When last did you play a game all day? Or play online with your friends when you had something important that needed doing? Ate a quick meal next to your computer/console to keep playing?
Gaming is fun and we all enjoy it, but when last did you do a bit of hard introspection? I imagine that everyone reading this has thought at least once, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time playing that game”, or “I really should have gotten more sleep” or “I should have spent less time gaming and more time studying”.
I’ve asked myself some of these hard questions, and I didn’t much like the answers.
My biggest problem is online multiplayer games. When the rest of your friends are all playing all day, that “just one more” is seriously hard to resist. I’ve had a lot of days when I get caught up into the “just one more” spiral and I look at the clock and the whole day has drained away; everything I needed to do cast aside.
Games such as MMOs and DotA games are particularly bad for this. I have a friend who routinely deletes DotA 2 because he loses entire days of potential productivity. Just having the game available is too much of a temptation, the only way to stop playing is to get rid of it. Is he addicted?
Game addiction doesn’t have the health risks of cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, nor the money sink of gambling; which is why I think sometimes it gets a little too much of a free pass.
Like other addictions, however, it can impact (and even ruin) your work, studies and relationships. There were periods in my life when I’d game till the early hours of the morning, get 3 hours of sleep and go to school. Or skip lectures to game with my friends. I’ve performed more poorly than I should have on tests and exams. I’ve had more than one fight with a friend or partner in my life over a game.
Still, I’ve managed to keep gaming enough at arm’s length that it hasn’t had any really detrimental impact on my life. But others don’t. I’ve known friends who have dropped out of university or lost a job. Who’ve destroyed long-term relationships because they didn’t know when to stop.
But let’s not get hung up on the word “addiction”. It’s easy to look at that word and scoff, to think that because you have a job and a girlfriend none of this applies to you. For that reason I want to move away from such loaded terminology and instead talk about video gaming as being “problematic”.
As I’ve described, there are many times in my life when gaming has been problematic for me. If you’re a hardcore gamer (likely, if you’re reading this), you’ve probably at least once in your life felt like you’d be a better person if you spent less time gaming.
It’s insidious, gaming. It’s always there; available, “harmless” and socially acceptable. It’s easy to dismiss as mere procrastination, but it’s not. I have never seen someone shirk responsibility with television or a book like they can with gaming.
I would struggle to spend 8 hours watching TV or reading a book. It’s almost impossible to do something so non-interactive without getting bored or losing concentration. But gaming is different. It’s competitive, it’s interactive, it’s social and it’s stimulating – it’s easy to spend 8 hours gaming, because you’re not thinking about other things. You’re drawn into that world, a world that’s very hard to leave.
Even today, I feel like I spend more time gaming than I should. I have a ton of work and responsibilities, and I have to find time amongst all of it to game, but if I’m honest there’s a lot of times when I’m gaming that I should be working or studying. The pull is still a little too strong for me.
It can also be a lifestyle problem. When you want to game with friends it’s easy to blow off going to the gym or cooking your own food. Order a pizza and you can keep gaming while you wait, and even eat it while you play.
Why get dressed up and go to a party when you can chill in your pyjamas and game with your friends? The former sounds like more effort, and it’ll probably be less fun. I know I’ve thought (and acted) that way before, and I’d be surprised if I was the only one.
The point I’m trying to get across is this – you might not be addicted to games. You might consider yourself to be well in control of your gaming – and maybe you are. But there’s a very real chance that you’re someone like me; someone who isn’t going to skip work for a week and pee in a bag next to the computer, but someone who needs to control the amount they play. If I don’t actively manage my time spent gaming, it has a negative impact physically, socially, academically and financially.
I am a problematic gamer. And you might be too.