What constitutes a "waste" of time?

I hear, and have even uttered, this phrase far too often: "that's a waste of time."

It's said by the mother who is prodding her teenage son to stop playing video games. It's said by the husband to a wife watching a sappy love story. It's said by the professor to the student doodling in class. It's said by the employer to the employee that must leave work early. It's said by the unsympathetic observer to the person who hasn't decided what he or she wants to do with his or her life.

So often, our lives are demeaned by those around us if the action we're taking does not fit some kind of mold of responsibility and constructiveness. If we're not being productive and contributing to the economy or to our employer, we're "wasting time" and "being lazy."

I want to offer a different perspective.

In Spring 2015, for nearly three days straight I played Bioshock Infinite (spoilers ahead). This video game, set in the fictional land of Columbia, a floating city, explores a variety of highly philosophical, moral and scientific dilemmas via a first-person shooter experience. The main character, Booker DeWitt, is tasked with finding a girl in the city of Columbia and bringing her back to New York so that he, a former Pinkerton detective and US army soldier present at the Battle of Wounded Knee, could pay off his gambling debts. He embarks on a journey that leads him through this amazing city and puts him at odds with a prophet, one Zachary Comstock, and his loyal followers. DeWitt soon discovers the existence of a prophecy, of which he and the girl, Elizabeth, are a large component.

To make a long story short, it is revealed in the last seconds of the storyline that Booker DeWitt actually is Zachary Comstock; the existence of DeWitt in two parallel universes stems from the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. This interpretation theorizes that all possible histories and futures exist as an actual, physical world running parallel to the current world we inhabit. Differing universes are created by constants and variables. In Bioshock Infinite, one such constant was DeWitt's baptism. In one world, he accepted the baptism (and later became Zachary Comstock); in the other, he rejects the baptism and remains Booker. Elizabeth is revealed to be DeWitt's daughter. In order for Comstock's prophecy to be true, he would need to father a child; however, his wife, Lady Comstock, was barren. Comstock was aided by two scientists to create a bridge between the two universes in order to kidnap Elizabeth from Booker and claim her as his own (as, biologically, she is also Comstock's daughter).

There are obviously many scientific implications of this video game, many of which are detailed in the video below in a way that I could not do it justice.

 

So why does this matter?

Naturally, most people would agree that spending three days playing a video game is a "waste of time." I would likely have argued that beforehand, as well. Yet, I am very grateful for having done so. Beyond the thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking storyline, the scientific concepts opened my mind to theories I never would have faced otherwise.

The concept of quantum mechanics sent me into a frenzy, so much so that I ordered three books on the topic the next day. The scientific and philosophical ramifications (and their effects on me) that have stemmed from this video game are incalculable.

This is larger than just me and some video game. We get from media what we put into it. If our intentions are to learn and think critically, and if we intend to take that seriously and allow those critical thoughts to further shape how we think, there is no time wasted.

 

*Header photo courtesy of DualShockers.