Does your child have “gamer regret”?

If your child is playing more than 21 hours of video games in a week, Gamer Regretgamer regret is close by (McGonigal, 2010, pp. 365-366).  Subtly it starts, a gift from Christmas, as your child opens up one of the most popular video games in 2014, Assassins Creed Unity and shouts with joy!  You love the look on their face and you know you’ve nailed it this year.  As the New Year passes, you’ve noticed your child moping around more and seen his/her sluggishness around the house.  There is a change in their attitude, maybe towards school as it is harder to get them up in the morning.  The attitude and sluggishness could be the result of gamer regret.  Gamer regret is guilt.  It is the alarm ringing inside asking, “am I wasting my time” after I have played 30 hours or more of the computer game, World of Warcraft (McGonigal, 2010, p. 43).  Gamer regret is the first warning towards preventing a possible gaming/Internet addiction.

You might think this question never gets asked, but I beg to differ.  Like recently I revisited a favorite childhood game on the vintage N64 called Star Wars Shadows of the Empire.  I was stuck fighting Boba Fett and I felt a twinge.  The question struck, “What have I done today?”  The pang of guilt shot through me and I knew it was time to stop.  Maybe you can identify with binge-watching the last season of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix over the last 3 days (not that I’ve done that either).  So what if my child has guilt, what is it, is it good or bad?

Brene Brown, researcher and author of a few books on shame, says, “I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful – it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort (Brown, 2013).  Lets put this definition to practice using the example above.  When I felt a twinge of guilt that I had played so many hours of Shadows of the Empire, I realized it was going against my values at that time.   I remember running through my checklist of to do items for the day and realizing I was not able to get all of them done.  Being reminded of that reality is a good thing and that is what guilt does.  It seems to be that inner conscience checking in on us, like an inner checks and balance.  Definitely something I need in my life!  And guilt does not stop there, it even has a built in warning system, “psychological discomfort”.

I remember when I felt that discomfort.  It was after the 10th time I died trying to knock Boba Fett out of the air with my laser gun.  I looked at the time and realized I had played without distraction for the last 2 ½ hours!  Wow, what was I doing with my time?   It hit me like a ringing inside of me that told me something could be wrong with this picture.

This discomfort was like my morning alarm.  It was set for 6am.  I was startled from a deep sleep by the sharp ringing.  I was barely awake, groggy and upset and I wanted to get rid of this sound with all my being.  So I reached over to push that snooze button, or for me the side buttons on my Iphone make it way too accessible for another 8 minutes of sleep.  As the annoying ringtone rang in my ears and I was reaching for my Iphone, I had a choice.   I could roll out of bed or deeper into my warm covers.

This happens with guilt; we can choose to listen to the warning going off inside of us or not.  The warning that is saying something is contradicting our values and it is uncomfortable.  Or we can choose to push snooze.  The issue is it gets harder and harder to get up.  And eventually the alarm will sound.  This alarm could wake us up at an earlier point in life but if unchecked the “gamer regret” can turn in to “gamer shame”.  And when “gamer shame” sets in,  “gamer addiction” is not far off.

Actionable steps:

As a parent, you could be asking, “how can I tell if my child has ‘gamer regret’”?  Indicators can vary based on the developmental age of your child.  The first question to ask “Are video games affecting their daily functioning?”  If yes, than I would recommend the following:

  • Discuss “gamer regret” with your child. Ask them about guilt and what they think guilt is.  This is an important step as it empowers your child to be involved in this process, opens a possibility for communication, and gives you a chance to educate them on guilt.  If there is a positive response, discuss appropriate boundaries with your child.
  • Set boundaries with video games, possibly more restrictive than what was previously in place. Again, try to set these boundaries together to promote collaboration.
  • Its not abnormal for your child to integrate the changes, doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent
  • Seek outside help, if necessary. This can be from other influential people in your child’s life or counseling.

Jonathan Steele, MA

(858) 634-0179

Additional Resources:

Describes “gamer regret”


Healthy ideas to work with “gamer regret”


Brown, B. (2013).

McGonigal, J. (2010). Reality is broken: Why games make us better and how they can change the world. New York: Penguin Press.

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