Tag Archives: gaming addiction

“…and sometimes, the games play you.” Confessions of a Video Game Addict

April 4th will mark 100 days since I’ve played any video games.

That might not mean much to a lot of people, or even sound silly or unnecessary. But it means something to me.

Let me tell you a story. A story I’ve been meaning to write for a long time.

A Lifelong Obsession

I’ve played video games since I was a small child. It’s one of the earliest things I can remember, other than watching cartoons. I never had an Xbox or Playstation, but as a toddler I did have a PC with a lot of educational games and kid games.

And then after that, RTS games. RPGs. FPSes. Minecraft. Skyrim. The works.

I’ve played video games near-constantly my entire life. There have been a few points where I couldn’t play video games – while moving across the country, during school, and so on – but other than that, in any average week, I was probably playing video games for hours on end.

And it was a mistake. It was all a mistake.

I’ve spent too much time playing video games over the last 20+ years. It’s hard to count how many hours I’ve played… but I’m going to guess in the range of 5,000-10,000 hours over the entire course of my life.

That’s a lot.

I said a little bit about this in my 2020 annual review, but that’s time that could have been spent reading, learning an instrument, working out, or learning a marketable skill. And now that those hours are gone, I can’t get them back and spend them on something else.

A Mediocre Life

I don’t believe playing video games is wrong, evil, unethical, or anything like that. But in my case, I do believe that playing video games has made me a less interesting person. A less skilled person. A less healthy person.

And, probably most importantly, a less happy person.

My life is not satisfactory. My life doesn’t meet the level of my vision. My body, my career, my knowledge, skills, and abilities – none of them are anywhere close to what I want them to be.

In short, I judge my life mediocre.

Video games aren’t the only reason for that – I could write 10 or 20 more essays to list every reason! But it’s the biggest reason, in terms of hours. Gaming is the one activity that has had the largest negative impact on my life. I recognize that now.

A Male-Trapping Addiction

I also recognize that it wasn’t just negative. It was an addiction.

There have been so many points in my life where I used video games to avoid other things. Schoolwork. Friendships. Fitness. Or even just the hard work of figuring out what I actually want out of life, instead of what would please other people.

There have been points where I needed to do vital work – on myself, in school, in everything – and avoided it for weeks on end, lost in some quest or building some castle. One more turn. One more quest. One more cave to explore. Video games are fun, but they become fun mixed with torture when you know, in the root of your being, you should be doing something else. That this was not how you were meant to live.

I won’t get into the specific examples. There are too many to name.

There have been just as many times that I wanted to stop. Just as many times that I recognized that this was an addiction, destroying my life, and I needed to unplug.

But it’s hard to unplug – especially if you are a man.

I’m going to say something spicy. Something possibly controversial, depending on the person. If you take the average man and the average woman (or at least 80% of men, and 80% of women), one thing that will separate them is that the average man, at his core, is far more achievement-oriented than the average woman. The average woman, by contrast, is far more relationship-oriented.

Again, averages. There are achievement-oriented women, and relationship-oriented men. The outliers are real, but the averages are just as real.

Anyway.

I believe that video games, other than being games, are achievement simulators. Making money. Completing tasks. Organizing armies. Managing resources. Changing the course of history. Even winning the heart of a woman, and starting a family. Most games have literal achievements, and it becomes a meta-game to complete them all.

There are plenty of women who love video games, and a decent number of women who are video game addicts themselves (although, far more women in today’s age are social media addicts instead). But you combine the average man being achievement-oriented, combined with video games being achievement simulators, combined with modern video games being designed to be as addictive as possible…

The result is millions of men, addicted to video games whether they admit it or not, spending the majority of their free time working on virtual tasks instead of achieving things in real life.

I don’t want to be one of those men anymore.

Playing Life to Win

Sometimes, you’re the one playing games – and sometimes, the games play you.

If that’s the case, you need to stop playing.

Full disclosure: admittedly, while I’ve stopped playing video games, I haven’t completely cut out all video game content. I don’t watch streamers, but there is one video game series I am still watching. Maybe 5% of the videos I watch are video game related, so 1 of every 20.

Pretty good, all things considered.

And all things considered, video games aren’t all bad. Just mostly bad.

There have been a few video games I’ve played that aren’t just interesting, but philosophically compelling. That have touched my beliefs in ways beyond the average FPS or RPG. Maybe one. Maybe a handful.

But most video games aren’t like that.

One of my college professors taught an English class called “Video Games as Literature” – and there many games that fall into that category. They can be forms of interactive storytelling, telling stories in ways just as compelling as a book or movie.

But most video games aren’t like that.

There’s even a case for video games being useful tools for real life tasks, or teaching useful skills, namely resource management.

But most video games aren’t like that.

Most video games are barely disguised Skinner Boxes, lab-tested to be as addictive as possible. The time investment is potentially infinite. And so are the negative consequences.

(Will I play video games in the future? Perhaps. Sparingly. Probably only those handful of games that have enriched my philosophy, instead of using up hours of my life I wish I could get back. But there are ways of exploring the themes and ideas of those games without playing them as games.)

I don’t want to play games anymore. I want to achieve things in real life, and have something to show for it other than a Steam achievement. I want to build things in real life. Make a million dollars in real life. Explore places in real life. Form relationships in real life. Change the course of history in real life.

There’s only one game I truly want to play.

The game of life.

And I want to play to win.