful in pointing out perceived shortcomings to the point of a rant.

    I like to become absorbed in a game, book, movie, tv show, and it irritates me to have someone sitting beside me half paying attention and pretending that they are having the same experience I am.

    I wonder if the mad multitasker vs the obsessive engrosser mindsets consistently feel differently about certain games/media?

    I would of course suggest that your inability to focus does in fact impair your ability to expound critically in a way that provides useful information for a broad spectrum of readers. I noticed in the comments in some other post you were astounded that the take away many many people had from your DA2 “flaws” article was that the game is a steaming pile of shit. I think that shows a certain lack of self reflection. I understand that WIT are intended to subjective, but since casual readers do not know the person speaking, and the written word tends to carry authorotative weight above and beyond the spoken, perhaps you would like to prefix your WITs with the list of activities you were engaging in while playing the game. It might provided a more complete picture of your experience with the game.

    Funnily enough, was reading an article the other day discussing how multitasking is unproductive (link to blog.seattlepi.com). I think this quote is illuminating:

    “A summary of research examining multitasking on the American Psychological Association’s web site describes how so-called multitasking is neither effective nor efficient. These findings have demonstrated that when you shift focus from one task to another, that transition is neither fast nor smooth. Instead, there is a lag time during which your brain must yank itself from the initial task and then glom onto the new task. This shift, though it feels instantaneous, takes time. In fact, up to 40 percent more time than single tasking – especially for complex tasks.”

    • DrGonzo says:

      I think anyone who read his WIT article about DA2 and came out of it thinking he said it was shit didn’t read the article properly.

    • John Walker says:

      I couldn’t have been more abundantly clear both at the top and bottom of the piece that I did not think it was “shit”. You would either have to have not read the piece, or be wilfully ignoring paragraphs of text, to come away with that impression. It seems more than a little ironic that you should have missed this in such a thread.

      Regarding this article, what you don’t appreciate is that by doing something else I allow myself to become focused on the original thing. I would not be focused were I not occupying the remains of my brain elsewhere.

    • iq says:

      link to en.wikipedia.org

      ‘Multi-tasking’ is indeed inefficient, so we look for new, more effective ways to do what our brains seem to be wired to do.

      Yes Mr. Walker, life-affirming post indeed, as I sit here watching Castle, doing laundry, reading RPS, and…

      well, yeah, continuous partial attention. It’s what’s for dinner.

  31. Jeremy says:

    Interesting stuff, I used to be the same way, but I’ve made it a point of slowing things down and focusing on one thing at a time. I think it’s entirely possible to have too much information flowing, and we’re so used to constantly learning things from the news, or listening to music, or reading/watching tv/crosswording/chatting all at the same time that we never just allow things to be quiet. 20 minutes a day of silence and introspection has massively improved my attitude and outlook on life.

  32. Myfyr says:

    Adding to what others have said, I would be staggered if you didn’t have ADHD. My housemate and very close friend has similar symptoms – they have described it as literally painful to be doing only one thing at once and generally have two games and a podcast/video going at any one time.

    You (and others) may be interested to know that adult ADHD is frightengly co-morbid with depression, so it is definitely worth getting a formal diagnosis/medication if that’s an issue. My housemate discovered that it was suddenly possible to write essays and do well in exams and all sorts of things they couldn’t do pre-medication. It’s only good for 8ish hours a day if you want it to stay effective, but way better than nothing (to the point that it is common for people to have depression issues post-diagnosis simply becauses of the realisation of how much easier things would have been if they’d been diagnosed earlier).

    But yes, it can be a little disconcerting having a conversation with someone who is doing three other things. But I’ve never had to repeat something because they weren’t listening, so you get used to it. ;)

    • John Walker says:

      Well, I’m diagnosed with anxiety depression, and on some level I’m aware the two are associated. In the past, when I would have regular anxiety attacks, during them my ability to multitask increased even further.

      However, while I am actively attempting to treat the anxiety, I would not like the aspect of myself I’ve described in this piece to change. I love the way my brain works, and my ability to successfully and efficiently complete two tasks simultaneously.

    • James says:


      As someone who put a bit too much stock in the analysis of others for a long time (and someone who shares a bit of your “condition”), I’d just like to advocate that you keep making the distinctions yourself when determining what’s “right” and “wrong” about yourself.

