The Deathbed Fallacy. Or: Spare me your Gamer’s Remorse, Thank You!

(This post is dedicated to all the happy gamers out there. And the unhappy ones.)

I have one more month to go at the current job, much to my great delight. Imagine my surprise then when today, somewhat late, I discovered a distant co-worker talking about his WoW raiding spree some years ago, when he was still a progression raider on his horde shaman. Unfortunately however, WoW had “gone wrong” sometime after WotLK (which is true of course) and so he stopped his raiding career of many years and approximately 172 days of total playtime. What a familiar story.

However, my initial fuzzy surge of ex-raider fellowship was short-lived; three minutes into the conversation, the topic shifted to what an utter waste of time it had been to play as much WoW as he had. How could anyone in his right mind spend that much time on games? And with nothing to show for after such a long time? Never ever would he do anything like it again.

Of course! I can never be that lucky….after all this workplace just sucks in all respects!

From there this guy went to explain how he’s rather playing online poker these days and earn some money – because that activity at least has some financial upside (and hence must be utterly worthwhile compared to playing silly fantasy games). Of course my mind was reeling from all the familiar, hollow argumentation at that point, but what struck me the most about this person was the way his enthusiastic flashback of past WoW days turned into such a fundamental condemnation of the once cherished pastime. His eyes had been shining brightly thinking back on his raiding career. There was grim pride in his words when he clarified he’d been one of the “real raiders” on a popular German progression server. Not to mistake with one of the casual crowd! He had killed Arthas on 25man and more. He had “had everything”.

And quite obvious to me, he had enjoyed that greatly. To such a point, a distant shadow of that past glory was still surfacing on his now frowning face. And yet, somewhere along the line that same mind convinced itself that it had all been worthless. An odd ambiguity bespeaking a battle between feelings and reason.
I was just waiting for him to say it: how none of us wish we had played more videogames on our deathbed. At least he spared me that particular cringe.

What none of us wish

Besides the obvious thing, that there’s an awful lot of things we won’t be wishing for when facing death one day, no matter how much we have done them, the truth is most of us will never ever find ourselves on that proverbial death bed. You know, that peaceful and solemn end-of-days contemplation as we feel the last flicker of life leaving our body. That perfectly timed moment of retrospective. And even if by some chance we did, we wouldn’t be thinking of having played too many videogames; in fact I have this wild hunch we wouldn’t think about games at all. This entire analogy isn’t even a thing, it’s nonsensical and construed. Anyway.

Sometimes I still wonder, in a brief moment of desperate frustration, how long is it gonna take? How much more established do videogames need to become in contemporary, western culture to be regarded just as any other hobby out there that isn’t necessarily making “financial profit”(?) That isn’t productive on a first-glance or physically tangible level (tangible on many other levels though). Heck, some hobbies are actually downright detrimental to your health and wellbeing and even those are more accepted than gaming. It’s nuts.

Not to mention of course all the upsides and benefits of videogaming as a hobby / passion. So often documented by gamers out there. Again and again. I’ve talked about it myself, At least twice. I don’t feel the need to revisit this topic. By now there’s a multitude of studies and hard facts out there on all the things that gamers are better at, from hand-eye coordination to abstract thinking, from organizational to certain social skills. And then, in case you missed it in 2012, there’s pieces like this one that actually deal, literally, with the deathbed fallacy in context of videogaming. Yeah, it’s McGonigal again – she’s an enthusiast. And she has a point.

So, in case you still detect yourself in that thought process sometimes, privately maybe as you ponder how much “greater you could’ve been without videogames”, how games stifled your growth and progress in other areas when they’ve really just been an excuse from yourself, saving you from self-doubt and the realization that maybe you’re not going to be a big world changer, internationally acclaimed author, scientist or designer after all – here’s a short transcription from McGonigal’s 2012 TED talk:

“Hospice workers, the people who take care of us at the end of our
lives, recently issued a report on the most frequently expressed regrets
that people say when they are literally on their deathbeds. And that’s
what I wanna share with you today, the top five regrets of the dying:

  • Number 1: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • Number 2: I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • Number 3: I wish I had let myself be happier.
  • Number 4: I wish I had the courage to express my true self.
  • Number 5: I wish I’d lived a life true to my dreams instead of what others expected of me.” [source]

Now, I don’t think I need to further comment this list. I only wish you do yourself a favor: take it to heart. And while we’re at it: do me a favor and spare me from your goddamn gamer’s remorse.
If you feel the gaming blues sometime (I have), take some time off! If you aren’t enjoying games anymore, don’t play them! If you feel you’re spending too much time on games, play less games! If you feel you’re using games as an unhealthy outlet, ask for help.

