Is gaming an opiate?

With Christmas now officially over and New Year on the horizon it’s a good opportunity to reflect. I’ve been on a strong gaming kick this year since getting the Switch – even more than usual, and it was already “on” as far as gaming goes. My history with games is full of ebbs and flows but the level of flow recently is starting to make me uncomfortable.

I’m reading a book, ‘How Music Works’ by David Byrne (lead singer of the Talking Heads), and there’s a line that got me thinking. Byrne quotes the philosopher Theodor Adorno who described the experience of listening to music alone as an ‘opiate’. Byrne unpacks the idea: ‘like a drug, instead of bringing real happiness, the music heard on jukeboxes only creates more desire for itself’. As a music fan this reasonates with me to an extent. And If we apply that to games, it’s the idea that playing games doesn’t produce any tangible benefit – rather all it does is increase our desire to play more.

David Byrne. How could anyone not want to read a book by this man?

Reading this has gotten me a little paranoid. Of course gaming is the springboard for this blog – without gaming there would be no Very Very Gaming. That was a conscious decision to try and create something out of my hobby. (Arguably it’s generous to call it a hobby. Obsession might be more apt.)

I increasingly have to remind myself of the obvious: games – and more broadly any type of media, books, films etc – do not and cannot make me happy. No matter how well-constructed, crafted or lovingly made, these experiences are only fleeting. Playing a great game feels great, but that all goes away when you turn it off and come back to reality. It’s a constant challenge to live a fulfilling life, and sometimes gaming adds to that challenge by masquerading as a solution. And a big part of that has to do that with games’ addictive qualities, that opiate-like quality that makes you want to continue and play more.

When do games tip over from being positive distractions, an enjoyable way to spend leisure time, to a means of procrastination or avoidance? The answers are very dependent on a person’s individual circumstances, I know. In any case it can’t hurt to ask these questions of myself and reflect on priorities every once in a while. Am I running away from responsibilities, am I acting in my own best interests? Could I be making better use of my time? How do I strike a good balance?

I did something unusual today, and imposed a time limit on my play. One hour with Steamworld Dig 2 – no more. I went a few minutes over, but that’s OK.

It’s a really good game, but Rusty can wait.


  1. LightningEllen

    Well said! I’ve reached a point in my life where I realized games have been helping me hide from my problems. They just aren’t working for me as a coping mechanism anymore. I need to find other hobbies in reality, I think 🙂

    • veryverygaming

      Hey Ellen, appreciate your comment. I hear you, Sometimes we need a prod (from ourselves or from others) to get out there more and try new things. I hope it goes well and you find something out there that works for you. I’ve recently been taking language classes – it’s something I’ve tried previously but I never had the motivation to persist.

  2. moresleepneeded

    I have always enjoyed playing computer games and feel I can enjoy them without becoming too obsessed. I feel I have managed to accomplish this by limiting the amount of time I play games and avoiding certain games. I will usually aim to only play games for 1 hour. This goal is mostly achievable, although there are some exceptions, such as finishing a level that will help me progress through the game, but increases the amount of time I spend playing by about 30 minutes. I also try to avoid playing internet games. With other games, the player’s progress is controlled by the player (i.e. the player’s progress is only affected while the player has switched the game on), with internet games, however, the game continues while the player is not playing, so they will find that their status among other user’s has diminished or events that they were involved in have concluded while they were not playing the game. I find that this difference between the two games encourages players to spend a lot more of their time playing internet games, while other games can be more easily turned off. I find these methods help prevent me spending excessive amounts of time on games, but they can limit my enjoyments of games. I find I do I rush through some games so that I can get as far as possible through a game before my self-appointed time limit runs out and I have less motivation to explore games fully as completing side quests and mini games use up the little time I could spend on the main story. I have also never completed a challenge as part of a large group or competed against an diverse range of players as these are associated with games played over the internet.

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