      You’re a smart guy, don’t feel bad about not caring if someone tells you “this is wrong” when you know that it really isn’t. Oh, you don’t need me telling you this!

    • Sami says:

      Speaking as the friend Myfyr mentioned (and getting around to registering just so I can comment on this subject), getting medicated for ADHD doesn’t take away the ability to multitask and focus on multiple input streams at once. I still do it, and still, overall, prefer to.

      What it does do, for me, is allow me better to choose where I want to allocate my focus, and to complete complicated tasks far better. It more-or-less enables me to *get stuff done* better.

      And it really actually helps a lot for having serious conversations with people.

      Getting a diagnosis of, and medication for, ADHD just brings things under your control, it doesn’t take away the awesome nature of You.

    • James says:


      While I’m quite happy that your situation has improved, you must realize that the results of such medications do not always work out so nicely.

      I am honestly happy for you, and I’m not recommending people who feel they need help avoid medications categorically. Just a bit of devil’s advocate for the other potential side of things.

    • Myfyr says:

      @John: I’m certainly not saying “You need medication NOW, or you are DOING IT WRONG”. ADHD is one of those things that’s only really a “disorder” at all if it interferes with your ability to live as you want. I think of it basically as ‘Hunter’s Brain” – in the past it would have been a flat out advantage, back when Not Being Eaten was the main criteria for success. It’s just in the modern world, with all it’s specialisation and focus on exams etc., that it can be problematic. Having said that, there are areas where ADHD would, I imagine, still be an advantage – the military, for example. It’s a good example of a completely justified use of the term “differently abled”. :P If you’ve managed to end up in a position where it’s more beneficial than harmful, that’s fantastic.

      All that aside, ADHD medication is temporary in effect, and can (I repeat can – individual results may vary) be good to have as an option for the odd few hours you need it. Particularly if you’re fortunate (not sure how common this is) like Sami, and have no discernable side-effects. I know it can be useful for dealing with anxiety inducing situations, for example. I know Sami has found it ridiculously helpful for exams i.e. gone from failing to doing very well, although you’re obviously past the point of that being useful, and by the sound of it your exam issues may have been different in any case.

      As a final point, and from more personal perspective, I would find the diagnosis more important that the possible medication, I think. I just like to know exactly what I’m dealing with. *shrug* But that’s possibly just me.

    • Tom Camfield says:

      @ Myfyr

      “As a final point, and from more personal perspective, I would find the diagnosis more important that the possible medication, I think. I just like to know exactly what I’m dealing with. *shrug* But that’s possibly just me.”

      Nope, I feel exactly the same way! I always knew I was different, but to know what was behind it all, suddenly the anxiety drains away… wonderful.

      I disagree about the military though, imagine all those long hours doing nothing, waiting for combat to happen, we’d go mad! :-)

  33. Thelionheart777 says:

    It certainly sounds like ADHD, but hell, I’ve been diagnosed with it for 10 years, and I’m not even very hyper nor do I have a short attention span.

  34. Hoaxfish says:

    Get a 1-hour egg timer. Set it for the full hour, then either work for the full hour, then play for an hour, etc. Once the timer goes off, start saving/switching over to work, or if you’re working and want to play (i.e. you’re not in the “work flow” zone), start playing. Only reset the timer when you actually start the next “phase”.

    i.e. some sort of tool for managing your time, without you having to actively count the minutes (which is a distraction in itself)

  35. patata says:

    The fact that there’s people on the internet that share the same problem you have doesn’t make your problem “acceptable”, “normal” nor makes it “ok” to ignore .
    I’m not saying that you have ADHD, but suffering from an inability to focus IS NOT ok and something should be done with it.

    • Jumwa says:

      I don’t say it’s fair to tell someone else what is or isn’t okay for their personal life. The fellow seems to be functioning just fine and contributing to society, why wouldn’t it be okay?

    • patata says:

      So you suggest that instead of solving a problem you should always work around it until it gets too big?
      It’s clearly a problem, there’s no discussion to that.
      Of course, a guy can choose to live with it or deal with it, but if he’s going around the internet trying to validate his choice, then it’s pretty clear to me that he doesn’t feel ok with it.

      The same can be said about people with OCD…

    • Jumwa says:

      It’s up to the individual or those it affects to determine something’s a problem. I wouldn’t feel comfortable labeling other peoples traits as problems so flippantly.

