photo by Montecruz Foto
I gave up video games about 6 months ago. It was a big deal for me. I had been an avid, sometimes obsessive gamer since I was about 15. I shudder to think of the hours, nay, days of my life that I’ve spent in front of a TV or computer screen diddling those buttons and controllers. Why? Because for me it was a borderline addiction (as much as gaming can be I suppose).
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE video games, and I believe that, like most things, in moderation, they can be a fantastic source of entertainment, and yes, even cognitive strength. Depending on the game, gaming can be much more mentally stimulating and productive than watching TV.
The issue is that my favorite genre is RPG (role-playing games). The best games of this genre have the power to completely transport one into a fantastical universe of deep lore, and generally take several hundred hours to complete.
Now most people who know me would probably tell you that I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to most things. Not so with video games.
When I was in high-school, I’d very often come home after my extra-curricular activities, and play video games until about 10pm, then do the bare minimum of homework for the next day. I still wonder how I managed to keep such exceedingly good grades (though they did eventually start to suffer in my senior year).
College was more of the same, except I played less by default because I was enjoying my new-found social life. It became more of a binge-addiction at that point.
I would hold out for the games I really wanted, and when I got them, I’d play for a week or two straight. My grades, performance-level, and social life would suffer during that time, and I’d have to put in a lot of effort afterwards to get back up to speed.
This level of frequency didn’t really drop-off until about three years after graduating college when all of my marital problems came to a head and needed to be addressed. But even through all of that, and in to grad school, I was still binging from time to time. I’d go a month, sometimes up to three, without playing, but I was always waiting for the next game I could get lost in.
What I realized is that it didn’t matter how much I was gaming. The issue lay in my relationship to gaming, i.e. how and why I used them in such a manner.
So I made a decision.
In my final year of grad school with an enormous amount of work to do, in addition to preparing for my graduate recital (a conservatory singer’s equivalent to a thesis), I sold all of my gaming consoles. Let me tell you, it was painful.
I didn’t realize how attached to them I had become until I was handing those bad boys over to strangers.
For weeks after, I was furious at myself. What a terrible decision I had made. I missed them. And I was so angry that I couldn’t hunker down and play when I had the urge.
Eventually, the anger started to fade, and I started becoming acutely aware of the other emotions that accompanied my urge to game: fear, sadness, anxiety.
It was uncomfortable, but I probed anyway. Why was I feeling such things? Slowly but surely I came to the realization that any time something I knew was going to demand a lot of responsibility (mostly toward myself) was about to happen in my life, I turned to games to escape—to escape myself, my mind, my heart.
I mentioned in my last post that I grew up very angry about feeling an obligation to focus on others AND myself, so I found a way not to do that. Gaming.
In those fantasy worlds, I could be anyone and do anything (almost). And often I would choose to play the bad guy, because I felt so obligated to be the good guy in real life.
What I also realized was that this action, depriving myself of games, was yet another small step on my journey to self-sufficiency, adult-hood, and ultimate success. It seemed rather huge at the time, but in fact looking back on how my therapy had been progressing (very well), it was a long time coming.
I’m thankful that my “addiction” wasn’t to something far worse, like alcohol or drugs, which I would imagine are far more difficult to overcome. I mean when it’s really terrible, people can die from some of the symptoms of substance withdrawal. But I also have to imagine that at the root, it’s not so different.
We let addiction overrun us most often when there is something inside of us so painful that we cannot bear to hold it, let alone look at it.
I still have overwhelming urges to game—sometimes even going so far as to look for anything I can download on my phone or computer that will let me escape. I’ve lapsed a couple times, but more often than not, I’m able to control myself, and then think about what’s going on inside of me.
So what’s the answer? Got me. Everyone must walk their own path. In my life, it has been self-awareness, self-analysis, courage, and diligence, which are tools I’ve developed though intensive therapy, and a fairly consistent meditation practice. I still have a ways to go.
If you’re reading this, and you have something in your life that could be an addiction or just a repeated unskillful action, I urge you to just sit and think about it. First acknowledge that there might be a problem, then decide on your potential courses of action.
Generally, you’ll see two paths ahead of you. One, “I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and hope it works out,” aka – “I’ll let this thing ruin my life, relationship, career, etc.” Two, “I’ll get help. I’ll ASK for help if need be.” Number two takes a hell of lot of humility and courage.
Have a beautiful weekend.
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.