How Video Games Taught Me What Really Matters In Life

I have fond memories of video games.

My first experience with them was when my uncle handed down his Atari 2600 when I must have been about 5 years old. I played those simple games on another hand-me-down, a 12” black and white TV. Do you think that mattered to me? Nope, I was having so much fun playing Q*Bert, Frogger, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Missile Command and more, that I could care less. I was so happy with what I had.

Today, video games have become amazing showcases of technology and design. Instead of a few colored and jagged pixels, the places and characters look nearly lifelike.

You know what though? Many of the developers have come to rely on the graphics to sell the game and neglect the actual gameplay. Graphics have become a flashy crutch for sales, but the deeper gameplay is the most important element!

They know that fancy graphics can wow a crowd and sell units. For a lot of companies that is enough.

Graphics are nice to have, sure, but they are just eye candy. The real staying power, what makes a game a classic, what people remember decades later, is the actual gameplay.

If you took little five year old me and gave me an hour of playing modern games I would have been absolutely floored. I was supremely happy playing those Atari games, but having played the fancy games of the future, would I enjoy my old Atari as much? Probably not, even though it was the exact same thing that had given me loads of enjoyment before the time-traveling experience.

The ancient philosopher Epicurus once said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

I would have seen something better, and what I had was no longer enough. At least in my brain.

One day I realized that playing my favorite computer games gave me just as much enjoyment as those old games did back in the day. The games I play today are so much more advanced that I should be experiencing that much more happiness, right?

Fancier is better, at least that’s what they tell us.

Well, that’s not true because humans adapt to their situations. I saw I had only moved my baseline of happiness from Atari level to modern PC level.

This hedonistic adaptation happens everywhere.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert did a study and found that after three years both lottery winners and amputees both have the same level of happiness. One study showed that while income in developed nations has soared since WWII, the level of happiness has remained static. Another study showed that any income after $75,000 in America doesn’t really improve happiness at all.

In addition, the amount of happiness you get per dollar decreases the more you make. Imagine if you only made $10,000 a year, every one of those dollars would be precious and you would mostly be buying the things that it takes to live – shelter, food, etc – with little to none left for things that bring you happiness. Still, you are better off than if you made $0!

Compare that to making that last $10,000, going from an income of $65K to $75K. You already have your needs taken care and plenty of life’s comforts so that extra $10,000 isn’t life-changing. Most people would blow it on ‘stuff,’ a few extra toys or vacations or things that will eventually just take up space in their garage. Your life is made only marginally better off with that last $10K.

The more money you earn becomes less and less useful as a way to increase your happiness, eventually adding none.

Of course, we are constantly told we need the latest and greatest. That we need more and bigger. The greatest car. The latest phone. A bigger house. More clothes.

We don’t. It’s just a way to get you to willingly part with your money. It’s just a way to keep you moving on that hamster wheel.

Think of someone who has been indoctrinated into this line of thinking. They work 60-70-80 hours a week at a job they hate to pay for that large fancy house, multiple new SUVs, designer clothes, and all the rest.

Hell, they are at work so much they have no time to enjoy anything.

None of those things are happiness, they are only what someone told them was happiness. None of them bring much more happiness than a far cheaper version.

Sure, that fancy house is far better than some run-down structure in the bad part of town. But once you have an average house in a decent part of town, it really provides you a comparatively similar level of happiness. It’s a place that keeps you safe and out of the weather.

The truth is, I used to think this type of expensive lifestyle was something to chase after.

I’ve lived in a luxury flat in England and a mansion in Hawaii. I’ve had a classic Mustang and a new Dodge Challenger. Sure they were nice, but my daily happiness did not increase. I became accustomed to what I had.

The expensive version of things does just about as well as the regular version. I am just as much out of the elements in the $10 million dollar mansion as I am in my $98K house. My cheap early 2000’s Mustang gets me to where I want to go just as well as my pricey Challenger did.

I’ve lived and learned, and am just telling you what was known by the great thinkers of our past. The great stoic philosopher Epictetus, who was once a slave until he earned his freedom, said “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

So think about your wants, the ones that TRULY bring you happiness, and go get them. Be frugal with the rest of your money. Understand that much of what you spend your money on is not improving your happiness. Use your money efficiently, and invest the rest in whatever way you think is best for you.

You can buy your freedom from work with that money. There is a common rule that states you can live endlessly on 4% of your investments. That means if you have a million dollars invested in any of the common stock market investment strategies, you can spend $40K every year and never run out of money. This is because the investment grows enough, averaged out through good years and bad, to let you trim that much off safely. You could probably do better in real estate or a business, but those take more effort on your end.

Whatever you can invest for your future is buying you the happiest thing in life – FREEDOM.

People that buy those huge houses or fancy clothes before they buy their freedom are just caught up in the superficial graphics of life.

Those graphics sure do look good, but many times its just eye candy covering over poor gameplay.

Focus on the deeper gameplay of life, and you will find happiness. You’ll see that the graphics no longer matter that much.

Come and play a better game.


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  1. Mr. Robot

    Love the whole video game taught me analogy!

    I get sick and tired of every negative news /article relating to some negative event due to someone playing a video game. This or that happened because he plays a violent game or something.

    “If Pac-Man had affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive electronic music.”
    ~ Marcus Brigstocke

    In any case. Realize what you have and be grateful for all the normal but still special things in your life. A 100k car won’t give you more happiness then a 10k car.
    Mr. Robot recently posted…May 2018 Dividend ReportMy Profile

    1. MrDD

      Glad you enjoyed this one, Mr. Robot. We all should understand that once we reach a level of living that is safe and we have things that do what we own them for, anything extra isn’t much of a benefit. What I mean is imagine having to eat with only your hands as you have no utensils. That wouldn’t be the best living. Then you might get a plastic fork. Better, but not ideal. Then you get a normal stainless steel fork. It does everything you need it to. So what use is a solid gold fork after that? Not much.

      Find that level where everything works in your life and then focus on buying your freedom.

  2. Dividend Diplomats

    Doubling Dollars,

    I think this is a great article and I enjoyed reading it, especially as a former video game enthusiast myself 🙂 You’re right, if you are buying hoping that it will make you happy, you will quickly lose the excitement that came with the purchase and look for the next, best thing. I think your examples about living in expensive houses and purchasing expensive cars were great examples of how spending more doesn’t correlate to happiness 🙂 I use to play my old sega genesis till its death because I just had fun playing the boring sonic and baseball games, rather than the newer fancier versions 🙂


    1. MrDD

      Thanks for stopping by Bert! I hope Leggett & Platt turns out to be a great investment for ya (I love to read you guys over on SeekingAlpha).

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