      I know personally I’m quite happy with my life. I enjoy playing some action-RPG while listening to music and watching a show or movie. It’s never kept me from doing my work or being productive.

      The natural conclusion to medicating every single trait or habit a person might have beyond the ‘norm’ is terrifying.

    • gwathdring says:

      … Did I miss some big social billboard that slotted attention deficits (capital letters via DSM diagnosis, or more moderate lower case for) in the “not ok” category of deviations from the norm? Both the blatant “not ok” in your post and the implied “I wouldn’t be so rude as to accuse you of having ADD” seem a little out of touch to me. Perhaps I am living in a sheltered, psychologically liberal corner of the globe, but I was under the distinct impression that neither having attention problems nor being clinically diagnosed with ADD/ADHD were “not ok.” I’m not even sure what that means …. not ok by you? By society? Or just personally problematic? Because I think the individual is often a better judge of that last one, except in the case of severe mood and thought disorders (Schizophrenia, for example) but even then people tend to know when they need help figuring things out psychologically whether or not money, social pressures, or other factors allow them to do so easily and without shame.

      Anywho. Attention deficit is not always ADD and is not always worth medical attention. Even ADD is not always worth the pharmaceutical side of medical attention due to the severe side effects of current medication for ADD and ADHD. Personality altering stuff, and that’s baring the more conventional serious side effects more related to physical harm.

      It’s an interesting issue, though. There does seem to be a trend in the past half century of increasing attention related phenomena, clinically diagnosable and otherwise, in the general population. I don’t think it’s purely related to media (tv, interent mostly), but rather that TV and Internet media are part causal and part symptomatic of other social changes pushing us towards a world that demands something new: constant, rapidly switching attention to many tasks and stimuli. But this is coupled with the retained need to focus intently on complex ideas and phenomena.

      One of the key issues with this being, aside from the obvious contradiction, that the human mind as it stands now gets worse at multi-tasking the more we are forced to multi-task. For approximately 2.5% of Americans (ages 18-24), multitasking is not different or perhaps more efficient relative to single tasking (the most robust study I’ve read used passing a difficult OSPAN test involving memorizing math problems and number lists and such and driving as the two tasks). For the rest of us, despite some 30% of the population claiming they can effectively multitask without losing efficiency … we sacrifice something every new task we take on and that sacrifice increases over time. In other words, for the average human, the best way to get good at mufti-tasking is to practice focusing on one thing at a time, resisting and avoiding distraction. Statistically speaking, whether or not you seem to get along, and whether or not you think you can multi-task, you are simply switching tasks frequently and are not all that good at it. I’m certainly not. :P

      Which doesn’t mean that people like our author can’t multi-task and satisfactorily complete each task. Listening to familiar music, playing games as an experienced gamer … things we are particularly good at engage different parts of our memory and need very little attention. Walking comes to mind. That leaves enough room even in someone no better at multi-tasking that the average human to focus on complex things like a TED lecture running in the background while you play Starcraft. It’s also possible that you won the lottery and, whether or not you share the attention issues our author does, you can multitask as or more effectively than you can single task. Congratulations! That’s super awesome, especially in the fast-paced world of the technologically literate. :)

      P.S. Sometimes there isn’t a “cure” for personality and behavioral issues. Severe or mild psychological issues, too. As such, sometimes “problem” solving actually IS learning to live with and around your problems. Treatment for even many severe psychological disorders focuses on this sort of integration rather than on curing the disorder or even sometimes the symptoms (though cure is the ultimate goal). Especially when medication is the other option, side effects force many patients to quit treatment if their care providers don’t offer enough education and support for adapting life to bend both the symptoms and the individuals life into a sort of compromise until sometime closer to a cure can be reached–maybe that’s just till the medicine kicks in a week from now, maybe it’s until a new drug is invented. Point is, just as no one should feel they can’t get treatment for things that interrupt their life because society expects them to tough it out and ignore their crippling psychological issues …. there are also other options, and with proper care “toughing it out” can work wonders.

