(Family Magazine October 2010 1st Issue)
Would you skip a fun activity with your friends to spend long hours with people you do not know?
Would you line up at a store all night and into the next morning just to buy a game?
Would you work hard on a job for no pay?
For the past several years, I answered “Yes” to the above questions.
Hard to believe? Sure, I was addicted to gaming. Not only did I miss many social gatherings with my friends, I spent that time playing in a game with people I have never met. During my worst addiction period, I would play at least 12 hours a day. When I did make it outside of my room, it is usually with people that I play games with. Our conversations focused not on events happening in our lives, but on the games.
What makes gaming so addicting to me?
Gaming became a stimulant for my brain. It challenges me to solve problems in multiple ways, to determine the most efficient solution, and to predict potential outcomes. In fact, the striking similarities have led Harvard Business School to use elements in World of Warcraft to teach about leadership and economy. University of Berkeley offered an elective which uses Starcraft to demonstrate the applications of Linear Algebra and other mathematical theory.
Computer gaming also engages me in a social way. Gaming can be a great conversation starter or a convenient and non-intrusive activity for introverts like me to participate with others. It also provides a community in which you can feel connected. I have not only made several new friends but also fortified some existing friendships through gaming.
But perhaps the most engaging element is that I can do things I can never do in my real life, which gave me an emotional high that I cannot replicate in the real world. When I do accomplish these incredible feats, I am publicly recognized for my scores and accomplishments. These instant gratifications and recognitions are often hard to come by in real life.
What gaming addiction did to me?
Gaming became my favorite activity. Not only did I make time for it everyday, it was constantly on my mind. I think about new strategies while I am driving, and during class, and research online for the best gaming techniques being used. Every moment I had was dedicated to gaming.
Gaming became a large part of my daily routine. It dictated my daily schedule and took priority over all of my other activities. I declined to participate in many social activities I used to enjoy. And when I cannot find an excuse to opt out of these activities, I would try to make these activities more enjoyable by drawing parallels to gaming. The words that came out of my mouth were always related to gaming. I used gaming analogies to express my ideas. Gaming consumed me.
Finally, gaming became a necessity. Before doing my homework or errands, I had my quick fix…I needed to play a few hours of game. I was no different than an alcoholic, a gambler, or a drug addict. Gaming became my addiction. Gaming possessed me. I lived and breathed gaming.
What methods I used to stop my gaming addiction?
There were multiple reasons that led me to think about quitting gaming completely. I was fatigued due to lack of sleep. I failed exams due to lack of preparation. I had nothing to show forth in my real life. I found out expert gaming skills is not a talent recognized outside the gaming world – I cannot put that on my resume.
I tried different methods to quit gaming but the results did not last. I realize there was something fundamental I needed to address and rationalize. It really came down to three simple questions I asked myself after I played each time:
Q1: Was this fun and what did I learn?
It was no longer fun. It used to be that I can log online and enjoy various elements of the game. Now, I get upset over losing a game and my entire day is ruined. Occasionally I also feel guilty for blaming and criticizing my teammates for the loss. Even when I am in a positive mood, others are arguing. Egos get in the way and I have to be the mediator. This was not gaming for fun anymore. I felt trapped and imprisoned.
Q2: If it was not enjoyable and I learned nothing, why am I playing?
I could not answer this question, and that was the problem. The game became such an integral part of my life that I don’t even know why I play it anymore. Without the initial excitement and thought-provoking elements that was once a challenge, I guess I continued to play because I was good at it. Somehow defeating a competitor in a game makes a bad day go away. I can play without thinking.
Q3: If I am playing only to fill a void, can my needs be satisfied elsewhere?
I don’t know. It seems unlikely, but then again I have not tried looking. Maybe I should try.
And that I did. I realized the elements that made gaming so attractive were the novelties in the design and the content, as well as ways it prompted me to think critically. I now look for other media outlets that share these characteristics. I was never an avid reader, but books surprisingly met this need. For $15-$20, I am able to purchase an author’s lifetime work of ideas and thoughts. Interacting with other people in person also became an excellent way of learning new things. Using the time I would have spent gaming, I developed new hobbies. I learned how to trade stocks, program the iPhone, write a blog, which made me realize I had an entrepreneurial spirit. I am now able to accomplish so much more by removing gaming out of my priorities.
Gamers, I hope you can use my life experience as a reference to evaluate your current level of addiction. Whether or not you choose to do anything to address it, do remember that every game is designed by a human being. A game is finite; it will never let you explore your true potential and gifts that have been given to you.
Parents, I hope you use the information here to assist you in your communication with your children. Instead of nagging about games being a waste of time, understand where they are coming from and use this opportunity to learn what makes it so engaging for them.
I never thought there would be a day I am not addicted to gaming. I am glad that now I have a life outside of gaming. I can enjoy a game once in a while without being consumed by it. No longer do I need to look for things to do in a virtual world. I realized that my real life is full of possibilities waiting for me to accomplish. After 10 years of addictive gaming, I now have a full life…..