Here is an essay by the always-delightful Matt Sakey about how devs don't really play very many games. He points out that many (perhaps most) developers don't play very many games. A large part of this is probably the fact that they have a job, which eats up their available time.
My first thought on reading it was, "hey, you know, I don't really play very many games any more." My second thought was a connection to Einstein and Carla Speed McNeil that I won't go into, because it doesn't really apply to this conversation.
My third thought was, "Wait, are you high? You just finished two AAA titles last weekend, and you spend at least two hours a day playing various casual games. You play tons of games."
At first I thought that maybe I was just playing not as many games as before. But that isn't really true, either. Then I realized what it was: I wasn't playing social games any more, because there's precious little social available at the moment.
When I was in college, the things I considered to be "games" were the things I sat down (or jumped around) with other people to play. Cosmic Encounter (Blind, of course, for quotes like "As the power of chronos, I retroactively win the game two turns ago!"), short LARPs, tabletop RPGs, Apples to Apples, occasional bouts with wargaming...
Computer games - I played about as many then as now, if perhaps for slightly larger blocks of time. But I never really considered them games in my heart.
Is it because they aren't social? Perhaps. More likely, it's because they aren't creative. By which I mean that I cannot create while participating. All of the games I miss most were either highly creative (Apples to Apples, LARPs) or I created them in the first place (as the game master or game designer).
How does this relate to Sakey's article?
Don't play video games.
Or rather, go ahead and play them, but realize that there is a world of other games available to draw on. Can you find a game like Apples to Apples on the computer? Such simplicity and depth - no, it means nothing when you aren't face to face. Can you find a computer game which turns good friends as horrifyingly evil as a game of Diplomacy? I doubt it - I haven't. Can you find a game as beautifully cooperative as the Lord of the Rings board game? Pshaw, you can see a shadow of a shadow of it in that Final Fantasy Chalice game thingie. Can you find a game as stunningly mind-boggling as Nobilis? As entertainingly zany as Kobolds Ate My Baby? As bizarrely tongue-in-cheek as Baron Munchausen?
These games capture an essence of creation which computer games have not yet matched, largely because computer games have slow, narrow, unempathic communication when compared to games in person.
It's not about creation. There are lots of games which let you create. The only ones which are successful are the ones which let you share what you create. The Sims is an excellent example. Not only does it let you interact ("share") with fake people, it also offers a huge community of real people. You are never far from a person while playing with Sims.
People are driven to create in every game - even games which expressly prohibit creation and implicitly crush creativity. Like almost every MMORPG ever. They route around this and create "on the side".
So, yes, by all means play games. But don't forget there is a world of games outside the games you play. Think you're an experienced player? Well, how about limrick-games, drinking games, and dodgeball? Played any recently? How about charades? And, of course, if you haven't played METEOR! or Almost Noble, you haven't lived.
Every time I play a game outside my purview, I gain new insight into a facet of gameplay I wasn't aware of.
Sakey is absolutely right. In fact, I think he's understating the matter.