    • gwathdring says:

      Hmmmm. I wonder if over the next few generations we are going to see more people developing the ability to multi-task mid-life or simply more people with the ability natively. Because otherwise we’re going to start having a lot of problems due to the multi-tasking demands of our social world. If multi-tasking doesn’t start becoming more prevalent, we’re going to see either a collapse of some of these systems that demand it or a gradual decrease in the need for intense single focus (requiring less complex interaction or less skilled interaction with multi-task intensive technology and such than current trends would suggest). I think this would happen over the next few generations if it became a problem and would pose an interesting conundrum for technological development. We wouldn’t be any “stupider,” but at a certain point we’d reach our limit and would need increasingly simple interaction with the increasingly complicated technology as long as it continued to demand multi-tasking. Simpler controls, for more advanced machinery … we take it for granted in our toys and gadgets, but it’s a rather interesting design problem.

      I suppose the other option (again, baring an increase in multi-tasking ability in the population from the current single digit percentile), would be increased automation. You don’t have to check the GPS while steering away from potential collisions if the road steers your car for you.

      Now that I think about it, that seems far more likely. We sort of seem to already by going in that direction. It’s still an interesting discussion, but I feel a bit silly now. Multi-task innovation is still going on, but automation seems to be the end-goal for a lot of innovators in a lot of fields. We like the idea of robots, don’t we?

    • Jumwa says:

      That’s an interesting post, Gwath.

      Speaking as someone who has tried the route of medicating for psychological issues, it’s something I am terribly cautious on. I am wary of anyone who would casually call for the medicating of something so mild as this issue, or even more serious ones. Even in cases of debilitating problems it’s not something I think should be jumped into so flippantly, but looked at and weighed with careful consideration.

      As you alluded to, the side-effects on a lot of these drugs are worse than the problem they’re treating. After my own cycle through various drugs (for an unrelated issue) I was left often humiliated by their side effects, sometimes permanently affected in embarrassing ways that linger with me today many years after the fact, and during the course of treatment lived what I could only call a downright dehumanizing existence void of emotion.

      It’s up to the individual to determine what is or isn’t fine for their life, and I don’t like to see this social pressure to make people feel their every ‘deviance’ is some flaw. And, as you lay out, even if it is a flaw to you personally, there are manners of living with and treating psychological issues that bridge the gap between merely talking with a psychologist and medicating. If watching a movie while you game is the worst thing you have to do to entertain yourself…

    • patata says:

      Who said anything about medicating? Hell, I don’t even like that option.
      Accepting a problem is the first step to solving it. The issue here is that denial is a strong thing which is reinforced by peer validation.
      If someone has a mental problem, you can’t rely on the dude to be objetive about it. I’m not saying that John is a psycho, I’m just saying that there’s a issue that could be resolved with the right approach.
      You share his attention problem? Ok. You’re able to deal with it? Excellent! Let’s hope that it doesn’t get worse and that you can live a happy life.

      Yeah, I should have said things with more diplomacy, sorry.
      By “not OK” I mean that it’s personally problematic and that it differs from the standard brain activity.
      Again, I never said anything about medication. I didn’t even try to say that anyone has ADHD or OCD or any “serious” mental disorder. As someone else suggested, a simple exercise like meditation could help with those things.
      The only thing that I wanted to convey is that this post looked “dangerous” to me. People with severe attention problems could latch to this as a means of validation to avoid dealing with their problems.
      It’s a pretty common attitude. In my country we call it: “Two in distress makes sorrow less”.

      EDIT: I don’t want to pressure anyone who feels identified with John’s situation, please do not think that I’m attacking or calling people “flawed”.

    • Jumwa says:

      On the issue of a multi-tasking society:

      The industrial revolution forced the hard realization that human beings (at least of the previous era) did NOT enjoy and could not easily focus upon such repetitious tasks over the course of a day, and so the schooling system we still live with now was devised to prepare children for that life. The working class had been used to, for generations, diverse sets of tasks, whether in farming or in workshops and smithies. They did not take easily to standing or sitting in one place all day doing the same thing over and over to the rigid time constraints of industrial society.

      If it’s something we are really so adapted to now that the thought of the reverse is strange, then I guess the school system really was far more effective and successful at training us than I’d really imagined.

      But it’s NOT a problem. You’re declaring it one. John seemed to state quite clearly that he adapts so that it isn’t one. That IS life: finding ways to be happy and productive despite the obstacles before us.

