“Guilty Pleasure Games and the Nature of Guilt”




It’s time to come clean.

This is my confession.

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned… or forgive me for I know not what I do?

Phrases like these enter our minds every time we talk about our guilty pleasure games, right? No? They don’t. That’s because the term guilty pleasure isn’t something we really mean, I think. A little background on this thought, if you please.

Recently, I’ve been playing through Stardew Valley again, for what seems like the billionth time. I already have an avalanche of a backlog. I have new purchases I want to get to. I have editing and brainstorming and writing and community-building and connections and correspondence and social media presence to attend to. Yet here I am cutting down another tree to make room for another turnip patch. Heck, I’m even marrying the same bachelorette all over again.

What is wrong with me?


Well, nothing, really. That’s because video games will always and forever be for me largely a hobby and a pastime.

“But Red, you write about games! You get press keys for new games you have to create coverage for! You have responsibilities here!”

Yes, I do, conscience. Yes, I do, but things like press keys don’t dominate my gaming diet and I don’t want them to. I want to play what I want to play, and when that involves press keys well then great, but if not, then forget it.

There’s kind of an unspoken pressure, I think, purely internal perhaps, to buy up everything, play everything you can as a gamer, “keep up with every new release”, and if you’re a games writer, then it’s to put out as many requests as you can and publish all these articles on new titles. It feels like a kind of award, a badge you can wear to validate all your hard work and show that people see me, to be able to get all these press keys… but in the end, am I forgetting why I play video games in the first place?

That to me is why I don’t buy the guilty pleasure phrase, not with any seriousness, I mean. When we use that phrase, we all know what we mean, but if I spend my time playing Stardew yet again to relax after work, great! I’m relaxing after work. The content is secondary to the hobby.


The last thing I want to do, despite all the ambitions of crowdfunding, paying contributors, and turning The Well-Red Mage into a full-time interest, is actually turn this into a full-time job. Legends tell of the woes of games journalists lamenting hobbies become duties, having to cover games they’ve little to no interest in, or worse, no practice in understanding.

Some reviews are rushed out as quickly as possible to capitalize on the release hype surrounding the game without even fully comprehending and experiencing the game, a critique-at-a-glance which potentially saps all the fun out of the act of “playing”. Of course, this is not as important for all games, given their variety, but how much would you trust a film reviewer who only watched 20% of each film or a food critic who only finished the appetizer or a critic of the theater who walked out during the second act? Many opinions are valid but not all opinions are as informed as others. Perhaps that’s too controversial.

It might seem like I’m contradicting myself here, or at least getting away from the central issue, but there’s a fine line between having the success of TWRM dictate what I need to play because big releases attract more traffic with timely coverage or because press keys measure the prestige and importance of the site… and simply enjoying what I do both online and off. What the success of TWRM means to me is that enjoying what I do is marketable. I don’t have to play the umpteenth “16-bit, brutal, retro-styled, indie roguelike” in order to mean something. That road has already been paved to death.

So, moral of the story: Play what you want to play, whoever you are.


Guilt implies shame which implies incrimination. The nature of guilt is such that there’s a negative connotation to anything attached to it. I’ve always said in my life that guilt is a terrible motivator. But there’s nothing wrong with you playing what you want to actually play in spending the most precious resource we have: Time. My guilty (and non-guilty) pleasures are here to stay and I’ll write about whatever the heck I want to write about while adding my voice to the diverse team of writers here, thank you very much.

I won’t be keeping up with the Joneses and I won’t shame you for playing what you play if you’ll return the courtesy.


-The Well-Red Mage


Did you enjoy this post? Consider becoming a Warrior of Light and join us in promoting honesty and quality to games writing through thoughtful, long-form critiques. We’re building a future for games writers to get paid and find a fairer and happier alternative to mainstream coverage and culture. See our Patreon page for more info!


