Would you recognize if you were abusing the hobby you love?
by Justin Davis
August 28, 2012
Like the majority of men my age, I’ve been a gamer for as long as I can remember. But it has always been cyclical. I’ve never given up games entirely, but at certain points in my life the hobby has faded into the background. My gaming might be a few runs of Jetpack Joyride instead of hours spent in Minecraft. During those light periods gaming was squeezed in between my wife, movies, work and the rest of my life.
But at other times I would lose myself in games entirely. I would “fall down the rabbit hole” and obsessively play World of Warcraft, Halo or that week's hot new game. I would play it every free moment (and some moments that weren’t free). When I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about it. This would go one for weeks. If the game’s luster wore off, I would turn my attention to the next hot thing, sure that it would be the one to scratch this compulsive itch I couldn't put my finger on.
I used to think my experience was normal. Sometimes I was just more into games than others. So what, right? It wasn’t until very recently that I realized, somewhat horrified, what was actually happening with this pattern of behavior.
These gaming binges corresponded to the periods in my life when things in the real world weren’t going my way.
The epiphany I had was that these gaming binges corresponded to the periods in my life when things in the real world weren’t going my way. I was using video games as a security blanket.
Games, especially modern ones, revolve around the principle that if you put the time in, you will be rewarded. Many gamers claim to not understand how anyone could put up with grinding in a video game. But grinding is comforting. Grinding tells us that, no matter what, if you keep playing you’ll become more powerful. If you keep playing, you’ll earn enough money to buy the things you want. If you keep playing, you’ll gain access to more levels and items and goodies.
If something is too hard, you’re guaranteed a level-up in just a few more minutes.
Do you ever think about why video games can feel so comforting?
It’s a comforting thought, isn’t it? Just put in the time, and you will do nothing but progress. You will win. You can do everything. There are no paths closed off to you. You know that moment when you learn a game has a system where unused skills will degrade or weapons will break down, or that a game has an unadvertised "point of no return," and you recoil at the thought? That’s you wanting to have it all and keep all the progress you ever make.
The real world does not operate this way. You can “grind” at a job for 10 years and still be laid off. You can “grind” at your physical health your whole life but if you switch to an unhealthy lifestyle you will immediately begin losing this progress.
If textbooks had achievements we’d all be geniuses.
Gamers have jokingly quipped that if textbooks had achievements, we’d all be geniuses. But the fact is… that’s probably true. These days everything is a game.
So it’s easy to understand why someone that feels powerless in the real world would turn to virtual worlds. Why people that get laid off turn to MMOs. Why people that have trouble in social situations might find comfort in The Sims. This is the trap that I have fallen into several points in my life.
In many games, putting in enough time guarantees success.
This retreat into the world of video games is dangerous because it causes people to ignore their life exactly when it needs their attention the most.
My subconscious has apparently been making decisions for years that I had never truly stopped to think about. I was hiding behind the success of my digital heroes and taking pride in my virtual accomplishments to avoid confronting my real-world problems and shorcomings. The reason this retreat into the world of video games is dangerous is because it causes people to ignore their life exactly when it needs their attention the most. It is engaging in self-destruction exactly when you need self improvement!
There are a limitless number of healthy reasons to play and enjoy video games. To recapture a sense of adventure. To compete. To exercise your brain. Or turn it off and just relax.
But I believe the empowering and interactive nature of video games makes them easier to abuse, and easier to consume for unhealthy reasons. I also believe video games are a more attractive leisure activity for individuals with obsessive leanings, or individuals with unhealthy tendencies towards destructive escapism. Fantasy and escapism aren’t inherently bad, but neither can come at the expense of confronting and embracing reality and living a responsible life.
Games can be powerful tools for self-expression and self-discovery.
Games create safe spaces for kids to experiment and express themselves.
There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with video games. Besides all the legitimate leisure-related reasons to enjoy the hobby I touched on above (and leisure time is absolutely essential), games also create safe spaces for people, especially kids, to experiment and express themselves. They provide safe, consequence-free places to fail.
Video games also help players discover things about themselves. What kind of person do you want to be? When given free range to make dialogue choices or build a world, what do you create? People that would never pick up a paintbrush can do incredible things when given the right tools.
All the good that games can do aside, what I have learned is that it’s important for gamers to understand their own motivations. I don’t believe anyone needs to stop playing video games, or necessarily even cut back. But everyone should strive to understand his or her own compulsions.
It’s important for gamers to have mastery of their own mind. Are you grinding out a level in World of Warcraft because you’re truly enjoying the experience, or are you doing it to replace missing feelings of self-worth that you don’t want to confront? Do you revel in your virtual successes to avoid the uncomfortable internal dialogue regarding of your abandoned gym routine?
Are you playing games because you’re having fun, or because you have an unconfronted fear of failure?
Ok, interesting idea, terrible article.
Executive summary: Author reviewed his gaming habits, and realized that he used gaming as escapism, especially spending crazy amounts of time gaming when other aspects of his life were stressful.
This would be an interesting article, but it's nothing but a series of personal anecdotes strung out to fill the 500 or 1000 word article length he needed. Do some research, study what's actually happening, then publish. There are probably many people like you. Before spouting off, find out if it's 1% or 90% of the gaming population.