    • gwathdring says:

      I’m not suggesting we like repetitive single tasks. I don’t think we do. I would argue psychological and historical evidence both suggest that humans enjoy a middle ground. We don’t want over-stimulation–multi or single task related. I don’t think a multi-tasking technologically oriented society is the opposite of the Lowell Mill system. I would argue it’s more similar to the Lowell Mill system than it is to pre-industrial society. If you really want to crank things back to the long run of human existence (agriculture, and before that hunting/foraging), then we’re looking at fewer more drawn out tasks as hunter gatherers and days packed full of task after task as farmers. Farming, however, allowed certain parts of society to avoid the barrage of farm related labor and task-intense life. Even for the farmers, while the tasks were repetitive from day to day, they changed with the seasons and there were many tasks throughout the day.

      Industrial labor is sort of like extreme farming, modeling it strictly task by task: repetitive, single-tasking, only now there is only one task for each worker and that task is repeated hour by hour, day by day, season by season. Post-industrial society is far less regular. Service industry jobs in America and elsewhere often require multiple tasks being performed at once, and tasks being performed with little notice. This is where the multi-tasking comes into play. I would argue it is quite new, not a product of Lowell’s brainwashing school-bells. It’s frantic, it requires constant attention. Sometimes it’s repetitive, sometimes it isn’t. Either way, multi-tasking is much more a part of modern, technology driven society than it is of industrial society or agricultural society. When looking at tasks alone, the progression seems rather clear.

      Of course, it’s more complicated than tasks alone. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have a world asking for more and more multi-tasking when our brains prefer not to multi-task. We wouldn’t have industrialized successful when our brains don’t want highly technical (i.e. highly skilled labor requiring special training such as operating a steam-powered loom) tasks that are also intensely repetitive. Social pressures and events can push us straight past our biological and psychological predispositions. Hence my musings on what’s going to happen next on that front. :)

    • gwathdring says:

      P.S. As for your other points which I missed earlier, I realize what you’re trying to say about validation. I understand. But I disagree.

    • Jakkar says:

      You are an aggressive horror, patata. Some of us have ‘issues’ (all of us have ‘issues’ of one sort or another), but your apparent belief in what is ‘okay’ ‘not ok’ and ‘normal’ seems stunningly closeminded, coupled with an aggressive and well-spoken agenda to ‘fix’ everyone. Other commenters have covered many well-made rebuttals and comparisons, I’m just here to add my emotional reaction as reinforcement for their own; your attitude disturbs me, and I think in a position of power or authority you could do a lot of harm.

    • Jumwa says:

      I didn’t mean to come off as refuting your points, as I find nothing I really disagree with and little I can say I’m unsure of even.

      And of course, I didn’t mean to equate our techno-entertainment reality with pre-industrial lifestyles. On the contrary, looking back at those time periods I often wonder how bizarre it would be for me to come from my hyper-stimulated world where I get constant updates of news and media to keep me thoroughly entertained, to sitting in a dark barely lit room (because candles were expensive) with nothing more than work or self-inspired hobbies and interpersonal activities to keep me amused.

      No, technology doesn’t just merely replace old forms of entertainment (and it often DOESN’T replace them, it sits along side them and offers a widening breadth of options), it has been giving us amazingly responsive and interactive forms of amusement. I’ve seen in the news multiple times as of late about how certain groups worry that gaming is ruining childrens ability to pay attention in school. For all the unsupported nay saying about gaming (or any new form of similar technology, whether it was the TV or the dramatic novel of past ages) this one I could understand, for school systems were never designed to involve and interact with children, it was designed to socially engineer them to a certain way of life. Whereas, video games go the opposite route: it’s interactive, it’s stimulating, in some ways perhaps more so than a life of probing nature would’ve been for a young child.

      I know my own childhood of roaming through the woods and along vacant coast lines, mapping terrain, exploring, cutting and carving wood to craft boxes, bows, etc., left me rather bored to tears in school. I can only imagine what it might’ve done had I grown up on Oblivion’s and Just Causes’ allowing me to explore and interact with a virtual, responsive world.

      Anyhow, speculation is often narrowly-focused and masturbatory, but it’s interesting none the less, and you write an intriguing post on the subject, to be sure. It’s a fascinating thing to think on, and I’m excited to see where change takes us. : )

    • Dawngreeter says:

      “As someone else suggested, a simple exercise like meditation could help with those things.”