10 replies »

  1. I’m not sure of the etymology of the term ‘Guilty Pleasure’ and whether there might be an older, more victorian era meaning that associated with the standalone concept of ‘Guilt’ you refer to here — but the modern meaning of ‘Guilty Pleasure’ refers to something you personally enjoy but that perhaps you feel you shouldn’t and might be embarrassed about people knowing you enjoyed.

    Might be because it is something generally considered as ‘bad’, or because it is something not generally considered to be for your demographic.

    As an example, if say… *cough* …IsometimesenjoyteensupernaturalstyleshowsontheCW…*cough* that would constitute a guilty pleasure. In gaming, it could be say… Enjoying Life is Strange as grown ass adult. xD

    However!! For all that, your overall message is clear — and one I heartily get behind. Keep it fun, keep it a hobby and don’t let yourself feel unduly pressured into anything that would rob you of those things! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and leaving a thoughtful comment!

      I’m not too clear on the Victorian era meaning of guilt either, but I tried to get at what we mean by guilt and shame and what not, tied to guilty pleasure in its modern usage! I definitely agree that it’s something we might be embarrassed about or feel bad about for any other reason. I occasionally feel guilty for “not playing what I should” based on the norm for games writers, but this is all either real or imagined social pressure, or attempting to follow in someone else’s footsteps, which I’m realizing I’m not interested in doing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with your moral, Red. Completely. Play what you want to play, whoever you are. Words to live by as a gamer. Never feel guilty for playing a game you enjoy and doubly so if it helps you relax. I feel you on Stardew. I still go back to that game and play a few days here and there, every couple weeks. I’m not as willing to start over as you, as I still have little things I want to do in my original play through (complete the museum collection, get every recipe, etc./

    My true guilty pleasure though, are the Rivals modes in any of the Forza games (Motorsport or Horizon). This mode has you running against a ghost of your nearest in current best lap time opponent. So the name of the game is the continual improvement of your lap time (clean laps only!) – so shaving tenths and hundredths. I log way too much time just doing this, running lap after lap after lap… just for very small incremental improvements. For my warped brain, its the ultimate carrot on a stick. You keep improving slowly, and after every lap, you think to yourself that you could do that corner entrance a little better, or go through that s-curve at a higher gear. I’m sure it sounds ridiculous to the non-racer, but its my own personal ‘Golden Loop’, to use the parlance of TWRM.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Analogously, I think in terms of beating one’s own high score and being driven to see how far you can go. If that’s how I enjoy games, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice that just to play and cover titles I don’t really want to play. I’d rather try and figure out another way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s a perfect analog. It is enjoyable, but the guilt for me comes in when you hit that point of diminishing returns, where your time spent is at the point where your gains are miniscule and you’ve maxed out your talent level at the expense of playing other great games! Realizing you are at that point is difficult sometimes.

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is. Exactly phrased. Feeling like I’m missing out is a complex emotion to deal with, especially when I feel like I’m missing out on something I suspect I might not even enjoy, like a recent big release.


  3. I absolutely love this post Red. I was actually thinking about this as well for a brief moment today, that if maybe, just maybe; my contributions here evolved into a full-time job at some point. It seems exciting at first, but then it slowly starts to set in. Would I be able to fully experience the game in time before sending out a review? Would I have to cut corners just to capitalize on the hype?
    Would it be good enough?

    Which is where I agree with you: “Play what you want to play, whoever you are.” Gaming, at the end of the day, is supposed to make you feel happy and entertained. It’s a leisure we have to cherish. I always love to keep up with the recent releases and learn as much as I can, but there’s only so much one can do. But one thing’s for sure..

    I’m definitely going to help as much as I can to get this website the traction it deserves. Even if I’m a recent Mage, I can tell you have good people here, and the content here is great! Won’t let you down! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I agree with you. There’s simply too much to reasonably play these days (which is actually great because there’s so much market variety)! I can’t afford to play everything either in time or money. I’ve always been kind of a completionist, so if I buy something, then I like to get my money’s worth out of it.

      Liked by 1 person

Kindly leave a civil and decent comment like a good human being

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s