In Idle Theory, idle time is time when people can do as they like. And one thing a lot of people like doing these days is playing video games. Sometimes they’ll play them compulsively all day (I’ve done this myself).
So I thought this morning that if video games kept a record of when they were being played, they could provide a pretty accurate measure of idleness. So a teenage boy who plays some video game all day, except for a couple of snack breaks and a night’s sleep, might have a daily idleness profile, as recorded by his video game, that looked a bit like this (right), showing an approximate 50% idleness:
It wouldn’t matter how well he was playing the game. It would only matter that he was playing it, by for example moving a mouse or entering keystrokes. The game would be regarded as having stopped being played if there had been no mouse movements or keystrokes after some timeout interval.
It wouldn’t matter what the game was. It could be a shoot-em-up game like Doom. Or a chess game. Or a card game. It could also be be an application that allowed art or music or writing to be generated. It could be a chat room. The main thing would be that the player would need to be making some sort of steady input into the game, with keystrokes or mouse movements or whatever.
So now we’ve got something that, assuming someone is always playing some game or other in their idle time, directly measures idleness.
I then started thinking about what would happen to the teenage boy’s idleness if he got a bad case of ‘flu and was admitted to hospital for a week or two. I’m also supposing that his video games accompany him to the hospital on a mobile phone he always carries with him.
It seemed reasonable to suppose that, as he started coming down with ‘flu, he’d gradually become less able to keep playing the game. His keystrokes and mouse movements would become increasingly intermittent. Eventually, he stop playing the game altogether, and would lie comatose in bed. At this point he’s admitted to hospital, and given some regime of drugs. After a few days he begins to recover, and starts sitting up in his hospital bed, and playing his video game a bit again. As he recuperates, he plays the game more and more intensively. Finally he’s released from the hospital, and goes back home to spend all day playing video games. So his idleness profile over the 2 week period from when he came down with ‘flu to leaving hospital would look something like this:
Now what if all the patients in the hospital had similar video games they could play. Wouldn’t that provide some very interesting feedback for doctors and nurses treating the patients, in addition to their temperature, blood sugar levels, etc? When doctors came round to see patients, they could bring up their patients’ idleness profiles, and see how they’d been doing. They could see their condition when they arrived, and their rate of recovery. They could maybe see when they could be released. And they’d see any relapses as well.
And couldn’t the video games also measure psychological capabilities, like IQ and linguistic skill and facial recognition? Wouldn’t that be useful in mental institutions?
Instead of just lying in bed, or sitting in chairs, a multiplicity of patient electronic pastimes could provide doctors and nurses with a wealth of information about their patients. They might even generate alarms: “He’s stopped playing chess!!!” And also it would make hospital stays much more enjoyable for patients. And might actually stimulate them mentally and physically towards recovery.
And what if one of the ‘games’ that the patients could ‘play’ was to smoke WiFi-enabled e-cigarettes which could record the frequency of their use just like the teenage boy’s video game, and produce exactly the same idleness profiles as above? Wouldn’t the e-cigarettes be a valuable diagnostic tool for doctors and nurses? Wouldn’t they want their patients to be able to use idleness-measuring e-cigarettes? Wouldn’t they encourage people to use them? In fact, wouldn’t the hospital equip itself with its own special diagnostic e-cigarettes, which would not only measure patient idleness, but also mouth temperature, and saliva pH, and finger pressure (if the e-cig needs finger activation).
For unlike games like chess or poker or Doom, e-cigarettes require something to be held in the hand and put in the mouth. And that’s ideal for measuring mouth temperature, saliva acidity, hand tremor, muscle strength. And if they’re used regularly throughout the day they could provide profiles not just of idleness, but a whole host of other physical measures – including quite possibly pulse rate and blood pressure and lung function. They’d act rather like aircraft black boxes, capturing a record of events as they happened.
The same applies with cigarettes, of course. They also are held in the hand, and placed in the mouth. But in order to facilitate measurements of multiple physical variables, they’d require to be smoked using cigarette holders in which multiple sensors were embedded. Having people smoking e-cigarettes or cigarettes or pipes as frequently as possible would become integral to good hospital practice. Patients would be encouraged to smoke. Every variety of tobacco product would be available, at discount prices.
And if children with ‘flu didn’t have any video games they liked playing, they could be taught to smoke by nurses, while recuperating in bed.
Wouldn’t that be the most colossal defeat for Tobacco Control?