I’ve often wondered about my interest in games. Why is it so strong? Since I was a young kid, absorbed in (terrible) Amiga games, through to my Gameboy, PC and N64 in the late nineties, through to today with a whole raft of systems, gaming has always loomed large. With all this extra time at home since March 2020, there was a moment I realised something that should’ve been painfully obvious: games don’t make me happy. That principle goes for all media: music, books, TV, film. It doesn’t matter how good any individual title is, it can’t make me happy, because at the end of the day that film/game/book is a fleeting experience, it has to end and then it’s back to reality. And if you aren’t happy with your reality, how then can a piece of media make you happy given that it can’t change reality?
I’ve always known this on some level, but in practice many of my behaviours and actions have contradicted it. There was a part of me that conveniently ignored or overlooked it. And so gaming at various times has been an obsession or a compulsive habit, beyond sensible limits. Some areas where I’ve let things get out of hand: collecting, shopping, researching, following news… and those are just behaviours outside of playing games themselves! That’s not even including the most obvious and indulgent of all, binge-playing games. When I think about binge-playing, some of the main series that spring to mind are Fire Emblem and Xenoblade. (Funnily enough, I don’t think of local multiplayer all-nighters in the same way as those are always social.)
Just to be clear, I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with playing and enjoying games. (Nor do I believe there’s anything bad about writing about games on a blog like this one!) Games are a great form of leisure, and especially right now, with world events such as they are, I’m more grateful for them than ever. But I also recognise that I have many times run roughshod over what I personally consider normal or healthy: games have been my escape, my crutch, in unhealthy ways, and I’ve used them to avoid looking honestly at my own life and making changes.
I turned to games for relief at a time in my life when I was young and most needed support. Games weren’t my first choice – they aren’t anyone’s – but I turned to them and isolated myself because I couldn’t find support from people around me. What happens when you look for comfort in gaming as a young person? In my case it planted the seed of desire to find and play all the best games. To collect all the best games. To overinvest in fiction and virtual worlds.
Part of being unhealthily invested in games is dissociation. Unless someone was around me to prompt me, I could easily lose track of time, miss appointments or forget things I needed to do that day. It was easy to find myself completely immersed and acting under a compulsion. The same was true of other activities too like reading and listening to music.
I’m not writing this to blame or demonise gaming. Yes, games are addictive by design. They inspire that “one more go”/”one more quest” feeling. But all commercial entertainment does this, past and present. When novels first became popular, there was a widespread fear of people becoming addicted to them, in the same way there is now with videogames. Nowadays no one seems to fear the addictive quality of books, and describing a book as a “page turner” is seen as high praise, rather than a threat. I’m confident that when games are no longer the new kid on the block, there’ll be less suspicion and fear of them.
So, out of all of this reflection, what have I learned and where do I go from here? This pandemic, tragic and tough as it has been, provided a unique opportunity to get to know myself and face my demons. I understand some of the methods I developed to cope in the past. And I’m also learning to show kindness to myself – there were good reasons for things I did then. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s now possible for me to move on, to make better choices and to implement positive changes.
Thanks for reading, and I hope all of you out there are taking care and keeping safe.
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!). Continue reading