….but spare me and the rest of the happily ever after gaming crowd. Spare me the underachiever complex and lamentation of failed grandeur which you so graciously bestow on everyone around you in one sweeping, condescending blow of rotten hindsight wisdom. I think videogames are fucking great – they have been for the past 28 years of my life! That’s for how long I’ve been playing them, so I think I too know a thing or two about the subject.

Just….SPARE ME. Thanks!

20 comments

  1. I’ve met a few of these people. Quite often they are non-gamers who played WoW, sometimes at high level, because it was hot, trendy, and popular. It’s still popular but not hot and trendy so its only use as a status marker is to talk down about WoW and, by extension, all MMOs or even games.

    My personal bet is that in a year or two, unless the movie fails, a large number of them will be talking about how they’ve been in WoW since forever.

    Of course, that may just be a reflection of my own toxic work environment.

    1. That’s partly true; part of WoW’s phenomenon is bringing a ton of people on board who never gamed before and keep a strict WoW monogamy. I can see why in that situation somebody might not (yet) have embraced gaming or gamer culture as a whole in his life – or at least not yet rationalized his way through all the bias.
      I’m trying very hard not to use the “gamer” tag as an exclusive badge for people like myself, but I’ve certainly nothing in common with that type of gamer.

      ..and toxic work environment? I feel with you!

  2. Oddly, I have quite literally been composing my “Final Words” for a while now and one of my favored options is, word for word, “I wish I’d played more video games”. I could add “I wish I’d read more comics” or substitute “I wish I’d seen more movies”. I might approach some greater degree of respectability in some people’s eyes with “I wish I’d read more books”, but really, I see them all as interchangeable.

    I’ve never had the least doubt what I was “put on the planet for”: to observe, to study, to appreciate and to understand. Just *what* I apply those four actions to is up to me. Video games are literally no better nor worse than anything else in that context.

    You can’t be who you are without also being what you have been. Repudiating your past is self-hatred.

    1. Great final words!

      “Repudiating your past is self-hatred.”

      that’s what makes me so sad about statements like that. how can you dismiss such a long time in your life as worthless? that’s…horrible. the sweeping dismissal IS what’s turning everything into a mistake.
      it’s usually my standard reply too – don’t be sad you wasted so much time, be sad that you consider all that time a waste. if you’ve taken nothing good away from so many years of WoW….then I don’t know what you’ve been doing. and I don’t believe it for a second.

  3. Here’s the snarky response to that type of sentiment:

    Ask the person if he’d like to go out for some beers with some friends. Then, quickly say, “On second thought, in the future I’ll have nothing to show for the money spent on drinks. So, let’s not bother.”

    1. Ah, but going out for drinks with buddies is a completely accepted venture of social value. videogames on the other hand are asocial and not nearly as healthy as alcohol – really, you should know that Brian, pfft.

  4. Great post! I have gone through the “I have wasted my life” phase when it came to gaming and suffered a great deal of depression as a result. Part of the issue for me was a lack of balance in my life when it came to gaming (hint* games should not come before feeding yourself). Once I started pursuing other hobbies along with gaming I actually felt better about my time spent gaming. Gaming is still my main hobby, but it has a more balanced place in my life.
    I wonder if the issue many people, like the raider in your post, have with their own gaming habits is that they do it to the exclusion of all else? I love gaming, heck I do a guild wars 2 youtube show, and I occasionally blog about it, but when it is all I do depression set in swiftly.