      I would love to see someone with a restless mind like John’s attempt meditation. I would describe my own condition as somewhat milder than his, and there is no way in hell I would be able to meditate. I tried it in my younger years and I can’t do it. The best I can do is sit still with my eyes closed and think about three different things. Which ain’t meditation.

      In any case, I think meditation could also help with determining when it’s appropriate to tell people they are not ok. A simple task of meditating three times a day for ten minutes would undoubtedly lessen anyone’s urge to explain why someone else’s issue is not ok.

  36. negativespace26 says:

    I am a bit similar to you – only to a lesser extent. I can play games without doing anything else along with it, its just that I can’t do it for any longer than about 2 hours before getting bored. I tend to play up to 6 games at a time on my DS as well as my PC, and while playing games like counter strike I do tend to play Pokemon while waiting for a round to end. But yeah I get what you’re saying with the part on having music – I can hardly stand to not have music playing along with Team Fortress 2.

  37. Spinoza says:

    Wat this website is about?

  38. Weylund The Second says:

    John, I had the same problem (and it can be a problem folks, especially if you work in a corporate environment where you’re not allowed to chat or have movies / podcasts going, which I did until recently). Then I had kids. Now that I work from home, except for a few worryingly quiet stretches during the week I have a constant ready-made undercurrent of multitasking. Works wonders for my concentration. My wife thinks I’m crazy for not minding working when it’s just the kids and me. I love it.

  39. Shazbut says:


  40. Colthor says:

    Nope, not me… Unless both tasks are utterly different and straightforward multitasking will ruin my ability at either. Listening to music’s fine with most things, but I can’t listen to a podcast and write code at the same time.
    Films being an exception, but I think that says more about the quality of most films than my attention.

    When playing games I hate any distractions – why they decided to put an IM client (a thing designed purely to distract you) in Steam (a thing designed purely for the playing of games) is beyond me. And all its other annoyances: achievements, so’n’so is now playing thingumy, such-and-such has finished downloading. Stop getting on my nerves!

    Even things moving unnecessarily. Animations on webpages shall be purged. Grr.

  41. Eukatheude says:

    Don’t ever watch a Tarkovski movie.

    • DrGonzo says:

      I can sympathise with John on this one, I’m not as bad as him, but I feel quite similar. But, Tarkovski films offer no problem for me.

      I was bored stiff during Avatar and would have left if the tickets hadn’t been a gift. I did once leave a film at the cinema, the recent King Kong. I loathe the Transformers films and that kind of mindless action.

      However, I can concentrate fine with a Tarkovski film, which I think must be because you actually have to think about the film and try to understand it. Where the previously mentioned films require you to turn your brain off, something I’m incapable of doing.

    • gwathdring says:

      I don’t know Tarkovski, but I have a similar relationship with movies. I have a similar dialectic as well: on the one hand, I need something complicated to sink my focus like a thought provoking film (or a complex film, whether or not it’s “good” or “intellectual”–just has to get the wheels turning), or a complex math problem. On the other hand, I fidget. I do better when moving and engaged physically. And on the other hand, while I have trouble zoning out during Transformers, I can often zone out during similarly repetitive and action heavy video games–I think it satisfies my need to move and fidget and makes up for the lack of mental stimuli by being simple enough to allow me to create my own mental stimuli—or sometimes I meditate through it. Games like VVVVV can easily put me in a meditative state. The twitchy gameplay channels my excess energy while the combination of the music and the joyful atmosphere catch my attention well enough that I can relax my mind and body simultaneously–something I have trouble doing in a traditional meditation.

      I think it comes from there being too much noise inside my head. It isn’t so much about needing intellectual stimuli as that my mind wants to move just like my body does, and the result is a need to have both either wholly focused or endlessly fidgeting and wandering. Complex thought does this, but so does the trance-like state that music puts me in (again, more intricate compositions work better whether that means Bach or Bohemian Rhapsody). On the bright side, when I bother to pick up a book, reading seems to hit up all of my needs. I get absorbed enough to ignore the excess physical energy or to fidget without distracting myself from reading.

