As I developed my game character, I found that I was good at the game. The traditional lectures in school did not keep my interest or challenge me. In EverQuest, I was able to make powerful character builds and optimize my healing or dps and so I became an asset to the guild. I created crafting and skill spreadsheets and thought about ways to enhance my leveling efficiency during class. Soon, I had established friendship and recognition in the game, but in the real world, I did not have those things. I was spending 5 hours on the game every day like a part time job.
When people think of game addictions, they often think of the South Park World of Warcraft episode where all the kids were sitting in the basement, getting fat, eating Cheetos, and living at the computer while their life wastes away. While that is definitely an indicator of a game addiction, sometimes they can be much more difficult to detect. In my case, I was able to keep my grades high, eat lunch with friends, and also participate in track which kept me healthy. However, underneath it all, I was apathetic with my real life. Classes were too easy and boring, and EverQuest challenged me in new, interactive, and fulfilling ways. My friendships were mostly shallow, and EverQuest encouraged me to work with strangers in challenging, collaborative ways, making me feel more bonded to my online guild members. I hated track with a passion, but it kept my mother satisfied and unsuspecting of my game addiction. I was living a mechanical life while letting my imagination and passion unfold into the game. I was just going through the motions of life, and everywhere I went my mind was on the game. Life was slipping out of my fingers because the game gave me everything I needed, and real life kept trying to take it away from me. I developed an irritation with everyone who tried to pull me away from my game. I was flaky with social events and doing only the bare minimum in real life that would allow me to keep up my game grinding. Everything that I encountered in life – trips, extra homework, school events – were evaluated and judged on how they would affect my gameplay. Basically, I was kind of a jerk in my real life, while my Erudite cleric was kind, generous and friendly.
To those of you with addictions, if you haven’t read Jane McGonigal’s book “Reality is Broken,” I definitely recommend it. She explains why games seem to be so much better than real life because they give validation, immediate feedback, intrinsic rewards, and meaning. Life is full of delayed gratification and sometimes seems to lack meaning to some greater purpose, and games make you feel like you are contributing to something greater than yourself. However, you are missing out on the fun and essence of life, I promise you. I missed out on extracurricular activities and other interesting things I could have learned. I never found my niche in life until my senior year of college. To know that I could have probably found it in high school is very disheartening. Gaming wasn’t so much a life destroyer as a giant time-suck in my case. Life is too short for a game addiction.
If you feel like your parents don’t understand, ask your friends or even your guild for help. Your guild might understand more than you think. Here are a few other suggestions:
1. Set goals for yourself and make a game out of it. Try bringing your avatar to the real world; get as many skill points in school and character attributes with friends as you can. Real life IS the epic boss battle, and you’re going to need them! It’s never too late to change your life around.
2. Seek out multiplayer alternate reality games that are fulfilling like Sparked or Evoke that give you that “game fix” while also letting you work with people. As a gamer, you have incredible collaborative skills to offer the community – put them to good use on things that will give you warm fuzzy feelings and better the world around you. Find a way to direct your powerful gaming energy into something even greater than the game. Look into things Foldit for inspiration.
3. If you have other friends that are addicted, make a support network. Promise each other you will all only play together for a certain amount of time. Be honest and open with your struggle.
4. Consider using self-help games like SuperBetter. This is a superhero-themed game that turns getting better into a multi-player adventure. It’s designed for anyone recovering from an injury or coping with a chronic condition to heal with more fun and less misery. Pick your identity and choose your superpowers. Identify the “bad guys” as those things that make you feel worse and need to be destroyed (the game or things that make you want to play the game). As you progress, you unlock achievements.
5. Have a serious conversation with your parents. If you don’t know what to say to them, try printing out my article that is designated for parents about game addictions. Invite them to play the game or try writing about how you feel and what the game makes you feel. Tell them you need their help but also need them to be understanding of what you are going through. Recruit them to your “recovery raid” and start battling that addiction boss!
6. Find a new game that is not as immersive. Puzzle games, like Braid or Portal, are short and sweet. They are challenging but fun and fulfilling. This actually worked really well for me (see below) but be sure careful not to develop a new addiction! Keep the overall goal of reducing gameplay in mind.
Sometimes it takes something big to pull someone out of a game addiction. In my case, it was getting a different game. After looking at my logged hours my senior year of high school, I realized that this would probably not do well for me in college. Instead of attempting to go cold turkey, I switched over to Guild Wars which has a smaller game world than EverQuest. I was able to do a mission with some people for an hour or two and then move on to something else. It was extremely hard to leave those friendships with my guild members. However, I was determined, and it made my senior year of high school a bit of a nightmare trying to stay away from EverQuest. I actually ended up writing a lot of stories that year about EverQuest, and I found this very helpful. Somehow, reflecting on those adventures with my guild members produced those nostalgic feelings that were pleasant without being consuming. I realized at that moment that I could use games to help me in real life. I became excited as I put my EverQuest skills to work for me in real life. I made scripts, stories, and art around my fantasy world. I organized my school work in the spreadsheets once designated for EverQuest, and I participated in fanfiction sites where I could share what I made. But don’t wait around for that moment. There are too many fantastic games, too many awesome people to meet, too many cool things to learn and too many beautiful places to go for you to be sucked into a single game for hours a day. Diversify your life and challenge yourself. You obviously succeed in one game, why not try something else a little more challenging? I challenge you today to do battle with your demons, level up in determination, and seek out the princess in another castle.
Want to share? Comment below and share your experience! As always, please remember that I am not a psychologist and am not qualified to give professional advice. However, you are always welcome to send me e-mails to simply chat or ask questions about my experience.