Gamer Regret? No way, man.

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.

3 thoughts on “Gamer Regret? No way, man.

  1. Freeman

    As someone who has a great deal of Gamer Regret (mostly due to countless people telling me every step of the way to get off the computer…), this made me smile:

    “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!”

    Yep. No one has ever said on their death bead, they wish they’d spent more time playing video games, or working, or whatever. They regret is exactly what you said; “I wish I had spent more of my life on my terms”. Which is personal preference for whatever those terms are. We get too much pressure from other people to live on their terms, to their standards, and to regret then things that are our standards.

    Screw that.

  2. Nick

    Howdy. First post here, maybe my last. I enjoy the show quite a bit Matt, keep up the good work. Anyway, onto “gamer’s regret”. I’ve been playing video games since I was 4 or 5 years old, which puts me at 23 years of playing video games. (if you can count those first few years). I was fortunate to grow up at a time when I had the classics to play through, plus all the great games that came out afterwards in the late 90’s. I’ve had quite a few girlfriends who gave me a hard time about how much I play video games, but I’ve actually never felt bad about it. I don’t regret any time I’ve spent playing games, I relish it. The way I see things is that life is rather silly and pointless most of the time so any time you find something that you really enjoy, do it. Yeah, I’d probably be “better off” improving myself in different ways, but I don’t care. I love playing games. They give me an outlet for my frustrations, fantasies, etc. It is amusing though, how much time I put into bettering myself in the game, compared to how much time I spend improving myself in real life. If you want to compare a gamers time spent to how much time other people would spend watching football, TV, going to the bar, or any other hobby, it’s not all that different. I consider all of us gamers rather fortunate actually, that we are able to have these wonderful games to play that are so much fun, when people before us had to work their ass off just to survive the seasons. I suppose that’s enough rambling.

  3. Gotrek44

    Gamers regret? That is a new terminology to me. I never even heard of that until now. And this coming from a person who plays a ton of WoW and spent 80 hours on Wizardry 8 in the course of two some weeks. More or less on others. Mount & Blade for 100 plus hours in a month. I think people who criticize the gamers with comments like “wasting your life” or “Don’t you have anything better to do?” or some other ironic comment like that think that nothing is taken from playing these games. I can think of a lot of elements that could be taken from games for the positive and growth in the human being. Reading skills, open mindedness, a good imagination implying a fun whimsical and positive personality. Math, writing skills, even temper control and patience. Sure, there are things that have negative effects like lack of exercise and missing out on family events. But then again like Matt says, every hobby, pastime, job, and interest has that. Nothing is perfect, it is a give and take. There is a difference between obsession and residual hobbies. A man or woman sitting around playing games for hours is the same thing as sitting around reading a book all day or doing sports or collecting Cheetos or tobogganing.

    I remember my dad and his friends where poking fun at me and my cousins on the topic of playing video games. He compared us to themselves on what form of enjoyment was better in a very condescending manner. “When we were young we didn’t sit around in front of the T.V playing with a controller or keyboard. We went outside and played with rocks and sticks and dirt.” I shook my head and smiled. I wondered what there brain activity really was. My retort was “Sounds like jealousy to me.” To each their own.


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