      I can’t speak for John, somewhat different attention issues than I do, but some of us seemingly bereft of attention for day-to-day purposes seem quite different when placed in the right situation–an average to above average attention span but poor control when stimuli drops below a certain threshold. For me at least, it doens’t seem to be directly related to the multitasking phenomenon. Experience suggests I am not anywhere near the luck 3% who can multi-task classically. But people with above average attentive capacities can look like multi-taskers when they cram a whole bunch of tasks that don’t take much attention together, not noticing the inherent deficits because they have so much space to fill. I don’t know if I personally have an above average attention span, but whether or not I do, I certainly have some buggy programming that shows up when it isn’t filled.

    • Tom OBedlam says:

      Eh? I’ve got the dreaded ADHD and I fucking loved Stalker

  42. Heliocentric says:

    This goes some way to explain terrible healing.

  43. Sympathetic Guillotine says:

    I was infatuated with World of Warcraft for about a year and a half, and it was almost entirely the fault of the repetitiveness of leveling my many, many characters. I could sit all day, mindlessly killings mobs and turning in quests, so long as I was listening to a great stand-up routine or a fascinating podcast. Even during raids, as long as it wasn’t a new boss we were perfecting our strategy on, I’d simply put Ventrilo on mute and forget myself in something else.

    I always found it interesting when people talked about their favorite aspects of the game, and how they’d look at me in dumbfounded astonishment when I responded with what a blast I had capping out all my alts .

  44. benjaminlobato says:

    This does not sound healthy, or an enjoyable way of going through life. I know this isn’t going to sound appealing for most of the young predominately male gaming crowd, but have you considered meditation? I think it has the potential to be beneficial for you. If that’s not an option, I would at least recommend seeing a medical professional about some sort of attention deficit disorder that you may have. If you can’t listen to your fiancée talk about her day without doing some other activity like a jigsaw puzzle, then something is wrong.

    • Medo says:

      I won’t repeat what others have pointed out above regarding suggestions like this, but at least meditation tends to have fewer negative side effects than medication. And I do believe that it can help in being more calm and focused if you practice it regularly, but I never managed to keep it going for more than two weeks in a row :P
      Whether it actually helps in a specific case will might depend on the cause of the restlessness though.

  45. Jakkar says:

    Aside from my ability to wholly immerse in a book (as long as I have something to eat and drink periodically, and maybe a few people to chat to online.. and a toy in my hands to twirl between fingers..), we seem largely the same. Rare and special is the game that grips me such that I don’t want other inputs, but I can will myself to dedicate to a ‘worthy’ item, like an immersive sim.

    Know at least that you’re not alone – and by your success as a writer, you’re better off than some. I’ve been trying to enter into games journalism on a nice little website (that links to you, I believe), but I can’t finish an article. I can write half, then I’ll zone out, and never be able to focus on it again.. It’s crippling, and deepening my depression quite horribly.

    So be cheerful. You’re well off, John.

  46. mkultra says:

    And that ends RPS’ Oprah-sponsored talk segment.

  47. Medo says:

    I like listening to audio books while playing Trackmania, The two complement each other excellently.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      This also goes for Paradox games. I quite enjoyed listening to the history of the arab people and economic projections of Africa while conquering the world in HoI3.

  48. bascule42 says:

    I often find myself unable ti fini

  49. rawgr says:

    I’m a monsieur Walker. Not exactly new to me, but nice to know there’s so many many of us. Ty, ‘brosif’.

  50. Jesse L says:

    Clearly there are a lot of readers who sympathize and share this experience. Speaking for myself, I’m shocked to hear that anyone experiences life this way. I don’t know anyone who does these things. It sounds horrible to me. Obviously it’s not; you guys seem okay with it. Again, speaking for myself, it’s the opposite of the way I try to live. Deep connections to real, unmediated experiences…I assumed that’s what we were all striving for. I love nature; taking walks and looking at lakes and trees and birds, whatever – that’s my favorite thing to do. It sounds like that’s something that’s completely alien to you? Something you could never do?

    I can’t understand that. Please don’t take offense; I don’t mean it that way, I only want to offer my perspective. Speaking as someone with, I think it’s fair to say, a profound love of the natural world, I would advise (never listen to advice from an internet man) that if you find it totally uninteresting and can’t appreciate or even stand it, you should try anyway. If that’s no good, well, okay. I’d think you’re missing out, but what does my opinion matter? But I’ve got to think one should at least be able to listen to a loved one without “multitasking.” I can’t accept that that’s the direction the human race should be moving in – never paying more than 50% of its attention to even the most important things in life.

