Most people realize they’re addicts when they wake up one morning. I realized I was one when I stopped sleeping.
I hadn’t left the couch for three days except to eat and use the restroom. This wasn’t the first time, either. I watched numbers and formulas fly, translated into pixels arranged to look like people or aliens or monsters. For flashes, there were moments when my consciousness seemed to merge with the controller in such a way that my arms or legs didn’t exist anymore; they were just extended nerves that connected me to the characters running across blasted landscapes or parking lots or otherworldly ruins.
Chris Grosso’s recent article about addiction brought this demon back into the forefront of my thoughts. Since I’ve been away from home, I haven’t had the opportunity or the urge to hop on a console. But I know when I get back home there will be my old friend, the ole’ PS1 staring at me with some of the really great JRPGs from that generation.
Most everyone enjoys or has enjoyed video games; but how does one know when it’s gone to the point of addiction? There’s a website that lists five signs of gaming addiction, but I’ve found that it doesn’t really account for what I was feeling, probably because it’s mostly related to internet gaming.
Firstly, I only played games when I was alone. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt when I was playing games and someone would come home or come over, and the amount of fervor which I went through to shut off the system and hide all of my accoutrements was on par with someone discovering me in the middle of watching pornography.
Secondly, I lost track of time. In the best cases, I’d look up and see that only three hours had passed. However, this can sometimes happen with Law & Order marathons; I knew my gaming was a problem when I would look up and see the sun was rising…and when I last looked up, it had been fully up and starting to go down.
I felt increasingly isolated from friends and family. When I started a session, I would lower shades, close and lock doors, and disconnect from the internet.
My gaming was interfering with activities at work and home. I would try to call off work or cancel appointments, even dates. When I finally did seek food, it was most often from the nearest fast food establishment—whatever would take the least amount of time and effort away from the console. Bills went unpaid, dishes and trash piled up. I would tell myself upon waking up (the times I actually went to sleep), “Oh, I’ll only play for an hour.” Four hours later, I would be hit by a wave of sadness and uselessness; to combat this, I would turn right back to my game and push off all of my duties to the next day.
Finally, it became so bad that I lost the feeling of joy when I played a game. At points, I only felt numb. I could sense my eyes glazing over. When I finally emerged out of the house again, the outside world seemed more unreal than the virtual environment I had just been interacting with. Gaming went from being a pleasurable experience to an escape from dealing with the world and real problems.
I never checked into therapy. I’m not sure if there are 12-Step Programs available for people like me. Even if I did, while I’m aware I have a problem, being away from town has kept me away from the consoles, and I have felt no anxiety, no urge to return to the virtual realm. Yoga helped, and continues to do so, but really, so long as I’m out of the house, I have no draw to play games. It’s only when I’m at home that I look at the console and tell myself knocking out a few hours would be okay.
I’m not about to get on a soapbox and declare that video games are evil and have the power to sap men’s souls. I take more of Friar Laurence’s stance on video games, and it’s the same stance I have on most things to which people can become addicted:
“O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.”
~Friar Laurence, Romeo & Juliet II.iii
For those of you who don’t read iambic pentameter rhyming couplets, the Friar is saying that bad things in moderation can be pretty good. Good things in excess can become toxic. Don’t ask me how I managed to heed his advice on drugs and alcohol and yet let something so benign as video games creep into and corrupt my idle life. Just because my addiction isn’t so outwardly destructive as some doesn’t mean I haven’t seriously impaired significant chunks of my development while binging. Addiction is addiction, and all addiction is destructive.
I don’t think there’s a 12-step program for people like me, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t take my recovery into my own hands. If nothing else, I can keep myself away from the house. Getting a job helps as well. Having something to do seems to be the best cure, and definitely developing a schedule of things to do outside the house when I do have free time blocks out time that I could spend on the console. Whether there’s a program or not, I have to make the conscious choice to end the addiction, and I have to take the actions to do so.
In the words of Chris Grosso: ” [...] we’re all human, we’re all recovering from something and we’ve all hurt enough already, haven’t we?”