I hate that saying. Hate hate hate hate. Right up there with the very similar “Video Games should be FUN”. Not because I think games should be work or should be unfun. But because it makes some big assumption about leisure time.
There are people in this world, who work full time jobs, go home, go into their work room and build furniture -for fun-. They are being carpenters. Often amazing, meticulous carpenters doing something that is someone else’s full time job. This is their leisure time.
When I hear about people grinding in MMOs or in pokemon or whatever, I’ll be honest. That sounds like work to me. But for other people, it’s their chance to shut off and just relax. When I tell people getting into Fighting Games that they need to go into training mode, they complain that they don’t want a second job. They’re not wrong to feel like that, but for a lot of us, that IS fun. That’s super fun. It’s almost like the skill building version of grinding. Low stress repetition. Some people want hobbies, some people want their media to be consumable. Some get off on being in that ‘flow’ state and enjoy intense, skill building activities, some want relaxation. And some of these might sound more virtuous than others, but that’s a silly way to look at it too. Different people might need different things in their life. Someone working a rote, boring 9-5 might desperately want challenge and excitement in their life and a brain surgeon might just want to relax playing Candy Crush. They have enough stress in their life.
When you say “games shouldn’t be work” or “games should be fun”, what you’re actually doing is chastising people for how they choose to enjoy themselves. “Oh I don’t get it, so it’s wrong”. And it’s fine to joke about that with friends (“Oh yeah Kayin hates fun”), but often people say this stuff very seriously! I’ve been seeing this a ton with people arguing about difficulty in Dark Souls and whether an easy mode is appropriate. I don’t have an opinion on that, but it often feels like both sides don’t understand each other. The people who don’t play because of the difficulty assume other players want all the fun locked away behind arbitrary barriers and the people who are into Dark Souls assume, because of their preferences, that the challenge is essential to the fun and without it, everything else crumbles. Regardless of the truth (probably somewhere in between — something will be lost without the challenge but less than a lot of DS players assume), the clear gap in understanding is rather staggering and sadly a disservice to the different ways people choose to spend their free time.