Why We Sabotage Fun

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

I’ve been on a tear writing about the importance of fun and how fun gets screwed up. Last time I discussed how people deliberately sabotage fun for others, and now want to discuss how we sabotage fun for ourselves.

Ever meet someone dismally unhappy, and you saw how quickly they put themselves there? You get the idea. You may even be the idea and just haven’t noticed it yet.

So let’s look at how we take the things we love and screw them up for ourselves how we wreck our own fun.

We Do It For Ego

There’s a peculiar habit among people to “enjoy something to death” – we get invested in a book or a game series or a movie and get really into it. We buy the merch. We purchase the posters. We discuss it endlessly. It becomes part of our identity.

Then our ego kicks in. We can’t stand critique. We can’t listen to other opinions. We can’t imagine someone enjoying someone else. Soon our fun is all about our identity as a fan or an enthusiast, and we forget what we enjoyed in the first place.

Plus, because we become so annoying, we drive away other people and only associate with fellow pedants. You enter a Being Annoying Spiral where you associate with fellow annoying people and get your annoyingness reinforced.

You’re probably nodding at this. Trouble is you’re probably saying “oh, I know other people like that.”

We Project On Our Fun

It often seems that when our ego gets tangled up in the things we enjoy, other elements of our lives get projected into it. We see a video game as reflecting our politics. A book series we love validates our views of historical events. An anime series represents an aspiration we have (but won’t admit). Our larger identity can bond with the things we enjoy – and then we’re trapped.

Suddenly a critique of our favorite book feels to be an assault on our very identity. A person who doesn’t want to play a given game due to its content is seen as an attack. We identify so strongly with something fun that we turn it into some Ten Commandments, some unquestionable Holy Grail, only with giant robots and romance subplots.

And, hell, how many times have you seen angry people not only do this but get the core premise of a story or RPG wrong? If you’ve ever seen someone insist “this book means X” despite the book, the analysis, the statements by the author, etc. you know what I mean.

We Try To Make Fun More Than It Is

“Fun” can become a substitute for other things. Yes, it’s a balm, yes it may be part of other things in life – friends, family, career, etc. But it some cases it can become something we pour too much of ourselves into – it becomes a substitute, an escape (of the unhealthy kind), a replacement. You’ve probably met someone who takes certain recreations seriously in the wrong way (as opposed to the right way, a healthy outlet).

What’s strange is this kind of fun eventually becomes a job We dedicate time to a given hobby or outlet so much that it requires serious effort. With time so dedicated, the rest of our life suffers – just like it would from overwork. We’ve made fun into more than it is, and lost everything.

Let fun be fun. I’ve seen people get playfully obsessed with subjects, but never losing their sense of humor.

We Want To Fit In

It’s amazing how often we’re pressured by external forces, or our own thoughts, to give up something we like. We want to fit in. We want to be normal. So we amputate part of who we are and grit our teeth against the pain.

We become a kind of double-bitter from this experience, losing both a thing we love and doing things we hate. We somehow lose twice.

This isn’t to say that you may find certain choices of fun are unhealthy or harmful. It’s possible people pressuring you might have a point – it’s just this phenomena is common enough it’s essential to keep skepticism.

Even if the skepticism is of your own motivations.

By the way, note how this gets manipulated by people trying to sell us entertainment. They pitch the thing everyone is doing, the latest sensation, and so on. That “hot show” may be pitched to cause dissatisfaction.

We’re Told Fun Is Wrong For Who We Are

One of the most insidious things I’ve seen in the areas of “fun” is the idea that everything is segregated by age and gender and so on. Video games are for kids, dolls aren’t for boys (unless they’re action figures), and so on. You have to enjoy the “right” things for you – and the “right” thing may change depending on age, etc.

So once again we’re told to stop having fun and do it the “right” way for the “right person.”

