During my childhood, my video game controller only had one button, and I still managed to become obsessed with the games. You can only imagine, as the games became more advanced and immersive, that my obsession proportionally grew. It’s easy to look back on my earliest video gaming with nostalgia, even though most of it involved squares shooting hyphens at squiggles. I often spent hours in front of my TV, my thumb growing sore from pressing that single button thousands of times. Just like then, I’ve logged countless hours on my newer game consoles as well. These days, the video games I enjoy above all others combine the game-play with storytelling. It’s like mixing crack with, well…more crack.
I’ve read horrible video game addiction articles. Shy, introverted, imaginative people just like me have succumbed to online role-playing games in droves. They’ve forsaken the real world to immerse themselves somewhere preferable, a virtual place where they can establish different personas and take heroic actions among like-minded individuals. The allure of these games is powerful. If not for a malfunctioning graphics card, I might have delved into The World of Conan at significant cost to my real life. I like to think that I would’ve been able to self-regulate my gaming, but the proof is in my past. I’m an addict. Even the single-player games I’ve played more recently have claimed hours of my time.
As an adult, I’ve justified video games as a reward for the toil of wage slavery in a cube farm. Playing games has been therapeutic on many occasions, allowing me to move past concerns I’ve brought home from work. They’re a past time I can pursue even if I’m too tired to concentrate on other things. I’ll tell myself that I’ll just enjoy an hour of play. But then I’ll look at the clock and see that three hours have passed. It’s an overindulgence that has taken too great a toll on my life, and I should know better. It’s always been difficult for me to moderately partake in anything I enjoy. I can, and will, eat half of a cake over the course of a weekend. I can, and will, play Skyrim for 8 hours with hardly a break to eat (even cake). While not quite as addicted to gaming as people in treatment programs, I have made the choice to spend this time unwisely. And it has to stop if I really want to seriously pursue writing.
I’ve made the excuse that it’s difficult to find a quiet place to write when I’m home. That’s still true sometimes. I can play video games when it’s noisy, so I’ve often fallen back on that hobby instead of seeking out a quiet nook to write. Noise or not, the writing should happen. If I’m not writing creatively, I should be researching background information for my novel or using the time for chores, to allow writing time later during a quiet period. It’s hard to maintain this sort of discipline, but if it were easy, everybody would write.
This past weekend, I played no video games at all. I didn’t break down in withdrawal or anything. I watched my son play a little bit, mostly because it’s an interest we share and like to talk about. I can say with certainty that we will play games together from time to time, but I view that as bonding when enjoyed in moderation. (Once he beats me enough times, I’ll let him play with better competitors his own age.) Instead of playing games, I used the time to critique a couple of stories for a member of my writing group. I did yard work and thought about solutions to difficulties with my work-in-progress. I wrote a review of a great indie book on Goodreads. All were things I couldn’t have done if I were playing games. It made me feel AWESOME to accomplish so much, even though I actually wrote fairly little.
Unlike other stuff I can’t seem to do in moderation, I don’t feel guilty about writing obsessively. In fact, I just about have to if I want to finish a novel, submit short stories for publication, maintain my blog, and continue to establish a social media presence. It’s work, but it’s work I enjoy. That makes all the difference, and it makes video games seem like a security blanket I gave up in childhood: something I missed at first but eventually realized I never needed. Writing also has fewer calories than cake.
I don’t have an official sponsor for my video game addiction treatment, and occasionally I might fall off the wagon. I’d appreciate your support if this happens. We can help each other, if you find yourself unable to kick the console alone.