    1. Thanks! :) I think you add a very important point here, that of balance management. we all have to do it and it’s our personal responsibility – not just with gaming but eating, work etc. sometimes life is hard and somebody needs a way to escape; games can be a great way to do that for a while. personally, I don’t even think that’s so bad. in some rare cases however (rarer than media make them out to be), I know it can be – you can overdose on gaming the way you can overdose on things that make you feel better.

      but I wish that in such cases gamers or ex-gamers would rather talk about how THEY were not in control of their escapism, instead of blaming games or dismissing the entire time spent on them (worse usually: the entire time ANYONE spends on them). that is simply an unbalanced reaction (as unbalanced as their habits were before) – it’s untrue and it’s irrational. it’s obviously human too, but I’m just fed up of hearing it. :D

      You seem to have worked your way through the entire thought process, for which I congratulate you!

  5. You can have good memories of something, and still feel it was a mistake. Say you spent college partying and did poorly. Objectively, you would have been better off if you had partied less and studied more.

    You still had fun at the parties, but that doesn’t change the fact it was a mistake.

    1. You certainly can. but in context with gamer’s remorse, I think your example falls short in at least two ways:

      There’s a huge difference between personally felt remorse and the type of social pressure and judgement that exists towards gamers and gamer culture. if you re-evaluate your feelings of a good time in retrospective because you adopt the mainstream opinion in an attempt to return to conformity, the motivation for that remorse is heavily flawed. sad as it is, half the gamers I know still think it’s “not okay” because it’s not considered cool by somebody else.

      I’ve been a university student for 7 years and a minimalistic one at that; I was certainly no stranger to partying. there’s still no remorse and no thought of “I should’ve studied more” because I finished my studies just fine (while being a hardcore 40man raider for half of it). so obviously, I studied enough. If you fluke your studies/job/family because of gaming or some other escapism, then yes – you can certainly feel remorse. but most people are capable of doing both. my example is not the exception.

  6. I’m not a massive fan of WoW these days but I do have very fond memories of starting out there all the way up to TBC era. Still to this day I count them as my ‘glory years’ of MMO playing, I do however have some regrets about playing WoTLK and Cata mainly because I forced myself to play and try to enjoy it rather than accept it was no longer the game I fell in love with. But hey live and learn I guess.

    Now I’m much more inclined to game jump with no regrets, hell in GW2 my playtime has cut right down but I still love the hell out of it. End of the day when I stop playing a game these days or cut my hours I often spend a lot of time just enjoying the memories I created and the fun I got out of it.

  7. I think that sort of thinking you describe is just shallow, and unfortunately, exceedingly typical of a lot of people around us. Blame the situation, not themselves, all-or-nothing thinking and only doing stuff generally seen by most as “productive” aka earn $$$.

    I dunno, for myself, I see no point in regretting the roads you traveled, because those experiences are what shapes the totality of you. If you made mistakes, sure, learn from them and don’t repeat what ails you, but those mistakes are just as much a part of you as your triumphs.

    I had my own time of grandiose past glory, but I wouldn’t repudiate it for anything. For a few years, my compatriots and me were at the top of the world that we inhabited and the thrill of those memories will forever be with me (at least until I get Alzheimer’s or something.)

    And the subsequent years of jaded pain / loss / anger were also something I had to work through to realize that what I had valued previously (being number 1, being prestigious, winning at all costs, ascribing disproportionate importance to in-game gear) was no longer working for me.

    I didn’t turn around and label all games with the same tarred brush and hate them all. But I did grow more discerning as to what certain games were encouraging players to do and value, and more careful as to why I was playing games.

    The biggest revelation I ever had after those years was that games are finite. One day, they end. Try as you might, it’s impossible to stick with a single game forever. The game may shut down on you. Or more likely, you will have gotten everything you could out of it and got bored/jaded.

    When that happens, there is no choice but to move on.

    What are the only things you can take with you then? Memories. Relationships. Hopefully good ones.

    That significantly changed the way I play and approach games (not to mention, life) now. Give up games? Unthinkable. I’ve learned so much from them.

    – Jeromai

    1. Personally I consider regret one of the most futile and destructive wastes of time ever. learning from mistakes, sure – but dwelling on remorse? no. everything I ever did led me to who I am now.
      so before you ask yourself of the ‘worth’ of anything you’ve been through, ask yourself if the remorse is really worth it.

      And “all-or-nothing thinking” is the nemesis of all rational discussion, anyway.

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