This does get used in marketing, of course, but it’s often used to cause social stigma as well. You can be mocked for “being immature” or “being too serious” or “being girly” or “being a tomboy.” Funny how norms of fun are turned into ways to reinforce strict social roles and traits . . .

Have the kind of fun that really fits you. As I write this, I’m 50, and I’m going to play my damned video games.

We’re Afraid To Waste Time

How many times are we told something fun is a waste of our precious time? That our efforts could be better spent elsewhere? I assume it’s a lot, and in many cases, the critique comes from inside our own heads.

This is a result of a go-go world always focusing on time usage, doing more, buying more, earning more, etc. We’re supposed to be in a constant state of work and effort, and relaxing is for wimps and losers.

Without relaxation, we’ll go crazy. We need fun. We need a break. Fun refreshes us, unleashes us, keeps us from becoming machines.

As an additional note, I think the people driving us as taskmasters ignore that they have their own entertainments, or that they may find their jobs fun. Of course, some of them are just joyless a-holes happy to inflict suffering on others as well.

Stop Sabotaging Your Joy

So, armed with this, and your own insights, don’t destroy your sense of fun. Don’t give up on joy. Don’t sabotage yourself.

Sure, sometimes the things you do for fun may be overdone. You could be a bit too obsessed. Maybe some things you like aren’t good for you, at least in quantity (say, like pizza). My guess is that, with some thought, you’ll make the right decisions (and if not, hopefully, have reliable friends to give you a nudge).

We’ve got enough in life trying to make us unhappy. Don’t be one of the factors making your own life miserable.

Steven Savage

Why People Fight Fun

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

After my last post on fun and how we turn it into work, I had a (fun) brainstorm about many ways turning work into fun affects us and other, related cultural pathologies. Looks like this is going to be a series on fun and the elimination of fun.

I’ll try to enjoy it to avoid an overload of irony.

In fact, let me turn from discussing fun to the more sinister side of “fun control.” When we look at joylessless, and fun becoming work, it leads us to ask “who wants to live in a world like this?” Why is there so much joylessness and sadness? Why do people work to stamp out enjoyment?

There are reasons.

Controlling Fun Makes People Joyless

Fun is about joy. Pure, unadulterated being alive. In many ways, fun is a deep expression of who we are, and having it helps us feel alive.

Fun spills out, gushes out, and it’s not exactly clear or rational. It’s connective and it’s internal. A happy person, a joyful person, is themselves.

If you want to control people, you can’t have that. Joyful people don’t need you and your religion or your self-help book or to elect you. Joyful people are irritatingly independent.

So, crushing fun, getting rid of things people like makes people joyless. Some people may enjoy crushing fun as it gives them a sense of power, but also it makes people more controllable . . .

Controlling Fun Limits Imagination

Imagination is terrifying to people who are control freaks or want to sell us something we don’t need. Fun fuels imagination, it’s about connectivity and uninhibited experience. Fun is independent, and often relies on our minds and feelings rampaging into new areas or powerful and passionate experiences. Imagination of course, makes people unpredictable and gives them the power to create.

So if you’re there trying to contorl people, you want less imagination (or to co-opt it). One way to control it is to control fun things, those things that might inspire, that might cause people to think and feel differently. If you reduce fun, that enthusiasm and joyfulness and connect-the-dots experiences fade and people are less imaginative.

Ever notice how various dictators attack art and creativity? The less imagination people have the more control you have.

Controlling Fun Makes People Manipulable

To lack fun is to lack expression, and when we don’t have it, we seek it. A life without joy is a not a life, and we seek something to enjoy, to feel good about. We seek in, short, to be.

Disipirited people, joyless people, are easy yo lead and manipulate. They have little to live for, but you can give them smething to live for. This gives you power.

Of course some people just enjoy causing misery as well. Again, that sense of power.

Controlling Fun Gives You Power

So if you have a lot of joyless people then you’re in charge. You can control them by providing fun.

