A Palmful of Guilt

The sun rises around 6 am and that’s when it starts to come full force.  Something about the hazy pink morning light strikes the perfect chord of misery.  The mouse in my hand is a palmful of guilt, guilt, guilt, and my fingers clatter on the keys like the legs of a spider.

It’s Final Fantasy XI and I’m 15.  I’ve turned off the volume and stuffed a towel along the bottom of my door so that my parents don’t know I’m still awake.  The door swings open and the silence of my father’s eyes makes my chest implode.  His shadow circumscribes me and the light from the hallway gives him a sort of halo.  “What are you doing?”  He asks because he wants me to say it.  I remain silent, too ashamed to even form the words.  My father sighs, deeply.  My eyebrows furrow into my head.  I want to melt into the floor.  “Turn the game off.”  On the screen my warrior has lost agro and the monster has killed my party.  Profanity tumbles through the chatbox.  /quit.  “We’ll talk about this when you get home from school.  The bus leaves in half an hour.”  He tries to shut the door behind him but it’s caught on the towel so he just walks away.

It’s World of Warcraft and I’m 18.  My roommate rolls over in bed.  Class in two hours.  I have a headset on and my friends are laughing because we’re winning in 3v3 arena.  “This is my last one,” I type.  “Gotta get ready for Greek class.”  We lose and they want to keep going but I tell them to have a good night and I log out.  I crack my neck and Brenton mutters something in his sleep.  In the shower I bow my head and close my eyes and feel the hot water washing down my body; I try to imagine it as a sort of baptism, a sort of cleansing, and I can still feel the guilt in my chest because I won’t be ready for the test at 8 am, because we lost that last game.  My friends are online and sometimes the booming solitary feeling of gaming overwhelms me even when I can hear them talking in my ears.  I can still hear them talking when I lie down for just a quick nap and I sleep straight through the test.

It’s Digital: A Love Story and I’m 21.  My girlfriend is sleeping on the bed behind me, illuminated in the blue glow of the screen.  Soft chiptunes pop hiss and crackle in my ears, and that purple-pink haze washes through the window, onto the desk, onto my keyboard.  The computer tells me, “I know what it’s like to be lonely, believe me.”  The computer tells me, “I think I’m in love with you.”  I turn around.  Ellie is so quiet when she sleeps, but as though she can feel my gaze, she rustles, she opens her eyes and she looks at me.  “Come to bed,” she says.

“In a minute, I’m almost done.”

Leave a comment


  1. twilie

     /  May 9, 2010

    Well put and well written :)

  2. Really well written.

    I refuse to look at my hours played stat in Left 4 Dead anymore, as doing so fills me with awful dread. That’s the one drawback of Steam, the way it tracks exactly how much of your life you’ve wasted on a per-game basis.

    • lauramichet

       /  May 9, 2010

      oh god, I totally agree.
      According to Steam, I have played 151 hours of mount and blade.
      I could have learned to play the trumpet in that amount of time. I could have used those hours to take an extra class for two semesters in a row, to graduate early. I could have written so many things in 151 hours.

      but mount and blade is magnificent. And my character can kill 400 dudes IN A SINGLE SIEGE. What now, Swabians? Huh? Huh?

      • Team Fortress 2: 180 hours played.

        But you know what? In this case, regret can go fuck itself. This trimester alone, I’ve worked harder than I ever have in my life — 12 hours a day, every day, weekends included (for every other weekend). I literally can’t work anymore than that. Humans need their recharge time. Team Fortress 2 is what some of mine entails.

      • lauramichet

         /  May 10, 2010

        Morgon, that is exactly the way I feel about my new Civ 4 obsession.

        If I am playing Civ 4, it means the rest of my brain is not working. Gods above forgive me, but when my brain is mush, it’s mush.

    • If I wanted to make myself feel like shit back in my WoW days, the /played command was always there for me. On my main character alone I racked in around 3.5 months before I quit. That’s 2520 hours. FFXI was almost as bad.

      Then again, I made great friends and I had a great time. Regret is always complicated.

      • 6686 hours played on Medievia — that was before all these graphical MMOs came into being.

        I think I win this round.

      • NarooN

         /  May 20, 2010

        I spent well over 4,000 total hours playing the original KILLZONE online. Was a PS2 FPS. The tight-knit community, the awesome balanced gameplay, my clan…Best four years of my e-life. Servers are still up too. I might go back some day.

      • carlos batista Posted on Hi dear meembr of Scholarship Online I want to know the sebsite to subscribe me or to apply to this sholarship, could you send me the form application of this career. I will be happy to revive it. Thank you very much!

  3. theprettiestboyontheplanet

     /  May 10, 2010

    I had an eerily similar experience with Digital. There is some powerful world-building going on beneath all that white-on-blue text.

    I doggedly avoid online multiplayer of all stripes to prevent myself from logging out at dawn. Even so it still happens occasionally, the most shameful instance in recent memory being with Sid Meir’s Pirates. Explaining why to a groggy roommate why you’ve been up all evening perfecting your ballroom dancing skills is a difficult task.

  4. Here’s a cool response piece that HM wrote but failed at trackbacking.


  5. Brandon

     /  May 21, 2010

    Hey, it’s your overbearing TA. I followed a link from Gamasutra. Nice work! I find that at some point my game guilt won out, and I got further and further removed from, I don’t know, “hardcore” gaming. Take RPGs, for example. I rarely finish them anymore, because I just don’t have time with the other responsibilities in life (including keeping myself up to date on new games). Then you have online shooters that are tremendously fun, but that I drop quickly because I feel like I should be making progress on tackling other games. There is this funny shift in what you expect from a game as your life changes. These changes come with new joys and guilt, but people shouldn’t feel guilty about what they really love… unless its Farmville. Now get back to work on your class project! Blargh!

  6. Followed the link from Kotaku. Well written story, thanks for sharing. I have more memories like this than I care to admit!

    Cheers from NH.

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