Dani Bunten Berry, the famous designer of M.U.L.E. and The 7 Cities of Gold, is often quoted as saying, “No one ever said on their deathbed, ‘Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.'” I see this as an early example of what we’ve come to call “gamer regret,” that is, the kick-to-the-belly feeling you get when you realize that you’ve spent 562 hours playing Civilization V. When you figure out all the math, you realize that you may have spent months of your life engrossed in a videogame. “Oh, man,” you say, “I feel so awful to have wasted all that time doing something so stupid! I could have spent that time with my family, or learning a foreign language, exercising…” You get the point. These feelings are reinforced by our “helpful” loved ones, who may be fond of saying things like, “If you spent as much time doing X as you did playing that stupid game, you’d be rich/successful/famous/holy now.” It all boils down to not doing whatever it is you (or other people) think you ought to be doing with your free time.
I think all of this is completely bogus. “Gamer’s regret” is a stupid concept that amounts to sticker shock. It reminds me also of those TED Talks or reality TV shows in which the person is shown something visually stunning–like all of the sugar he’s eaten in a typical week. When you see that huge pile, of course you think–oh, gawd! How could I possibly have eaten that much sugar? I’m a terrible person…
Unfortunately, computers are very good at tabulating things, and it’s all too easy for a game developer to add a meter to record our playtime. I guess they do that in some nod towards being “socially responsible” or some such nonsense (I blame the old protestant work ethic). Before you go beating yourself up for your 5,201 hours of World of Warcraft, though, imagine if other hobbies or interests had the equivalent of a meter that ticked every time you participated in it. I’d be just as remorseful if I discovered that I’d spent the equivalent of a month of my life running on a treadmill, for instance. At least the game was fun!
I’m much more upset about the huge number of hours I’ve had to spent working, doing stupid, pointless jobs just to get a paycheck. Unless you personally find your job rewarding and worthwhile on its own, you should have worker’s regret, not gamer’s regret!
The numbers are also misleading because, of course, we don’t consume that many hours in one sitting (though, for some reason, they make you feel like that). Again, if somebody showed me a huge vat that held the equivalent of all the beer I’ve drunk in a year, I’m sure it’d be scary. But it’s hardly “scary” if those were drank in reasonable quantities over the course of that year. The same is true for games. Yes, if I played 562 straight hours of Civ, I should probably be committed. Playing it for 4-8 hours on a weekend, though, is hardly worrisome (at least to me).
In short, while nobody is likely to utter Bunten’s quote on their deathbed, I would be happy to say that I was able to spend a great portion of my life enjoying it on my terms. And, besides, let’s face it–even if we never played any more videogames, we’re not going to suddenly start dedicating ourselves to the betterment of human society or whatever silly goal we feel we ought to pursue. So, next time you feel the next bout of “gamer’s regret” coming on, instead of being ashamed by those numbers, take some pride in them–you’ve got something that many people don’t have, namely, the freedom to spend large chunks of your time doing what you want. That freedom is a mighty fine luxury in my opinion; indeed, the most valuable thing you could ever have.