    Getting back to games and something that might actually be USEFUL… So that’s why there’s a market for action RPGs! John, FYI, I only play games that can capture my full attention. There’s at least a part of your readership that will agree with me. Does anyone play Torchlight and do nothing else at the same time? Has it always been assumed that one plays these games while listening to Radio Lab? I love the idea of Din’s Curse but it’s SO BORING. I’ve always assumed games are reviewed on the basis that they should be worthy of our full attention. If I can play a game I don’t really have to pay attention to, or “watch” a show that I don’t even have to look at while doing something else, I feel like they’re not worthy of my time – that the art involved isn’t worthy of my attention. I have to revise my assumptions…what else is going on that I don’t know about?

    I had a similar realization a while ago from an article Leigh Alexander wrote, where she realized that many of her favorite gaming memories had been made in the presence of friends. Not in multiplayer games, but in single player games, played in a room with a friend or two. It made me realize that all my cherished formative gaming time was spent on the couch chatting with my sister or brother. (I wasn’t fully invested in the game with no distractions then, was I? No, and it was more fun that way. Games are better when they’re shared with other people.)

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      That was an excellent impression. Thank you.

    • gwathdring says:

      It’s cool when that happens. I like to think of myself as empathic and open minded, but I’m always finding new things I didn’t exactly understand when I talk to people who don’t share my beliefs. It’s one thing to consider something from multiple angles, but when you actually talk to both sides, everything changes and you learn something in a special sort of way. :)

    • erhebung says:

      Fascinating post by John. And a thoughtful reply, above. I find myself being tugged in both directions, at different times. I love taking photographs, and I enjoy just walking, with no other distractions, and looking around me, taking in “real, unmediated experiences”, as you put it. Equally, though, I take great pleasure walking and looking while listening to music: stripping away one sense, cutting out the sounds around me, allows me to better focus on what I’m seeing. The music is then to some extent altering the experience, mediating, but for me, not in a bad way. At other times, the noises – traffic, people talking – are preferable.

      When I read I sometimes like to do so in silence, sometimes with music. A non-fiction book might allow a lot of background noise whereas something more literary might be better read with something lighter. But I also find that it has become harder for me to read in recent years because there are so many distractions. The internet does not help. This goes back to being tugged in two directions: I want to be able to focus for longer on books as when I was younger I read far more. But life, work, distractions all make it difficult. It becomes a question of discipline. And sometimes it is good, for me, to discipline myself, to shake things up. And like going to the gym, I always feel better, afterwards.

      It’s beautiful, sometimes, to just be surrounded by something, to be beside someone, to be inside a book, and to have no other distractions; to be 100% in one experience. I know that for some people it isn’t always possible. Silence, for me, can distract, can hinder my concentration. Since I was very young I’ve had a Walkman or CD player or MP3 player or iPod. Something that makes noise. Some of my strongest memories are accompanied by soundtracks. Certain songs evoke certain memories (The National is always summer in Jeju, South Korea). But shutting off is necessary, at times. Walking in the countryside there is rarely complete silence, and so other things (birds, rustling trees – whatever) can fill that senory void.

      Sometimes giving something 100% focus is necessary, for me, personally: last night I wanted to concentrate on a brilliant, engrossing film, and I almost found myself tapping away on the laptop as I watched. And I stopped myself. It was tough, but I did. And I was in the film, completely, for a short time. A couple of days ago I messed up as I didn’t allow myself to become fully immersed in another brilliant, engrossing film because I was watching and working (typing, reading), and so by the end of it I had watched the film, but I don’t think I had fully appreciated it. It had been consumed, but not digested. I hadn’t chewed, so to speak. I certainly admire people who are able to fully enjoyexperience two things at once (John seems able to focus, fully, on a variety of tasks, which is, in its way, awesome); but for me, I feel like the very best films, or games, or albums demand my full attention, at least initially.

      Writing this just reminded me of a post Alex made in which he wrote:

      “Gil knows what he’s talking about. It’s not demanding anything unusual, it’s not being aggressively precious: it’s just making it clear that he would very much like your full attention as you consume his creation.”

      I love that Rock, Paper, Shotgun embraces so many different voices, outlooks. Alex and John are coming at the same question (I think) from different angles. There are so many questions to ask about how we consume culture, and I’m glad RPS is asking them.