I have no illusions as to why I first developed video game addiction. As a kid, I had social anxiety. I still do today.
So video games were always an escape from my boring, mundane, and most importantly socially stressful life. In video games, I could be the hero, the commander, the king, or whoever else my childhood fancy would want me as. I could go into the future, or live in the past. I could fight monsters, or be a monster.
Video games are different
The video game world differs from more passive entertainment, such as television, quite substantially. Even in the case of fiction novels, you’re reading a predetermined story – whereas I loved open-ended games that let your choices influence the game world.
Video game addiction isn’t just something lazy people do. And parents who think their kids play video games because they’re lazy are missing the point. Not to mention being completely counter-productive.
Identify why you or a loved one has video game addiction
If your kid really is lazy, then video games aren’t at fault. There’s always a source that causes laziness – video games are just the release. So if his life is such that video games are the most exciting thing in it, then you, as a parent, need to reconsider how he lives his life. Find out what interests him – don’t project your own interests onto your kid, and then become surprised when he doesn’t respond too well.
Or if he runs towards video games as an alcoholic would – to get away from the troubles of his very real life, then you need to seriously think about what’s going on with your kid. It’s far too easy to blame an external threat, and a lot harder to look at your own role in the situation.
In my case though, no amount of strong-arming or fancy speeches by parents stopped me from playing video games. The more it was a forbidden fruit, the more I wanted it.
Why is video game addiction so serious?
For a lot of us, video games take over our lives.
They’re not just something we play in our spare time, they’re something we make spare time to play. That my homework-doing ability suffered because of video games I never cared much about. Schooling is not education – it is indoctrination. I had to relearn almost everything I was taught in school in the following years, so I’m glad I didn’t waste undue time cramming propaganda into my mind.
But there were things I did wish I was doing. Reading books, doing physical exercise, trying new hobbies…
Video game addiction is a problem when video games begin to take precedence over every other activity. When the first thing you come home to do is play video games. When you eat while playing video games. When you spend your spare time thinking up strategies to beat the latest boss, or amass sufficient virtual currency to buy a new spaceship – then you need to realize that video games are more than just a passtime.
A hobby can have boundaries set around it. You can walk away and do something else when you need to. But addictions take over your mind.
Admitting you have an addiction to video games
The reason I’ve spent so many words describing the problem is that most people who are addicted don’t realize it. It requires a great deal of honesty to tell yourself that you have video game addiction.
It’s often treated as a sign of weakness to be addicted to anything, even though addiction is just the usual habit forming capabilities of our brain – gone too far.
I don’t consider video game addiction to be any less of a problem than tobacco addiction, or alcoholism. You might think that the only thing you’re wasting is your time, but that’s not really true.
The costs of video game addiction
Sitting in front of a computer or console all day is bad for your health, too. Your posture, your hands and wrists, and your overall inactivity are all very harmful. You might be harming your eyesight too.
And if you’re playing video games by looking at a ‘blue’ screen at night, you’re ruining your sleep cycle too. That’s because the frequency of light emitted from your screen is the same as that of the sun, blocking the release of melatonin, and thus making it more difficult for you to fall asleep.
So how does one actually end the ordeal?
How you can stop video game addiction
It was only when I, myself, had decided to end my video game addiction that anything really started moving. I tried all sorts of things.
At first, I tried to create timetables and schedules to regulate my use of video games. I could write the most elaborate, simple, or beautiful schedules.
Following them? That was another story entirely.
If planning is half the battle, then I was missing something. Planning just set me up for high expectations, which, when I inevitably failed to adhere to my plan, would make me feel guilty and disappointed in my own abilities.
It’s not surprising though. I was trying to re-wire my brain, which is no easy feat. I could generally follow the schedule the first day with success. The second day was iffy. The third day I would just relapse to doing whatever I usually did.
I won’t bore you with the science behind it, but let’s just say that wiring or habit-forming is a very important part of who we are as a result of evolution. The creation of habits saves energy, since it doesn’t require us to think and analyze everything again and again. Breaking habits on the other hand is very difficult.
What I learnt was that breaking video game addiction gradualistically was pointless. Even more pointless was trying to manage it.
In the end, and maybe you can avoid years of mishaps by understanding this, the only way is to go cold turkey.
Breaking video game addiction cold turkey
As long as you leave, in your mind, even the slightest opening. As long as you believe that maybe in the future, when that next awesome game comes out, you’ll play it.
As long as you tell yourself that this is just temporary – that once you regain control of your addiction you can control the video games in your life. While you keep that door in your mind open, you will fail.
It wasn’t until I told myself that I would never play any game again, that I could fully quit.
At least that was my experience.
I didn’t succeed on my first try though. I made several attempts to go cold turkey. Sometimes I would last a few months before relapsing again. I’ve been video game free since January 2012.
It always helps if there’s an external motivator to accompany the attempt to break your video game addiction, like impending university finals.
The best thing you can do right now is to delete all your video games. Every single one. When I did this, I’d last maybe a few days before starting to download games through Steam again – but since they take a while to download, I’d change my mind halfway through and cancel the download. My ISP was probably pretty confused.
I also made a list of all the things that were bad about video game addiction, and just video games in general. It helped to remind me why I was doing this.
- Computer games are very time consuming. Theoretically, one could allocate say, an hour a day to playing them. But I would always get carried away and waste a lot more time. Also, like with any other addiction, computer games would supersede various other activities. The average movie is 1.5 hours long. Video games can go from 5 to 50 hours. And 50 hours is a conservative average. I spent well over 100 hours playing TES IV: Oblivion. MMORPGs are the worst time-eaters though. I probably spent well over a thousand hours playing Eve Online.
- They’re an escape – a distraction. I have social anxiety – have had since I was a kid, and computer games were a way to run away from my problems. But like any alcoholic ought to know, running away from problems doesn’t solve them.
- Computer games are very limiting. They’re only as big or complex, or truthful and representative of reality, as the programmers who coded them allow them to be. You’re really bounded by someone else’s imagination – by the rules they think the world operates on. No where was this more evident than with strategy games.
- And here’s the real clincher: Playing computer games is living someone else’s life, not your own. We only get one shot at life, and I don’t want to waste it pretending to be someone else. The next time I want to go on an adventure, I’m going to do it myself, not with an imaginary character in a virtual world.
Rebuilding your life
If your life was built around video games, then breaking your video game addiction can leave quite a hole in its wake.
At first, I wouldn’t know what to do with my time – I suddenly had so much of it. Whenever I didn’t have some immediate task I needed to be doing (and sometimes even when I did), I would automatically default to playing a video game. Without that, my life suddenly seemed empty. I’m pretty sure I even felt depressed during the initial withdrawal period.
But trust me – this passes.
The key is distracting yourself from your video games. Brainstorm a list, preferably on a piece of paper and not your word processor. Write, “What do I want to do before I die?” right at the top.
Set a timer, then just go crazy. Write for five minutes straight – don’t stop until the time has elapsed.
— Go ahead and do this now. Come back to this article when you’ve got a working list. —
Now look at your list and start thinking about things you can do right now. Have you been putting off studying a foreign language? You have the internet at your fingertips – so there’s nothing stopping you. Have you wanted to learn a certain musical instrument, but just never had the time? Start looking for local classes.
You’ve just thrown off the shackles of an addiction.
Breath, open your eyes, and let your mind wander through the possibilities that are now open to you!
p.s. If you’re struggling with video game addiction, or you’ve managed to break free, please post your story below. You’ll help others feel that they’re not alone in their struggle.