Tooned Out

Suburban mommy talks about kicking her online gaming habit.

Location: Redmond, Washington, United States

Just another face in line at the grocery store...

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Game Addict? Who? Me?

2 weeks ago I finally googled the words "online game addiction." I had meant to do it for a long time, but somehow it always conveniently slipped my mind. The reason I felt I needed to do a bit of internet research about game addiction was that I had a hunch that, well, I might be an addict. Not an addict in the jokey sense that you hear so often from online gamers, but an actual addict. I found a site, Online Gamers Anonymous, which billed itself as an online 12 step program for online game addicts. Yes, I know it's ironic to have an online program for online gamers, but bear with me. I used their handy assessments to take an unblinking look at my own gaming habits. Turns out I am an addict after all. Holy cow. I spent the entire morning surfing the web reading about my newly discovered addiction and the psychology of MMORPGs . It was fascinating stuff, mostly about the notoriously life and time consuming Everquest but still relevant to my own situation. I read truly horrifying accounts of parents neglecting their children, kids flunking out of school, lost friends, lost jobs, lost spouses - people losing years of their lives mired in virtual worlds. All so terribly, terribly sad.

I read accounts by people who vehemently denied being addicted to online games, though they had played them for years and spent as much time in their virtual worlds as a part (or full) time job. Denial? Maybe, maybe not. I think the key for me was that I wasn't controlling the game, it was controlling me. Even though I didn't play for 10 hours a day, and I didn't ever play when my kids were around, I thought about it all the time, and whenever I wasn't playing I wanted to be. I used to smoke and I know what it is to have a whiney tyrant controlling your every waking moment. I recognized the familiar nagging little voice that called me back to the computer even when I knew there were other things I needed to be doing.

I also read accounts by people who justified their online gaming as a hobby, something they were obsessed with, something they wanted to spend every spare minute on, but something that was also beneficial in the sense that it was a social outlet, and a relaxing form of recreation. Hmm. Well, that certainly could be true for some people. I have a cousin who used to drive me nuts because she could smoke whenever she went out clubbing, or whenever we were hanging out doing whatever, but she never got addicted, never. She just wasn't susceptible. It's possible that these people aren't addicted, that they are just really obsessed with gaming as a hobby, like some people are obsessed with golf, (you've heard of golf widows, right?) or stamp collecting, or Star Trek. It may even be that I'm not addicted in the true sense of the word, rather I'm obsessed with something that is an engrossing escape from the real world, an escape from my mundane life which is available to me 24/7, at little cost and without requiring a change of clothes or freshening my makeup - if I wore makeup (-;

Here's the problem. Even if online gaming is just an obsession and a hobby, it's not a healthy obsession for me and it's not a very beneficial hobby. Being an introvert by nature, online games give me the illusion of socializing, but at heart I'm uncomfortable with the type of socializing they offer. I tend to have trust issues so it's really hard for me to trust people I've never actually "met." So much of communication is body language, tone of voice - nonverbal, and not communicated through online chat. Keystrokes just aren't enough for me to judge what someone's really like. Also, the primary thing that you have in common with other players is the game. I mean, stuff might happen in real life, like someone loses their job or someone's teenager runs away, or some other catastrophe, and you commiserate of course, you might even feel really bad for them, but a few minutes later it's forgotten and it's back to the business of the game. Online relationships are mostly so shallow it's hard to call them relationships at all.

Online gaming is a net negative for me in other ways. As a woman of a certain age, I have to work harder and harder at winning the battle of the bulge. Sitting on my butt in front of a computer does not help me win the battle, obviously - it's a huge handicap. I do work out but it's not nearly enough to cancel out hours of daily inactivity. Then there's the time factor. As a stay at home mom, you might think I have a ton of time on my hands but as most moms know that's simply not the case. Moms, even stay at home moms, have precious little time they can call their own. I have 4 children and a husband who works very long hours. I don't have time for an obsessive hobby that consumes a third of my waking hours and most of my waking thoughts.

Addict or no, I decided that I had to be ruthless and cut the game out of my life. The same day I first googled "online game addiction" I deleted all my characters. I uninstalled the game. I cancelled my 2 accounts. I wrote emails to my online buddies and told them I quit. I posted a letter on my game forum, explaining why I had quit. Then I spent the rest of the day surfing the internet instead of playing the game, reading the stories of other addicts and obsessives to try and strengthen my resolve. I experienced a great feeling of freedom and a strong sense of self-satisfaction and accomplishment. I went on with my day as usual when the kids came home from school. By 9 p.m., the time I would usually be logging on again with the kids tucked snugly in bed, I was mentally exhausted and sat and daydreamed until I finally gave up trying to do anything and went to bed myself.

Now, 2 weeks later, I find myself constantly having to squelch the little voice that tells me I can just start a new character, that I can avoid my old friends, that with a new character I won't be as likely to play for hours, that I can just get on for a few minutes and that'll be it. In other words, my brain is really missing that utopian netherworld of digital perfection, constant camaraderie, goofy game humor, and complete obliteration of real life worries. I should tell you also that I've quit before, unsuccessfully....