You can sell them a war so they feel powerful. You can sell them a fitness regimen so they think they’re attractive. you can sell them a religion and they think you’re the word of a god.

People who are joyless don’t even need real fun or freedom, just something close. Just give them some rush, some good feeling, and they’re yours. Joyless people will line up for something to live for -and if you make them miserable you can then give them something to enjoy.

Must-watch TV and must-play video games seem kind of different, don’t they?

Controlling Fun Lets You Attack Others

People want to feel joy and happiness. They will do what they have to in order to feel alive. That also means its easy to sic them on enemies.

Blame others for their lack of joy and they’ll attack. Claim your enemies are theirs and they’ll lash out. Pick some popular targets and they’ll attack them because they get a rush of power that makes them feel happy for a bit.

Joyless people are easily manipulated into attacking others. Is someone happy going to want to go get shot because of your ego, or rant angrily online defending your bad product? No, happy people are harder to rally against whoever you want to target.

Next time you see someone getting a mob together, ask how they’re playing to disatisfaction – or creating it.

Controlling Fun Serves Existing Power

An important thing to remember is that eliminating fun usually serves existing power structures. Controlling joy and good feelings is a way to stay in power or pass power on. So if you already have a population without happiness, then you can easily stay in charge or hand it off to someone.

Existing power structures will attack joyful things, fun, entertainment, imagination. Those things are always threats – and as they keep popping up, constant threats.

Always look to the current power structure to see wht they attack and who they attack. Be kind of nice if power structures focused on evolving and improving people’s lives instead . . .

Controlling Fun Allows People To Attack Criticism

Finally, and paradoxically, eliminating a sense of fun is also a way for existing power structures to avoid criticism.

Existing power structures want to sell you their fun, their entertainment, their form of satisfaction because that gives them power. Selling people fun provides money and power and control. However, powerful interests that sell you fun often sell you fun that reinforces the existing system.

So when someone critiques what they’re selling, from a religion to a TVshow, that critique is seen as a personal attack by the consumers of that source of fun. They get pleasure from it, and thus they attack and lash back, missing the validity of the critique.

If you’ve ever seen people get viciously angry over a comic book, or seen someone push a thing as a guilty (forbidden) pleasure, you see what I mean. Look how past marketing has acted as if the product is something transgressive and unique (and thus invites critique, which only interests people more)


There are reasons people try to control fun – and those reasons are often power. People without happiness, without fun, are easily controlled and easily sold something.

That of course doesn’t mean anyone selling you something is bad. Not everything someone wants you to buy is to control you (beyond getting your money).

But when you see unhappy people, when you feel joyless, it might help to ask if anyone benefits . . .

Steven Savage

The Professional Advantage of fun – relating

Earlier I'd praised the importance of fun, even dumb fun.  But I'd like to go one bit further for us progeeks – fun has not just an inspirational or recreational advantage, or an intense skill/life building source – it can be useful on the job directly because it helps you relate to people.

I work in IT, and have since 1995.  I am old-school, hardcore IT geek turned manager.  My hobbies have proven invaluable on the job.

We all need to be able to relate to people, and I dealt with a lot of geeks – still do in fact.  Having similar hobbies proved invaluable.  In short, the fact I can recognize Halo action figures and characters from Naruto is a great way to build rapport.

Geekery is a great way to get to know people.

  • It shows that you have similar interests.  It bridges gaps between people.
  • It shows you're like other people – they can relate to you.
  • It shows you have a life outside of work (which may sound odd in geeky jobs, but there you go).
  • It gives you a way to socialize with people outside of work, and build deep relations with them.
  • It gives you a way to recreate with people you work with, to blow off stream, and relax.

So yes, that fun you have has other uses besides the skill-building or recreation and such I talk about.  It lets you relate to people and helps you connect with them, and that's important no matter what your job is – and important as a person.

– Steven Savage

EDIT: I made a mistake and put down my IT career as starting in 2005.  It actually started in 1995.