Video Games Make Me Unhappy

A few days ago, I made the mistake of looking at the stats screen of my iPhone’s copy of Bejeweled. Look at the image on the right, and see if you can guess what upset me.

Done guessing? OK.

Yeah, it’s that final stat, which shows I’ve spent 51 hours of my life staring at this particular copy of Bejeweled. I don’t have any particular memory of that time spent. I don’t look upon those games with happiness or any other sort of emotion. That 51 hours is a black hole in my brain. All I know is that I spent 51 hours staring at Bejeweled, accomplishing nothing except getting better at Bejeweled.

I know that Bejeweled is a simple logic game, and it probably exercises my brain somehow. I know that human beings, of which I am theoretically one, need downtime upon occasion. But I think the fact that I look back upon this time as a vast pool of nothing, when I could have been doing something else that was both relaxing and actually enjoyable (watching a movie, taking a walk, sleeping), it all seems such a waste.

Here’s a quick list of things I could have done for 51 hours instead:

    1. Watch around 25 movies off my massive Megalist.
    2. Watch all of Berlin Alexanderplatz… 3.4 times.
    3. Drive from Minneapolis, MN to Austin, TX. And back. And then back to Austin.
    4. Burn 30,600 calories on my rowing machine (that’s around 9 pounds of fat).
    5. Rally my vast army of lizard people and conquer Belgium.

I know other people actually enjoy playing video games. I do, upon occasion, also actually enjoy gameplay. I enjoyed playing Portal once through, but don’t have a need to play it again. I enjoy playing various Civilization incarnations when I’m playing against real people, in the same room with these real people, with or without beer and pizza.

Yet for the most part, when I play a video game, my brain either gets bored within a few minutes, or drops into some sort of primitive, obsessive strategy state. For days. I’ve never been very interested in games that require grace or reflexes, but anything that is turn-based and requires strategy will eat my life. If I start playing Civilization IV as a solo game, I will not resurface until it is done. I’ve played Civilization for literally days straight. I even called in sick to work once, many years ago, because I couldn’t tear myself away from a Civilization game.

And every time, I come out on the other side, wondering what I did, where the time went, and what I got out of it.

That really can’t be normal.

Thus, I feel that video games are the great pop culture revolution that has passed me by. I don’t get excited about new game releases because I can’t. Because I don’t want my life to evaporate while I don’t even notice. Because my brain just doesn’t know when to stop. It’s like I’m a dry alcoholic. A touch of pixels = instant bender.

So I’ve hidden Bejeweled on my iPhone, so I don’t play it on impulse. I haven’t gotten the courage to just delete it. I must have something to show where 2+ days of my life went, right?


  1. I hear ya. I have to actively tell myself not to go to Reddit, because I will stay up two hours past my bedtime for no other reason than to digest other people’s quirky reblogged internet wankery. And then I’m tired for work the next day, with nothing to show for it.

    However, There’s a difference between exploring the vast new media of video games, and playing too much Bejeweled. That’s like eating a box of Jolly Ranchers and deciding food is bad for you. It’s just about being selective about the quality of the things you spend your time with.

    Enjoy life, challenge yourself and get as much value out of your time on this space rock as possible. It’s why I quit Facebook, it was killing me from the inside out. I also agree you should quit Bejeweled. But don’t break into a cold sweat the next time someone wants to have say, a Rock Band party and the scary words ‘video game’ comes into your mind.

    • I completely forgot about Rock Band/Guitar Hero. To me, they’re not even video games. They’re karaoke with more tools. 🙂

      I am fully aware that video games come in all stripes, and that to paint all of them with the Bejeweled brush is unfair. But I didn’t get into the amount of time and money that vanished into Kingdom of Loathing, or how much time I spent not only playing Nethack, but also dissecting its code so I could figure out how to play it better. The amount of fun I got out of all these things is small compared to the investment I made.

      I’m not saying video games are bad. I’m just thinking that, mostly, they’re bad for *me*.

      • Yes, the “bad for me” part is really important. I sometimes tell people “You’d love this game!” and they respond with “Yes, too much. That’s why I can’t play it.”

        People know their personal limitations, and where their time goes. I got sucked into Reddit again yesterday, until my daughter closed the browser window. And I was like “She broke the spell! My little princess saved me!”

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