Managing your gaming time with school responsibilities

Wow Insider recently had an article in their “drama mamas” series about a college student who was having a difficult time with balancing his gaming and college studies.  The article does a nice job of talking about the importance of learning self-discipline and time-management skills. Their most important advice is to make sure that you put in the effort to prioritize the right things (like passing your classes, doing your job, paying attention to your family), and then setting a schedule of when WOW is (or isn’t) the right activity for you to do.

The problem of dynamically changing schedules

I spent 6 years of graduate school as an active World of Warcraft player. I have now graduated with my PhD, but my academic work life still follows the college schedule I used to have, so I still have a schedule that changes fairly dramatically with paper and grant deadlines. College in general has the difficult problem of having constantly changing time demands. Attending school means that you may have some huge deadlines on weeks like finals, followed by weeks with little or no work, and then a huge schedule shift as you start a new semester with a whole new set of demands.

Raiding times are usually fixed schedules

The constantly changing demands of a school schedule makes gaming and college life balancing difficult. However, these types of demands don’t have to prevent you from being able to do your favorite gaming activity. If you are in a raiding guild, the two to five days a week of raiding tend to be at specific (non-flexible) times. When I transitioned from a normal 9 to 5 job to a much more random graduate school life, I quickly learned that I had to stop playing in a raiding guild that was going 4+ days a week and raiding until way past what should have been my bed time. However, I didn’t want to quit playing WOW (it was what helped keep me sane, gave me a way to talk to my friends and family, and was really my main social outlet on days when I was studying or writing at home for long periods of time).

The Balancing Act

How much free time do you really have? The best approach for me was to find a guild that fits the amount of play time I generally have during a  week. Figure out how much time you usually spend on your other more important responsibilities, and then you can budget your gaming time for times you tend to be less productive at studying. If you know that you may only have 10 hours a week free to game, then don’t pick a guild that raids 15 hours a week. In fact, make sure you schedule other non-raid game activities (daily quests, farming, etc) into your budgeted time for the week.

Does your raiding guild allow you to put school first? With the importance of flexible schedules, it is important to also find a guild that lets you cut back on your number of raid days periodically around the time of major deadlines, such as finals week. My guild has a calendar and forum system that we use to track when people can and can’t raid. So, while we have 2 days a week of 25-man raiding, we don’t require 100% attendance to maintain a raid spot . Instead, we have a 77% attendance requirement for our lower raiding rank measured over a 3 to 6 month period.  This allows for short-term problems to take away from game-time, but requires you to be present in the long-term. People who want to raid more than those 2 days can sometimes go on 10-man off-night things, depending on the tier of content, and there is almost always someone around to run LFRs, 5-mans, etc.

Now, the guild still raids with a fairly hardcore mind-set and the higher raiding rank requires maintaining an 84% attendance record for the 25-man raids. We have had a handful of people looking for a casual guild who still found us too much of a time burden in terms of the preparation (getting valor point capped, spending time to learn the bosses, etc). The important part is that I am able to cut back my raiding around the time of important deadlines (such as my dissertation defense last summer, and now my problem of having grant deadlines bump too close to raid times). For me, it has been important to have things to think about other than just obsessing over work. However, when deadlines get close, my play time goes down. After deadlines pass, my play time goes up. Being able to flexibly change my play schedule around my deadline schedule is the only reason why I was successful at both school and WoW. I even resorted to getting guest posters for this blog when my schedule didn’t allow me to write quality posts as frequently.

Communicate absences in advance. An important feature of our guild’s more flexible scheduling is that we still require people to post about known absences in advance, so that we can adjust our scheduling to make sure our raids stay full. You can’t just repeatedly disappear without telling anyone and expect to still have a raid spot for very long. So, keep in mind that as guild officers or guild members, communication about scheduling is really an important part of maintaining the WoW vs Real Life balance. My twitter stream is often full of messages of people saying things like: “Two people didn’t show up for raid. Not sure why!” Just like you shouldn’t feel pressured to raid at times when you need to put real-life obligations first, you also shouldn’t just ditch your sport’s team and leave them hanging. Keep in mind that the rest of your WOW raiding team had to schedule their play time, just like you have to do. However, good communication means that everyone can win (eg. if you know that three people on our 10-man team have finals on the same week, you can cancel that week’s raiding far in advance, instead of stressing everyone out!).

Sometimes, raiding isn’t the right activity. If even committing to the same two days a week is too much, there are many other options for people who don’t have time for progression raiding. It is important to remember that gaming can sometimes be about more than just progression raiding. In addition, it is important to realize when it’s just not the right time to be raiding for you. While I have had the ability to be part of a guild that raids two days a week (at a progression pace I can still enjoy), sometimes, life just needs to come first. If raiding is interfering with your real life obligations, sometimes walking away from raiding is the right thing to do. My guild has had several past raiders eventually quit raiding, and instead play the game with more casual activities that don’t require as much advanced planning and effort.

Conclusions. Time management is hard. It is especially hard when things that are more “fun” tend to be more motivating. So, it is easy to slip into doing fun things and neglecting your studies as a college student (video games are just one of dozens of things that can distract you from your work). Keep in mind that all things (including video games) are better for you in small doses. Spending too many hours per week playing games is bad only if it distracts you from your other responsibilities. Keep in mind that depression and other disorders tend to have onsets during the college years. Most colleges do have mental health services for people who show signs of depression or anxiety, and often times poor grades has more to do with an underlying psychological problem rather than just video game playing.

However, if your problem is just about not wanting to manage your time properly – that isn’t the fault of the game, and it is something you can work hard to change. It is important to take responsibility for your schedule and put real life first. Remember that you only get one shot to do well at school, but that the world of Azeroth will still be here after you finish your finals.