Weekend in the Countyside
A hidden RV.
A hidden RV.
Video games are one of the most common hobbies these days, but they are no longer a good option for me. I focused my last two posts on the negative relationship I have had with video games, and on how I've stopped playing them. This time, I'd like to switch to a more positive tone and focus on the positive changes I noticed since I stopped playing games. As usual, I'd like to state that these are just my opinions, and I'm not an expert. What works for me might not work for you.
Whenever I used to get very interested in a game, I noticed that all my other hobbies fade in the background. Now, without games, they are re-surfacing and bringing me a lot of positivity. First of all, my camera sees a lot more usage. I stopped gaming for almost 2 months now, and I already got a number of great photos. My mind feels free of games, so it finds more purpose in other hobbies. Whenever I know I'll be going to a new place, or out for a long walk, I'll take my camera. Of course, we all have our cell phone cameras on us, which is great. But bringing my actual camera feels different. It feels more purposeful and I observe my surroundings with a fresh perspective. I've learned how to use an analog camera when I was a kid, in the early 90s. I switched to digital cameras sometime in the early 2000s. Photography has always been there, but because of the amount of time spent on video games, it tended be a sporadic hobby. Well, I'm just happy to make it less sporadic now. I share some of the photos I take on my Twitter page (check the Media tab if you'd like).
Another hobby that took a back seat for a while is writing. I used to have a movie review blog throughout university and after. I watched movies and reviewed them. I also used to write blog posts such as these here on Medium, but that also faded over time. I'm happy to resurrect this habit now that games are not taking up so much of my time and mental energy. Aside from Medium, I'm also on a 70+ day streak with my personal journal. I managed to write in there every day, and it's giving me hope that I can finally turn writing into a respectable interest. After all, I'm an English major! It's a pity not to do more of what I love. These posts on Medium are a good way to get back into it, while the personal journal helps me make sure that I write at least something small every day.
The third interest that is helping me fill the space left behind by video games is fitness. Now, to be fair, this one I did manage to maintain even while gaming, but I feel like I am getting a lot more satisfaction out of it now than I did before. Fitness went from something I did just to stay healthy, to something I genuinely enjoy and look forward to. I tend to work out in the morning. This really gives me a boost in positivity. I also exercise in after work, by taking my dog for a walk. Ok, so it's a walk, and not an actual exercise routine, but I try to keep up a fairly fast pace and make the walks 3-5 Km long. It is not as pleasant in winter, when it's dark and cold out by the time I finish work, but I still push myself to do it. I really think fitness is key to getting rid of bad habits. The fresh air during walks, the sweat and heartbeat during workouts, the calm of yoga and meditation – these are exactly the things video games take away from me. Movement is life, and it feels so good not to sit in a chair for hours, pushing buttons and going nowhere.
It is still too early to say how these hobbies will evolve for me, but I am cautiously optimistic.
Thank you for reading!
While many people can have a healthy relationship with video games, I find I cannot. To me, video games have become similar to a slot machine disguised as digital entertainment. Gamers will argue that not all games are addictive; that some are just stories and playing them is no different than watching a movie where you choose the outcome and you play the hero. The same gamers will also typically agree that some games are, indeed, very addictive. These are games designed to get you hooked from the get-go, through the use of in-game currencies, loot boxes, and competitive ranking systems that make you want to get better and better with little reward.
Game genre differences aside, on a personal level I just find it easier to stop playing all video games than pick and choose which ones I allow myself to play. I know what games I like, and replacing a role playing game I know inside out with a story-based game that I can beat in one week is just not the same. I tried, and it fails to satisfy the same craving. maybe I'm just weak when out comes to games. If you, as the reader, are on the fence about your relationship with gaming, you can try this quiz just for fun. You don't have to quit games, but maybe it will show you what people who do need to quit them might feel or think.
I've had a lot of experience with addiction. I smoked cigarettes for a number of years and I drank too much too. I have successfully quit both of these for years now, but it took many tries. Everyone is different, but I learned how to tell when something is becoming a problem, if not a full-fledged addiction. The word “addiction” is pretty strong, so many will just back away from it. I was one of them. Instead, what helped me in quitting things like drinking and now gaming is looking at it as a problem rather than an addiction. I have a “problem” with games sounds a lot more manageable than “I am addicted to games,” doesn't it?
It's important to recognize that what I see as problematic is not necessarily true for others. A lot is based on my personal experiences, past and present. I played games a lot throughout my life, and I'm at a point where they are no longer a fun hobby. Instead, they are a time sync that would keep me from doing more with my life. They are a constant distraction for my mind, where I would think of the game even when I am not playing it. They are the kind of hobby that outshines any other hobby due to its built-in instant gratification and false sense of accomplishment. The list goes on. If you talked to me in my 20's, I would have never believed any of these statements. If you talked to me in my teens, I would have said “I'll play games until the day I die.” In fact, I did say that to my dad once. He still remembers it!
The WHO recognized video games addiction as a real problem a couple of years ago. There are good resources for stopping or taking control of gaming. What helped me a lot in quitting games was the r/stopgaming forum on Reddit and the GameQuitters website. These resources helped me feel less alone in my struggle to fix my gaming problem.
