Video Games: Hobby for Some, Addiction for Others
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!