Gaming addictions are odd things. Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one type – in fact, I bet you there are as many types of gaming addiction as there are people. Isn’t being a bit obsessed with a game normal, at first? When does a bit of harmless over-playing become unhealthy addiction?
I could mention many games which I was hopelessly “addicted” to from all stages of my life (The Sims, Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy IX, Project Zero/Fatal Frame 3, etc) – but nothing can come close to my unhealthy obsession with Civilization II and then Civilization IV, which bear the distinction of giving me my first ever bout of RSI at the age of 24. Combined, these games gave me the battlescars of a true, hardened gamer, so intent on my gaming lifestyle that I became more than willing to sacrifice my petty human needs (like, resting my wrists – which is for losers and wimps!).
It is worth mentioning that I have some self-control issues in my “real” life (whatever that means). For example, I am a workaholic. I’m guessing this has something to do with the fact my mind does not switch off at all, and I find most social interactions that last more than two hours (maximum) exhausting because of this. Videogames are one of the things that help me “switch off” – by making me get very switched on/addicted. Even when writing posts for this blog, I get obsessed and go to town on blog posts which were meant to be short, cutesy reviews and turn into massive critiques of consumer culture, or grand claims about games and narrative, or some other analyses. So, I go play another game to relax. And so the cycle continues.
Anyway, regardless of what games you play, I suspect most people who enjoy videogames go through a honeymoon period when they devote a shameful amount of their waking hours (and sleeping hours) on shiny, new games.
Sometimes I wonder how people manage with their children: like, what do you do with them when all you want is to shut the door and stare at a screen for 6-7 hours?! Hire a nanny? It’s questions like this that make me think you have to be super human to be a (good) parent, or have a lot of money for childcare. You, awesome people, you! It makes me wonder how much game nostalgia comes from the memory of spending long stretches of time on something that is purely for leisure and pleasure, before work started sucking your soul…
For me, my honeymoon phase with a game can last for several weeks, and it can be because of so many things: – A ridiculously gripping storyline (Final Fantasy IX, Resident Evil 4, Shadow of Memories) – Fun, addictive game play (Gain Ground, Resident Evil 4 – Mercenaries) – Repetitive yet immensely rewarding actions (Harvest Moon, Persona 3/4) And many, many other reasons… But what happens after the honeymoon’s over can be crucial to your lasting impression/attitude of the game. This can differ from person to person, from game to game. Do you get sick of it, and abandon the game mid-way? Are you the type who goes into a period of denial when a game fails to deliver, continuing anyway in the hope the game will reward/satisfy the crazy hours you put into it? Do you play more, or do you calm down and play an hour every day, similar to when a decades long marriage winds down into a meaningful, yet largely platonic relationship? Or is there an inverse relationship with how stressful your life gets – do you have a go-to game, like a lover you keeping going back to despite trying out other relationships (games???)?
Now that I have pushed the relationship analogy to its limits (and probably beyond), here’s a question I have yet to answer: what is is about Civ that is so addictive? What is it about that game that makes me feel so – enthralled? Some consider Civ to be the thinking man’s/woman’s strategy game – but I won’t be so presumptuous. I don’t like Civ because it makes me feel clever. All I can say is that there is something very, very hypnotic about those little Settlers, building your empire, crushing your enemies… although that aspect isn’t what I love about it, either. I like building up the towns. I like having the Wonders, and finding nice patches of earth for my people. That makes me think that my obsession with Civ must be to do with my being a perfectionist, and quite an anxious one at that. If I had a grand title like the rulers in Civ, it would be Maya the Great Worrier and Perfectionist. The thing is, I am laid back when it comes to other people, but not with myself – a relatively common problem with a lot of people, but especially with over-achieving women. I expect a lot from me. And Civ is actually a pretty healthy way to relieve some of that pent-up, perfectionist anxiety (ignoring the wrist damage).
I also think this has something to do with a feeling we lack in modern day life, particularly in twenty-somethings: despite often having a profound desire to change things for the better, we are powerless to change the images we an inundated with every day – warfare, disease, evil – or, less dramatically, whilst we are interning, being students, or working for next to nothing with very little impact on society, we are left feeling powerless, or as if we are “waiting in the wings”, waiting for our real, adult lives to begin. Perhaps strategy games and sims appeal to people who enjoy the sensation of being ordered, multi-taskers, making a difference to the wider scheme of things.
Whatever theories I cook up, I’m still not entirely sure why Civ leaves me powerless to its effects… was I hardwired from a young age to love it, is it because I am particularly overly-moralistic – or because I am a mini-dictator? Who knows. All I know is that I am definitely not the only one who finds it has holds a strange power over them. Anyway, my life after Civ? It’s a quiet one, with many other games entering and leaving my life like strangers (one night stands?). I didn’t have to enter a rehab center – I gave the game to a loved one to keep it well away from me. My wrists still hurt sometimes, reminding me of the hours I dominated my AI competitors (I wish I could say that I sigh and smile at the memories, but it really fucking hurts when I pick heavy things up, so I mostly curse the day I bought it). It’s weird, because after I gave it away, I had no desire to play it. That was when I embraced the fact that videogames are best experienced in peaks and troughs…
…as opposed to binge-playing marathons which would look more like a straight line, I guess. You and I both know the latter model is utterly unsustainable: honeymoon’s must always come to an end. Luckily, I have a natural impulse to stop playing – at the moment, I have had several weeks of not really feeling to – and that’s a good thing. It means I can catch up with friends, family, cleaning, reading and work, before the next massive binge (here’s looking at you, Fire Emblem!).