Why is it so hard to just play less? you might ask. Well, to me it's not even about the amount of time anymore. It used to be, in my 20's, when I did little else aside from work. These days, with more grown-up duties and responsibilities, I would not really have too much time anyway. But even 1-2 hours a day, to me, was still problematic. Why? Because games outshine other hobbies. In the game, it is easy to be a hero and to accomplish great things very quickly. Most modern games don't even really have a penalty for dying in the game. You just respawn and continue.
I think the reason it is hard for people to see the addictive side of games is that games are not physically harmful the way substance addictions are. They are not great for your eyes and back because you end up sitting there for hours and hours staring at the screen, but you could say the same about office jobs and watching TV. As usual, mental health is only an after-thought, when it should really take centre stage.
Games also come off as more fun compared to other hobbies because they are highly engaging. My mind is 100% in the game when I play, creating a tunnel-vision effect where reality fades and the only thing that matters is the here and now of the game world. Losing one's self in a hobby is not a bad thing – it's actually a good thing – but games make it so easy that I don't really care about any other hobbies. Why bother with more complex hobbies, when turning on the game is instantly gratifying, exciting, and rewarding? That's the problem for me, no mater if I play 6 hours a day or 1 hour a day. It is best for me to just quit altogether than moderate. You wouldn't tell a cigarette smoker to just smoke fewer cigarettes a day, right? Or a heroin addict to just do heroin less often. It's an extreme comparison, but I think it serves its purpose.
Before COVID, I had stopped playing games for 6 months. In that time, I took up photography again, I started working out more, I took my dog for longer walks, and even got a new job. I fixed many things around the house, and felt I had more time for everything. As soon as I took up gaming again, during all the lockdowns and after, the only good habit that stayed was the exercise routine, and only because I did that in the morning, when I would not be playing games anyway. Now, 45 days into quitting games again, I already feel my passion for everything else resurfacing: photography, writing, home improvement, talking to people more, being more present and happy, etc. Games gave me a false sense of accomplishment: the victories in virtual worlds made real-world achievements unnecessary. I have no hard feelings for leaving games behind, hopefully for good this time.
Thanks for reading!
As I embark on another attempt to expel video games from my life, I feel the task is monumental. Even the thought of writing about it is so daunting that I had trouble getting started. So, I decided to break it down into smaller chunks! Welcome to the first chapter!
I've been a gamer since I was a kid, but I'll skip the life story this time. Now in my mid-thirties, I decided it's time to kick the habit. You might think: “Why is this guy talking about video games like some sort of addiction?” I challenge anyone who plays video games daily to take a break for one week (or one month if you're brave) and let me know if you still think they are not similar to any other addiction.
I tried quitting several times before, and at most I lasted for 6 months. That was before COVID hit. The lockdowns drew me back to gaming and re-ignited the craving for action and adventure in virtual realms. In itself, this sounds fairly innocent and harmless, even healthy if you think of the social aspect of online games in a time when socializing in the real world became hindered by the pandemic.
I finally mustered up the willpower to try quitting games again, and here I am writing about it to share my experience 38 days into it. My first observation is exactly this: it took just over a month to start seeing positive changes. I noticed that small things in life are starting to bring me more joy than before. Something as simple as a walk is more exciting and meaningful now. I notice more of my surroundings and I appreciate them a lot more.
While gaming, there is always a part of my mind that's occupied with the thought of gaming, of what I'll do next time I play, what game I'll play, what's the next feat to accomplish in the game. All that brain buzz has finally subsided, and it took a whole month! While I didn't think of a specific game this month, I did think about gaming in general and still felt like a gamer. Finally, I am starting to feel like a non-gamer inside my head.
Games are junk food for the mind, much like social media, TV and streaming. All these sources are easy providers of dopamine for the brain. Remove them, and you suddenly don't know why you're feeling down. All other sources of joy require at least a little bit more effort. And that is how these modern amusements become modern addictions: they are just so easy! Why sit down with a book that takes conscientious focus and effort when you can turn on the Playstation and be showered with excitement immediately? Replace “Playstation:” with “TikTok” and it's no different.
This brings me to my second observation. The tendency when quitting video games is to replace them with something else, because of the time gap they create. More free time is hard to come by, but with so many easy distractions, it's key to avoid replacing one bad habit with another. As such, I have been quite careful with how much time I spend online and in front of the TV (Netflix, Apple TV+, etc.). I read comments and stories from others who are trying to ditch video games, and many end up spending hours and hours on Reddit, for example. Others quit playing games, but they still watch YouTube or Twitch gaming streams. It's not easy to break the cycle, so I've tried to be cautious with all the digital forms of entertainment in order to avoid replacing one brain junk food with another.
My last point is exactly this focus on what to do. What should I replace games with? In previous attempts, I rushed to the logical, mechanical approach: replace games with one of the hobbies that lay in waiting and never really got much attention. This time, I'm trying a more holistic approach, a slower approach, grounded in feeling more than logic. I'm not rushing into any hobby, but rather I'm letting those interests manifest themselves. I like writing, but it took me over a month to finally put together this post. I like photography, but I'm not forcing that one either. I want to embrace the sense of discovery, to allow myself to be drawn into these interests and others, rather than dictate them to my brain.
Quitting an old habit – or an addiction – is hard. I hope this new approach will help me push past my previous record of 6 months, and into a life with less junk food for the brain, and more meaningful interests and hobbies.
In the next instalment of this series, I'll have to delve into the addictive facet of gaming and talk about how moderation is not an option for a lot of people when trying to stop playing video games.
Thanks for reading!